Disney Could Have Killed The Lord Of The Rings Before Production Even Began

"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is perhaps one of the most successful gambles in box office history. The films were an incredibly ambitious passion project for director Peter Jackson, who had to fight to convince his producers that a live-action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy classic was worth investing in. One of these financial obstacles came in the form of the then-head of Miramax Harvey Weinstein, working for parent company Disney.

Although the title credits of Miramax films never openly displayed the connection, The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of the independent film studio was its first venture into movies for purely adult audiences. Some very non-Disney films produced after the deal were "Pulp Fiction" (in fact the first film made after the event), "Clerks," and "Scream," supposedly because Disney let Harvey and Bob Weinstein still run the company without much interference. Still, the suits at Disney did have power over production, and occasionally tanked projects due to controversial subject matter (as was the case with "Kids," "Dogma," and "Fahrenheit 9/11") or budgetary issues, as was the case with "The Lord of the Rings."

Working with the Weinsteins

Jackson was already used to working with Miramax after the studio produced and distributed his own Oscar-nominated "Heavenly Creatures," and had already agreed to signing a first-look deal with the company. That meant that although Jackson and his producer and wife Fran Walsh weren't necessarily obligated to stick with Miramax in the long run, the Weinsteins were still the first ones who got to hear any plans for a new project. However, Miramax's parent company wasn't too enthused about the ambitious plans and sizable budget. According to an interview with Peter Jackson's manager Ken Kamins published in The Independent:

"...we weren't paying attention to the political dynamic between Miramax and Disney. Disney had set a budget cap on Miramax and "Lord of the Rings" was well in excess of what they could greenlight on their own. When Disney realised the budget and that we were going to shoot the films back-to-back, and the director was not exactly an A-list name, they made it very clear they were not on board."

As Harvey Weinstein pressured Jackson to significantly cut back on his original grand vision, the relationship between the two became tense. According to Kamins, the notorious producer demanded that Jackson make one two-and-a-half-hour film (Jackson had, in fact, originally planned to make only two films) and told him that if he couldn't, he would bring Quentin Tarantino on to direct instead. "Harvey would go from acting empathetically to turning on a dime into Mr. Hyde and would threaten Peter," said Kamins of the harrowing affair.

A new start at New Line

In a last-ditch effort to make the most out of the first-look contract and secure the rights for himself, Weinstein gave those working on "The Lord of the Rings" a mere three weeks to shop the project around to a different studio as opposed to the standard timeframe of six to twelve months. Luckily, executive producer Mark Ordesky of New Line Cinema, who had known Jackson since his early working years, had already been looking to try to buy the rights to the property and had been talking to New Line founder Robert Shaye about Jackson's filmmaking capabilities.

"Harvey was absolutely stunned. He set us up to fail and expected us to fail," recalled Kamins. Instead, Shaye increased the planned two films to a trilogy and later increased the budget, much to the gratitude of Tolkien fans who finally got to see Middle-earth fully realized in all its live-action glory.