Vodcast: Is the New Ben-Hur Better Than the Old Ones?


Judah Ben-Hur just gets better and better with age.

And, depending on who you ask, the same is true of his movies.

The latest retelling of Lew Wallace’s epic 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, limped through the box office during its opening weekend—perhaps not altogether unlike some of the horses in the 1925 silent version of the classic story.

But, in spite of a less-than-stellar box office take, an argument is being made that this update is in fact better than the 1925 version, and even better than the 1959 Charlton Heston classic that garnered a record 11 Academy Awards.

What is that argument? Is it valid? Can it really be argued that a box office flop is better than a Oscar-laden classic? You might be surprised by who thinks the answer to the latter question is a resounding “Yes!”

You might also be surprised by who has only read the sizable 1880 tome and skipped the movies altogether.

And, for those of you who want to take this lightning rod controversy of a topic on the road, here is an audio version that you can stream or download.


Who wrote this?

Jake Roberson is Plugged In’s social media manager and strategist. He’s the father of four children and husband of one wife, and he quite likes life that way. He also likes writing about entertainment, pop culture, dadhood … and food. He’s also a former Guinness World Record holder for participating in the largest hacky sack circle. Catch up with him on Twitter @jake_roberson

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Esther O'Reilly More than 1 year ago
I was not a fan of the new one, but I'm not blindly devoted to the Heston version either. Not to pander, but honestly Focus on the Family radio theater has the closest thing to a definitive Ben-Hur adaptation that I've ever encountered. 

The main glaring flaw of the new movie was the terrible writing. I can't believe some of this dialogue made it past a drunk first draft. Truly, truly awful. Also, the character of Jesus was gratingly anachronistic and weightless. 

I wrote up more thoughts at my blog, but advance warning to anyone who really loved this: it's not pretty.

charitysplace More than 1 year ago
I like the new one. Took a friend to see it and she said she hadn't realized how bloated the Heston version was until now. Though I agree, seeing so many horses killed (even CGI) makes my heart ache. Yet, it gets across how little Rome or any of the ancient cultures valued life.
jake_roberson More than 1 year ago
I think our memories tend to put a shiny glow on many things that we like (mine does, at least). It's nice because of the fun, shiny memories, but sometimes it keeps us from remembering legitimate flaws. *coughcough*LongSelfIndulgentSoliloquies*coughcough* =D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

My family watched the Charlton Heston version two days ago, and then last night we saw the Downey/Burnett film.  I think it's hilarious that Bob mentioned Heston's ponderous pauses, because my little brother complained about just that!

But I don't think one movie is better than another here; rather, they seem to compliment each other well.  In the Heston film, Jesus was so holy that you never see his face; in the new one, His humanity is a bigger emphasis.

In the end, I enjoyed how both movies drew out different themes.  Where one was weaker, the other picked up the slack.  I really like how together they convey a more complete understanding of the story.  It's a rare experience in movie remakes; I've never had it happen before.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well said, and in fewer words than me! :)
B Evans More than 1 year ago
Do I lose my Christian card if I admit to not knowing anything about Ben Hur, other than "there's Jesus"? (Thanks for the spoilers, though, they were actually helpful LOL ;) )
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
I believe this is a heavy topic of theologic debate in modern circles; "Can you lose your card?" Currently Eternal Card Security is the prevailing doctrine in most evangelical circles. ;-)
jake_roberson More than 1 year ago
If anything, Paul and BW lose theirs for not simply sticking to the book. ;-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi, my name is Adam

I think there is a key scene that could have been added and I don't think it would have added more than 1-2 minutes. Side note: for those wondering why his name is Judah Ben Hur, Ben means "son of" so his name is Judah Son of Hur. If he was Scandinavian his name would probably be Judah Hurson or Hursen........minus the fact that Judah is a Hebrew name, not Scandinavian; ok side note over.

Anyway, the part I would like added is the meeting of the Magi at the beginning of the story. The meeting of the Magi en route to Bethlehem when Jesus was a child would be a good thing because it would put more emphasis on the story revolving around Christ (though, yes, Jesus did get more screen time in the new release than the Charleton Heston version) without needing to take up extra screen time. Another reason I think they should have put it in is because the character portrayed by Morgan Freeman was one of the Magi! That's how the story comes full circle. It didn't have to be a long drawn ought scene at the beginning of the movie; they could have done a 1-2 minute flashback of the Sheik (Morgan Freeman) retelling his account to Judah (Jack Huston). To be nit picky I would have also liked to have seen the Centurion at the cross (yes, the crucifixion of Christ is in the movie) proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.

Pros: I like how much extra screen time they gave to Jesus; and also the details they put into the movie revolving around Him. There is a scene where Judah has returned to Jerusalem (I'll try not to put too many spoilers) and there are many people in the scene walking in the same direction as him (though he's not going where they are going so they technically aren't walking with him) holding palm branches. I think this is supposed to signify the Triumphal Entry of Christ, though that event isn't shown. They showed Judas kissing Him in the garden and Peter chopping off the ear of one of the men who came to take Jesus. They showed the sign above Jesus' cross (though not was written on it), the thief asking for entry into Christ's Kingdom, Jesus asking the Father to forgive the people while on the cross, and Christ's final words of "it is finished." To top off the detail they even portrayed the Roman soldier piercing the side of Christ with a spear; but as I mentioned no one confessed Him to be the Son of God. Also, one last thing I'll add is they made a vague reference to II Timothy 4:7.

Cons: #1--No mention was made or portrayed of the Resurrection. Jesus didn't just die; He arose! Yes, more screen time was given to Jesus, but they fell short of presenting the full Gospel. That is important because as the original title of the book states, it's a story "of the Christ."  #2--No mention was made of Jesus being the Son of God (yes, I'm being redundant; but it's an important fact).

Overall, it wasn't a bad movie. I think the casting and the acting were done well. I wouldn't recommend it for younger audiences (parents, you should see it first by yourself and decide if your children can watch it) due to graphic scenes of battle, people catching fire, horses trampling people and chariots running over them.
Aditi Sharma More than 1 year ago
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