After his boyhood friend Messala's fanatic loyalty to Rome makes him a powerful enemy, Judah Ben-Hur is found guilty of an attempted murder he did not commit. His family is banished and he is enslaved on a warship. Through his ferocity in a raging sea battle, he is able to escape and become a horse trainer. To exact his revenge, Ben-Hur decides to compete against Messala in the Roman chariot races. They race, locked in a battle to the death. Barely surviving, Ben-Hur forsakes the sword for Christ and finally finds redemption. Winner of a record 11 Academy Award, including Best Picture and Actor (Charlton Heston).
Ben-Hur scooped an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards® in 1959 and, unlike some later rivals, richly deserved every single one. This is epic filmmaking on a scale that had not been seen before and is unlikely ever to be seen again. But it's not just running time or a cast of thousands that makes an epic, it's the subject matter, and here the subject--Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his estrangement from old Roman pal Messala (Stephen Boyd)--is rich, detailed, and sensitively handled. Director William Wyler, who had been a junior assistant on MGM's original silent version back in 1925, never sacrifices the human focus of the story in favor of spectacle, and is aided immeasurably by Miklos Rozsa's majestic musical score, arguably the greatest ever written for a Hollywood picture. At four hours it's a long haul (especially given some of the portentous dialogue), but all in all, Ben-Hur is a great movie, best seen on the biggest screen possible. --Mark Walker