Tolkien trust sues studio over ‘Rings’

Times Staff Writer

The charitable trust of “Lord of the Rings” creator J.R.R. Tolkien sued New Line Cinema Corp. on Monday for allegedly cheating it out of at least $150 million from the blockbuster movie trilogy based on the late British author’s fantasy sagas.

The London-based Tolkien Trust said in its complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that under a 1969 contract with the studio that held the original rights to the work, the trust and other plaintiffs were entitled to 7.5% of gross receipts, “less certain expenses,” from the films and related products. According to the suit, worldwide grosses from the trilogy have reached nearly $6 billion.

The studio declined comment Monday, spokesman Robert Pini said, citing a New Line policy against discussing “matters in litigation.”


Bonnie Eskenazi, a Los Angeles lawyer representing the Tolkien Trust and co-plaintiff HarperCollins publishers, said the studio’s position was that it owed nothing.

“To take the position that a gross participant in a film of that magnitude gets not one penny strikes me as bizarre,” said Eskenazi, a partner in the entertainment law firm of Bert Fields.

New Zealander Peter Jackson, who directed the mega-hit series, was embroiled in his own lengthy lawsuit against New Line, but the parties settled in December, clearing the way for Jackson to be co-executive producer of “The Hobbit.” “Hobbit” will be adapted from Tolkien’s novel of the same title, which preceded the “Rings” trilogy.

In addition to $150 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages, the trust seeks to terminate New Line’s rights, which would bring “The Hobbit” to a halt.