Dec. 17 marks the release of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” the third and final film of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the “Lord of the Rings” prequel novel, “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien. If the first two films (2012’s “An Unexpected Journey” and 2013’s “The Desolation of Smaug”) are any indication, “The Battle of the Five Armies” will gross in the ballpark of $1 billion worldwide, making “The Hobbit” one of the most successful trilogies in movie history. It will also go down as one of the most expensive, with the budget for the three films totaling $745 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. How does the fantasy series compare to other blockbuster trilogies?
The most obvious point of comparison is with Peter Jackson’s first Tolkien adaptation, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. However, there is barely a comparison to be made. “The Hobbit’s” budget dwarfs (no pun intended) that of its predecessor, which cost a mere $297 million for all three movies. Despite largely similar box office results, “The Hobbit” proved to be significantly more expensive, largely due to the decision to produce the trilogy in 3-D and shoot in 48 frames per second (a rarely used frame rate intended to enhance the quality of the 3-D graphics).
The most comparable movie trilogies to “The Hobbit” in terms of cost are the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy and the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy. According to IMDB, the “Pirates” films cost about $665 million to produce, while the budget for the “Spider-Man” films totaled nearly $600 million. However, “The Hobbit’s” staggering $745 million price tag would make it the most expensive film trilogy ever produced.
Drawing comparisons to television and the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones” further illustrates the vast sum of money that went into “The Hobbit.” “Game of Thrones” (which features a world somewhat similar to the Tolkien universe) is an unprecedented production for television, but even with its amazing $6 million per episode budget, it would need to reach a 13th season to overtake the money invested into “The Hobbit” trilogy.
If any series has a chance to knock “The Hobbit” off of its budget throne, it would be “Avatar.” James Cameron’s sci-fi epic is the highest grossing movie of all-time and three sequels have been greenlit by 21st Century Fox. The first “Avatar” film in 2009 cost $237 million, and with sequels typically running a higher budget than the original, it would be quite possible for “Avatar” to exceed “The Hobbit’s” enormous production costs.
Even with its astronomical price tag, Warner Bros. (the studio behind the "Hobbit" films) will not be fretting. With “The Battle of the Five Armies” due out Dec. 17, the three films are expected to have grossed over $3 billion when it is all said and done, raking in billions in profit for the studio. Peter Jackson should not expect any complaints.
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