Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
Ben-Hur was a film set in the Roman Empire during biblical times.
The storyline: A wealthy Jewish merchant named Judah Ben Hur is imprisoned by a former friend, Messala, after an accident involving a newly elected governor, a spooked horse, and some falling roofing tiles from Ben Hur’s roof. After working three years as a slave, Judah is placed on a war ship as a rower. He ends up saving the entire ship’s crew when the ship is destroyed. The captain adopted Judah afterwards.
A year later, wealthy again, Judah heads back home to find his house empty and his family reported dead. Angry at the system, he enters a chariot race against Messala for revenge. While attempting to destroy Judah’s chariot, Messala ends up destroying his own and dying. As he dies, Messala tells Judah that his family is not, in fact, dead, but living as lepers. Once he finds them, Judah discovers his sister is dying. He attempts to bring her to Jesus for healing, but arrives after the trial begins. He and his family watch the crucifixion, and his sister is healed by the rain after Jesus’s death.
The production got off to a rough start, as producers, directors, and actors were ticketed for roles before being cut. The film was suspended for several years before production finally began. MGM Studios had run into tough financial times, and Ben-Hur became the last effort to keep the studio afloat. Finally, in 1957, Ben-Hur was begun. The original budget was $7 million ($56 million in modern dollars), but eventually more than doubled to $15 million by the end of production in 1959 ($120 million). Thousands upon thousands of extras were used - one scene alone had 15 thousand.
The film was a rousing success. Marketing campaigns payed off, and the movie became the second-highest grossing film at the time, right behind Gone With the Wind. Critics rated it almost completely positive, with the only main problem being the four-hour length. 11 Academy Awards later - tied with Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King for most all-time, the film had saved MGM from failure.
In 2014, Paramount announced they would remake the film. Morgan Freeman is reported to be part of the cast. Filming began on February 2, 2015, and the remake is set to be released in 2016.