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Last Rings film to make $1bn return
By Ian Nathan and Jack Malvern, Arts Reporter
December 2, 2003
Times Online
The last instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which had its premiere in New Zealand yesterday, looks set to become only the second film afterTitanic to make more than $1 billion at the box office.

Audiences have lapped up Peter Jackson’s visionary transformation of Tolkien’s books into a spectacular set of films, and there is every reason to believe that the momentum engendered by the first two will continue with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

If anything, The Return could outdo its money-spinning predecessors, as growing numbers of fans latch on to their success. The second film,The Two Towers, grossed $920 million (£535 million) — $60 million more than the first. The Lord of the Rings films stand equal with Harry Potter, with an estimated $1.8 billion in ticket sales around the world, and $500 million ahead of the Matrix trilogy.

Jackson still has some way to go before he can compete with George Lucas’s $3.8 billion Star Warsseries, but he has the backing of a multimillion-dollar global marketing strategy.

It was significant that the public debut of the film (defined as the “world premiere”) took place in Wellington. It was a sign of the New Line studio’s satisfaction with the director that the usual procession of promotional events is going almost in reverse to prescribed marketing logic.

The films were made in New Zealand and it was at Jackson’s request that the premiere was held there to reward New Zealand’s contribution. The subsequent tour, with the ensemble cast splitting up to spread the word across the globe, travelling to Berlin, London, New York and Los Angeles, will play second fiddle.

The London premiere will feature almost all the important stars, including Sir Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen, but Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom have yet to confirm their attendance.

In raw terms — investment versus profit — theRings trilogy has been stunningly successful. New Line invested a grand total of $310 million in the three films and on the first film alone almost trebled their investment.

Add DVD sales, television deals and merchandising and that figure swells to nearly $3 billion, although official figures have not been released.

Mark Ordesky, executive producer of the films at New Line, said: “As a business the extended cuts are profitable as a stand-alone. So, not only are the films profitable but the investment put into the DVD versions is also successful.”

Jackson reaps his own financial rewards. His deal, after an upfront fee of $10 million, allows him a share of the profits above an estimated $100 million threshold. Various estimates put Jackson’s cut at something approaching $150 million, and that is before Return of the King hits the cinemas.

The trilogy has been an inspired piece of film-making logistics. Making all three films at once, in New Zealand, using home-grown creative facilities, reduced the costs radically. The risk was huge. If the first film had failed, the sequels would have been impossible to promote.

The process worked, however, encouraging other trilogies such as The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean to have their sequels filmed back to back. “We never conceived of doing it any other way,” Ordesky said.

“But I’m sure it’s tens of millions if not more that we have saved.”

As well as a creative triumph, the films have been a strategic triumph. Until now, New Line was best known for its teen horror franchises such as theNightmare on Elm Street films, which made small but tidy profits. New Line’s parent is AOL Time Warner, but AOL’s other subsidiary, Warner Brothers, was where all the blockbusting was meant to be going on with its Matrix and Harry Potterfranchises.

When Bob Shaye, New Line’s CEO, accepted the challenge to make three films simultaneously, he was risking everything. Warner Brothers was draining AOL’s resources and if the trilogy had failed it was almost certain that New Line would have been subsumed into Warner Brothers and ceased to exist.


$1.8 billion (£1 billion): the worldwide box-office total from the first two Lord of the Rings films

200,000: the number of digital participants in the battle scenes

12.5 million: rings of chainlink armour

2 costume makers who have no fingerprints after three years of making chainmail

192 minutes long, the film had to be cut from a reputed six hours

1,600 pairs of rubber ears and feet were used in the filming

250 horses were used, including five miniature horses for the hobbits

£50,000 of coffee was drunk by the crew

26,000 extras were used in the crowd scenes

£10,000 was the price agreed by Tolkien for the film rights

40,933 signatures from fans who want deleted scenes of Christopher Lee, alias Saruman, to be restored to the film

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