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"The trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal."
Kenneth Turan

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is comprised of three live action fantasy adventure films; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). For simplicity, the titles are sometimes abbreviated to 'LOTR', with 'FotR', 'TTT', and 'RotK' for each of the respective films.

Set in Middle-earth, the three films follow the young Hobbit Frodo Baggins as he and the Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, to ensure the destruction of the Dark Lord Sauron. But the Fellowship breaks, and Frodo continues the quest together with his loyal companion Sam and the treacherous Gollum. Meanwhile the wizard Gandalf and Aragorn, heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, unite and rally the Free Peoples of Middle-earth in several battles culminating in the War of the Ring.

The movies were directed by Peter Jackson and released by New Line Cinema. The trilogy is based on the book The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and follows its general storyline, despite some deviations. Considered to be one of the biggest movie projects ever undertaken with an overall budget of $280 million, the entire project took eight years, with the filming for all three films done simultaneously and entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand.

The trilogy was among the highest-grossing films of all time, unadjusted for inflation. They are critically acclaimed, winning 17 Academy Awards in total, as well as wide praise for the cast and innovative practical and digital special effects. Each film in the trilogy also had Special Extended Editions, released a year after the theatrical release on DVD.



The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie poster (2001)

Previous attempts[]

Ever since the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, there was an interest in turning Tolkien's fantasy novels into film. In 1939, Walt Disney considered incorporating it into Fantasia, and he and his company continued to have an interest in the books until the 1970s. Tolkien and his publishers rejected several amateur suggestions to have the books adapted to film, and in one instance Tolkien criticized a screen treatment prepared by Morton Grady Zimmerman. He eventually leased the rights to The Hobbit to Rembrandt Films to make an animated film, but by 1967 they had only made a short which was viewed by twelve people.

By now, Tolkien was in conversations with Bernie-Katzka Productions and United Artists for the rights to The Lord of the Rings and "an option on The Hobbit". Peter Shaffer was commissioned to write a script for a three-hour film, which was deemed "elegant" but was never made. At this time, Denis O'Dell, a producer working for the Beatles, expressed interest in making a "musical multimedia extraveganza" starring the band members. He had considered Richard Lester to direct, but instead tipped David Lean. With Lean busy on Ryan's Daughter, it passed to Stanley Kubrick (who deemed it "unfilmable") and Michaelangelo Antonioni, to no avail.

In 1969, with the full rights now in their disposal, UA commissioned John Boorman to write a new script, but by the time he completed his rough draft in 1970, it was deemed too costly. In 1972, Arthur Rankin used a loophole in the US publication of the books (which made them public domain) to create an animated TV special based on The Hobbit (1977), and a sequel based on the closing chapters of The Return of the King (1980).

In 1974, Ralph Bakshi began negotiating to make it as a series of animated films, eventually teaming with producer Saul Zaentz to buy the rights in 1976. The first part was released in 1978 and its modest financial success eventually led to the sequel's cancelation. Nevertheless, other filmmakers like George Lucas are said to have had an interest in adapting The Hobbit, but were rejected by Zaentz, and instead the 1980s were occupied by Tolkien-esque original fantasy films like Excalibur and Willow, none of which were particularly well received.

At the time that Bakshi's film aired, a teenager Peter Jackson hadn't read the book, but "heard the name",[1] and went to see the film: "I liked the early part – it had some quaint sequences in Hobbiton, a creepy encounter with the Black Rider on the road, and a few quite good battle scenes – but then, about half way through, the storytelling became very disjointed and disorientating and I really didn't understand what was going on. However, what it did do was to make me want to read the book – if only to find out what happened!"[2]

Afterwards, he read a tie-in edition of the book during a twelve-hour train journey from Wellington to Auckland, thinking it would make for a great live-action film. While he always wanted to make fantasy films, he did not believe he could ever make The Lord of the Rings. He hadn't reread the book or rewatched the Bakshi film in the following years, but he had found out about previous attempts to adapt the book; although he didn't see the Rankin/Bass TV specials.[3] He also listened to the BBC Radio adaptation and watched "all the fantasy films"[4] of the period, noting that while "some movies have been okay", many of them "have been pretty blatantly ‘Middle-earthish’" and "B-grade."[4] He started work on an original fantasy film in the early 1980s, but quickly abandoned it in favour of the horror-comedy Bad Taste.[5]


In September 1995, Jackson was finishing The Frighteners and considered making a "Lord of the Rings-type" original fantasy film that would be relatively serious and feel "real". Weeks of conversation with partner Fran Walsh came to naught when they realized all their ideas were too close to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Wondering "why nobody else seemed to be doing anything about it", Jackson had his agent Ken Kamins search-out the rights, which they traced to producer Saul Zaentz, who was said to have dismissed several proposals to adapt the books to live-action.[6] In fact, in 1993 Zaentz had declined an offer to make "two or three live-action films, or an epic TV series" from a group of European producers.

Jackson was on a first-look deal with Miramax Films (deferred for work on The Frighteners), and while his contractual obligation to present the project to CEO Harvey Weinstein was unclear, he decided to approach Harvey nonetheless. Fortunately, Weinstein had just rescued Zaentz' production of The English Patient and managed to enter negotiations with the producer for the rights.[6] Jackson had originally wanted to make The Lord of the Rings, but Walsh told him they should start with The Hobbit, which he hadn't read. He set to reading it, while making the tentative offer to Miramax to make a trilogy: he would make a film adaptation of The Hobbit and, if it were to prove succesfull, would make two films based off of The Lord of the Rings back-to-back, to be released six months apart. Jackson would have prefered to make three Lord of the Rings entries (and, as he read through The Hobbit, at least two based on that book) but wasn't in a position to make an overly-ambitious pitch. Having not reread the books since 1979, Jackson's memory was "a bit foggy" and he was relying more on Walsh's memory, and of his own memory of the radio serial.

Harvey, who had read the books in college, was enthusiastic, and partnered with his brother Bob Weinstein at Dimension Films. It was to be Miramax's break from Indie filmmaking into big blockbusters. Negotiations delayed until April 1996, with Harvey trying to keep Zaentz from getting involved as a producer, as well as having difficulty in securing the rights to The Hobbit, since the distribution rights remained with the bankrupt United Artists. Harvey tried to buy the rights from United Artists in vein, and suggested keeping The Hobbit as a possible prequel[7] and proceed with “one or two”[8] Lord of the Rings films. Dissatisfied with these notions and the lack of a deal, Jackson decided to accept an offer from Universal to direct King Kong, postponing The Lord of the Rings. He then suggested Miramax and Universal share distribution rights on both projects, which Universal agreed to. During this period, Jackson had reread The Hobbit and the prologue to The Lord of the Rings and set the MASSIVE Software into development.[7]

Development with Miramax[]

When Universal cancelled King Kong in 1997, Jackson and Walsh immediately received support from Weinstein and began a six-week process of sorting out a deal with Zaentz,[9] who had recently declined a proposal for a TV adaptation by ITV Granada. Jackson commissioned WETA to begin designing The Hobbit, but days later the rights proved unavailable and they were recommissioned to produce early designs for The Lord of the Rings.[10] Simultaneously, Jackson and Walsh asked Costa Botes to write a complete, scene-by-scene synopsis of the book, which Jackson would then reorganize as a basis for a film treatment.[9]

Immediately after Kong's cancelation, Jackson clarified to Harvey that he still intended to make two films,[7] but concerns expressed by Miramax led him to try and write the treatment as a single film, "but by the time we had got to the end, it was clear that we were talking about two films."[9] At the story conference in Miramax (during which the Bakshi cartoon was screened), the Weinsteins "blanched"[11] but accepted two films. While writing the treatment, Jackson considered doing three films and "shaped our treatment into three parts"[9] before Miramax rejected the idea.

Between the synopsis and the treatment, Jackson decided to cut Gildor, Crickhollow, the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-wights, Bill Ferny, Radagast, Lothlórien and Ghân-buri-Ghân. The final treatment divides the story into two parts: The Fellowship of the Ring (which covered the eponymous novel but also The Two Towers) and The War of the Ring. The first opens immediately with the Battle of the Last Alliance (in what Jackson called a "James Bond" opening) and ends with Saruman's death, and Gandalf and Pippin (the latter having looked into the palantír) going to Minas Tirith.

In this treatment, Farmer Maggot and Glorfindel are present; Gwaihir and Gandalf visit Edoras after escaping Saruman, and Éowyn and Éomer help him find Shadowfax against the wishes of a possessed Théoden. Gollum attacks Frodo when the Fellowship is still united, a struggle during which the Ring falls into the mud and is picked up by Boromir. Bilbo attends the Council of Elrond and Sam looks into Galadriel's mirror. At the end of the film, Saruman is shot by an overhead Nazgûl and, before his death, is redeemed through issuing the palantír for Gandalf to look into. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are sent south to espy Sauron's forces, and Frodo and Sam are en route to the Black Gate.

The second film opens in the thick of battle, and ends with Frodo sailing to the West. It features a more pronounced romantic triangle with Arwen and Éowyn, including a scene of Aragorn and Éowyn "asleep in each other's arms"; and has Elladan, Elrohir, and Erkenbrand join Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead (the latter dying in the process), which are described as though made of flesh and feature an undead Isildur as King of the Dead. The Nazgûl just make it into Mount Doom before they fall.

In the story conference, they presented this treatment to Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the latter of whom they focused on impressing with their screenwriting, as he had not read the book. Jackson would later recall that Harvey's "heart was always in the right place" and that he gave good notes, suspecting it was Bob who lacked faith in the project. With Disney's approval, they agreed upon two films and a total budget of $75 million. Jackson hoped the budget would increase to accommodate the nature of the back-to-back production, saying later than he worked in the premise that by "incrementally doing a little bit of development" would lead to the studio getting "in too deep."

Stephen Sinclair came on board for a couple of weeks to help flesh-out the scripts, and later brought along his partner, Philippa Boyens, a major fan of the book. Philippa had read The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Tolkien's biography, his letters, Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth and David Day's books, bringing depth to their understanding of the work. It took 13 to 14 months to write the two film scripts, which were 147 and 144 pages respectively. Sinclair left the project due to theatrical obligations, but maintains a credit on The Two Towers, where enough of his contributions survived to the finished film.

The length and certain aspects of the scripts - such as the role of Arwen - were at this stage written as if as "a selling script" to impress the Weinsteins. Miramax seemed to Jackson to be "happy with the scripts", but they later told producer Marty Katz they "contained too much information, too many characters and too many situations." Jackson sensed they were stalling during the story conferences.

In this version, Farmer Maggot and Fatty Bolger appear. Gandalf is more frail and has given up pipe-smoking, and Gimli's dialogue contains several vulgarities. Sam, Merry and Pippin are all caught eavesdropping behind the door and forced to go along with Frodo. The Nazgûl skewer Barliman Butterbur and Wargs attack the Hobbits near Weathertop. Gandalf's account of his time at Orthanc was pulled out of flashback and Lothlórien was cut, with Galadriel doing what she does in the story at Rivendell. Denethor attends the Council of Elrond with his son. The Watcher in the Water, absent from the treatment, is reinstated. Arwen now rescues Frodo instead of Glorfindel, and later joins the Battle of Helm's Deep, where a Nazgûl sweeps in, only for its fellbeast to be slain by Gimli. Indeed, Théoden's palace is placed in Helm's Deep itself. While on the Seat of Seeing, Frodo sees the Nazgûl, having killed Saruman, attack Gandalf. He puts on the Ring to draw him away and is attacked by a fellbeast, which Sam lassos to the structure. The Nazgûl attack Sam before Frodo kills it.

The second script included a sex scene between Aragorn and Arwen in the Glittering Caves, interrupted by Legolas and Gimli's sight-seeing the caves. Arwen later fends off a Nazgûl that menaces Pippin and joins the Rohirrim. The writers also considered having Arwen absorb Éowyn's role entirely by having her kill the Witch-king, with the resulting wound becoming the source of her illness. Faramir finds Frodo after Denethor sends him to do so, having learned the secret of the quest from Pippin. Imrahil and Forlong appear in the script, and Aragorn fights Sauron in front of the Black Gate. Other developments during the Miramax period including hiring a producer, Tim Sanders; buying a studio, Stone Street, for which Jackson mortgaged his house; and early location scouts.

Meanwhile, Weta Digital developed the "MASSIVE" software and Wētā Workshop began conceptual design for the films. Having used their paintings for inspiration (to the point of showing them in story conferences) Jackson suggested hiring Alan Lee and John Howe. Miramax didn't want to involve Lee, due to his association with Tolkien's Estate, but Jackson tracked the reclusive Lee through Michael Palin and convinced him and Howe to join the project. Howe, who previously mailed Lee and spoke to him on the phone once, met him on the plane. Howe also brought along a collection of recreated Medieval armour for reference. A third artist, Ted Nasmith, was invited to join later, but had to decline. Ralph Bakshi also claimed Jackson's company bought many of his designs.

Early discussions of casting were held, with Miramax wanting to "Americanize" the project, and suggesting star names like Daniel Day-Lewis for Aragorn and even Morgan Freeman for Gandalf. Harvey had also dissuaded Jackson from considering Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, whom Harvey had secretly harassed just previous to this time. Jackson had wanted to cast character actors from the Commonwealth, instead, and began to compile a wishlist, which included Ian Holm for Bilbo Baggins and Cate Blanchett for Galadriel.

Although Miramax never officially greenlit the films, Jackson had completed the first script and much of the second script and together with Miramax drew a 110-day schedule for production, beginning in April 1999 for release in Christmas 2000 and Memorial Day 2001. In so doing, they were able to budget the films better. Bob Weinstein became increasingly concerned about the project, and with another payment to Zaentz for the rights coming up, Miramax started asking for cost-cutting rewrites such as killing one of the four Hobbits, and sent producers to oversee the work done in New Zealand. Eventually, Marty Katz arrived to New Zealand. Spending four months there, he told Miramax that the films were more likely to cost $150 million; which was beyond Miramax' abilities. Between budgetary issues and creative disputes, Jackson is believed to have leaked a copy of the script in anticipating of the project collapsing, opening the door for other studios to pick it up.

Harvey went to Disney chairman Joe Roth, who went to CEO Michael Eisner with a request to aid Miramax on budgeting the production. With Eisner having recently demanded cost-cutting measures, he declined. Walsh said this was due to lack of faith in the property and concern over Jackson's proclivity to make violent films, although Eisner (who regretted the decision in retrospect) would later claim that he only refused because Harvey Weinstein refused to let him review the project or meet Jackson. Sean Astin would later overhear Eisner regretting the decision. Instead, Miramax looked for other studios like DreamWorks to join, but were again unsuccessful, and instead suggested merging the films into one. Coincidentally, Eisner put other Miramax projects (namely, Rush Hour) to turnaround previously, with New Line Cinema picking them up.

Bob Weinstein commissioned Jack Lechner to sketch a one-film version of the story. Lechner saw the story as too "dense" and that any two-film version would have left audiences unfulfilled since the story was only "half-told." He also thought Frodo was a weak character. On 17 June 1998, he sent a memo in which he suggested cutting Bree and the Battle of Helm's Deep, "losing or using" Saruman, merging Rohan and Gondor with Éowyn as Boromir's sister, shortening Rivendell and Moria (losing the Balrog and the fight in Balin's Tomb in the process) as well as having Ents prevent the Uruk-hai from kidnapping Merry and Pippin. Miramax even drafted a schedule for production of this version.

Katz thought the one-film version "could have been made. It could even have been a good movie." Jackson agreed that "As an exercise in reducing The Lord of the Rings to one film, it demonstrated a lot of common sense", but was upset by the idea of "cutting out half the good stuff." In the following meeting, he tried to convince Harvey to make the first film on-budget and then make the second film, and later suggested making a one-film version under the provision that it would be four-hours long. Harvey refused, insisting on telling the whole story in a two-hour film. Jackson balked, and Miramax declared that any script or work completed by Wētā Workshop was theirs, and that they would commission Hossein Amini to rewrite the script with Walsh. In fact, they had already sent the two-film script to Amini who "loved it". When Jackson and Walsh refused to co-operate, Harvey said he had John Madden ready to direct it. In a later phone-call to Jackson's agent, Harvey instead mentioned Quentin Tarantino. Jackson and Amini both believe this was a bluff to get Jackson to agree to make one film.

Jackson contemplated the one-film version back in New Zealand, before giving-up altogether, but their agent later called Harvey and clarified to him that, should he hire other filmmakers, he couldn't use Jackson's scripts or designs as a basis, which would compound the cost, and that he would be better off putting the project on a turnaround. Miramax didn't want to turn the project around, but were finally convinced to do so. However, hoping that Jackson could be forced to make the one-film version, Miramax dictated draconian conditions for the turnaround, limiting it to four weeks. They also demanded a return on $10 million spent on development and $2 spent on acquiring New Zealand currency, as well as Executive Producer credit and 5% of the revenue for themselves and Disney. Eisner had so little hope for the project he only claimed half of this figure, while the other half was split between Harvey and Bob.

Jackson made a thirty-five minute "making of" video to sell the project, and had the scripts and animatic sent to various studios. Charlie Rose observed that Jackson, who already had the idea of making three films earlier, possibly hoped that studio executives would "bite and say: 'why not three movies?'" and Kristin Thompson observed that indeed the pitch video conveniently doesn't specify the number of films to be produced.

Jackson wanted to go to New Line Cinema, where his friend Mark Ordesky was an executive. Knowing Ordesky was a fan of the books, Jackson called him with the proposition. Meanwhile, all the other studios passed. Robert Zemeckis didn't want to do a fantasy film. Regency were interested in doing the film with Fox, but the studio declined over Zaentz' involvement. Centropolis and Sony didn't like the script. Polygram were interested but were in the process of being sold to Universal, who had just shot-down Jackson's King Kong. The other studios didn't even review the scripts. Meanwhile, Jackson contemplated other projects like The World is Not Enough, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The BFG, a World War I film with Chris Columbus and a Space Opera.

The Move to New Line[]

A fan of the books, New Line CEO Robert Shaye was enthusiastic about the concept ever since he heard Miramax landed it, but when the opportunity came, he initially refused Mark Ordesky's inquiry to take-over the project, on account of the percentage that the Weinsteins demanded. New Line, however, failed to establish several franchises and had recently been acquired by Time-Warners, and were desperate for lucrative sequels, which led Shaye to be convinced into meeting Jackson. He had not read the scripts, and was still unsure, however, but Jackson feigned being busy talking to other studios to give Shaye the impression that he was "in a more competitive situation than he truly was."

Shaye had run the prospect by his head of international distribution, who said he could shore-up most of the investment for the first film from foreign distributors. He was still unsure about Jackson himself, and talked to him before the meeting, telling him he didn't like The Frighteners and that The Lord of the Rings is "probably something that we're not going to want to do." However, after viewing the video, he asked "Why would anyone want movie-goers to pay $18 when they might pay $27?". Eventually Jackson caught along that Shaye wanted to make three films, to which he responded enthusiastically. Shaye later explained he had already discussed making three films – should he decide to take the project – with his partner Michael Lynne, and went on to comment that he "would have made five if there were five books." He talked about whether they should be released within a month, two years or three.

Harvey agreed to elongate the turnaround period to facilitate the transition, although before the deal was finalized, Miramax representatives came to inspect all the props in case the project would fall over and they would fly all of Weta's designs to New York. Peter would later say that Miramax never understood the project, but admitted that "if he’d been able to get the money then Harvey would have made The Lord of the Rings." Nevertheless, he also recalled Harvey being a "bully" and never worked with him again.

Jackson wanted Marty Katz to remain as a producer, but Katz was unavailable. New Line suggested Barrie Osborne and, after a meeting, Jackson agreed. Alun Bollinger declined to be director of photography for such a long project, and so Jackson auditioned John Mahaffie but ultimately hired Andrew Lesnie. Their original gaffer quit in preproduction and was replaced by Brian Bansgrove. The films weren't officially greenlit until a few days before principal photography.

Now Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had to write three new scripts. The expansion to three films allowed much more creative freedom, although Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had to restructure their script accordingly. The three films do not correspond exactly to the trilogy's three volumes, but rather represent a three-part adaptation. Jackson takes a more chronological approach to the story than did Tolkien. Frodo's quest is the main focus, and Aragorn is the main sub-plot. The filmmakers also consulted Tolkien's biography, letters and scholarly books written on his works. They spoke with Tolkien's Estate, who decided to distance themselves from the films but were "in no way opposed to the making of the films." Jackson had considered putting the attacks on Lothlórien and Erebor into the film, but couldn't fit it in. He had mused about shooting more footage later on in order to fit Aragorn's hunt of Gollum into the film, but ultimately decided not to do so.

Jackson had pitched the budgets to New Line as around $180 million, which Shaye suspected was overly-optimistic. New Line executive Carla Fry came to New Zealand and estimated it at $207 million, which gave Shaye a brief pause before he agreed, although the figure would continue to increase throughout production. By Christmas break of 2000, the project budget had started to increase and New Line (compelled by Warners) considered cancelling it. They were dissuaded, but compelled Jackson to fire producer Tim Sanders and replace Special Effects Supervisor Mark Stetson with Jim Rygiel.

After the success of the first film, Jackson convinced New Line to increase the post-production budgets for the following entries, resulting in a final budget of $270 million, plus marketing expanses estimated at $30–70 million.



In 1998, during a conference with Miramax, the Weinsteins started an abstract discussion on casting. They were pushing for American stars, or British actors that would be recognisable to American filmgoers or Academy voters. For Gandalf, they suggested Paul Scofield - whom the filmmakers preferred for the role of Saruman - and Max von Sydow; and engaged in argument about Morgan Freeman for the role. Anthony Hopkins was suggested for Bilbo, but the first name on Jackson's own wish list - which he comprised at the time - was Ian Holm. Francesca Annis was suggested for Galadriel, but Walsh had already put Cate Blanchett on the wish list.

Natascha McElhone and Claire Forlani were suggested for the other female parts, but Jackson instead expressed enthusiasm for Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. He had in fact had a "nice" meeting with Judd and had presented her with both the roles of Arwen and Éowyn as potential roles. However, Harvey Weinstein had (unbeknownst to Jackson and Walsh) harassed both actresses, and told the filmmakers they were a "nightmare to work with."

Miramax suggested Daniel Day-Lewis for Aragorn - starting "fanciful internet speculation" that Day-Lewis was approached for the part multiple times - as well as Liam Neeson for Boromir and David Bowie for Elrond. Although he was wary of casting famous stars, Jackson did keep these ideas to mind when the films went to New Line Cinema, trying for Bowie and sending the scripts to Neeson, both of whom declined.

In late 1998, they began casting unknowns for the main parts of the Hobbits. Jackson had auditioned about 200 young English actors for Frodo, of which a couple made an impression: Dominic Monaghan auditioned but was recast as Merry. Stuart Townsend read for the part, but Jackson would instead reconsider him for the role of Aragorn.

Hearing the filmmakers wouldn't audition for the Hobbits outside of the UK, Elijah Wood sent a home-made audition tape. Jackson had heard Elijah's name but had never seen him in a film and "would have never thought" of casting him, but Walsh insisted they review the tape, which compelled them to go to Los Angeles and meet him, during which time they also auditioned Jake Gyllenhaal unsuccessfully. For Sam, they had auditioned Graham Norton, but narrowed it down to a choice between Sean Astin (whose original wish was to audition for Aragorn) and Johnny Vegas, who flunked his audition by arriving hoarse. Nick Moran was considered for Merry or Pippin.

Boyens wondered if Patrick Stewart would be right for the part of Gandalf, and drew a tape of him performing opposite Ian McKellen, only to suggest the latter to Jackson. By mid-1998 Jackson had several other "strong ideas" for Gandalf like Richard Harris, Nigel Hawthorne and Tom Baker, and they would audition other actors still "just to see who's out there." Christopher Lee sent Jackson (whom he had previously met very briefly) a photograph of him in a wizard's costume from the set of The New Adventures Of Robin Hood, wanting to play Gandalf. Indeed, Lee recalls that he took the part so as to make himself viable for mentor roles like Gandalf. However, when Jackson saw his photos he decided would be a perfect Saruman, instead.

When casting discussions were restarted under New Line, the studio decided to not "go to huge stars, but were simply going to cast on merit". Nevertheless, they wanted Sean Connery for Gandalf. Jackson had previously said Connery "will not be Gandalf", saying he was "not right for the part" and thinking they could never afford his salary nor convince him to film for so long. New Line threatened not to greenlight the films without a star like Connery. A big fan, Jackson thought Connery would be "cool", and agreed to contact his agent, who was enthusiastic. Connery himself, however, had just finished Entrapment and was losing his taste for acting. Jackson tracked him down to his house in the Bahamas, sent the scripts to him and in fact monitored the package to his house and put the Wellington Golf Courses on alert, should Connery accept the part. After weeks, Connery declined the part, saying he "didn't understand it" and citing the time requirement, taking a role in Finding Forrester instead. He would later take his last acting role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2002 before officially confirming his retirement in 2006. New Line also suggested Christopher Plummer for Gandalf (who likewise declined due to the time required) and Brad Pitt for Aragorn.

Jackson considered Richard Harris (first actor of Dumbledore) for Gandalf, but New Line said that Harris "will not be in this movie" and wouldn't even let him audition. Tom Baker was considered, but also declined for the time requirement. Nigel Hawthorne, another choice, was undergoing treatments for pancreatic cancer. Bernard Hill, a fan of the book, sought the filmmakers out and read for the part, but declined to pursue it any further, citing the time requirement, before he was approached again to play the smaller role of Théoden. Sam Neil had conflicting schedules. Tom Wilkinson received an "availability check" but was never approached, as Jackson had by now approached McKellen. Peter O'Toole and John Hurt were also said to have been considered. When von Sydow inquired for the part later, his agent told him they were looking for an English actor. John Astin also auditioned for the role. Paul Scofield, Patrick McGoohan and Anthony Hopkins, considered primarily for Saruman, Denethor and Bilbo, accordingly, were also considered.

When Jackson approached McKellen, he wasn't "mad keen" about it, having read The Hobbit but not The Lord of the Rings, and being worried about the time requirement. The script, though incomplete, impressed him and he accepted, before notifying Jackson of conflicting schedules with X-Men. Robert Shaye convinced McKellen to take the part anyway, and Jackson and X-Men director Bryan Singer (a fan of the book and previous acquaintance of Jackson's) readjusted their schedules for Jackson to accommodate McKellen, issuing an insurance policy in case of delays. McKellen did visit New Zealand ahead of time for a table-read of the script.

When Christopher Lee asked to meet Jackson, Jackson wanted to offer him Saruman, but due to Lee being "reluctant to play any more villains" Jackson considered Jeremy Irons, Malcolm McDowell, and Tim Curry and had auditioned John Noble. Lee himself wished to play Gandalf, but realizing he was too old, he instead came-in to read for Denethor. Afterward, the filmmakers showed him photographs and artwork, which impressed him greatly, to the point that he couldn't help himself from getting the filmmakers to let him read for Gandalf, too, in spite of Jackson "virtually offering him the role of Saruman right there." A few weeks later, he accepted the part of Saruman.

Ian Holm was approached early on, but waited until Jackson secured McKellen as Gandalf, being thrilled to work with him. In the meanwhile, Jackson had Sylvester McCoy as a possible replacement in case Holm refused. They "never saw anybody else" for Bilbo, although they would later want McCoy for Radagast. Philippa Boyens claims that during the 2002 BAFTAs, she met Martin Freeman and first considered him for the younger Bilbo Baggins.

For Aragorn, Day-Lewis was briefly considered again, as were Dougray Scott, Jason Carter and Robin Atkin Downes. Patrick Stewart asked to meet Jackson, but before he could discuss the role of Théoden with him, Jackson realized Stewart wanted to play Aragorn. Vin Diesel submitted a "compelling" audition tape for the part, which Keanu Reeves also lobbied for. Instead, Jackson insisted on Stuart Townsend, whom New Line deemed too young. After shooting began, Jackson conceded, relieved Townsend and notified Mark Ordesky.

Independently, both Ordesky and Jackson (with Walsh and Boyens) had considered some of the same names for a replacement: namely, Viggo Mortensen - who's name had already come-up in the original casting period and Russel Crowe. Jackson leaned towards Crowe (who had previously read for Boromir) but Boyens and Walsh favoured Viggo Mortensen. Ordesky had written three names on a piece of stationary: Mortensen, Crowe and Jason Patric. In shared conversations, they "kept coming up with other options" but decided to approach Viggo, with Crowe as a backup choice. Ordesky called Viggo's agent and sent the scripts to Crowe. Flattered, Crowe had to decline because he was already committed to A Beautiful Mind. He later said he could tell by the tone of the conversation that he wasn't the filmmakers' first choice for the role. Compelled by his son, Mortensen eventually accepted.

Patrick McGoohan, their first choice for Denethor, proved "quite grumpy" when they met, and they instead looked into Donald Sutherland and John Rhys-Davies, and ultimately cast John Noble, who previously read for Denethor. Davies was recast as Gimli, instead of Billy Connolly (later cast in The Hobbit film trilogy as Dáin), Bill Bailey (later also considered for Glóin), Robert Trebor and Timothy Spall. Warwick Davis lobbied for the part unsuccesfully. Nick Offerman, in spite of originally wanting to play Sam, had landed an audition for the role but was unsuccessful.

For Boromir, they had auditioned Russell Crowe and Daniel Craig. Simon Tolkien asked to meet them for the part, but the audition was "awkward." Bruce Willis lobbied for the part and was favoured by New Line, but Jackson declined. Nicolas Cage's agent held "dialogue" with the studio for the part, but both Cage and Jackson were uninterested. For Faramir, Jackson wanted to "go his own way" but New Line suggested Stephen Dorff, who declined, and then Ethan Hawke, with then-wife Uma Thurman to play Éowyn. Thurman had just given birth and eventually pulled out, causing Ethan to decline as well. Orlando Bloom originally auditioned for Faramir before the filmmakers recast him as Legolas. For Éowyn, Kate Winslet, Mila Jovovich, Iben Hjelje and Alison Doody were also considered before Miranda Otto was cast. After Patrick Stewart read the scripts and turned down the role, Kevin Conway was briefly attached to the role of Théoden before Bernard Hill took over. Richard O'Brien's agent refused to have him read for Gríma Wormtongue, believing the films would be a disaster.

Lucy Lawless and Nicole Kidman were considered for Galadriel before they secured Cate Blanchett. After failing to find an Elrond, producer Barrie Osborne suggested Hugo Weaving from The Matrix, who then visited the set and agreed to assume the role. Helena Bonham-Carter lobbied for Arwen, but when Jackson suggested Liv Tyler, New Line "got very excited", deeming her a worthy star to substitute for their inability to land Connery and Hawke.

Production design[]

Jackson began storyboarding the trilogy with Christian Rivers in August 1997 and assigned his crew to begin designing Middle-earth at the same time. Jackson hired longtime collaborator Richard Taylor to lead Wētā Workshop on five major design elements: armour, weapons, prosthetics/make-up, creatures and miniatures. In November 1997, famed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe joined the project. Most of the imagery in the films is based on their various illustrations. Grant Major was charged with the task of converting Lee and Howe's designs into architecture, creating models of the sets, whilst Dan Hennah worked as art director, scouting locations and organizing the building of sets.

To plan his visual effects sequences, Jackson also utilized a lipstick camera for the models of sets. Rick McCallum and George Lucas invited him to Skywalker Ranch and showed him their animatics, which Jackson then emulated to previsualize the action set pieces and battles. In 1999, Jackson unsuccessfully negotiated for a delay in filming to get his previz work finished, first. Pre-visualisation would continue throughout production, such as the late addition of the Ents attacking Isengard, and the Siege of Minas Tirith in February 2003.

Jackson's vision of Middle-earth was described as being "Ray Harryhausen meets David Lean" by Randy Cook. Jackson himself said that "I love David Lean's films. I did want to make an epic film, and David Lean is synonymous with the epic film." Jackson repeatedly cited the 1995 historical epic Braveheart as a good example "of the feeling he was hoping to evoke with Middle-earth", saying:

"It might be clearer if I described it as an historical film. Something very different to Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. Imagine something like Braveheart, but with a little of the visual magic of Legend. [...] It should have the historical authority of Braveheart, rather than the meaningless fantasy mumbo-jumbo of Willow.

Other films Jackson used for inspiration were Saving Private Ryan (which influenced the Battle of Helm's Deep), Goodfellas and Terminator 2 (which he'd rewatch regularly throughout the project), John Ford films - Jackson referred to several sequences in The Two Towers as being akin to a Ford Western - and The Thin Red Line. George Lucas' Star Wars influenced the decision to make the locations and set appear "lived-in." By contrast, Jackson wished to stay away from the the "old guys firing blue lightening out of their fingertips" of Willow and Return of the Jedi and the "heavy metal" look of Conan the Barbarian.

Reflecting back on the Bakshi film, he and Walsh feared making Treebeard look stupid, as in that film he "looked like a talking carrot." However, Jackson did include an intentional homage to the cartoon through a shot of Odo Proudfoot. Another shot indirectly taken from Bakshi's film (through a John Howe painting of the scene in question) was of the Hobbits hiding from the Ringwraith, and its very likely the misdirection of making it seem like the Ringwraiths killed the Hobbits in Bree was inspired by Bakshi's film. Jackson had admitted that without having seen the film, "he may or may not have made the films..."

In November 1997, famed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe joined the project. Lee was initially charged with designing the free people, and Howe the forces of evil, but over time the lines blurred. Up until then, concept artists had primarily been influenced by Dungeons & Dragons in their designs. Some of their famous images of Bag End, Orthanc, Helm's Deep, the Black Gate, and John Howe's Gandalf and the Balrog made it into the film. The last one inspired the opening sequence of The Two Towers. Jackson sometimes replicated some shots from famous Tolkien illustrations as a nod to fans.

Lee worked on designs for architecture, the first being Helm's Deep, as well as the Elven realms, Moria, Edoras, and Minas Tirith, and although Howe primarily designed armour and the forces of evil (see below), he contributed to the design of Bag End, Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol and Barad-dûr. Lee also applied a personal touch by painted imagery in Rivendell, such as the one of Isildur removing the One Ring from Sauron, as well as tapestries in Edoras. There are many real-life influences on the Middle-earth seen in the films: Rivendell is "a cross between a Japanese Temple and Frank Lloyd Wright", and Minas Tirith takes influence from Mont Saint-Michel and the Palatine Chapel in Aachen. The City of the Dead takes stylistic inspiration from Petra, Jordan, and the Grey Havens were inspired by the paintings of J. M. W. Turner.

Grant Major was charged with the task of converting Lee and Howe's designs into architecture, creating models of the sets, whilst Dan Hennah worked as art director, scouting locations and organizing the building of sets. The army often helped out, too, building Hobbiton almost a year before filming to give the impression of real growth and age, moving 5,000 cubic metres (180,000 cu ft) of earth, and creating roads to the Edoras location during six months of building, although there was some controversy over their pay. Sometimes sets would be reshaped: the caverns of Isengard became Shelob's Lair, and Helm's Deep became a Minas Tirith backlot. Sets would also occasionally employ forced perspective to save budget. Despite a large amount of safety involved, there were still fires on a Rohirrim village location and the Morgul-road set, and Alan Lee fell off a Lothlórien miniature. During Bilbo's birthday party speech, the polystyrene birthday cake with 111 (not confirmed if there really were 111) candles was actually on fire, but everyone kept acting while some of the crew tried to put it out. A similar instance of things occurring that were not in the script was Ian McKellen knocking his head painfully on a beam inside Bag End, but he kept acting through it (though the actor says he improvised it and did it intentionally).

The Art Department was careful to respect nature, considering its importance to Tolkien, such as taking plants from the Edoras location into a nursery. They would sometimes mould shapes from real rocks and bark, too, and take branches into a steel structure with polystyrene for more convincing prop trees. Brian Massey led the Greens Department, and even wrote a booklet on tree growth when he complained of the props "being too coney" for Lothlórien when the time came to film Fangorn Forest. The numerous props within the trilogy were all originally designed at different scales, and many craftsmen were hired, most notably Jens Hansen Gold & Silversmith to create 15 replicas of the One Ring.

Contemporary jeweller Jasmine Watson created other significant pieces of jewelry, including the Evenstar worn by Arwen, and Nenya, the ring worn by Galadriel. Statues were sculpted out of polystyrene, although some thrones seen in the trilogy are in fact crafted out of marble, stone and wood. A former bank worker named Daniel Reeve was hired to write the numerous books, spines, documents, maps, diagrams and even Orc graffiti that appear in the trilogy.

In total, Wētā Workshop created 48,000 pieces of armour, 500 bows and 10,000 arrows. They also created many prosthetics, such as 1800 pairs of Hobbit feet for the lead actors, as well as many ears, noses and heads for the cast, and around 19,000 costumes were woven and aged. Every prop was specially designed by the Art Department, taking the different scales into account.

Wētā Workshop[]

Jackson hired longtime collaborator Richard Taylor to lead Wētā Workshop on five major design elements: armour, weapons, prosthetics/make-up, creatures and miniatures. Notable among the concept artists were Daniel Falconer and Warren Mahy, who enjoyed creating the forces of good and evil respectively. Jamie Beswarick and Mike Asquith also helped with the maquettes, as well as Ben Wooten with his extensive zoology knowledge and many others.

John Howe was the supervisor on armour, having studied and worn it. Stu Johnson and Warren Green made 48,000 pieces of armour from the numerous moulds of plate steel. A small group of crew members spent three years linking plastic chain mail, eventually wearing their thumbprints away. Peter Lyon also forged swords, each taking from three to six days, creating spring steel "hero" swords for close-ups, aluminum fight swords and rubber versions, too. Weta also created 10,000 real arrows and 500 bows. Howe even created a less crude type of crossbow, intended for the Uruk-hai while requiring no external tools to rearm, based on a 16th-century manuscript.

Weta created numerous pieces of prosthetics and continually monitored them on set. They created 1,800 Orc body suits to go with 10,000 Orc heads, lasting six days and one day respectively. Weta also spent a year creating hobbit feet that would look like large, furry feet yet act as shoes for the actors. In total, 1,800 pairs were used by the four lead hobbit actors during production. Actors would also go in for face casts to create pointed ears and false noses. Most extensive was John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, whose Dwarven prosthetics required four-and-a-half hours to apply in the morning. Gino Acevedo worked on creating realistic skin tones for the actors, such as Bernard Hill's possessed Théoden and a younger Bilbo. Peter King and Peter Owen also led the make-up department in making numerous wigs and creating general dirt on the actors. As well as applying make-up, at the end of the day there was an hour of carefully removing the make-up and prosthetics. Numerous corpses of actors and horses were also made.

Weta's first completed creature was the cave troll. Production designers originally wanted to make the Orcs totally animalistic before the switch to prosthetics. They gave specific designs to the Moria Orcs, Uruk-hai and Mordor Orcs so as to give variety to the characters. They also spent time making creatures biologically believable, rooting them sometimes in real creatures: Shelob's body is based on that of a funnel web spider, and the Wargs are a bear/hyena/wolf hybrid. Howe lent himself for Beswarick to study when shaping Gollum; Beswarick also took inspiration from Iggy Pop due to his skin-muscle ratio. Whilst most creatures were destined to exist in the computer, Weta did create a 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) Treebeard puppet (which needed five people to operate it), a single dead mûmak and, later on, a "Phoney Pony" for close-up shots of riding actors. Designing continued throughout production, such as Gollum's redesign in May 2001 and the Great Beasts in early 2003.

The backstories of several of the cultures depicted in the films had to be shown through only subliminal glimpses on screen, as are the miniatures, and for the Elves and Gondorians, fictional histories had to be presented within the changes of armour. The Elves have an Art Nouveau influence that involves leaves and flowers, while the Dwarves have a preoccupation with geometry that was intended to remind the audience of their digging nature. The Hobbits hark back to 18th-century England, the Rohirrim feature numerous horse and sun motifs and draw visual inspiration from Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in the Sutton Hoo burial ship, and the Gondorians reflect 16th-century German and Italian armour as well as tree motifs. The evil Haradrim Men take influence from Aztecs and Kiribati after bad feedback from Phillipa Boyens over looking African. Most of the Orc armour is sharp, reflecting secateurs, and has runes written on it to reflect a worship of Sauron.

Several liberties were taken in adapting Tolkien's weaponry and armour to the screen. While plate armour is used in the films, it is unmentioned in any of the author's writings (except for vambraces), where scale and especially mail predominate. Some swords, like the broken royal sword Narsil, are also interpreted as two-handed longswords. These design choices help evoke the Late Medieval and Renaissance periods, whereas Tolkien's original atmosphere is generally more akin to the Early Medieval period. In a private letter, Tolkien compared Middle-earth clothing and war gear to that of Dark Age Europe and the Bayeux Tapestry. Weta also invented Elvish inscriptions for weapons like the spear Aeglos and the swords Sting and Narsil. In some cases, Tolkien writes about runes on sword blades but does not give them in detail. The Elves in the film series use curved swords, whereas the author mostly assigns such swords to Orcs and enemy Men (he mentions one Elf in particular bearing a curved sword in very early writings). The designers went so far as to invent new weapons, such as the Elvish sword Hadhafang, used by Arwen; while the design is original, the name is derived from Tolkien's "Etymologies" in The Lost Road and Other Writings.

To develop fight and sword choreography for the series, the filmmakers employed Hollywood sword-master Bob Anderson. Anderson worked directly with the talent, including Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban, to develop the film's many sword fights and stunts. Anderson's role in The Lord of the Rings series is highlighted in the 2009 film Reclaiming the Blade. This documentary on sword martial arts also featured Wētā Workshop and interviews with Mortensen, Urban, Richard Taylor, and John Howe. All discussed their roles and work on the series as related to the sword.


Ngila Dickson was hired on 1 April 1999 to handle the numerous costumes. She and 40 seamstresses worked on over 19,000 costumes for the film series. Due to the large shooting schedule, 10 versions of each costume were made, with 30 more for stunt, scale and other doubles, all in all meaning each design had 40 versions.

Due to Jackson's requirement of realism, the costumers took great pains to make costumes look "lived in", wearing away colour, stuffing pockets and dirtying costumes for the likes of Gandalf and Aragorn due to their terrain-crossing nature. As with armour, there was also acid etching and some overdyeing of colours. Dickson decided to give the Hobbits shorts due to their bare feet, and specifically worked on long sleeves for the Elves for a gliding impression. Dickson also took great pains to distinguish the colors worn by the Gondorians (silver and black) and the Rohirrim (brown and green).


Jackson and Andrew Lesnie discussed shooting the films on 65mm filmstock, but it was cumbersome, cost-prohibitive and required dailies to be processed outside of New Zealand. They considered shooting anamorphic, but it was decided Super-35mm would make post-production easier and could be done in New Zealand, which Jackson was adamant about.

Jackson started colour timing early footage photochemically, but then purchased an Arrilaser scanner and opted to digitally grade the rest of the footage, estimated at 78% of the footage shown in theaters. Jackson and Lesnie looked into the possibility of processing the footage in 4K, but it proved cost-prohibitive. Instead, it was processed in 2K but underwent DNR and sharpening to compensate. The remaining 22% of the footage from the Fellowship of the Ring - mostly early effects shots - was put back through a digital intermediate for later releases, and rescanned from filmouts at 4K for the Ultra-HD Blu-ray release of 2020.


Principal photography for all three films was conducted concurrently in New Zealand from October 11, 1999 through to December 22, 2000 for 274 days. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The trilogy was shot at over 150 different locations, with seven different units shooting, as well as sound-stages around Wellington and Queenstown. As well as Jackson directing the whole production, other unit directors included John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osborne, Rick Porras and any other assistant director, producer or writer available. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units interpreting his envisioned result, he only got around four hours of sleep a night. Due to the remoteness of some of New Zealand's untamed landscapes, the crew would also bring survival kits in case helicopters couldn't reach the location to bring them home in time.

Principal photography for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand for 438 days from 11 October 1999 through 22 December 2000. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2003. The trilogy was shot at over 150 different locations, with seven different units shooting, as well as at soundstages around Wellington and Queenstown. Jackson directed the whole production, while other unit directors included Alun Bollinger, John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osborne and Rick Porras. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units handling his vision, he only got around four hours of sleep a night.

Jackson described the production as the world's largest home movie, due to the independence and sense of family. Producer Barrie Osborne saw it as a travelling circus. Fran Walsh described writing the script for the production as laying the track down in front of a moving train. Jackson also described shooting as like organizing an army, with 2,400 people involved at the height of production. Due to the remoteness of some of New Zealand's untamed landscapes, the crew carried survival kits in case helicopters could not reach the locations to bring them home in time.

Late 1999[]

The first scene filmed was the "Wooded Road" sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring, where the Hobbits hide beneath a tree from a mounted Ringwraith. The focus was generally on The Fellowship of the Ring when the Hobbits try to reach Rivendell, such as a single night in Bree exteriors; this was done with the hopes that the four actors playing the hobbits would bond. Second units also shot the Ford of Bruinen chase and the deforestation of Isengard. Liv Tyler generally came to New Zealand for stints, and spent five days on a barrel for Bruinen while riding double Jane Abbott got to ride on horseback.

During the first month of filming, Stuart Townsend was deemed too young to play Aragorn, and within three days Viggo Mortensen became his replacement, just in time to film the Bree scenes, followed by the Weathertop sequence. Mortensen, who decided to take the role in part because his own son was a fan of the series, became a hit on set, going fishing, always taking his "hero" sword around and applying dirt to his costume to improve costume designer Ngila Dickson's makeshift look. He also headbutted the stunt team as a sign of friendship, and bought himself his horse, Uraeus, as well as another horse for Abbott. During the Weathertop sequence, Philippa Boyens shot some second-unit footage.

The Cirith Ungol stair ledge was built as a wet weather set on a squash court in a hotel in Queenstown. On 24 November 1999, Sean Astin's close-ups on the Cirith Ungol set were shot in what became the first shots to be filmed for The Return of the King. Andy Serkis (Gollum) had not yet been cast. The set remained standing on the squash court and it was not until a year later, on 30 November 2000, that Elijah Wood's first close-ups were shot on the same ledge. This would become a general failsafe measure if the weather disrupted the shooting schedule. On Wood and the second Cirith Ungol shoot, Peter Jackson stated, "A year later, we were back in the squash court, and this time the heat was on Elijah. He had to get his head back into a scene that had been half-filmed so long ago. He knew that he had to deliver a performance that matched the emotion of Sean's takes, and that he did to perfection".

After this scene, when the flood ended, it was during this time that shooting became focused on the battle of Amon Hen. Sean Bean began filming in November for most of his scenes.


A Christmas break and Millennium celebrations followed, and filming resumed on 17 January. Ian McKellen, fresh from filming X-Men, arrived to film scenes in Hobbiton and the Grey Havens. Having previously visited for a script read, McKellen did not become that close to the lead Hobbit actors, as he generally worked with their scale doubles, but when Christopher Lee arrived in February, they became very friendly. Shooting the fight sequence in the Orthanc interiors, without air conditioning (for atmosphere) but with heavy wigs and robes, was described by the actors as "murder". The Grey Havens sequence, which takes place at the end of The Return of the King, was shot three times due to Sean Astin forgetting his vest after lunch and, then, an out-of-focus camera.

While the Hobbit leads had scenes in Hobbiton interiors and Rivendell exteriors in Kaitoke Park with new arrival Ian Holm, Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies filmed scenes involving the Rohirrim countryside. Mortensen broke his toe kicking an Orc helmet on camera, Bloom fell off his horse and broke a rib, and Rhys-Davies' scale double Brett Beattie dislocated his knee. They spent two days injured during the "Orc hunting" sequence seen in the second film. Soon after, they spent a month of day shoots at Helm's Deep and another three months of night shoots handled by Mahaffie, in Dry Creek Quarry outside of Wellington, during which Mortensen's tooth was knocked out and Bernard Hill was hit on the ear with the flat of a sword. The extras insulted each other in Māori and improvised stunts, partially because those dressed in Uruk-hai prosthetics got extremely cold.

The production then got larger, with Wood and Astin shooting scenes at Mount Ruapehu for Emyn Muil and Mount Doom. On 13 April 2000, Andy Serkis joined the cast, initially as the voice of Gollum before Jackson decided to use him on the set. During this shoot, cross coverage was used for a pivotal scene in The Return of the King. In the meantime, prologue scenes and the Battle of the Black Gate were shot, during which Sala Baker wore the Sauron armour. The Black Gate scene was filmed at a former mine field in the Rangipo Desert, and soldiers served as extras. With the return of Sean Bean, the Fellowship reunited and proceeded to shoot the Moria sequence and the Rivendell interiors, including five days of coverage for the Council of Elrond.

In June they began shooting scenes on soundstages with Cate Blanchett for Lothlórien, as well as a week of exterior shooting for the Lothlórien farewell sequence. Other scenes shot in June were the Paths of the Dead across various locations, including the Putangirua Pinnacles. In July the crew shot some Shelob scenes, while another unit shot in July to August and during September time was spent on the scenes in Fangorn Forest and Isengard. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd tried numerous takes of their entrance, stressing the word "weed" as they smoked pipe-weed. Christopher Lee spent his part of his scene mostly alone, though McKellen and Hill arrived on the first day for a few lines to help.

Edoras exteriors were shot in October. The Ride of the Rohirrim, where Théoden leads the charge into the Orc army, was filmed in Twizel with 250 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields had more extensive use of computer-generated imagery, in contrast to the more extensive use of live action for the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second film. Also filmed were scenes in Osgiliath, including attempts by Faramir to retake the city. At this point production was very hectic, with Jackson moving around ten units per day, and production finally wrapped on the Minas Tirith sets, as well as second units shooting parts of the siege, while Jackson was busy editing a reel to be shown to foreign investors and to representatives of HarperCollins by December.

2001–2004: Pick-ups[]

Pick-up shoots were conducted from 2001 to 2003 for six weeks every year to refine each film's edit. For the first two films, the cast and crew often returned to sets; for the third, they had to shoot around the clock in a car park full of set parts. Pick-ups provided a chance for cast and crew to meet in person again, and during The Two Towers pick-ups, Sean Astin directed a short film entitled The Long and Short of It.

Notable scenes filmed in the pick-ups include the flashback with Boromir (where he is sent to Rivendell by his father Denethor) featured in The Two Towers Extended Edition, as well as the re-shot Witch-king scenes with his new helmet design, the improved Orc designs and the new character of Gothmog, and a re-shoot of Aragorn and Arwen kissing at the coronation scene, all for The Return of the King. Théoden's last scene was re-shot just after Bernard Hill finished his scenes; Hill was still in New Zealand. Andy Serkis also had to re-shoot a Mount Doom scene in Jackson's house during post-production.

The final and only pick-up in 2004 was a series of shots of falling skulls in The Return of the King as part of an extended Paths of the Dead scene. Jackson joked that "it's nice to win an Oscar before you've even finished the film".


Post-production would have the benefit for a full year on each film before their respective December releases, often finishing in October–November, with the crew immediately going to work on the next film. Later on, Jackson would move to London to advise the score and continued editing, whilst having a computer feed for discussions to The Dorchester Hotel, and a "fat pipe" of internet connections from Pinewood Studios to look at the special effects. He had a Polycom video link and 5.1 surround sound to organise meetings, and listen to new music and sound effects generally wherever he was. The extended editions also had a tight schedule at the start of each year to complete special effects and music.

Special effects[]

The first film has around 540 effects shots, the second 799, and the third 1488 (2730 in total). The total increases to 3420 with the extended editions. 260 visual effects artists began work on the trilogy, and the number doubled by The Two Towers. A couple of effects shots were farmed-out to other VFX companies: the Bruinen tide was done by Digital Domain, and GMD did Galadriel's resisting the temptation of the Ring.

The crew, led by Jim Rygiel and Randy Cook (joined by Joe Letteri starting with The Two Towers), worked long and hard hours, often overnight, to produce special effects within a short space of time. Jackson's overactive imagination was a driving force. For example, several major shots of Helm's Deep were produced within the last six weeks of post-production of The Two Towers, and the same happened again within the last six weeks on The Return of the King.

The Lord of the Rings film series used many ground breaking practical and digital visual effects that were unheard of in the film industry. Ranging from prosthetics and props to creatures almost entirely made through computer graphics, the process of making the film series has been praised as having forged a breakthrough in the world of cinematic visual effects. Wētā Workshop was the major stylistic force behind the films, working on concepts, sets and digital effects years before the first scenes were even shot. Props, sets, prosthetics and locations were given the utmost concentration and detail to achieve a look that was as realistic as possible. More than 48,000 items were created for this trilogy alone, including completely specialized weapons, intricate miniature sets, and extremely lifelike prosthetic body parts. Two hundred and sixty visual effects artists started out on the trilogy; the number had more than doubled by the series' end. Led by acclaimed veterans and talented amateurs alike, the crews within each division would work overnight to produce special effects within short spaces of time to accommodate Jackson's active imagination.


Production was complicated by the use of scale doubles and forced perspective on a level never seen before in the film industry. In the Middle-earth storyverse, Hobbits are 3 ft 6 in (107 cm) tall, Dwarves are slightly taller at about 4 ft 6 in (137 cm), and Men and Elves are average human height, about 5 to 6 ft (150 to 180 cm). However, the films used two scale sets instead of three by casting taller than average actors to play Dwarves, then combining Dwarves and Hobbits into one size scale. Elijah Wood is 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) tall in real life, but his character, Frodo Baggins, is only 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m) in height. John Rhys-Davies, who played the Dwarf Gimli, is taller than Wood. Thus in the ending shot of the Council of Elrond scene, when all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring are standing together, Rhys-Davies and the four Hobbit actors were filmed first. The human-sized characters (Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir and Legolas) were filmed in a second take, and the two shots were composited at different scales to make one image, making the initial Dwarf/Hobbit character shot seem smaller. An unintended advantage of not creating a third scale for Dwarves is that in a scene in which only Dwarves and Hobbits interact, no scale doubles are needed.

Large and small scale doubles were used in many other scenes, while entire duplicates of certain sets (including Bag End in Hobbiton) were built at two different scales so that the characters would appear to be the appropriate sizes. At one point in the film, Frodo runs along a corridor in Bag End, followed by Gandalf (played by Ian McKellen). Wood and McKellen were filmed in separate versions of the same corridor, built at two different scales; these two separate shots were then combined to create a shot of both actors appearing to be in the same corridor.

Forced perspective was also employed, so that it would look as though the short hobbits were interacting with taller Men and Elves. Surprising the makers of the film, the simple act of kneeling down was used to great effect. Some actors also wore oversized costumes to make average-sized actors look small, and there were numerous scale doubles who were disguised with costumes (and even latex faces for the hobbit doubles) and an avoidance of close-ups and numerous back shots. Big dummies and men on stilts were used to a very limited extent, mostly in the early Bree shots.


Weta coined the term "bigature" for the 72 large miniatures produced for the film, in reference to their extreme size. Out of around six of the shooting crews, there was one specifically devoted to filming on the miniatures, working continuously for years until the end of The Return of the King. Such miniatures include the 1:4 scale for Helm's Deep, which alongside Khazad-dûm and Osgiliath, was one of the first built. Most sets were constructed to allow compositing with the models and matte paintings, and also built in sections to make them easier to travel with, as the miniatures were not built in the studio where they would later be shot. Each of these "bigatures" were required to have an extreme amount of detail, as the cameras were filming within inches of the masterpieces in hopes of using cinematography to make the sets look as realistic as possible. Notable examples include the Argonath, Minas Tirith, the tower and caverns of Isengard, Barad-dûr, the trees of Lothlórien and Fangorn Forest and the Black Gate. Alex Funke led the motion control camera rigs, and John Baster and Mary Maclahlan led the building of the miniatures. The miniatures unit worked more than any other special effects crew, labouring for over 1,000 days.

Animation and computer graphics effects[]

Creatures such as trolls, the Watcher in the Water, the Balrog, the Ents, the Fellbeasts, the Wargs, the Mûmakil and Shelob were created entirely with computer-generated imagery. Creatures would spend months of creation and variation as sketches before approved designs were sculpted into five-foot maquettes and scanned into a computer. Animators would then rig skeletons and muscles before animation and final detailed colouring scanned from painted maquettes. Treebeard had a digital face composited upon the original animatronic, which was scanned for the digital model of his longshots.

Along with the creatures, Weta also created highly realistic digital doubles for many miniature longshots, as well as numerous stunts, most notably Legolas. These doubles were scanned from having actors perform movements in a motion-capture suit, and with additional details created using ZBrush. There are even morphs between the doubles and actors at times. Horses also performed with mo-cap points on them, although deaths are keyframe animation.

Jackson considered doing Gollum as a puppet, a practical suit or a mixture of makeup and CG. Indeed, an early shot of Gollum being tortured was a makeup job, replaced by CGI due to "wobbly fingers." Motion Capture was already experimented with (having been used in The Phantom Menace previously) for the Cave Troll, and after reviewing Andy Serkis' audition tape, it was decided to motion-capture his role. Weta began animating Gollum in late 1998, using a generic human muscle system, to convince New Line Cinema they could achieve it. Andy Serkis played Gollum by providing his voice and movements on set, as well as performing within the motion capture suit. His scenes were filmed twice, with and without him. A team led by Randy Cook performed the animation using both motion capture data and manual recreation of Serkis' facial reference. Gollum's CG model was also redesigned during 2001, now using a subdivision surface model instead of the NURBS model for Fellowship (a similar rebuild was also done for the digital doubles of the lead actors), when Serkis was cast as Sméagol, Gollum's form before he is cursed by the One Ring, so as to give the impression that Serkis as Sméagol transforms into the CG Gollum. The original model can still be glimpsed briefly in the first film. Over Christmas 2001, the crew proceeded to reanimate all the previous shots accordingly within two months. Another problem was that the crew realized that the cast performed better in the versions of the film with Serkis. In the end, the CG Gollum was often animated on top of these scenes and Serkis would be painted out. Due to Gollum's not being human, shots such as him crawling down a sheer cliff were shot with no live reference. Serkis also did motion-capture for the character which would drive the body of the model, whilst animators did all fingers and facial animation. Gino Acevedo supervised realistic skin tones, which for the first time used subsurface scattering shader, taking four hours per frame to render. Render time refers to the amount of time it took the computer to process the image into a usable format; it does not include the amount of time it took the texture artists to "draw" the frame. The hair dynamics of CG Gollum in The Two Towers were generated using Maya Cloth. Because of its technical limitations, Weta subsequently moved to the Syflex system for The Return of the King. A debate ensued on the fidelty of Gollum to Andy's on-stage performance, but Randall Cook clarified that while Andy should be considered the "main author" of the performance, he was nonetheless assisted and at times replaced entirely by the work of the animators.

Because they were turned to wraith-like versions of their former terrible selves, tall, slim actors wearing prosthetics and costumes were used to portray the Nazgûl or "Ringwraiths". Filmed on a studio set, the setting and appearances of the Ringwraiths were later edited to look chaotic and terrible. Jackson had considered making the wraiths and their horses (initially concieved of as ghoulish, undead horses) CGI, as well as some of the Orcs, but could not afford it. Though 2D effects were used to create the characters and atmosphere, 3D effects were utilized to create the final scenes we see in the film. Weathertop, the ancient ruin site in which the hobbits first encounter the Ringwraiths face-to-face, was filmed using computer graphics effects, but the action scenes were filmed in a studio. Later on, the scenes were merged using digital effects.

Besides Weathertop, many of the other scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were shot in this way, first by filming the scenery or set miniatures, then the actors on a studio set, and merging the two together. An example of this is in the Mines of Moria, when the Fellowship is fighting the Cave-troll in Balin's Tomb, and again when the Fellowship is on the Khazad-dûm stairs and bridge. Gandalf has his own particular scene with computer graphics as he grapples with the Balrog as they fall to their deaths. New Line had wanted to keep the number of complex VFX shots down, expressing doubts about Gollum and the "scary" Galadriel and asking to cut the Watcher in the Water out of the film after Jackson hastily added it back into the script. Shots of a slimey Balrog for The Two Towers were not finished due to budget constraints.

Christoper Hery (ILM), Ken McGaugh and Joe Letteri (both Weta and previously ILM) received a 2003 Academy Award, Scientific or Technical for implementing the BSSRDF technique used for Gollum's skin in a production environment. Henrik Wann Jensen (Stanford University), Stephen Robert Marschner (Cornell University and previously Stanford University), and Pat Hanrahan (Stanford University) (but not the fourth co-author Marc Levoy), who developed BSSRDF, won another the same year.


Weta developed MASSIVE, a first-of-its-kind crowd simulation computer program used to create automatic battle sequences rather than individually animate every soldier. Stephen Regelous developed the system in 1996, originally to create the battle scenes for The Hobbit. The system creates a large number of choices for each software agent to pick when inside a digital arena. Catherine Thiel provided the movements of each type of soldier, like the unique fighting styles (designed by Tony Wolf) or fleeing. To add to this, digital environments were also created for the simulations. MASSIVE also features Grunt, a memory-conservative special purpose renderer, which was used for scenes containing as many as 200,000 agents and several million polygons. The Pelennor Fields scenes also contains "multi-body agents" in the form of a 5 × 5 grid of Orcs.

While Jackson insisted on generally using miniatures, sometimes shots would get too difficult for that, primarily with the digital characters. Sometimes natural elements like cloud, dust and fire (which was used as the electronic data for the Wraithworld scenes and the Balrog) would be composited, and natural environments were composited to create the Pelennor Fields. To give a "painterly" look to the films, cinematographer Peter Doyle worked on every scene within the computer to strengthen colours and add extra mood and tone to the proceedings. Gold was tinted to Hobbiton, whilst cooler colours were strengthened into Lothlórien, Moria and Helm's Deep. Such a technique took 2–3 weeks to do, and allowed some freedom with the digital source for some extra editing.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King required the help of the company Next Limit Technologies and their software RealFlow to simulate the lava in Mount Doom. A technical overview of the special effects used in the film series is given by Matt Aitken et al. (2004).


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie poster (2002)


Jackson initially intended to have all three films edited at once by himself and editor Jamie Selkirk. This soon proved too ambitious, and Selkirk (who continued to act as the supervising editor) hired a different editor for the first two films: John Gilbert, who worked some reels to be shown to distributors during the shoot, would edit the first film, Michael J. Horton the second and Selkirk the third. Many others worked in the editing department throughout, including Jabez Olssen and Annie Collins, who acquired co-editor credits for The Two Towers and The Return of the King, respectivelly.

Initially, they were all intended to cut them simultaneously, but after a month, overseeing three edits became too much for Jackson, and he focused on editing the first film, while the other editors created assemblies of the other films. Daily rushes would often last up to four hours, with scenes being done throughout 1999 to 2002 for the rough (4½-hour) assemblies of the films. In total, 1,828 kilometres (5,997,000 ft) of film was edited down to the 686 minutes (11 hours and 26 minutes) of extended edition running time. This was the final area of shaping of the films, when Jackson realized that sometimes the best scripting could be redundant on screen, as he picked apart scenes every day from multiple takes.

Jackson contractually shared final-cut rights with Robert Shaye, and although Shaye never invoked his right to alter the cut, he did have certain demands of the cut. He watched dailies and seeing a four-hour cut of the first film, he demanded that Jackson reinstate a prologue that was shot, but cut out of the film. Jackson created a nine-minute prologue that Shaye deemed too long, and he disapproved of using Cate Blanchett's voice for the narration, but ultimately acquiesced to Jackson. He would later insist on a prologue to recap the story going into The Two Towers, insisting that each film be a satisfying standalone experience, but relented, as Jackson made the films more of a continuous saga.

Shaye requested that the first film to be "under 2.5 hours", which Jackson "ignored" with a 2.9-hour theatrical cut. For the next film, Shaye insisted on under three hours, which Jackson accomplished, but for the third film Jackson exceeded the required length, and had actually been granted additional funds to improve and expand the VFX and pickups to "end the trilogy on a high-note."

Shaye insisted that the films be PG-13. During development, Jackson came up with the idea of creating extended cuts for Laserdisc and DVD which would allow to reinstate scenes cut for length, curating the pace of the films to the requirements of the small-screen, and adding back whatever violence would have to be cut to acquire a PG-13 rating for theaters. He would shoot with the aim of the first cut "getting an R-rating", trim some shots and get PG-13 for theaters "but just barely, as it were." Ultimately, the extended cuts would be made by July each year, overlapping with post-production on the next film, and while more graphic than the theatrical, would retain the PG-13 rating.

The Two Towers was always acknowledged by the crew as the most difficult film to make, as "it had no beginning or end", and had the additional problem of inter-cutting storylines appropriately. Jackson even continued editing the film when that part of the schedule officially ended, resulting in some scenes, including the reforging of Andúril, Gollum's back-story, and Saruman's demise, being moved to The Return of the King. Later, Saruman's demise was controversially cut from the cinema edition (but included in the extended edition) when Jackson felt it was not starting the third film effectively enough. As with all parts of the third film's post-production, editing was very chaotic. The first time Jackson actually saw the completed film was at the Wellington premiere.

Deleted scenes[]

Many filmed scenes remain unused, not included even in the Extended Editions. The main reason they weren't included was because they tended to change the plot from Tolkien's original storyline, therefore being unfaithful to the books.

  • Additional footage from the Battle of the Last Alliance in the FotR Prologue.
  • Famous footage of Arwen at Helm's Deep, cut by Jackson during a revision to the film's plot. Foreshadowing this sequence were scenes where Arwen and Elrond visit Galadriel at Lothlórien (seen in The Two Towers teaser trailer). The scene was edited down to a telepathic communication between Elrond and Galadriel.
  • A line of dialogue during the death of Saruman, in which he reveals that Wormtongue poisoned Théodred, giving further context as to why Wormtongue kills Saruman and Legolas in turn kills Wormtongue.
  • Further epilogue footage, including that of Legolas and Gimli, as well as Éowyn and Faramir's wedding and Aragorn's death and funeral.
  • Faramir having a vision of Frodo becoming like Gollum.
  • Dialogue from the Council of Elrond, such as Gandalf explaining how Sauron forged the One Ring.
  • An unknown scene displayed in The Two Towers preview of Éomer lowering a spear while riding his horse.
  • Éowyn defending the refugees in the Glittering Caves from Uruk-hai intruders.
  • An obscure shot from the trailers of two Elven girls playing about in Rivendell.
  • A conversation between Elrond and Arwen on a bridge in Rivendell, after Arwen decides to wait for Aragorn. Elrond leaves saying "I cannot protect you anymore."
  • Sauron fighting Aragorn at the Black Gate. A computer-generated Troll was placed over Sauron due to Jackson feeling the scene was inappropriate. Sauron is also seen in a beautiful form as Annatar, giver of gifts.
  • Also at the Black Gate sequence, Pippin was seen in the trailer holding a wounded Merry, a scene which takes place after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields upon Pippin discovering Merry under an Oliphaunt.
  • More Arwen footage, including a flashback scene of her first meeting with a beardless Aragorn (seen in The Two Towers teaser).
  • Aragorn having his armour fitted during the preparations for the Battle of the Black Gate. This was the final scene filmed during principal photography.
  • An attack by Moria Orcs on Lothlórien. Jackson replaced this with a more suspenseful entrance for the Fellowship.

Peter Jackson has stated that he would like to include some of these unused scenes in a future 'Ultimate Edition' home video release (probably High Definition) of the film trilogy. They will not be re-inserted into the movies but available for viewing separately. This edition will also include outtakes.


Jackson and Walsh wanted Howard Shore to score the films when they noticed they were using many of his existing scores as a temporary music track for their animatics, although they had also used pieces from The Last of the Mohicans and Braveheart "for the more epic scenes." New Line suggested James Horner for the score, but he couldn't commit to the long schedule.

They invited Shore to New Zealand shortly before principal photography began, and during his stay he composed an early version of the Shire theme, Frodo's theme and the Fellowship theme. He was officially hired in August 2000 and visited the set, met with Alan Lee, and watched the assembly cuts of films 1 and 3. Although the first film had some of its score done in Wellington, the trilogy's score was mostly recorded in Watford Town Hall and mixed at Abbey Road Studios. Jackson planned to advise the score for six weeks each year in London, although for The Two Towers he stayed for twelve.

The soundtrack is primarily played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and many soloists such as Ben Del Maestro, Enya, Elizabeth Fraser, Renee Fleming, Sir James Galway and Annie Lennox contributed. Even actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto (extended cuts only for the latter two) and Peter Jackson (for a single gong sound in the second film) contributed to the score. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens also wrote the lyrics to various music and songs, which David Salo translated into Tolkien's languages. The third film's end song, "Into the West", was a tribute to a young filmmaker Jackson and Walsh befriended named Cameron Duncan, who died of cancer in 2003.

Shore composed a main theme for the Fellowship rather than many different character themes, and its strength and weaknesses in volume are depicted at different points in the trilogy. On top of that, individual themes were composed to represent different cultures. Infamously, the amount of music Shore had to write every day for the third film increased dramatically to around seven minutes.


Sound technicians spent the early part of the year trying to find the right sounds: animal sounds like tigers and walruses were bought. Sometimes human voices were used, such as Fran Walsh as the Nazgûl scream and David Farmer as some Warg howls. Some sounds were unexpected: a donkey screech is the Fell Beast, and the mûmakil roar comes from the beginning and end of a lion. In addition, there was ADR for most of the dialogue.

The technicians worked with New Zealand locals to get many of the sounds. They re-recorded sounds in abandoned tunnels for an echo-like effect in the Moria sequence. 10,000 New Zealand cricket fans provided the sound of the Uruk-hai army in The Two Towers, with Jackson acting as conductor during a single cricket break. They spent time recording sounds in a graveyard at night, and also had construction workers drop stone blocks for the sounds of boulders firing and landing in The Return of the King. Mixing generally took place between August and November at "The Film Mix", before Jackson commissioned building a new studio in 2003. Annoyingly, the building wasn't fully completed as they started mixing for The Return of the King.



Jackson and Walsh personally oversaw marketing for The Lord of the Rings. The online promotional trailer for the trilogy was first released on April 27, 2000 and shattered records for download hits, registering 1.7 million hits in the first 24 hours of its release. The trailer used a selection from the soundtrack for Braveheart, and The Shawshank Redemption among other cuts.

New Line suggested showing a trailer in Cannes. Jackson suggested an entire sequence, proposing the Helm's Deep set piece. New Line saw an early cut and then suggested adding glimpses at other parts of the story to bookend the sequence. Howard Shore was brought to New Zealand to record an entire segment of the score. The result was a 26 minute reel, which was very well received. The showing also included an area designed to look like Middle-earth. The success of the presentation (which was repeated in other venues) allowed New-Line to sign some of their foreign distributors (particularly from Germany, which offered a big tax break) on the second and third entry.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released December 19, 2001. It grossed $47 million in its U.S. opening weekend and made around $871 million worldwide. A preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was attached at the end of the cinema release for the film.

A promotional trailer was later released. The trailer contained some music re-scored from the film Requiem for a Dream. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was released 18 December 2002. It grossed $62 million in its first U.S. weekend and out-grossed its predecessor, grossing $926 million worldwide.

The promotional trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was debuted exclusively before the New Line Cinema film Secondhand Lions on 23 September 23, 2003. Released 17 December 2003, its first U.S. weekend gross was $72 million, and became the second film (after Titanic) to gross over $1 billion worldwide.

Special editions[]

Each film was at first released as standard two-disc editions containing previews of the next film. The success of these theatrical cuts brought about four-disc Special Extended Editions, with new editing, added special effects, scenes, and music. The two additional discs accompanying each movie contain an exhaustive documentary series about the making of the films; the six parts total are organized as "From Book to Vision", "From Vision to Reality", "The Journey Continues", "The Battle for Middle-earth Begins", "The War of the Ring", and "The Passing of an Age". The documentaries within were directed by Michael Pellerin.

The extended editions were issued as follows:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 12 November 2002 - Containing 30 minutes more footage, in a green sleeve. It contains an Alan Lee painting of the Fellowship entering Moria, and the Moria Gate on the back of the sleeve. An Argonath-styled bookend was issued within a Collector's Edition.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 18 November 2003 - It contains 42 minutes more footage. A Rohirrim sun symbol decorates the back of its red sleeve and a Lee painting of Gandalf the White's entrance. The Collector's Edition contained a Sméagol statue, with a crueler looking statue of his Gollum persona available for order during a limited time.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 14 December 2004 - It has 50 minutes more footage, and a blue sleeve with the White Tree of Gondor. The painting by Alan Lee is of the Grey Havens. The Collector's Edition included a model of Minas Tirith, with Minas Morgul available for order during a limited time.
A "Trilogy Supertrailer" appears in many places, such as the Special Features of The Return of the King and Movieweb.

The Special Extended DVD Editions also has in-sleeve maps of the Fellowship's travels. They have also played at movie theaters, most notably for a 16 December 2003 marathon screening culminating in a midnight screening of the third film.

On 29 August 2006 both versions were put together in a Limited Edition "branching" version, plus a new feature-length documentary by Costa Botes. The complete trilogy was released in a 6-disc set on November 14, 2006.


The six-year task of conceptualizing Middle-earth and producing the films led to a great number of published film guides, covering many facets:

Public and critical response[]

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is verified to be the currently highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, besting such other film franchises as the two Star Wars Trilogies and The Godfather. The films also tied a record for the total number of Academy Awards won.

The majority of critics have also praised the trilogy, with Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times writing that "the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal". In particular, performances from Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Viggo Mortensen and Miranda Otto stood out for many in audience polls, although the entire cast was well praised and won awards of Best Acting Ensemble. The special effects for the battles and Gollum were also praised. Overall, the films received a positive 93% critics rating on, (91% for TFotR, 95% for TTT, 93% for TRotK) a consensus amongst film critics.

The trilogy appears in many "Top 10" film lists, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association's Top 10 Films, Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies, James Berardinelli's Top 100, and The Screen Directory's "Top Ten Films of All Time" (considering the trilogy as "one epic film split into three parts"). In 2007, USA Today named the trilogy as the most important films of the past 25 years.

In 2006, all the three films were in the Top 10 of IMDb's famous Top 250 list. As of September 3, 2007, The Return of the King stood in the 10th place, The Fellowship of the Ring in the 17th place and The Two Towers in the 25th place, a consensus amongst voters. The trilogy is constantly increasing and decreasing its rating due to the many voters, and is the only movie trilogy in the site that has all its three movies in the Top 25 of the list (this feat has since been matched only by Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy), a firm display of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy's popularity and reputation as the best trilogy of all time. The Fellowship of the Ring is the third most voted movie on IMDb (only after The Shawshank Redemption and The Dark Knight ), with an average of 814,515 votes as of December 16, 2013. The Return of the King and The Two Towers, respectively, follow closely after.

Overall, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is well praised and considered by many the best trilogy of all time and the best movie (considering the trilogy as a whole unique epic) of the Twenty-First Century.

Comparison of worldwide box office figures[]

The following movies were all released with but a few years of each other:

Facts and figures about the trilogy[]

  • Amount of film shot during production: Over 6 million feet (over 1,800 kilometers)
  • Swords, axes, shields and makeup prosthetics created: 48,000
  • Background actors cast: 20,602
  • Costumes produced by the wardrobe department: 19,000
  • New Zealand cricket fans enlisted to create the Orc army's grunts: 10,000
  • Behind-the-scenes crew members: 2,400 at the height of production
  • Pairs of prosthetic Hobbit feet created: 1,600
  • Most real horses in one scene: 250
  • Computer special-effects artists employed: 180
  • Total speaking roles: 114
  • Locations in New Zealand used as backdrops: 100
  • Tailors, cobblers, designers, et al. in the wardrobe department: 50
  • Actors trained to speak fictional dialects and languages: 30
  • Total years of development for all three films: 7
  • Combined running time of the series (extended DVD editions): 680 minutes (11 hours and 20 minutes)
  • The Lord of the Rings movies were released on DVD a few months before the Boxing day release of the next film. There were special extended edition DVDs which were much longer with four commentaries, and many documentaries.
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy was quite successful in the United States, making the top 10 most successful movies of all time (in the box office.) Many actors in the movies including Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were from this country.

Awards won[]

Rotk poster

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King movie poster (2003)

The three films together were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17 and two Sci-Tech awards, a record for any movie trilogy. On its own, The Return of the King tied the previous record of eleven Academy Awards and won in every category it was nominated in, an extremely rare feat. Return of the King also tied a record for the total number of Academy Awards won, 11, with Ben-Hur and Titanic, plus two further Academy Awards at the previous Sci-Tech Award Ceremony.

Although the three films failed to win any acting awards from the Academy, Ian McKellen earned the series its sole Academy acting nomination for the 2001 release of The Fellowship of the Ring.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring — Nominations: 13, Wins: 4 in 2002.
  • The Two Towers — Nominations: 6, Wins: 2
  • The Return of the King — Nominations: 11, Wins: 11, plus two Sci-Tech Academy Awards.
Award Awards Won
The Fellowship of the Ring The Two Towers The Return of the King
Art Direction Nomination Nomination Win
Cinematography Win
Costume Design Nomination Win
Directing Nomination Win
Film Editing Nomination Nomination Win
Makeup Win Win
Music (Original Score) Win Win
Music (Original Song) Nomination "May It Be" Win "Into the West"
Best Picture Nomination Nomination Win
Sound Editing Win
Sound Mixing Nomination Nomination Win
Supporting Actor Nomination Ian McKellen
Visual Effects Win Win Win
Writing (Previously Produced or Published) Nomination

Technical Achievement Win
Scientific and Engineering Achievement Win

As well as Academy Awards, each film of the trilogy scored MTV Movie Awards' Best Film, and the Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation categories. The first and third films also won the Best Film BAFTAs. The films of the trilogy were nominated for ten Golden Globe Awards, winning four. It must also be noted that the soundtrack for The Two Towers did not receive a nomination because of the rule prohibiting a soundtrack including music from a previous soundtrack to be eligible for nomination. This rule was overturned in time for The Return of the King to receive the Oscar for Best Music Score.

Reaction from the industry[]

The series drew acclaim from within the industry, including from the film directors Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and George Lucas. John Boorman, who once wrote a script for a Lord of the Rings film, said he was happy his own version was unmade as Jackson's films was "of such scope and magnitude that it can only be compared to the building of the great Gothic cathedrals." Forrest J. Ackerman, who once presented a film treatment to Tolkien, and appeared on Jackson's Bad Taste said his pitch "could never have been given the grand treatment that Peter Jackson afforded it." Arthur Rankin said Jackson was making "marvellous films." Harvey Weinstein said they "had the next Star Wars."

However, some filmmakers were more critical. Heinz Edelmann, who pitched the idea of an animated feature when United Artists considered shooting the films with the Beatles, thought it was "badly directed." Ralph Bakshi, who made an animated film based on the first half of the trilogy, didn't watch the films, but was told that Jackson's film was derivative of his. Ahead of the films' release, he said he did not "understand it" but that he does "wish it to be a good movie." Later, he begrudged Saul Zaentz for not notifying him of the live-action film, and said that Jackson had his film to study and therefore had "a little easier time than I did." Afterwards, he grumbled that Jackson "didn't understand" Tolkien and created "special effects garbage" to sell toys, as well as being derivative of his own film, comments which puzzled Jackson. Bakshi further blamed Jackson for not acknowledging the influence that the animated film had on him, saying (falsely) that he denied having seen Bakshi's film at all until being forced to mention him, at which point (according to Bakshi) he mentioned Bakshi's influence "only once" as "PR bolony." However, he did praise Jackson's special effects and, in 2015, even apologized for some of his remarks. Bakshi's animator Mike Ploog and writer Peter Beagle both praised the live-action film.

Reactions to changes in the movies from the book[]

While the films were generally well received, some readers of the book decried certain changes made in the adaptation, including changes in tone and themes; various changes made to characters such as Aragorn, Arwen, Denethor, Faramir and Gimli, as well as to the main protagonist Frodo himself; changes made to events (such as the Elves participating at the Battle of Helm's Deep, and Faramir taking the hobbits to Osgiliath); and the deletion of the penultimate chapter of Tolkien's work, "The Scouring of the Shire", a part he felt thematically necessary. For example, Wayne G. Hammond, a noted Tolkien scholar, has said of the first two films:

""I find both of the Jackson films to be travesties as adaptations... faithful only on a basic level of plot... Cut and compress as necessary, yes, but don't change or add new material without very good reason... In the moments in which the films succeed, they do so by staying close to what Tolkien so carefully wrote; where they fail, it tends to be where they diverge from him, most seriously in the area of characterization. Most of the characters in the films are mere shadows of those in the book, weak and diminished (notably Frodo) or insulting caricatures (Pippin, Merry, and Gimli)... [T]he filmmakers sacrifice the richness of Tolkien's story and characters, not to mention common sense, for violence, cheap humor, and cheaper thrills... [S]o many of its reviewers have praised it as faithful to the book, or even superior to it, all of which adds insult to injury and is demonstrably wrong...'"
Wayne Hammond

Some fans of the book who disagreed with such changes have released their fan edits of the films, which removed many of the changes to bring them closer to the original. The theatrical version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has received this treatment, and a combined 8-hour version of the trilogy exists, called "The Lord of the Rings: The Purist Edition". Supporters of the film trilogy assert that it is a worthy interpretation of the book, most changes stemming from the filmmakers putting the book into a modern context; connected to this is their perceived need for developing characters further. It is important to note that many who worked on the trilogy are fans of the book, including Christopher Lee, who alone among the cast had actually met Tolkien in person, and Boyens once noted that no matter what, it is simply their interpretation of the book. Jackson once said that to simply summarise the story on screen would be a mess, and in his own words, "Sure, it's not really The Lord of the Rings... but it could still be a pretty damn cool movie." Other fans also claim that despite any changes, they do not matter within the context of stand-alone films, and nonetheless they serve as a tribute to the book and yet appeal to those who have not read it, and even lead some to. The Encyclopedia of Arda's Movie Guide states:

""It seems appropriate to end with a word of acknowledgement of Peter Jackson and everyone else associated with the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. However, of course, they haven't come close to the scope and intricacy of the original story that would be quite impossible; what they have produced is still nothing less than a masterpiece. The film-makers, and of course Peter Jackson in particular, have to be admired merely for having the courage to take on such an immense challenge, let alone to produce such an exceptional result. The complete story of The Lord of the Rings is probably unfilmable, but Peter Jackson has come closer than anyone could have imagined possible.""
Encyclopedia of Arda's Movie Guide

Three films or one?[]

Because the films were shot together and then edited into three separate films released theatrically over a span of three successive years, a significant number of fans and critics have come to regard the trilogy as a single film. They argue that as with the book, which was meant to be a single novel but was first released in three parts for marketing and budget reasons (leading to the common but erroneous label of "trilogy"); Jackson's trilogy is one long 10-hour film. When Time magazine placed the trilogy in its top 100 list it was done under a single heading.


The release of the films saw a surge of interest in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works, vastly increasing his impact on popular culture. For example, in 2003, the BBC conducted a poll to find the UK's favourite book, and The Lord of the Rings won, at the height of anticipation for the third film. Despite higher sales, it was rumoured that the Tolkien family became split on the trilogy, with Christopher Tolkien and Simon Tolkien feuding over whether or not it was a good idea to adapt. Christopher Tolkien has since denied these claims saying, "My own position is that The Lord of the Rings is peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form. The suggestions that have been made that I 'disapprove' of the films, vent to the extent of thinking ill of those with whom I may differ, are wholly without foundation." He added that he had never "expressed any such feeling". Jackson is unsure Christopher ever saw the films.

Capitalizing on the trilogy's success, a musical adaptation of the book was launched in Toronto in 2006, but it closed after mostly poor reviews. The success of the films has also spawned the production of video games and many other kinds of merchandise.

Jackson has become his own mogul like Steven Spielberg, and has befriended some industry heavyweights like Frank Darabont and James Cameron. He founded his own video-game company, Wingnut Interactive. He was also finally given a chance to remake King Kong in 2005; although it was not as successful, it nevertheless still received critical acclaim. On a personal level, he found it hard to leave the trilogy and still keeps the Bag End set (as a guesthouse) and Rivendell miniatures. He has also become a "favourite son" of New Zealand. Howard Shore also found leaving difficult, and in 2004 toured with The Lord of the Rings Symphony, consisting of two hours of the score.

New Zealand's profile and tourism industry have seen a massive boost from the trilogy, with many tourists inspired to visit by the trilogy and able to o on sightseeing tours of locations. The country markets itself as the 'home of Middle-earth'.

The trilogy has also renewed interest in the fantasy film genre. Around the same time, fellow New Zealand director Andrew Adamson began The Chronicles of Narnia film series, credited by many to be stylistically influenced by The Lord of the Rings, being also shot in New Zealand and having art direction from Weta Workshop, as well as its own extended edition. MGM wished to make an adaptation of The Hobbit in co-operation with New Line Cinema, although Jackson was temporarily out of the project due to disputes over remunerations with New Line.

Motion capture was used for characters in King Kong, I, Robot and Pirates of the Caribbean. Kingdom of Heaven is one of many epics to use the MASSIVE technology.

The films had spawned a three-part prequel, made by Jackson and adapted from The Hobbit, as well as an animated spinoff, War of the Rohirrim. Amazon's The Rings of Power show is likewise a prequel to the live-action films.

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See also[]


  1. "Peter Jackson Interview at the Egyptian Theater" (February 6, 2004)
  2. Brian Sibley, Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey (HarperCollins: London, 2006), p. 6
  3. "Peter Jackson interview." Explorations (Barnes and Noble: November 2001)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ian Nathan, Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle Earth (HarperCollins: London, 2018), p. 114.
  5. Sibley, p. 20.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sibley, p. 32.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sibley, p. 33.
  8. "Peter Jackson Academy of Achievement interview", 2006.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Sibley, p. 35.
  10. Nathan, p. 479.
  11. Sibley, p. 36.

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