Ringling Bros.’ demise and movies they don’t make anymore

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Poster for The Greatest Show on Earth

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down in May, The Associated Press reported. Its demise recalls the kind of movie you don’t see in the 21st century: The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Greatest Show won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man. It’s hard to imagine Cecil B. DeMille’s mix of spectacle, soap opera, comedy and other elements even being made today, much less nominated.

Gruff circus boss Charlton Heston tries to keep the circus rolling while circus acts Betty Hutton and Gloria Grahame are in love with him and new star attraction Cornel Wilde causes a lot of trouble. And there’s James Stewart’s mysterious clown who never takes his makeup off. DeMille himself is a presence, narrating the film.

The movie was also an early example of product placement. It was produced in cooperation with Ringling Bros, with circus executive John Ringling North playing himself. It also has cameos from the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby watching a circus performance and Edmond O’Brien as a midway barker at the end.

In real life, the circus already was facing changing times when Greatest Show was released. One of the plot points is how some circus management want to end circus big tops and keep to major cities. The circus ceased staging performances in tents in 1956.

The demise of the circus was also due to changing times, according to the AP story.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

Nothing lasts forever. Ringling Bros had a good run at 146 years.

For those who haven’t seen the 1952 movie, this extended trailer gives you a sense of what the film was like.

MGM watch: Ben-Hur remake flops in setback for 007 studio

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s remake of Ben-Hur flopped at the U.S.-Canada box office with a paltry estimated $11.4 million for the Aug. 19-21 weekend, according to Variety.

The movie finished No. 5 this weekend, according to a tweet by Exhibitors Relations, which tracks box office results. The flop occurred in a weekend that wasn’t robust for theaters. Suicide Squad, in its third weekend, was No. 1 at $20.7 million.

Ben-Hur was actually released by Paramount. After exiting bankruptcy in 2010, MGM isn’t big enough to distribute its own films. So MGM cuts deals with other studios to share production costs, with the partner studio getting movies to theaters.

Ben-Hur, based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, has been made as a film three times previously. The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, won 11 Academy Awards.

Here’s why this blog noting all this: MGM is the home studio for the James Bond film series, with MGM and Danjaq LLC (the parent company of Eon Productions) controlling the franchise.

In March, MGM chief Gary Barber said 007 films will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle. MGM doesn’t yet have a partner studio for Bond 25 after Sony Pictures’ most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. The next Bond film also doesn’t have a confirmed leading actor or, as far as anyone knows, a script.

When MGM was in bankruptcy, it produced a business plan saying it would get 007 films out on an every-other-year schedule. However, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, has made clear she’s not interested in making Bond films that often.

MGM in recent months has emphasized its slate of non-Bond projects, mostly in television. The studio only releases a handful of movies each year, so any flop hurts MGM more than competitors with larger film slates.

Ben-Hur’s flop also demonstrates that MGM’s supply of bankable movie projects outside of 007 remains limited. Since 2010, MGM’s other main movie property was the now-concluded Hobbit series.

MGM’s next film is a fall release of another remake, The Magnificent Seven.