It’s been 55 years since Charlton Heston's “Ben-Hur” hit theaters. Now Mark Burnett and
"The Bible" producers said Friday that they will produce the new "Ben-Hur" based on Lewis Wallace's classic novel and featuring a diverse pedigree: "Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov will helm the picture, which is based on a script on which Oscar-winning "12 Years a Slave" writer John Ridley did a rewrite (from "The Way Back" scribe Keith Clarke's original draft).
Burnett will serve as producer while Downey will be an executive producer.
While the new project had been in development with Timur and the studios, the involvement of Burnett and Downey is a major boon for the picture, which also had not been given a release date.
Burnett and Downey have a golden touch when it comes to faith-based stories, with their "The Bible" miniseries on the History Channel a ratings smash. They also recently made "Son of God," a slightly modified Jesus-centric extraction of the miniseries that itself has grossed $60 million.
Wallace’s 1880 novel has had several go-rounds on the big screen, including a 1925 silent version directed by
The Technicolor movie also included a famous chariot race scene that set the standard for modern cinematic action pieces.
"Ben-Hur" tells the story of the titular character, Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince betrayed by his best friend and sold into slavery, leading him to return to exact vengeance, and centers on themes of revenge and forgiveness.
A release from MGM and Paramount said that "the film returns to the heart of Lew Wallace's epic novel focusing on the nature of faith."
Burnett and Downey added that the book "is one of the most important Christian works of fiction ever written" and predicted that this "will be the most anticipated movie release of 2016."
The new film comes at a moment when more modestly budgeted faith-based films such as "Heaven Is For Real" and "God Is Not Dead" have become box office hits for mainstream Hollywood. Big-budget biblical epics are also in vogue, with Paramount mounting the spectacle-driven "Noah" and Ridley Scott's "Exodus" set for release later this year.
"Ben-Hur" continues to up the ante, taking one of the most iconic movies ever made and giving it a new spin, and with a director known more for stylish genre-tinged films.