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Friday, July 25, 2014 | Last updated: 4:01pm

The Hobbit movies draw significantly low total grosses



“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is know for being one of the most popular movie franchises in the world during the early 2000s. With a new decade came a new Middle Earth trilogy that focuses on author J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” a prequel to the three “LOTR” films. However, the first two installments of the new trilogy have fallen short of expectations. They’ve turned into big profits which satisfies the studio and director, but have struggled at the box office in comparison to the other “LOTR” movies. The goal of any sequel film, or trilogy in this case, is to build on the popularity of the films that came before, which has not happened with the first two “Hobbit” movies.

Domestically, both “Hobbit” movies have drawn significantly worse total grosses than each of the previous “LOTR” predecessors. At first glance, the differences in box-office grosses for each movie appear similar. However, a dramatic disparity is revealed when the figures are adjusted for ticket price inflation. The worst-grossing “LOTR” movie was the first in the series, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which brought in $454.8 million. The best is “The Return of the King,” which grossed a whopping $513.8. This leaves “The Two Towers” with a strong middle place at $478.5.

By comparison, the first “Hobbit” movie, “An Unexpected Journey,” brought in $315.9, while the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” has brought in just $249.4 thus far. This isn’t to say the latter films are doing poorly, but they’re doing substantially worse than their “LOTR” counterparts. The box-office numbers are trending downward.

Each “LOTR” movie did better financially than the previous. However, “The Desolation of Smaug” has performed significantly worse than its predecessor It is still playing in theaters, so the numbers may change slightly, but as of Jan. 21, it trailed “An Unexpected Journey” by more than $53 million in total domestic grosses, and by nearly $275 million in unadjusted worldwide grosses. It won its December opening weekend over a weak field of competitors at $73.6 million, but even that was a 13 percent drop from its predecessor’s $84.6 million opening the year before. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, “The Desolation of Smaug” has the lowest average weekend opening gross per theater of any of film in the franchise by a wide margin.

Prequel and sequel films typically underperform, so it’s not surprising that the two “Hobbit” films have done simply that. The quality of both films also pale in comparison to the “LOTR” movies for multiple reasons.

Firstly, the films were shot within 48 frames per minute. The intention is to make the film more immersive, but critics have argued that the new format has made the characters look fake and the lighting too shrill. Before being made into a trilogy, the “Hobbit” films were originally to be released as two films. Because of that, the story line per film has been watered down. Both films have been well over two hours, which limits the amount of daily viewings that can be shown and demands a longer time commitment from the audience.

The demand becomes more overbearing if the films aren’t good. Producer Peter Jackson and company got away with the long running time with each of the “LOTR” movies because they were good quality, whereas the “Hobbit” movies haven’t received the same kind of public reception. The last “LOTR” movie came out in 2003. Production delays kept “An Unexpected Journey” from being released until 2012. Having a franchise sit for that long kills the momentum it has generated. Couple that with worse films and it’s not hard to see why the “Hobbit” films have been less successful than the other “LOTR” films.

Despite all of the criticism, there’s an argument that the movies have been, ultimately, a success. The fact that prequel movies typically do worse can be turned around in defense of the “Hobbit” films. They have received high approval ratings on popular film review sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. While the films might not live up to the high standards set by the previous franchise, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. Although they haven’t seen as much domestic box office success relative to the “LOTR” movies, they’ve still made a lot of money.

At the end of the day, the “Hobbit” movies are an offshoot of “LOTR” and have fallen short of expectations. The studio may not see the films in such dim lighting given that they’ve still turned profits, but the “Hobbit” films have been a disappointment from both a quality and domestic sales standpoint.

The three “LOTR” movies each increased in domestic grosses as the trilogy progressed, while “The Hobbit” is headed in the opposite direction. “The Desolation of Smaug” will end up with the worst grossing of the five films by a wide margin. The box office comparison between these two trilogies serves as a strong metaphor for the franchise as a whole. The “Hobbit” movies are fine, but they’ll never come close to the success seen by the “LOTR” trilogy.


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