Trivia / Ben-Hur

1959 film:

  • Ability over Appearance: When casting the roles, William Wyler heavily emphasized characterization as opposed to looks or acting history.
  • Acting in the Dark: See Homoerotic Subtext on work page.
  • AFI's 100 Years... Series:
  • Author Existence Failure: While the film was in production, Sam Zimbalist died of a heart attack in November 1958. Wyler and Joseph Judson "J.J." Cohn consequently assumed Zimbalist's position at MGM's request.
  • Cool Horse: Ilderim's "children" are supposed to be Arabs, but are played by Lipizzaners, which are descended from North African Barbs. The sorrel horse Ilderim rides is an Arab; she shows the characteristic "flagging" of her tail as she runs.
  • Dyeing for Your Art: Stephen Boyd had to wear brown contact lenses to differentiate with the blue-eyed Heston at Wyler's request.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • The stunt coordinator was the legendary veteran stuntman/director Yakima Canutt; his son Joe was one of the stunt charioteers standing in for Heston. Joe is the one you see driving — and nearly flipped right out of the chariot — as the horses jump some wreckage in their path. That was unplanned, and Wyler kept it in, putting in a shot of Heston climbing back into place. Joe was unharmed.
    • William Wyler and Gore Vidal came up with the idea that Messala and Ben-Hur had genuine Foe Yay to provide motivation for their rivalry. Wyler told Vidal (after confirming Have You Told Anyone Else?) to tell Stephen Boyd to deliberately dial up the Ho Yay between Mesalla and Ben Hur, while ensuring that Charlton Heston be kept in the dark. Years later, when Vidal revealed this, Charlton Heston repeatedly spoke out against it, even saying that Vidal had little involvement, which the writer promptly debunked.
  • Executive Meddling:
    • Sam Zimbalist and William Wyler were dissatisfied with Karl Tunberg's script. So, Zimbalist hired S. N. Behrman and then playwright Maxwell Anderson to help rewrite the drafts.
    • According to Charlton Heston, Christopher Fry was Wyler's first choice as screenwriter, but Zimbalist requested Wyler to hire Vidal to rewrite the script. Fry would eventually return to rewrite most of the film's dialogue.
  • Fake Nationality: Practically everybody. The film featured Americans primarily playing the Jewish people and British actors playing the Romans. However, it's averted with Haya Harareet, who, like her character Esther, is from Israel.
  • Network to the Rescue: During the Fall of the Studio System, MGM studio head Joseph Vogel, inspired by the success of The Ten Commandments, announced that MGM would produce the film in a desperate gamble to save his studio. The gamble proved to be a success.
  • Real-Life Relative:
    • Cathy O'Donnell, the sister-in-law of William Wyler, played Tirzah. It would turn out to be her last film role before her death in 1970.
    • Also, chariot race sequence director Yakima Canutt's son Joe was a stunt double for Ben-Hur.
  • Throw It In!:
    • During the post-race celebration, the guy who picks up Messala's helmet and runs off with it did so spontaneously. The extras had been told to do whatever they wanted.
    • William Wyler took a liking to the sound made by a piece of debris when Heston kicked it during the scene of Ben-Hur returning to his house after escaping, and did several more takes trying to recapture it. When he told Heston what he wanted, Heston wondered why he hadn't just asked him to kick the thing again.
  • Troubled Production: The film had several issues during its production:
    • The film began development in 1952. MGM would later announce that the film's production would begin in 1955 in Israel and Egypt, but Karl Tunberg's script was not yet finished. MGM eventually suspended production in 1956.
    • When production of the film finally resumed, original director Sidney Franklin became ill and William Wyler took his place.
    • The budget was also set to be $7,000,000, but it eventually increased to $15,000,000, which was the largest budget of any film produced at the time.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Sidney Franklin was considered to direct it, but he fell ill and Sam Zimbalist convinced William Wyler to direct the film.
    • Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Geoffrey Horne, Leslie Nielsen and Cesare Denova were all considered to play Ben-Hur before Charlton Heston was cast.
    • Nielsen was originally considered to play Messala for the 1959 version. Heston himself was also considered, but he was eventually cast as Ben-Hur. Douglas was offered the role of Messala, but he didn't want to play a "second-rate baddie". Naturally, he wanted to play the lead, but that ship had sailed, so he made Spartacus instead.
    • Ava Gardner was considered for Esther.
    • Ben-Hur was originally going to be filmed in Libya, but the local government cancelled the film's permit over religious reasons about a week before filming began.
    • Also, several countries such as France, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom were considered as possible locations for shooting the film.
    • Marie Ney was originally cast as Miriam, only to be dismissed from the production two days later because she was unable to cry on cue.

2016 film:

  • Box Office Bomb: Budget, $100 million (not counting marketing costs). Box office, $26,410,477 (domestic), $94,061,311 (worldwide). One of the final bombs in the 2016 Summer Bomb Buster, a period that saw at least 10 other high-budget films fail either critically or commercially (or both) at the box office.
  • Creator Killer: Chipped in joint by Paramount and MGM.
    • This version of the film got caught up in a management feud at Paramount's parent company Viacom; CEO Philippe Dauman resigned in acrimony the day the movie opened.
    • It's also the first film in four years for director Timur Bekmambetov; his previous movie was another flop, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and both movies could end any ideas of him directing another film ever again.
    • Finally, 2016 aka the year of flops, of which only a few made more that $100 million domestically and none reached $200 million domestically, ended the job of Paramount president Brad Grey; he received a vote of confidence from the Redstones, though, but after other flops that extended into early 2017, Grey resigned and died of cancer a few months later.
  • Fake Nationality: Pracically everyone bar Ayelet Zurer (Naomi) and Sofia Black-D'Elia (Tirzah), who are Jewish and play Jews. Bonus point to Zurer for being Israeli.
  • What Could Have Been: Gal Gadot and Pedro Pascal were initially attached to the film.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Trivia/BenHur