Ben-Hur is a 2016 American epic historical drama film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley.
It is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace following the 1907 silent short film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name.
It is the third version of Ben-Hur released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It has been termed a “re-adaptation”, “reimagining”, and “new interpretation” of the novel.
A Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur, and his adopted Roman brother Messala are best friends despite their different origins. Messala enlists in the Roman army and fights in the Roman Empire’s wars in Germany. Ben-Hur also develops feelings for the family slave Esther although their different station in life compels him not to pursue her. But when her father Simonides seeks to marry her off to a Roman, Ben-Hur declares his love for her and takes her as his wife. Three years later, Messala returns as a decorated Roman officer. His return coincides with a rising insurrection by the Zealots, Jews who are opposed to the oppressive nature of Roman rule. Ben-Hur treats and shelters a young Zealot youth named Dismas. Messala reunites with Ben-Hur and attempts to convince his adoptive brother to serve as an informant. Following a reunion dinner with Ben-Hur and his family, Messala informs them that a new Roman governor Pontius Pilate will be taking residence in Jerusalem.
Days later, Pontius Pilate marches into Jerusalem with Ben-Hur and his family watching from a balcony. Dismas attempts to assassinate Pilate and in retaliation, the Romans storm Ben-Hur’s household and arrest him and his family. Rather than betray a fellow Jew, Ben-Hur takes responsibility for the assassination attempt. His mother and sister are sentenced to be crucified. Ben-Hur and Messala fall out with each other. While being led to the prison galley, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus, who fetches him some water. Ben-Hur endures five years of slavery as a rower aboard a Roman prison galley under the command of Quintus Arius. During a naval battle against Greek rebels in the Ionian Sea, Ben-Hur’s galley is boarded but collides with another ship and is destroyed as Ben-Hur manages to cling to a floating mast. He is washed ashore and is found by Sheik Ilderim, who recognises him as an escaped slave. Ben-Hur manages to convince Ilderim not to hand him over to the Romans by treating one of the Nubian’s racing horses. After Ben-Hur develops a bond with the four racing horses, a grateful Ilderim then trains Ben-Hur to be a chariot racer.
Ben-Hur and Sheik Ilderim later travel to Jerusalem to take part in a grand chariot race at the newly built Roman circus. Jesus’ preaching ministry draws the attention of governor Pilate and Messala, who is now the commander of the Roman garrison and a champion chariot racer. While visiting Jerusalem, Ben-Hur encounters Esther, who has become a follower of Jesus and is involved in charity work. Esther tells Ben-Hur that his mother and sister are dead, and despite their reunion, the two are kept emotionally apart due to her new cause, which is contrary to his insistence on seeking revenge against Messala.
Ben-Hur later confronts Messala alone in their former home but is forced to flee when Roman soldiers turn up. After the Romans execute twenty Jews in reprisal, Esther completely falls out with Ben-Hur. Sheik Ilderim instructs Ben-Hur in chariot racing techniques. Later, Ben-Hur encounters a former Roman soldier named Druses, who informs him that his mother Naomi and sister Tirzah are still alive. However, their reunion is soured when Ben-Hur discovers his mother and sister have leprosy, the former also appearing to have lost her memory.
Sheik Ilderim bribes Pilate into allowing Ben-Hur to compete by proposing a high wager. Esther tries to convince Messala not to race Ben-Hur, but he is adamant that he will win. On the day of the race, Ben-Hur follows Ilderim’s instructions to hold back from the race until the final laps. Using dirty tactics, Messala manages to knock out the other competing charioteers. Following a brutal and gruelling race, Ben-Hur wins the race. Messala survives but is badly wounded and loses a leg. Ben-Hur’s victory emboldens the Jewish spectators and yields dividends for Ilderim.
Despite his victory, Ben-Hur is despondent about his family and his former friend Messala. Later, Esther witnesses the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Ben-Hur and Esther witness a bruised and beaten Jesus being forced to carry his cross through the streets. Mirroring his first encounter with Jesus, Ben-Hur tries to offer Jesus water but is beaten by a Roman soldier. Following Jesus’ crucifixion, a rainstorm occurs. Naomi and Tirzah are miraculously healed by rainwater containing the blood of Jesus, and Sheik Ilderim pays a ransom to set them free. Despite his anger, Ben-Hur finds the strength to forgive Messala and is reconciled with him and his family. Together, Ben-Hur, his mother, sister, Esther, and Messala accompany Sheik Ilderim’s caravan as they leave Jerusalem.
- Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur.
- Toby Kebbell as Messala.
- Morgan Freeman as Sheik Ilderim.
- Nazanin Boniadi As Esther.
- Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus.
- Sofia Black-D’Elia as Tirzah: Ben-Hur’s sister.
- Ayelet Zurer as Naomi: Ben-Hur’s mother.
- Haluk Bilginer as Simonides: A loyal Jewish servant to Ithamar, Judah’s birth father; becomes a wealthy merchant in Antioch.
- Moisés Arias as Dismas: A teenage Jewish zealot whose family has been murdered by the Romans and is desperate to fight for his people’s freedom, and is later crucified beside Jesus.
- Pilou Asbæk as Pontius Pilate: The Roman governor of Judea who oversees the chariot race.
- Marwan Kenzari as Druses: A Roman captain who is involved with the betrayal by Messala that sends Ben-Hur on his path to redemption.
- James Cosmo as Quintus Arius.
- Principal photography began on 02 February 2015 in Matera, Italy and lasted about five months, finishing in June 2015.
- Ben-Hur premiered on 09 August 2016 in Mexico City and was theatrically released by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on 19 August 2016 in the United States in 2D, 3D, RealD 3D, Digital 3D, and IMAX 3D.
- The film received generally negative reviews and was a box office bomb, grossing $94 million worldwide against its $100 million production budget plus a large amount spent on marketing and distribution.
- Ben Hur (1907) (Film).
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) (Film).
- Ben-Hur (1959) (Film).
- Ben Hur (2003) (Film).
- Ben Hur (2010) (Miniseries).
- Ben-Hur (2016) (Film).
- In the Name of Ben Hur (2016).
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Timur Bekmambetov.
- Producer(s): Sean Daniel, Joni Levin, and Duncan Henderson.
- Writer(s): Keith Clarke and John Ridley.
- Music: Marco Beltrami.
- Cinematography: Oliver Wood.
- Editor(s): Dody Dorn and Richard Francis-Bruce.
- Production: Sean Daneil Company and Lightworkers Media.
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures and MGM.
- Release Date: 09 August 2016 (Mexico City) and 19 August 2016 (US).
- Running time: 123 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.