Will The Hobbit (Houghton, 1938) make it to the big screen? Not if the heirs of J.R.R Tolkien have it their way. Tolkien’s estate has filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Los Angeles that may block film production of the fantasy novel.
In order to pay to pay a $250,000 tax bill, Tolkien in 1969 sold the rights to The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings (HarperCollins, 1950)—as well as a percentage of film profits to United Artists. Tolkien died in 1973.
Over the year’s, however, the film rights has changed hands with New Line Cinema, owned by Time Warner, which produced the three Lord of the Rings live-action fantasy films: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) .
The plaintiffs, which include Tolkien’s son Christopher, 84, and daughter, Priscilla, 80, claim they’re owed $220 million dollars from those films and are asking that film rights be returned to the estate. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the parent company Tolkien’s publisher HarperCollins, and the Tolkien Trust (a British Charity) are also plaintiffs in the case.
“Should the case go all the way to trial, we are confident that New Line will lose its rights to The Hobbit,” says Bonnie Eskenazi, an attorney with Greenberg Glusker, the Los Angeles firm representing the estate. And in that case, production of The Hobbit would be halted.
The Hobbit is already in pre-production in New Zealand. And New Line Cinema has a 2010 production schedule for the film, with Guillermo del Toro as director and Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and Hugo Weaving reprising their roles as Gandalf, Gollum, and Elrond, respectively.
According to Bloomberg Media, the three Lord of the Rings films have generated almost $3 billion in worldwide box-office receipts, and another $3 billion from DVDs, merchandise and other sources. The case is scheduled to be heard in October.