by Hilary Lewis
UPDATED: The Christian couple produced the hit History miniseries "The Bible" and big-screen adaptation "Son of God," mobilizing faith-based audiences to flood theaters for the latter.
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are bringing their experience with faith-based content to MGM and Paramount's Ben-Hur.
Burnett is joining as a producer while Downey joins as an executive producer.
The Paramount and MGM co-production is being directed by Wanted helmer Timur Bekmambetov.
The film is based on Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ about the nature of faith. The story focuses on a falsely accused nobleman who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend who betrayed him, but both have to choose between retribution and forgiveness.
Keith Clarke (The Way Back) wrote the screenplay with 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley revising the script.
"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."
Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore added: "A timeless film of this scale and scope requires an incredibly dedicated team of filmmakers, and the opportunity to have visionary talents like Mark and Roma be a part of the making of the film, and knowing their incredible dedication to their own faith, made them the ideal partners to help bring this story authentically to life."
Burnett and Downey co-produced History's hit miniseries The Bible, which also became the best-selling miniseries DVD of all time, and repackaged the parts about the life of Jesus for the 20th Century Fox-distributed film Son of God. With the latter, the pair reached out extensively to churches and religious groups, many of whom bought out entire theaters for showings of the film. Prior to the film's release, nearly half-a-million tickets had been purchased by churches and religious groups.
The two are currently producing A.D., a new drama series for NBC, and The Dovekeepers, a four-hour miniseries on the story of Masada for CBS, both set to air in 2015.
"What an honor it will be to help bring this epic film back to the big screen" said Burnett and Downey. "When Gary Barber allowed us to read John Ridley's amazing script, we immediately knew we had to join this team. We are thrilled to be able work with Timur, Sean, John and the entire MGM and Paramount teams. General Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur is one of the most important Christian works of fiction ever written and this script is astounding. It will be the most anticipated movie release of 2016."
The movie is set for release on Feb. 26, 2016. Burnett joins producers Sean Daniel and Joni Levinand Downey joins Ridley, Clarke and Jason F. Brown as executive producers.
Paramount will distribute the film worldwide with MGM handling select international territories and all television distribution.