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Ben-Hur (1959)

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This film has been preserved in the National Film Registry in 2004.

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Genre: Historical
Directed By: William Wyler
Produced By: Sam Zimbalist
Written By: Karl Tunberg
Based On: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ - 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace
Starring: Charlton Heston
Jack Hawkins
Haya Harareet
Stephen Boyd
Hugh Griffith
Martha Scott
Cathy O'Donnell
Sam Jaffe
Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees
Distributed By: Loew's, Inc.
Release Date: November 18, 1959
Runtime: 222 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $15.2 million
Box Office: $146.9 million (initial release)

Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic religious, historical adventure drama film that was directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist, and starring Charlton Heston as the title character. A remake of the 1925 silent film with a similar title, it was adapted from Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg, but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry. The film follows a man named Judah Ben-Hur in the year 26 A.D, who lives in a rich Jewish prince, but after a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.


In 26 A.D, Judah Ben-Hur lives as a rich Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century. Together with the new governor his old friend Messala arrives as commanding officer of the Roman legions. At first they are happy to meet after a long time but their different politic views separate them. During the welcome parade a roof tile falls down from Judah's house and injures the governor. Although Messala knows they are not guilty, he sends Judah to the galleys and throws his mother and sister into prison. But Judah swears to come back and take revenge.

Why It Rocks

  1. It stays faithful to the 1880's novel of the same name, and it also stays spirited, and the source material for the book.
  2. The actors for Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd give off strongly great performances.
  3. Lots of amazing, and memorable scenes, such as The Chariot Race scene, which it's absolutely one of the best moments in movie history, especially the whole part of the film.
  4. It is pretty much of an exciting 3-hour long movie, with it has lots of action, chases, romance, battles, and of course, the famous chariot race scene.
  5. The footage of using of wide aspect ratio used (2.76:1) for the entire film, especially the chariot race scene is very spectacular to the audiences.
  6. Superb cinematography.
  7. Amazing, and memorable soundtrack that was composed by Miklós Rózsa.
  8. The film was a big improvement to the 1925 version, which was a silent film.
  9. Character customs in 26 A.D standards around the middle east in 1958-59 was spectacularly well made and almost look very accurate.
  10. The sets for the film of Ben-Hur using the Jerusalem buildings, and more sets were amazing, and a lot of the largest sets were also built of any film produced at the time.
  11. During the production of this movie, the setting was also used for over 200 camels and 2,500 horses were used in the shooting of the film, with some 10,000 extras, which also stays faithful to the timeline and the novel also.
  12. The characters from the novel, such as Judah Ben-Hur, Quintus Arrius were still likable, and memorable, and the characters serve even more charisma than the 1925 silent film.
  13. A great story about forgiveness.
  14. It focuses more on telling an epic story than preaching, unlike most modern religious-themed movies.


  • Ben-Hur is a remake of MGM's 1925 adaptation of a Lew Wallace novel. The original film was one of the most popular and financially successful films of the 1920s!
  • Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson and Paul Newman were all considered for the lead role in the film.
  • The climactic chariot race sequence -- which ran for just under 10 minutes in the final film -- required months of planning and 10 weeks to shoot. During filming, stunt double Joe Canutt was actually thrown from his chariot, but emerged with only minor cuts.
  • Actress who were considered or tested for the film included Ava Gardner and Pier Angeli for the role of Esther.
  • Veteran MGM film editor Margaret Booth traveled to Rome to assist William Wyler and editors Ralph E. Winters and John D. Dunning in cutting the film.
  • Composer Miklos Rozsa conducted MGM's 100-piece symphony orchestra in 12 recording sessions over a 70-hour period for the film. It is the longest score ever produced for a film.
  • There are noticeable scenes in the film that show Jesus (this film is based on a historical fictional novel story set in the days of Jesus) where they try not to show his face, one example is when he is seen from far away, they obviously tried to make it so far it will make His face blurry and in the crucifixion scene where He is brought before Pilate, when the camera turned to Pilate washing his hands, Jesus is seen from behind where His front is seen, but a blurry spot is covering his face, and when Jesus is carrying his cross, his face is down but can be barely seen by viewers if they look closely. The actor who played Him, who's name was Claude Heater, an American opera singer, was also uncredited as well.


Ben-Hur received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release. It has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.30/10. The critics' consensus reads, "Uneven, but in terms of epic scope and grand spectacle, Ben-Hur still ranks among Hollywood's finest examples of pure entertainment.", while it has an 89% audience score rating on the same site. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 90/100 based on 9 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". In 2004, the National Film Preservation Board selected Ben-Hur for preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."



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