J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings - on the Screen

J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English author best known as the writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892, his mother returned to England with her son three years later but Tolkien's father died of rheumatic fever before he could join them.

After serving in the First World War Tolkien's first job was at the Oxford English Dictionary, he developed a love of language and studied English at Leeds University, becoming the youngest professor there.

After publishing books on language and old English literature he wrote The Hobbit in 1937, his first published novel. A fantasy tale for young readers set in a fictional world called Middle-Earth. Over 35 million copies of The Hobbit are estimated to have been sold worldwide since publication date.

Tolkien had been working on The Silmarillion before writing The Hobbit, a series of interconnected tales set in Middle-Earth. After the success of The Hobbit he sent an early draft of The Silmarillion to the publishers but it was rejected as too Celtic and obscure. They suggested he write a sequel to The Hobbit instead. The Silmarillion was eventually published in 1977 by Tolkien's son after the author's death.

Tolkien's most famous work The Lord of the Rings, took more than ten years to complete. At first intended to be a children's story similar to The Hobbit, the 'sequel' was darker, becoming more serious and more ambitious while he was writing it. By the time he finished working on the story it had become too large for one book and was published as three volumes in 1954-1955.

Early reviews of Tolkien's epic work were mixed and it wasn't until the 1960s that the books became massively popular, eventually becoming the third biggest selling book(s) of all time with over 150 million copies sold.

J.R.R. Tolkiien died in 1973. His son Christopher took over the Tolkien estate and published more of his father's work during the 1970's.

The Hobbit (1977)
The Hobbit (1977)
The Hobbit (1977)
The Hobbit (1977)
The Hobbit (1977) poster
The Hobbit (1977) poster

The Hobbit (1977) Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. 90mins.

Orson Bean - Bilbo Baggins (voice)
Richard Boone - Smaug (voice)
Hans Conried - Thorin (voice)
John Huston - Gandalf the Grey (voice)
Otto Preminger - Elvenking (voice)
Brother Theodore - Gollum (voice)

J.R.R. Tolkien had sold the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969 for £10,000. The Hobbit had already been adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 1968.

This was a made for TV animated version of The Hobbit, it was broadcast on the NBC Channel in November 1977.

The film is estimated to have cost $3m. It was animated by a Japanese company called Topcraft which disbanded and reformed as part of Studio Ghibli the company which produced many anime classics by Hayao Miyazaki.

The Hobbit received a Hugo Award Nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation and the teleplay won a Peabody Award.

Bilbo Baggins: Perhaps you know the way out?
Gollum: Yes. But perhaps we sits here and chats with it a bitsy, my precious. It likes riddles?

IMDB rating 6.5

The Lord of the Rings (1978) poster
The Lord of the Rings (1978) poster
The Lord of the Rings (1978) poster
The Lord of the Rings (1978) poster

The Lord of the Rings (1978) Directed by Ralph Bakshi. 132mins.

Christopher Guard - Frodo (voice)
William Squire - Gandalf (voice)
Michael Scholes - Sam (voice)
John Hurt - Aragorn (voice)
Simon Chandler - Merry (voice)
Dominic Guard - Pippin (voice)
Norman Bird - Bilbo (voice)
Michael Graham Cox - Boromir (voice)
Anthony Daniels - Legolas (voice)
David Buck - Gimli (voice)
Peter Woodthorpe - Gollum (voice)
Fraser Kerr - Saruman (voice)
André Morell - Elrond (voice)

In 1976 producer Saul Zaentz picked up the rights to Lord of the Rings from United Artists and decided to produce an animated version of the books with American animator Ralph Bakshi, famous at the time as the director of Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated movie.

Rotoscoping was used to animate most of the film, which basically meant filming the actors movements and the animators tracing over the footage frame by frame.

Bakshi's intention was to condense the the three books into two 2 hour movies, but even though the first part did respectable business at the US box office - grossing $30m, part two was never made, which frustrated many viewers but must have given the books a boost in sales.

The movie ends after the battle at Helm's Deep at the end of The Two Towers.

Leonard Rosenman composed an excellent music score for the film, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

The film received a Saturn Award Nomination for Best Fantasy Film and a Hugo Award Nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Peter Woodthorpe would voice Gollum again in the acclaimed BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, broadcast in 1981.

Saruman: Where is the Ring Gandalf? Why do the servants of Sauron seek for it in the Shire? Have you hidden it there? Would you rather see the Dark Lord have it, or Saruman of Many Colours?
Gandalf: Neither of you will have it.
Saruman: There is a third choice. It is to remain here, until you tell me where the One Ring may be found.
Gandalf: Saruman, if you do this, if you delay me here, Sauron will surely get it then.
Saruman: Then he will know his good servants... and his enemies.

IMDB rating 6.0

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The Return of the King (1980) poster
The Return of the King (1980) poster

The Return of the King (1980) Directed by Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr. 98mins.

Orson Bean - Frodo Baggins (voice)
John Huston - Gandalf (voice)
Theodore Bikel - Aragorn (voice)
William Conrad - Lord Denethor (voice)
Roddy McDowall - Samwise Gamgee (voice)
Brother Theodore - Gollum / Smeagol (voice)

When it was clear that Ralph Bakshi was not going to finish the story started in The Lord of the Rings (1978) Rankin and Bass decided to finish the story for him.

Unfortunately the animation was very limited compared to Bakshi's film, the tone was different and many characters were missing i.e. Legolas, Gimli and Saruman.

Made for TV and premiered on the ABC Channel on May 11, 1980.

IMDB rating 5.5

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
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The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) poster
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) poster

Galadriel: It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who, above all else, desire power.

But they were, all of them, deceived, for another Ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master Ring, to control all others. And into this Ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life. One Ring to rule them all.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Directed by Peter Jackson. 178mins (208mins)

Elijah Wood - Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen - Gandalf
Viggo Mortensen - Aragorn
Sean Astin - Samwise Gamgee
Orlando Bloom - Legolas
Liv Tyler - Arwen
John Rhys-Davies - Gimli
Sean Bean - Boromir
Billy Boyd - Peregrin "Pippin" Took
Dominic Monaghan - Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck
Cate Blanchett - Galadriel
Christopher Lee - Saruman
Hugo Weaving - Lord Elrond
Marton Csokas as Lord Celeborn
Ian Holm - Bilbo Baggins
Andy Serkis - Gollum

Peter Jackson's first encounter with The Lord of the Rings was Ralph Bakshi's 1978 movie, Jackson interviewed in 2001 said he "enjoyed the film and wanted to know more" he read the books on a 12 hour train ride from Wellington to Auckland, New Zealand at the age of 17.

Negotiating a deal with Saul Zaentz, who held the film rights, he started working on an ambitious live action movie version of the film in the mid 1990s. The script was written in 1997 and filming began in 1999, location New Zealand.

To save money all three volumes were filmed concurrently, 438 days of filming at a total cost of $281m for all three films. It was a huge gamble which paid off when the first film received critical acclaim and grossed nearly $900m worldwide.

Stuart Townsend was picked to play Aragorn but after weeks of training and screen testing, Jackson felt he wasn't right for the role and Viggo Mortensen replaced him. Russell Crowe was also considered for the role.

Nominated for 13 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), winning 4 - Best Music (Howard Shore), Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects.

Nominated for 14 British Academy Awards winning 5 - Best Film, Best Director, Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects and Audience Award.

Cost $93m - Box Office $871.5m

Frodo: It's some form of Elvish, I can't read it.
Gandalf: There are few who can. The language is the that of Mordor, which I will not utter here.
Frodo: Mordor?
Gandalf: In the common tongue it reads "One Ring to Rule Them All. One Ring to Find Them. One Ring to Bring Them All and In The Darkness Bind Them."

IMDB rating 8.8

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The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers (2002)
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The Two Towers (2002) poster
The Two Towers (2002) poster

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) Directed by Peter Jackson. 179mins (223mins)

For main cast see The Fellowship of the Ring.

Also starring -
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Miranda Otto as Eowyn
Karl Urban as Eomer
Brad Dourif as Gríma Wormtongue
David Wenham as Faramir
Craig Parker as Haldir

Released a year after the first film, The Two Towers was even more successful at the box office. Andy Serkis as Gollum stole the movie and was cruelly overlooked at Oscar time. Wearing a motion capture suit he brought Gollum brilliantly to life.

Uma Thurman was set to play Eowyn but had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts, Miranda Otto took the part.

Ethan Hawke was considered for Faramir.

Uncredited, John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) also provides the voice for Treebeard.

The Battle at Helm's Deep took nearly three months to shoot and had to be edited down from 24 hours of footage. 100 men in Uruk'hai costumes and makeup were turned into an army of 10,000 thanks to the magic of computer effects.

The Two Towers contained 799 special effects shots, the previous film had 540 effects shots and Return of the King tops the lot with a gobsmacking 1,488 effects shots.

When Viggo Mortensen angrily kicks a steel helmet near the start of the film he broke two toes, his cry of agony was left in the film.

Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, winning 2 - Sound Editing and Visual Effects.

Nominated for 11 British Academy Awards including Best Film and Best Director, winning 3 - Costume Design, Visual Effects and Audience Award.

Cost $94m - Box Office $926m

Frodo: Gandalf told me you were one of the River-folk.
Gollum: Cold be heart and hand and bone. Cold be travelers far from home.
Frodo: He said your life was a sad story.
Gollum: They don't see what lies ahead when Sun has faded and Moon is dead
Frodo: You were not so very different from a Hobbit once, were you? Smeagol.
Gollum: What did you call me?
Frodo: That was your name once, wasn't it?
Gollum: My name? ... Smeagol.

IMDB rating 8.7

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The Return of the King (2003) poster
The Return of the King (2003) poster

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Directed by Peter Jackson. 201mins (251mins)

For main cast see Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.

Also starring -
John Noble - Denethor
Paul Norell - The King of the Dead
Lawrence Makoare - The Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul
Sarah McLeod - Rosie Cotton
Bruce Spence - The Mouth of Sauron
Thomas Robins - Deagol
Andy Serkis - Smeagol

The last film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was also the most successful grossing over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, it also won all 11 of the Oscar nominations it received, tying with Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) for the most Oscars won.

Christopher Lee boycotted the premiere of the film when he discovered the sequence showing the death of Saruman was not in the theatrical version and would only be seen later in the extended edition on DVD. The scene was originally planned to appear at the end of The Two Towers.

The Mouth of Sauron (Bruce Spence) only appears in the extended version, the actors mouth was digitally enlarged to make him look more inhuman.

Originally Aragorn was to battle Sauron himself outside the Black Gate near the end of the film, and the fight was staged and shot but Jackson later felt that the climactic duel would overshadow Frodo and Sam's attempt to destroy the ring and the idea was abandoned. A large troll replaced what would have been Sauron in the final battle sequence.

Nominated for 11 Oscars winning 11 - Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Music (Howard Shore), Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Song ("Into the West") and Visual Effects.

Nominated for 14 British Academy Awards winning 5 - Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Audience Award.

Cost $94m - Box Office 1,119,929,521

Gandalf: Go back to the abyss! Fall into nothingness that awaits you and your master!
Witch King: Do you not know death when you see it, old man? This is my hour!

Sam: Gollum what are you up to? Sneaking off are we?
Gollum: Sneaking? Sneaking? Fat hobbit is always so polite. Smeagol shows them secret way that nobody else could find. And they say sneak! SNEAK? Very nice friend oh yes My Precious very nice…
Sam: All right all right! You just startled me is all. What were you doing?
Gollum: Sneaking!

IMDB rating 8.9

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) poster

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Directed by Peter Jackson. 169mins

Martin Freeman - Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen - Gandalf the Grey
Cate Blanchett - Galadriel
Hugo Weaving - Elrond
Christopher Lee - Saruman the White
Sylvester McCoy - Radagast the Brown
Richard Armitage - Thorin Oakenshield
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Necromancer
Barry Humphries - The Great Goblin
Ian Holm - old Bilbo Baggins
Elijah Wood - Frodo Baggins
Andy Serkis - Gollum

Gandalf: Bilbo, allow me to introduce: Fili, Kili; Oin, Gloin; Dwalin, Balin; Bifur, Bofur, Bombur; Dori, Nori, Ori; and the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield.

After the mega success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy filming The Hobbit was always on the cards, but Peter Jackson only wanted to produce not direct this time.

Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, was asked if he'd be interested in directing. He was, but after a year of delays and financial problems with MGM he left the project and Peter Jackson decided it was best if he directed the films himself.

Originally meant to be released as two films, Jackson turned it into three films stating to the press that there was enough material for a third film. The first was titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and released in December 2012, the second - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - would be released in December 2013, and the third and last - The Hobbit: There and Back Again - in July 2014.

Tolkien's book is only about 300 pages long it'll be interesting to see what Jackson has in mind for the three films.

Jackson filmed The Hobbit in 3D and 48fps, the industry standard is 24fps. The reason he chose 48fps was the added clarity it would give his movie but some reviewers have complained of feeling nauseous during some scenes of the film and the heightened clarity making the film's locations look like movie sets, even the outdoor scenes. It's all a matter of getting used to the new process. But not every theater will have the 48fps option.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo) plays Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug/Necromancer) plays the title role in Sherlock the hit BBC series updating Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective into the 21st century.

The Hobbit's opening weekend box office in America was $84.6m in 3 days and has so far grossed $1,010,175,203 worldwide.

Nominated for 3 Oscars - Best Make Up, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects.

Reviews for The Hobbit have been mixed -

"An overlong adventure enlivened by wonders." Washington Journal.

"Jackson has made The Hobbit with brio and fun, and Martin Freeman is just right as Bilbo Baggins: he plays it with understatement and charm." The Guardian.

"There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going." Hollywood Reporter.

Bilbo Baggins: Why don't we have a game of riddles?
Gollum: And if he loses? What then? Well if he loses precious then we eats it! If Baggins loses we eats it whole!
Bilbo Baggins: Fair enough.

IMDB rating 9.0

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) poster

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Comments 15 comments

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this. Guess where the wife and kids are now.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

I hope they enjoyed the film. I'll probably go some time this week. Thanks for posting Mhatter99, always appreciated amigo.


Geekdom profile image

Geekdom 3 years ago

Excited to see the new Hobbit film but worried it will be stretched out way to long over three films. Thanks for the memories with the animated beginnings. I always remember my father having the Lord of the Rings poster on the wall down to the basement. Never remembered watching it. Tried a few years ago and could not make it through.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting Geekdom, it is appreciated. I was a big Ralph Bakshi fan back then and watched the animated Lord of the Rings many times, I also bought the soundtrack! But it's not everyone's cup of tea and the lack of closure ticked off a lot of people.

I understand the new film covers just the first 100 pages of the Hobbit novel and its still nearly 3 hours long!


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 3 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Wonderful writings! Thanks for all this background knowledge. Did Tolein ever visit New Zealand?


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

Maybe he did Gypsy Willow, one thing for sure NZ looked spectacular in those films, the perfect setting for Middle-Earth.

Thank you for commenting!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Yeah... if you saw any of the earlier (pre-Jackson) attempts, you can only appreciate the absolute magnificence of the current LOTR. I mean, Orson Bean as Bilbo and Frodo? And I'm not sure that the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings didn't have quite an influence on us hippies. It seemed like everyone had a dog-eared copy of one of the books. Only a slight exaggeration.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

I remember buying the books at the time Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings was released, probably after I saw it at the cinema. Paperback editions, in the 90's I joined a book club and bought the Lord of the Rings again in a special hardback edition with artwork by Alan Lee.

Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy was incredible, among my top favourite films of the past two decades. Will The Hobbit trilogy be in the same league? I doubt it.

Thanks for commenting David, appreciated as always.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

This is superb Steve! You've covered so much in one short hub, from the creation by Tolkien to the new Hobbit movie. As always, you provide us with tons of information about each film and choose beautiful pictures to compliment each entry. Looking forward to seeing the Hobbit.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. Shared as well.


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

I like reading about the history behind the movie or book. Knowing who wrote the book and their life story is just as important as the book itself. I for one love reading the books and movies. Interesting. Voted up.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

Mary, torrilynn thanks for the comment and votes, much appreciated.

Thank you for sharing Mary, I always wanted to write something on Tolkien and the release of the new film gave me the excuse I needed.

The screenshots are all mine, taken from the Blu-ray edition of the films. So many great shots in those films I could fill up more hubs with them. :)

torrilynn, I like reading the background info on the authors too, I used to read a lot when I was young and one of my favourite sections of a book was the preface.


Cogerson 3 years ago

I might be one of the few people over 40 that has not read the book or even seen any of the movie versions already out there.....so I found your hub very informative. As I write this comment I just read that The Hobbit opened up in the United States with 85 million dollars at the box office.....that has to make the producers and studios relax a little bit as they invested 600 million in the three Peter Jackson movies.

Despite is impressive opening weekend I do not think these three movies will be as big as The Lord of the Ring movies....but I could be wrong again....lol....as I did not think the Lord of the Ring movies would be as popular as they turned out to be.

I enjoyed reading about the history of Tolkien and some of the movies already done...a very timely hub ...thanks for the information and kudos on the quality of the hub.

Voted up and interesting.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

$600m for three films? Wow prices have gone up. Will The Hobbit beat Skyfall at the box office? The Bond film is approaching a billion dollars at the box office, who could have predicted that?

Surprised you've avoided watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy all these years Bruce, weren't you even curious to see why they were so popular?

Thanks for commenting amigo.


Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

Excellent hub! I'm a big fan of Lord and the Rings. I think I'm gonna try to watch the 1977 version as well... it could prove an interesting experience :)


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

Thank you Mike Robbers, appreciate the comment. I haven't seen the animated Hobbit movie in ages but I did see the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings at Xmas, bought it on blu-ray, very nice copy.

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