Tolkiens threaten to halt 'Rings' films in row over takings

The epic legal battles over profits from The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy long ago eclipsed anything raging on Middle Earth, but New Line Cinema, the films' producer, has just got sight of its most formidable foe to date: the family of J R R Tolkien himself.

The author's descendants claim they have been diddled out of more than $150m (£75m), their share of the almost $6bn that the films based on Tolkien's books have grossed in cinema tickets and DVD sales.

And they say that if they do not get their due – and soon – they plan to scupper work on two prequels, based on Tolkien's book The Hobbit, whose planned production next year has already got devotees in a frenzy of excitement.

Peter Jackson, whose statue for best director was among the 17 Oscars bagged by the original trilogy, signed up as executive producer of the prequels only a few weeks ago after settling his own lawsuit against New Line. Jackson was claiming underpayment in what was the one of the nastiest and most personal legal tussles in the industry.

Now, members of the Tolkien family have filed a suit in a Los Angeles court accusing New Line of one of the most outrageous examples of what they call "Hollywood accounting". They say they are entitled to 7.5 per cent of gross receipts, but New Line is claiming the trilogy's costs were so high, and its income so much lower than the family's estimate, that the receipts did not even meet the minimum that would trigger payments into the two British trusts controlled by the Tolkiens.

"This case presents an extraordinary example of how enormous financial success can breed unabashed and insatiable greed," the lawsuit says. "Despite the nearly $6bn in gross revenues, New Line has crafted a fantasy tale of its own, making the stunning assertion that it has not received sufficient money to pay the plaintiffs a dime."

The trio of films took $3bn at the box office and made almost as much again in video sales and other income, but the Tolkiens say New Line has refused to let it audit the takings and may even have destroyed financial documents to cover their tracks. The studio has refused to comment on the lawsuit.

The family's lawyer, Steven Maier, said: "The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court."

J R R Tolkien created the fantasy world of Middle-earth and wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit while a professor at Oxford University, and the family trust that licensed the film rights to his work dates from 1969, four years before his death. A second family trust distributes royalties to charitable causes, including Alzheimer's and cancer research, a Darfur appeal, and Save the Children, Unicef and the World Wildlife Foundation.

The two trusts are joined in their lawsuit by HarperCollins, the Rupert Murdoch-owned book publisher which owns the rights to Tolkien's literary output.

For fans, the most alarming aspect is the family's request to withdraw New Line's rights to The Hobbit, scuppering plans for two prequels slated for release in 2010 and 2011. For New Line, the prequels are a must-succeed project, because it has failed to repeat the profits it made from the trilogy and is facing steep cuts imposed by its parent company, Time Warner.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests