It has been described as one of the great cinematic “blunders” by a pair of bullish brothers who should have known better. And now, after the Weinsteins sold the rights to JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, New York attorneys are gearing up for a battle that would rival anything found in Middle Earth.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein launched legal proceedings against Warner Bros' New Line Cinema on Wednesday. The fight comes ahead of the worldwide release of the latest Hobbit instalment - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - on Friday.
The brothers, who owned the rights to JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but sold them in 1998, claim they are entitled to cash from the three instalments of The Hobbit, originally a single book, and are seeking $75million (£45m) in damages.
The Associated Press reported that Warner Bros responded to the brothers' claims with a statement that branded the Weinsteins' original sale one “one of the great blunders in movie history”. The studio said both the Weinsteins, and the company they founded, Miramax, agreed to only be paid for the first film based on each book.
“No amount of trying to rewrite history can change that fact,” Warner Bros. said. “They agreed to be paid only for the first motion picture based on The Hobbit. And that's all they're owed.”
The rights to Tolkien's books were owned by Miramax but after trying to develop the movies they were sold to New Line - which later merged with Warner Bros. and is owned by Time Warner - in 1998 for five per cent of the profits on each film.
Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed nearly $3billion (£1.8bn) worldwide which, together with the first Hobbit instalment - last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - have netted the Weinsteins more than $100m (£61m). Although the Weinsteins have since sold Miramax to Disney, they retained a share in The Hobbit's profits.
The dispute will hinge on how the 1998 agreement is interpreted. A copy of the agreement said the terms apply to “the first motion picture, if any, based in whole or in part upon such book which is produced... but excluding remakes,” the Associated Press reported. The Weinsteins claim the three Hobbit films are installations of one movie, noting that director Peter Jackson largely shot all three at once.
“We are surprised and frustrated by the position Warner Bros. is taking with regards to The Hobbit franchise,” Bob and Harvey said in a statement. “Since the beginning, Miramax, Harvey and Bob have been a force in getting these books to the screen. In fact, they funded the initial technology for the films at Peter Jackson's (special effects company) WETA. Without these early investments, none of these pictures would have been made.”