Ben-Hur 1959

Ben-Hur

Critics Consensus

Uneven, but in terms of epic scope and grand spectacle, Ben-Hur still ranks among Hollywood's finest examples of pure entertainment.

86%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 50

89%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 106,186

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Movie Info

Charlton Heston plays a Palestinian Jew who is battling the Roman empire at the time of Christ. His actions send him and his family into slavery, but an inspirational encounter with Jesus changes everything. Heston finally meets his rival in a justly famous chariot race and rescues his suffering family.

Cast & Crew

Charlton Heston
Judah Ben-Hur
Jack Hawkins
Quintus Arrius
Hugh Griffith
Sheik Ilderim
Sam Jaffe
Simonides
Lew Wallace
Writer (Novel)
Miklós Rózsa
Original Music
Robert Surtees
Cinematographer
Ralph E. Winters
Film Editor
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News & Interviews for Ben-Hur

Critic Reviews for Ben-Hur

All Critics (50) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (43) | Rotten (7)

  • William Wyler never lets spectacle and size interfere with the elemental passions and conflicts of his human story. The spectacular aspects emerge naturally from the story -- the time and place and the customs of the society in which the characters live.

    November 19, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Clocking in at three hours forty-two minutes, Ben-Hur overstays its welcome. Still, despite scenes that occasionally run too long, the movie doesn't start to drag until after the chariot race and many of the early scenes are engaging.

    October 7, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Although it is a spectacle film, the story of how a man takes on the tyranny of the Romans, with all sorts of horrible consequences to himself and his family, is powerful and gripping.

    January 1, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The biggest and the best of Hollywood's super-spectacles.

    August 22, 2008 | Full Review…
  • Entire new frontiers in boredom were opened up by this MGM whopper from 1959.

    December 13, 2006 | Full Review…
  • The movie could be trying to say that for some people religion is an escape from their sexuality, but it seems unlikely.

    January 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Scott Meek

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Ben-Hur

  • Aug 15, 2016
    There may not be a film so highly regarded in its influence and stature for the history of cinema than Ben-Hur. Luckily, it's themes of betrayal and redemption hold up just as well as the epic chariot race that so many cinephiles hold so dearly to their hearts. Starring the iconic Charlton Heston as the titular character, Ben-Hur tells the story of a Jewish prince who returns for revenge after being wrongfully enslaved by his childhood friend turned foe. Known for its epic scale as a 1950's film, Ben-Hur is still one of the most impressive achievements in film to this day. Not only does the film have a nice mix of green screen work and on location set work, but the performances and work from William Wyler also deserve some credit. Wyler, who also directed one of my favorite films, Roman Holiday, does a brilliant job at bringing this classic tale to life through his actors. It's a great story on paper, but if Wyler doesn't bring the best out of his actors than the story can fall flat and melodramatic. With Heston, and great supporting performances from Hugh Griffith, Jack Hawkins, and Stephen Boyd, the story most certainly does not fall flat. With so many decades passing since the film opened, there's bound to be influences found in other films, but I can't help but draw a comparison to Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Maximus and Judah's story take similar turns, and there's even a massive colosseum sequence in Gladiator that could be seen as a tribute to the chariot race in Ben-Hur. The 1880 novel of the same name had its impact, but the film opened the door for big budgeted ideas to steer their way into theaters for years to come. But speaking of the original story from the book, I feel like Wyler may have been too stuck on adapting what he saw in the pages to the big screen. Both interpretations have a strong presence of Jesus and the idea of faith, but I don't believe the heavy inclusion of Christ's story worked in the film. Judah and Messala are at the core of this story, but by the end, the story is taken over by the presence of Jesus. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, the film ends when the relationship between Judah and Messala is at its climax. Some things just don't translate to film. Anyways, Ben-Hur is every bit as impressive now as it has been for decades. To see the crew's clever use of miniatures in action scenes, seamless green screen work, and a grand scale chariot race makes it one of the most important and influential works of art in the 20th century. It's something you'd have a hard time denying. So although I don't think the last 40 minutes of the film are necessary, I also won't deny the influence the entire film had on cinema. Props. +Heston & Boyd +Massive in scale for 1959 +Supporting characters help improve the journey +Gorgeous sets and visuals -Last 40 minutes drag the film into an unnecessary place 8.7/10
    Thomas D Super Reviewer
  • Jan 23, 2014
    The definition of a classic epic film, Ben-Hur is a film that well over 50 years later still packs a punch. The winner of 11 Oscars, Ben-Hur stands the test of time as extremely well-executed, strongly acted, and enthralling in both its scope and action sequences. The film follows a wealthy Jewish prince, at the time of Jesus, who finds himself at odds with the Roman Empire. Ben-Hur embodies the classical three-act story structure, and does so in an admirable way. Too many modern films rush the acts, and fail to fully elaborate on their story. At over 3.5 hours, this is certainly not a problem with Ben-Hur. The story feels organic to itself, we are left to see events unfold in a natural way. Thus the film has a powerful progression, and is complete in its acts. It doesn't feel as if its building to one point, so much as its building to its theme, a sure sign of a maturely rendered film. The vast scope of Ben-Hur is awe-inspiring. Its world building is grand, realistic, and meticulous in its detail. In fact, it surpasses many modern sword and sandal epics of today. This is combined with strong cinematography, and laudable performances. Charlton Heston feels perfect for the role, possessing the physical presence necessary to command a scene. He is matched well by a supporting cast including Stephen Boyd, who excel with their dialogue. No one seems unmatched, its host of interesting characters populate the screen, giving texture to the film's ambitious narrative. The sense of flow is also impeccable for most of the film, keeping a kinetic energy about itself. Such a combination is reminiscent of other brilliant Epics of its era, notably Lawrence of Arabia. It's the film's action sequences that, by far, separate Ben-Hur from other epics, and place it among the best of its era and, perhaps, among the best grand epics ever. The battles feel not only large, but are filmed with long, continuous shots, with wide angle lenses. We see the vast array of action unfold not in numerous close-up shots, like films of today, but in one wide context, which makes the scenes all the more powerful. The chariot scene is a masterpiece of cinema, breathtaking, and yet never insisting upon itself. This is true of the naval battle preceding it as well, rivaling any similar scene of today. In the end, Ben-Hur simply feels large. The biblical backdrop of the film is used to good effect, and represents an interesting parallel story. The grand action sequences, the character arcs, all of it make for an experience that feels complete, albeit long. The film isn't flawless, however, with some bland female performances, and a third act which overstays its welcome, especially in the last few scenes. Still, it's a spectacle, to be sure, and well befitting of its status. 4.5/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 12, 2013
    The chariot race sequence in "Ben-Hur" is still just as heart-pounding and incredible in today's age as it was back at the time of its release. William Wyler's biblical epic is an astounding achievement; the kind of film that will never be made in Hollywood again. Technically, it's so intimidating and groundbreaking on every level that it's almost scary, and to think that all of its action sequences were pulled off without the aid of CGI is unbelievable. (Not that unbelievable, given that it was 1959 and CGI wasn't available yet, but you get my point.) "Ben-Hur" only drags in some places due to a slightly uneven narrative, but that becomes secondary when you realize how masterful of a film it truly is.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer
  • Sep 19, 2012
    Best movie of the year 1959! I loved it, the music, the cast... everything! Two thumps up!
    Serge E Super Reviewer

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