Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2012: #5

The Hobbit Leaves the Shire Once Again

By David Mumpower

January 7, 2013

Wait! Who let the brown wizard into the movie?

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After a nine year absence, Frodo Baggins once again made an appearance at the theater. The series of events that led to his arrival are an obfuscating batch of mixed signals and acrimonious feelings. Somehow, everything worked out such that Peter Jackson could direct another trilogy of Lord of the Rings movies, and he brought a new film format along with him.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is in the conversation for most triumphant movie production of all time. The 2003 release became the second best global box office winner to that point, trailing only Titanic. And depending on perspective, The Return of the King bested Titanic at the Academy Awards.

Both titles were lauded 11 times. Titanic was nominated three more times yet it failed to win in those categories (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Makeup). Conversely, The Return of the King went 11 for 11, a perfect sweep. To a larger point, however, whether Titanic or The Return of the King or some other title is the most triumphant movie production of all time is irrelevant. Simply earning a spot in the discussion is a hallmark achievement for any filmmaker.

Peter Jackson is such a filmmaker. The moment he stopped filming his third and final movie in the Lord of the Rings franchise, Jackson announced a hope. He hinted that he could someday return to the shire as director of The Hobbit, an earlier work of J.R.R. Tolkien. The presumption was that New Line Cinema would be orgasmic over the proposition of another Jackson production. Alas, the two sides began feuding over money.


The Lord of the Rings trilogy earned an almost unprecedented $2.9 billion. When The Return of the King exited theaters, these three titles represented 30% of the all-time top ten in terms of global box office. The problem with distributing payments for such a rainmaking production is that everyone wants their fair share. Giant corporations are not in the habit of being as fair as possible. The bottom line is what matters. New Line was not in a rush to pay Jackson what he believed was owed.

This decision is not as crazy as it sounds. There was never a guarantee that another Middle Earth movie would be produced. Even if it were, Jackson did not necessarily have to be involved. Yes, he should be but the rules of business still apply. If a studio can create a film that earns the same money using cheaper talent, they should at least consider that option.

Barely a year after Jackson stood at the podium and thanked everyone for all the Oscars (and I do mean all of them), he sued New Line Cinema. They were reticent to pay him the percentage of the revenue profit that the lauded New Zealand director believed he was owed. We are not talking about a few hundred dollars, either. Jackson’s statement regarding the matter indicated that his check was several zeroes short of the correct amount, eight of them to be precise. Jackson sued New Line Cinema for what his lawyers stated was at least $100 million in unpaid income. Suffice to say that New Line started looking for other directors for The Hobbit.

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