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Ben-Hur Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 13+

1959 biblical epic has fierce blood-spilling, cruelty.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that, as early "spectacle" movies go, this one has few peers. Ben-Hur was a landmark achievement in grand biblical storytelling. Set in ancient Israel during Christ's young adulthood and focused on a stalwart Jewish patriot and his family, spiritual beliefs and Judeo-Christian values inform both the characterizations and the plot. Clear messages from the gospel are delivered throughout ("blessed are the merciful," "love your enemy"). The Roman villains are brutal slave masters, whipping and beating their way into town, and bent on destroying the peaceful citizens of ancient Israel. Several scenes take place in a leper colony where two principles are shown with open, rotting sores. The climactic chariot race, which includes collisions, men dragged under chariots, bloody injuries, and intensely suspenseful competition, set new standards for action-filmmaking without modern cinematic razzle-dazzle. By modern standards of gore and gristle (seen in some horror movies and their parodies), however, Ben-Hur is not shocking as it once was but still is bloody, savage in parts, and too intense for younger kids.

  • Families can talk about how action movie-making has changed since Ben-Hur was released in 1959. Find out how the filmmakers photographed the chariot race and why it was considered such a major achievement. How might they do it today?
  • From 1927 to 1961, mainstream movies did not show Jesus' face; think about possible reasons for this. How effective was the portrayal of Jesus in this movie, even without audiences seeing his face or hearing his voice? How did the scene in which Jesus gives water to Judah Ben-Hur impact the story?
  • When this movie was released, it was admired for being a "human" story as well as a spectacular action piece. How did the filmmakers accomplish this?

The good stuff
  • message true4

    Messages: Promotes loyalty, staying true to one's principles, and preserving freedom. The story, set during Jesus Christ's lifetime, introduces Christian doctrine and affirms Judeo-Christian values. Includes numerous biblical quotations, such as "Blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemakers"; "Life is everlasting; death is nothing to fear"; and "Love your enemy."

  • rolemodels true4

    Role models: Judah Ben-Hur is a true hero: brave, strong, honest, determined, and loving. The movie portrays both traditional Jews and those converting to Christianity as peace-loving and moral. Jews and Arabs are united in the face of a greater enemy, the Roman Empire. Villains are Romans, depicted as manipulative, cruel, and power-hungry. A few people of color are seen in the background; there is one sympathetic featured Arab character.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: Numerous scenes portray man's inhumanity to man. People are marched through a broiling desert; one man falls and is kicked down a sandy hillside to die. In a lengthy sequence set in an ancient galley ship, chained men in loincloths are whipped and forced to row until they keel over; they're later involved in a battle at sea that results in fatal injuries (including one bloody stump) and sea water turning red with the blood of the drowning men. Jesus's crucifixion is graphic and bloody; nails are pounded into him and the cross is covered in his blood. The climactic action sequence is a chariot race in which many accidents and cruelties occur: collisions, men being dragged through the dirt, horses being whipped continuously, and steel blades being purposefully maneuvered to destroy competitors. In the aftermath, a principal player with grisly injuries is at center stage through several scenes before he dies.

  • sex false1

    Sex: Two love scenes include kissing and passionate embraces.

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false0

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Not applicable