Christian Classic 'Ben-Hur' Set For Comeback; Mark Burnett, Roma Downey Will Produce

( [email protected] ) Apr 27, 2014 11:04 PM EDT
Ben Hur
(Photo : MGM)

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are set to produce a new, big budget version of the Christian classic, Ben-Hur.  

Like others adaptations before, Keith Clarke and John Ridley's script is based on Lew Wallace's 1880 novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ." According to Variety, the story focuses on the years prior to those portrayed in a 1959 film, centering on the characters Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem, and his childhood friend Messala, who returns home as a commanding officer of the Roman legions and betrays the Ben-Hur family.

Ben Hur
Charlton Heston playing Ben Hur in the 1959 film version of the 1880 novel.

The 1959 classic starred Charlton Heston,Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins and Hugh Griffith, and is probably the most famous of the previous renditions of the story.  Known for its spectacular chariot race scene and stunning seascape scenery, the film won 11 Oscars, including best picture.

A 1925 version did very well,also.

Burnett and Downey also produced the recently released film Son of God, and have gained many fans and helped in the revival of Christian films and television lately.  

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett Son of God
Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey at Celebration Cinema in Grand Rapids to promote their new movie Son of God on Thursday, December 5, 2013. (Andrew Kuhn |

MGM and Paramount will co-produce the new version of the Ben-Hur story.  Paramount has also done very well in the Christian market, and has helped drive Hollywood's new attention to biblical epics with Darren Aronofsky's Noah. That film, which produced much debate in the Christian community, recently crossed $300 million in global ticket sales.

Some think that the choice of Burnett and Downey is proof that Paramount feels like the Noah movie would have been an even bigger success if a known Christian had been at the helm.  

Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, the group behind the movement that played a role in Phil Robertson's return to "Duck Dynasty," applauded the move.

"If faith-driven consumers were a core target for Noah, Darren Aronofsky was the wrong choice. Having left untold millions on the table with that film, Paramount appears to have learned from its mistakes and to be taking a completely new approach with the upcoming remake of Ben-Hur by signing producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey," Stone told Entertainment Weekly.

"Burnett and Downey have a strong track record of success in understanding, respecting, and reaching Faith Driven Consumers. If Ben-Hur is managed like their previous projects - which are the model of how to do this right - it could be the next Passion of the Christ, which set the standard for Biblical box office performance," Stone continued.

"We are thrilled to have Mark and Roma join the production team to bring such an indelible classic story to the big screen," MGM CEO Gary Barber said in a statement.

"Their unrivaled passion, creativity and success in the faith-based content space will be a huge asset to the film, and we look forward to working together," he continued.

The team of Burnett and Downey seem ready to get to work, too.  

"What an honor it will be to help bring this epic film back to the big screen," they said in the statement. "When Gary Barber allowed us to read John Ridley's amazing script, we immediately knew we had to join this team."