Hugh Hudson, who directed the enduringly popular movie Chariots of Fire, has died at 86 following a brief illness.
His family said in a statement to BBC News that the “beloved husband and father” died at Charing Cross Hospital in London on Friday.
After working in commercials and documentaries, Hudson came out of nowhere to achieve stratospheric success with the 1981 release of Chariots of Fire, which won best picture and three other Oscars. Hudson was nominated for best director but ultimately lost to Warren Beatty for Reds.
Based on the true story of two British Olympic runners competing in the 1924 Olympics, Chariots of Fire was a surprise popular hit that resonated with audiences around the world. Viewers warmed to the movie’s underdog themes involving social class and marveled at the now-iconic sequence of the ensemble cast running in slow motion along the beach set to the electronic pulses of composer Vangelis.
The sequence, which opens and closes the movie, became so famous that it was parodied in a number of other movies, most memorably in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Chariots of Fire was also notable for exploring Christian themes in a thoughtful and complex manner, particularly involving the protagonist Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a Scottish missionary who refused to compete on the Sabbath.
The film’s title comes from the Psalms verse featured in the hymn “Jerusalem,” which also plays a key role on the soundtrack.
Hudson’s movie career never replicated the success of Chariots of Fire. His follow-up was 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, starring Christopher Lambert in the title role. Revolution (1986), starring Al Pacino, was a critical and commercial bomb.
His final directorial credit was the little-seen Finding Altamira, a historical drama starring Antonio Banderas, that was released in 2016.
In a Guardian interview in 2012, Hudson reflected on Chariot’s enduring popularity.
“The film was used by Thatcherites to boost morale around the time of the Falklands conflict,” he said. “But people also queued around the block to see it in Buenos Aires. They related to what it was really saying: stand up for yourself in the face of the establishment hypocrisy.”
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