This month marks 20 years since audiences worldwide began flocking to movie theaters to see “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first of three films in the iconic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Since then, “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) has earned $897 million, the “The Two Towers” (2002), $947 million, and “The Return of the King (2003), $1.1 billion — nearly $3 billion combined — making it one of the highest-grossing fantasy trilogies of all-time, according to boxofficemojo.
The trilogy also won 17 Oscars and was nominated for 13 other Academy Awards.
The film series, based on the the novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien, was directed by Peter Jackson. The story follows the epic and treacherous journey of hobbit Frodo Baggins and his friends as they seek to destroy an evil ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron.
The question, “How did you go about convincing a studio to let him make three massive films at once?” was asked of Jackson by Josh Gad in a “Lord of the Rings” Zoom reunion in 2020.
“You just incrementally do a little bit and then eventually the studio is in too deep to turn back,” Jackson said with a smile. “A little bit of development here, a little bit of, ‘Let’s design some stuff’ here, and eventually they realize they’ve spent too much to not do it.”
When “The Fellowship of the Ring” premiered in London, actor John Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli, offered the following prediction in an audio commentary:
“In 20 years time when people look back, they are going look at our work and say, ‘One of my top 10 experiences in the cinema of all time.’”
Here’s what some of the film’s actors are saying as they reflect on their experience with “The Lord of the Rings” two decades later.
Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins)
Elijah Wood was 18 years old when he arrived in New Zealand to begin filming. It was his first time living away from home for an extended time. But 20 years later, he and his fellow hobbits are still friends and stay in touch through a group text, the actor told Esquire.com.
“That will link us forever,” Wood said in the article.
In the interview, Wood admitted he never finished reading Tolkien’s book.
“The book is dense and verbose and incredible and literary and beautiful, but heavy,” he said. “I found it taxing to read the book with all the work in tandem I was doing on my character. I sort of pivoted my focus to just live in the world of the character as written in the scripts and trust the process. ... I still haven’t read it, 20 years later. It’s ridiculous that I haven’t. It is my cross to bear. It’s so dumb. Everybody else has read it.”
Even with scores of other projects in his career, Wood will always be proud to be known as Frodo. He also believes the films will remain timeless to audiences.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been dated. But I also think that there’s a lot of heart in those films,” Wood said. “I think that’s Tolkien. It’s the great power of those stories. There’s sort of something in it for everybody. At the core of it, it’s the story about literally the smallest person in the world being capable of changing, of affecting real change, and I think that message is universal. Everybody can relate to that on some level.”
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn)
Viggo Mortensen has fond memories of playing the role of Aragorn, he said in an interview with Digitalspy.com.
“I’m honored to have been part of that process. We never knew it would be that way, that it would have such an impact globally. It was great, and it obviously gave me lots of opportunities. ... A lot of good things came from it,” he said in the article.
“You know, people ask me that often: ‘Are you tired of people asking you questions or making comments about it?’ No. It was a great experience, and I’m grateful for it. So of course not.”
Sean Astin (Samwise)
“The Lord of the Rings” marked a technological shift with computer-generated imagery in movie-making, Sean Astin said in an interview with ET Canada.
“CG was just getting better,” Astin said. “You have (actor) Andy Serkis (Gollum) who comes in and he’s working on the motion capture and now everybody’s aware. ... That was new.”
Astin also mentioned reading the books three times during filming, but not for pleasure.
“I read them like a pilot in a cockpit reads an emergency checklist,” he said. “That’s not the way you enjoy the books. You enjoy the books by just letting your imagination wander into it and letting the ideas kind of wash over you.”
Dominic Monaghan (Merry)
What stands out to Dominic Monaghan, another one of the four main hobbits, all these years later are the people and the friendships, he said in an interview with Digitalspy.com.
“Well, it’s always the people, right? That memory abides,” he said. “So the things that you take with you that have a lasting staying power are usually the interactions and the relationships with humans. And on a film job, if you’re lucky enough to make one friend, then you’re very fortunate. On ‘Lord of the Rings,’ because of the time that we spent with each other, and what the project meant to us all, and ultimately what it meant to everyone else that watched the film, we’ve got these extremely loyal friendships. So I think that that really is the abiding memory.”
Sean Bean (Boromir)
Actor Sean Bean, whose role as Boromir involved a memorable death scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” read the book as a teenager and never imagined he would be part of a global phenomenon, he said in an interview with Digitalspy.com.
“It was just such a wonderful experience to be part of something that, you know, I’d read as a teenager, and I read it quite thoroughly,” he said. “And then to be asked to play the part of Boromir — all the characters are kind of set in stone now. They’re kind of legendary. To do that was such a great thing to be able to do. I never thought it would take off as it did, you know?”
‘The Hobbit’ trilogy
Jackson and some of the cast went on to film a prequel trilogy, “The Hobbit,” which grossed almost $3 billion, according to Forbes.
Upcoming ‘Lord of the Rings’ television series
There is more LOTR to come, though from different creators. Amazon Originals purchased the rights to a television adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” in 2017. The first season of the series is expected to air on Prime Video beginning in Sept. 2022, according to Esquire.