January 8, 2013


The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands as a singular achievement in the history of cinema.  Peter Jackson would have to be crazy to return to this world in the shadow of the enormous financial and artistic success of the Rings series.  Thankfully Jackson is crazy, and just kicked off another Tolkien-based trilogy with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. To explore the legacy of The Lord of the Rings and how The Hobbit matches up, I tried to capture how the series has evolved over the last decade with Middle-earth by the Numbers.  The feature provides a numbers-based snapshot of each movie and its place in the filmography by looking at the box office, critical reception, and miscellaneous facts.

Hit the jump for a comprehensive review of Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.


lord of the rings fellowship of the ring

Fellowship of the Ring

Year: 2001
RT: 92%
Worldwide Gross: $872 million

  • 150 million – Copies sold of J.  R.  R.  Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as of April 2007.
  • 2 – Parts in the original plan to adapt Rings.  Miramax announced in January 1997 they secured the LOTR rights for Peter Jackson to direct.  The project stalled because Miramax purportedly could not find a budget that met the approval of Disney (who owned Miramax at the time).  Jackson recalls: “Miramax asked us to abandon the idea of two films and compress it into one as their way of dealing with the budget.  But you’d be losing so many characters and so many events, anybody who read the book would have a natural disappointment.”
  • 45 – Minutes Jackson spent pitching the two–part version of Lord of the Rings to New Line.  New Line CEO Robert Shaye liked what he heard, but was confused why Jackson pitched two movies when there are three books.  Jackson was amazed: “It was one of those unbelievable moments.  Three films, of course, was our dream.” New Line signed the deal for three movies and paid Miramax a reported $10 million (plus points on the back end) for early development work.
  • 150 – Actors who Jackson auditioned for the lead role, Frodo.  Jackson was convinced that Elijah Wood, then just 18 years old, was the man for the part as soon as he saw Wood’s audition tape.
  • 15 – Months allotted to shoot all three films in Jackson’s home country, New Zealand.  The trilogy budget was $285 million and required a crew of more than 2,500 people, most of whom were Kiwi locals.
  • 9 – Members of the Fellowship of the Ring: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Boromir.  Before filming began the actors trained for 6 weeks.  Jackson hoped the actors would bond so the chemistry might translate to the screen.  It worked: Each cast member got a tattoo of the Elvish symbol for the number nine.  Except for John Rhys–Davies, whose stunt double took on the tattoo.
  • 4 – Approximate height in feet of a hobbit.  Several tricks were employed to make the actors playing the hobbits appear much smaller than their co-stars.  For instance, certain sets like Bag End were built twice at two different sizes so each character would look the right height relative to their surroundings.  The effect was not always so complicated.  Occasionally the Hobits simply knelt down in the frame.
  • 1 – Ring to rule them all.

Filmmaker: “I can squeeze the books into two movies to save you money.” Studio: “Why don’t you just make three movies?” That anecdote always amazes me.  It is the reverse of everything we expect from the filmmaker/studio relationship.  $3 billion later, it seems like a no–brainer, but there was no precedent for a fantasy series on screen that would justify a $300 million investment, no matter how large the built–in audience who love the book.  By Box Office Mojo’s classification, the only pure fantasy film to gross more than $100 million domestically prior to 2000 is Hook (though admittedly they don’t include mixed–genre fare like Star Wars).  New Line’s support set a new ceiling for what the Lord of the Rings could be on screen, and Jackson proved up to the task.


lord of the rings two towers

The Two Towers

Year: 2002
RT: 96%
Worldwide Gross: $926 million

  • 40,000 – Toy soldiers Jackson used to plan the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  Conceptual Designer Alan Lee created a miniature of Helm’s Deep at 1:35 scale as one of his first tasks when he joined the production in 1997.  The miniature was eventually used in long shots for filming along with a “big-ature” at 1:4 scale (7 feet tall, 50 feet wide) that was used for the big explosion.
  • 700 – Extras on set for the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  It took 4 months to shoot the massive battle, mostly at night.
  • 6 – Months to build the Rohan capital Edoras on the side of Mount Sunday.  Since the cast and crew spent months living at the site, the thatched-roof buildings doubled as offices and mess halls.  The Conservation Society of New Zealand granted permission to film here, in the middle of a national park, as long as the crew returned the land to its original state once filming was finished.
  • 11,000 – Sandbags used in the construction of the Dead Marshes set.
  • 799 – Digital effects shots, totaling 73 minutes of runtime.  The massive battle scene explains some of the reliance on effects, but the key innovation was Gollum.  Weta Digital started testing animation for Gollum in 1998 to prove to New Line they could make the digital character work on screen.  Then came Andy Serkis, now the godfather of motion capture performance.  Jackson was so impressed with Serkis’ performance that he brought Serkis on to set to interact with the other actors.
  • 15 – Times Gollum says his catchphrase word, “precious,” over the course of the film.
  • 48 – Hours needed to render the most complex frames of Treebeard.  For comparison, one frame of Gollum took about 8 minutes to render.

Two Towers sometimes catches flak for the lulls that come with being the middle chapter.  But it also gave us Gollum, who I see as the signature character of the film trilogy.  And you can’t go too wrong when a giant night battle is your climax.  Two Towers successfully maintained the quality of the first film and with just enough momentum to reach the conclusion of the trilogy with few signs of wear—no easy task.

Head to page 2 for the numbers on Return of the King and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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