Fast and Furious-style chariot races and meeting Jesus Christ: 10 things you need to know about Ben-Hur

Fast and Furious-style chariot races and meeting Jesus Christ: 10 things you need to know about Ben-Hur

A lot has changed since the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston

The epic movie Ben-Hur will be thundering across movie screens in Hong Kong this week. This will be the fifth movie adaption of the original book. The last movie was a blockbuster in its day; it was the highest-grossing movie of 1959, and at that time was second only to Gone with the Wind as the highest-grossing film of all time. So what is it that makes Ben-Hur so awesome? It’s like Fast and Furious, ancient style! Here are 10 things you need to know before you see the latest version.

1 This movie, and the many other adaptations that came before it, come from a book written in 1880 by Lew Wallace. The book’s full name was Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

US actor Charlton Heston plays Ben Hur in the 1959 movie.
Photo: EPA

2 Megastar Charlton Heston played Ben Hur in the last live movie in 1959. He won a Best Actor Oscar for it. In fact, the movie collected 11 Oscars in total.

3 It was a big movie, in every sense of the word. It had the biggest budget of its time, the biggest sets using thousands of extras, hundreds of camels and thousands of horses to bring it all together.

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4 One scene from the previous film is one of the most memorable in the history of cinema – the chariot race. It was actually filmed in the real Circus Maximus in Rome, the site of actual chariot races in ancient Rome. You can see the epic scene here.

5 Hollywood knew that the race was going to be spectacular and actors and actresses of the time vied for a chance to watch the race as movie extras, filling up the seats of the Roman circus. They were even betting on who would win. Didn’t they read the script?

6 During that scene, there was a terrible crash between chariots and horses were killed or severely injured. There was a rumour that a stuntman was also killed and his death left in the movie, but this is not true.

7 The makers of Ben-Hur weren’t allowed to film this latest adaption at the Circus. Rome’s archaeologists and government thought there was too much risk of damaging historic buildings. But the town’s mayor Ignazio Marino and locals were not happy because they want to see Rome reclaim it’s place on the big screen. The decision meant a track had to be especially built for the scene.

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8 The latest version cost around US$100 million to make. Whether or not it will make that back remains to be seen, but rumour says that the marketing department are targeting a Christian fan base. The original book was considered a very important Christian work when it was released – so important that it was blessed by the Pope of the time, Leo XIII.

9 Ben Hur’s first name is Judah, and he is purely fictional. But, he is inspired by meeting Jesus Christ. Betrayed by his friend, Ben Hur is made a slave of the Romans and what follows is a dramatic story of vengeance and victory.

10 Morgan Freeman isn’t God. It might seem that way from the trailer but he is playing the part of a wealthy Nubian sheikh, Ilderim. He trains Ben Hur to be a charioteer. In this version of the story, Ilderim has a lot more power than usual.

We have 10 pairs of tickets for the Ben-Hur preview  to give away to Young Post readers 

It’s being screened on August 17 at 9.40pm in Festival Grand Cinema, Festival Walk. For a chance to win a pair of tickets, email us at with your full name, age, school, and phone number, with “Ben Hur tickets” in the subject line by Tuesday at noon. We’ll let you know that afternoon if you’re off to see the movie!

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Don’t be left saying, ‘Ben-Huh?’


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