100 Movie Challenge: #100 Ben-Hur

B+

We begin our journey through filmmaking history with the 1959 epic, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston in his Oscar-winning role as Judah Ben-Hur.

Ben-Hur 1959
Ben-Hur 1959

To this day, Ben-Hur maintains the record for the most Academy Awards for a single film (now tied with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), winning an unprecedented 11 Oscars out of 12 nominations.  This then begs the question, how could the most decorated film of all time only strike the list at #100?

It’s a good question.  Like the two other films tied for the Oscar record, Ben-Hur effectively melds a wonderful story and great acting with a superbly high production value (the $15+ million budget was the most ever seen at the time of production).  The film follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince on a quest to rescue his mother and sister from unjust slavery.  The story is paralleled with the story of Christ, including a climactic scene at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur in the famous Chariot Scene
Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur in the famous Chariot Scene

While Ben-Hur certainly holds up over time, it is admired now primarily for its influence on the future of film.  The stunning biblical/historical epic defined a genre and re-established the bar as to what was possible in the world of film.  Scenes like the infamous “chariot scene” or the naval battle are as realistic today as ever, despite being made over 50 years ago (which is definitely some rare praise).

Ben-Hur earns a solid B+.  Perhaps it isn’t quite the life-changing movie now that it once was, but without it, films like Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, and, the upcoming biblical epic, Noah, may never have existed.  And on the liberty scale, Ben-Hur earns a walloping 9.5 out of 10.  The entire story is centered around the dream of attaining freedom, which is perhaps what makes Judah’s quest so noble.  For him, nothing compares to the notion of being truly free; a theme that rings just as true today as 2000 years ago.

Wyler’s masterpiece continues to prove why it holds a place as a film history juggernaut.  My only regret was not being able to see it on the big screen.  My tiny Macbook screen probably doesn’t do justice to the originally intended epic-widescreen experience.  (If you, for whatever reason, have the opportunity to see this in 35mm, do not, I repeat DO NOT miss that chance).  So why only #100?  I suppose that remains to be seen.  We’ve got a lot of movies to go.

That’s one down.  Next up: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story.

  • 100. Ben-Hur
  • 99. Toy Story

What did you think of Ben-Hur?  Were you totally blown away?  Or were you snoring by the start of hour 3?  Let us know!

 

Richard Mattox

Richard Mattox is the head editor of Smash Cut Culture and a 2013 alumnus of the Taliesin Nexus Filmmakers Workshop and Internship program. Currently pursuing a Masters in Professional Writing (screenwriting emphasis) from USC, Mattox is an avid film-junkie, a singer-songwriter, and a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan.