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Ben-Hur is a 1959 film directed by William Wyler and is, today, the best-known version of the film based on the 1880 book by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. more...

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It was produced in grand style with over 300 sets scattered over 340 acres (1.4 km²), and featured Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala.

It premiered at Loews Theater in New York City on November 18, 1959.

This version won an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards (a number matched only by two other movies in the history of Academy Awards - Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003).

The movie was filmed in a process known as "MGM Camera 65", 65mm negative stock from which was made a 70 mm anamorphic print with an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, considered to be one of the widest prints ever made, having a width of almost three times its height. This allowed for spectacular panoramic shots in addition to four-channel audio.

Even by today's standards, the chariot race in Ben-Hur is considered to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. Filmed long before the advent of computer-generated effects, it took over three months alone to film, including 8000 extras on the largest film set ever built, some 18 acres (73,000 m²). The visually astonishing MGM Camera 65 process and excellent cinematography by Robert Surtees made the chariot race one of the most memorable scenes in modern cinema. There are several urban legends surrounding the chariot scene, one of which states that a stuntman died during filming. This did not actually happen.

The film was a successful attempt to save MGM from bankruptcy.


  • Academy Award for Best Picture - Sam Zimbalist, producer
  • Academy Award for Best Actor - Charlton Heston
  • Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor - Hugh Griffith
  • Academy Award for Directing - William Wyler
  • Academy Award for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Color - Edward C. Carfagno, William A. Horning, and Hugh Hunt
  • Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color - Robert Surtees
  • Academy Award for Costume Design, Color - Elizabeth Haffenden
  • Best Effects, Special Effects - A. Arnold Gillespie (visual), Milo B. Lory (audible), and Robert MacDonald (visual)
  • Best Film Editing - John D. Dunning, and Ralph E. Winters
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture - Miklós Rózsa
  • Best Sound - Franklin Milton

The film was also nominated for one further award

  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium - Karl Tunberg

The film was also rated number 72 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list


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 political views separate them - Messala believes in Rome and wordly power, Judah is devoted to his faith and Jewish nationalism. During the welcome parade, a brick falls down from Judah's house and nearly kills the governor (who is thrown from his startled horse). Although Messala knows that 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. En route to the sea, Judah is denied water when his slave gang arrives at Nazareth. He collapses, having lost the will to live, when an as-yet unknown Jesus Christ gives him water and a motivation to survive.


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