Hollywood Flashback: 20 Years Ago, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Ruled Them All

Hollywood Flashback: 20 Years Ago, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Ruled Them All thumbnail

Peter Jackson’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ debuted in theaters in 2001, forever changing Elijah Wood’s life — and pop culture.

Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan,

Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’
Courtesy Everett Collection

These days, Peter Jackson is earning praise for his three-part Disney+ Beatles documentary, Get Back. But 20 years ago, he made his mark on pop culture with another three-part series about a beloved band of sorts — The Lord of the Rings, which debuted in theaters Dec. 19, 2001.

Based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, the trilogy’s first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, kicked off the saga of the Hobbits from the Shire who join forces with Men, Elves and Dwarves to undertake an arduous journey to defeat the evil Sauron and restore peace to Middle-earth. Jackson cast Elijah Wood, then 18, in the lead role as Frodo Baggins. The all-star ensemble included Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm and Andy Serkis; the cast shot all three movies concurrently in New Zealand over 438 days.

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“The films really do represent such an extraordinary time in my life, and they are films I really love,” Wood tells The Hollywood Reporter. Audiences and critics also were fond of Fellowship (THR in 2001 deemed it “one of those rewarding movies that seems to get better and better as it progresses”), and it hauled in $880.8 million worldwide ($1.38 billion today) off a $93 million budget. It was nominated for 13 Oscars and won four, including best cinematography, visual effects, makeup and original score. The film, along with Jackson’s sequels and Hobbit prequels, helped the franchise earn $5.88 billion globally at the box office, cementing an indelible impression on the world. In fact, Amazon will release a prequel series in fall 2022.

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“It is bigger than all of us,” Wood says. “We had the experience of making these films, but then there are the movies themselves and their impact culturally. And that is way beyond us. That is a culmination of everyone’s efforts, but it is fans’ now.”

And the cast has stayed close, far more so than any other project with which he has been involved, Wood notes. “The four Hobbits, we tend to stay in the most contact,” he says. “I would include Orlando [Bloom] in that, too.”

It is in the legacy that Wood finds his greatest joy. “We’re still encountering people of young ages year after year, which means there are new generations being introduced to the films that are finding something in them that they love, too,” Wood says. “Being a part of something that will keep going on and connect with people long after we’re all gone — that is an amazing thing.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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