Producers Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, the current champions of faith-based motion pictures, have been signed on by MGM and Paramount to produce a new version of the classic movie "Ben-Hur."
Burnett will be the remake's producer and Downey will be an executive producer, The Los Angeles Times
reports, with plans for the movie to be released in theaters in February 2016.
"Wanted" director Timur Bekmambetov will direct the movie, which will be based on a script which "12 Years a Slave" writer John Ridley rewrote from "The Way Back" writer Keith Clarke's original draft, The Times reported. Burnett and Downey said the new "Ben-Hur" will be based on Lewis Wallace's classic novel.
"Ben-Hur" has been made a few times, but it has been 55 years since Charlton Heston's version — and its unforgettable chariot race scene — hit the theaters in 1959. MGM was also behind that version of the film.
The new project has been in development for some time, but bringing on Burnett and Downey is seen as a major benefit for the movie because of the touch they bring with faith-based production. Their History Channel miniseries "The Bible"
has topped the ratings charts and their production of "Son of God"
has grossed $60 million in the box office.
Ben-Hur, written in 1880, was also made into a silent film in 1925. The Heston Technicolor version, directed by William Wyler, won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.
The movie tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who was betrayed by his best friend and sold into slavery, only to return and wreak his vengeance.
Burnett and Downey said in a press release issued by MGM and Paramount that Wallace's novel "is one of the most important Christian works of fiction ever written," and that it "will be the most anticipated movie release of 2016."
Biblical films are popular, with lower-budget films "Heaven Is for Real" and "God is Not Dead" becoming box office hits. In addition, Paramount is behind two big-budget biblical ethics, "Noah," and Ridley Scott's "Exodus," which will be released later this year.
Faith Driven Consumer, which advocates for increased entertainment options for religious audiences, said that by hiring Burnett and Downey, Paramount will not repeat the mistakes it made with "Noah."
"Darren Aronofsky was the wrong choice," the group said of "Noah's" director. "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.'"
Burnett and Downey "have a strong track record of success in understanding, respecting, and reaching faith-driven consumers," the group said in a press release. "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."
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