Ben-Hur (1959 movie)

1959 American epic historical drama film by William Wyler

Ben-Hur is an epic movie of the sword and sandal genre released in 1959. It was directed by William Wyler. It stars Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala. It is set in Ancient Rome and Ancient Judea. It tells of two men - one a Jewish prince and the other a Roman tribune - whose friendship turns to bitter hatred. The climax of the movie is a 9-minute chariot race and the crucifixion of Jesus. The movie won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie is based on the 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. A silent movie on the same subject was made in 1925.

Original theatrical poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Screenplay byKarl Tunberg[a]
Based onBen-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
by General Lew Wallace
Produced bySam Zimbalist
Narrated byFinlay Currie
CinematographyRobert L. Surtees
Edited by
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.[1]
Release date
  • November 18, 1959 (1959-11-18)
Running time
212 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15.2 million[3]
Box office$146.9 million (initial release)

Cast change

Story change

The story is about Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century. Judah's childhood friend Messala returns home as an ambitious commanding officer of the Roman legions. The two men realize that they have changed and hold very different views. During a military parade, a tile falls from the roof of Judah's house. It barely misses the Roman governor. Although Messala knows that they are not guilty, he condemns the Ben-Hur family. Without trial, Judah is sent to the Roman galleys for life; his mother and sister are imprisoned and all the family property is confiscated.

Through good fortune, Judah survives and returns to Jerusalem, where he seeks revenge against his one-time friend and redemption for his family. Running in parallel with Ben-Hur's narrative is the unfolding story of Jesus,[4] who comes from the same region and is a similar age. The two reflect themes of betrayal, conviction and redemption. With the Crucifixion, Ben-Hur recognizes that the Christ stands for a different goal than revenge, and he becomes Christian, turning to supporting the new religion with money which he has inherited, inspired by love and the talk of keys to a greater kingdom than any on earth.

References change

  1. "Ben-Hur". The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures. American Film Institute. Retrieved July 6, 2013. Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.); Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.
  2. "Ben Hur". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on July 21, 2015. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  3. Sheldon Hall, Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History Wayne State University Press, 2010 p. 162
  4. Powell, Allan (1999) Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. Westminster/John Knox Press p25 ISBN 0-664-25703-8


  1. Although Tunberg received sole credit for the screenplay, Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry worked on the script in the course of development. See the Writing section for more details.