Ben-Hur

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The tropes specific to individual versions need to be moved to pages for those versions.


The first edition cover
The poster for the 1925 version
The chariot race from the 1959 version

Full title: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Christ does have an important role in this story, but it's often tangential. It's more about the conflict between Ben-Hur, a former nobleman turned slave, and Messala, a childhood friend who betrayed him.

Versions of this story include:

  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the original novel by Lew Wallace, a Union general in the American Civil War and the Governor of New Mexico, published in 1880
  • Ben-Hur (play), a play that debuted on Broadway in 1899
  • Ben Hur (1907 film), a one-reel silent film adaptation
  • Ben-Hur (1925 film), an MGM silent film adaptation starring Ramon Novarro
  • Ben-Hur (1959 film), an MGM sound film adaptation starring Charlton Heston; it won eleven Academy Awards - until this page is cleaned up, it will focus on this version of the story except where otherwise specified
  • Ben Hur (2003 film), an animated direct-to-video film adaptation featuring the voice of Charlton Heston
  • A live theatrical show, Ben-Hur Live, released to public viewing in Europe in 2009
  • Ben Hur (miniseries), a television miniseries that aired in 2010
  • Ben-Hur (2016 film), directed by Timur Bekmambetov and starring Jack Huston as Ben-Hur and Morgan Freeman as Ilderim.

The 1925 film version was added to the National Film Registry in 1997. The 1959 film version was added to the National Film Registry in 2004.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the Ben-Hur franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • Academy Award: Cleaned house. Ben-Hur was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 11, missing only Adapted Screenplay. The film won Best Picture, Wyler won Best Director, Heston won Best Actor and Hugh Griffith took home Best Supporting Actor for playing Sheikh Ilderim. The 11 Oscars set a record, since tied by Titanic and The Return of the King.
  • Ancient Rome
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: Ilderim, if you replace oil with gold. Or horses.
  • Arranged Marriage: Esther. She doesn't go through with it.
  • Badass Judean: Judah definitely fits the bill.
  • Bible Times
  • The Big Race: Judah Ben-Hur and Messala play out their conflict in a famous Chariot Race.
  • Chariot Race: The Trope Codifier.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ben-Hur's spear throwing.
  • Clear My Name:
    • Judah has to restore his standing after having been falsely accused of trying to assassinate the governor.
    • Also, the author. According to the historian Victor Davis Hanson, Wallace may have been so exasperated over accusations of incompetence at the Battle of Shiloh that he wrote this book to distract himself.
  • Dutch Angle: An extremely powerful one that shows Jesus on the cross.
  • Epic Movie: Spars with Gone with the Wind as the quintessential example. For that matter, the 1925 silent version was the most expensive movie ever made at the time.
  • The Faceless / The Voiceless: Jesus, in both film versions.
    • In the stage production of the novel, Jesus wasn't even portrayed by an actor; He only appeared as a beam of intense white light.
  • Funny Foreigner: Sheikh Ilderim in the movie.
  • Galley Slave: Trope Codifier. Chained rowers, brutal overseers with whips, and a drummer.
  • Hero of Another Story: This happens in the background of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, arguably a more important series of events.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: A deliberate example. Director William Wyler and co-screenwriter Gore Vidal told Stephen Boyd, the actor portraying Messala, to play him as if he and Ben-Hur had been lovers as youths and that his vindictiveness is therefore motivated by a sexual and romantic rejection as much as a political one. They did not, however, tell Charlton Heston, who found out years later and was not pleased. This did add an interesting dynamic to the scenes between Ben-Hur and Messala, since Heston's uncomfortable reactions to some of Boyd's behavior came off as reluctance towards his former lover.
  • If You Know What I Mean: Sheik Ilderim does this. "One God, that I can understand; but one wife? That is not civilized. [nudges Judah] It is not generous!"
  • Ironic Echo: "We keep you alive to serve this ship. Row well, and live."
    • As Ben-Hur is dragged off to the slave ship, Jesus gives Ben-Hur much-needed water despite the Roman guards threatening to stop him. Later, when Ben-Hur sees that the "miracle healer" is Jesus, he tries to return the favor of offering Jesus some water during his tribulation only for the Romans to successfully stop him.
  • Large Ham: You can tell Hugh Griffith is enjoying himself as Ilderim. Heston as Judah has a few moments as well.
  • Letterbox The chariot sequence is ALWAYS presented in letterbox, even if the rest of the movie is a Pan and Scan format.
  • Made a Slave
  • Oscar Bait: A hypersuccessful one.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Quintus Arrius is a slave-keeping imperialist just like Messala. But because he's nice to Ben-Hur, he's considered a good guy. Even Pontius Pilate gets off relatively lightly.
  • The Queen's Latin: In the movie, Roman characters are mostly played by Brits, and speak accordingly.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: Well, it isn't exactly a macho movie, but the galley battle and chariot race scenes are like testosterone and adrenaline mixed together. This only adds to the aforementioned Ho Yay, but then again... "Jimmy, do you like movies about gladiators?"
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Judah is a Badass, and devout in his Jewish faith. In the end, he embraces the teachings of Jesus.
  • Shining City: Rome and Jerusalem.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: A borderline example, since the places the story of the gospel in the background of Judah's adventures.
  • Sword and Sandal
  • X Meets Y / Recycled in Space: The novel has often been referred to as "The Count of Monte Cristo meets Quo Vadis" or "The Count of Monte Cristo in the first century AD".
  • You Are Number Six: Ben-Hur being called 'Forty-One' on the Galley.