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Sean Astin: Failed ‘Lord of the Rings’ Marketing Treated Film Like ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

"Our hearts were sinking," Astin said about the cast's reaction to the original marketing plan.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, 2001

Sean Astin and Elijah Wood in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Sean Astin revealed in a recent interview with Deadline that cast members from “The Lord of the Rings” were upset with New Line Cinema’s original marketing plan for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth trilogy. Before the film dazzled the industry with a footage preview at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, the studio was on edge about how successfully “The Fellowship of the Ring” would launch the franchise. New Line agreed to shoot all three “Rings” movies at once, as opposed to making “Fellowship” and waiting to see if it was a financial success before moving into production on “The Two Towers.”

“The Cannes Film Festival showed what we knew, that the film was spectacular and we had created something that would stand the test of time,” said Astin, who starred in all three “Rings” films as Samwise Gamgee. “It filtered up, down, and all around. I remember the initial marketing campaign sort of missed the mark, treated it as kind of a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ thematic approach and missed the classical feel. I remember all of us, our hearts were sinking because we’re like, ‘Oh, no, maybe the studio or the marketing folks are expecting something different than what we think we’ve created.’

Astin added, “After Cannes, they got it right. The posters of just Elijah with his hands and a huge ring in it, on bus stops and everything else. You didn’t know if this would translate to box office success, and I watched [New Line bosses] Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne sweating it.”

Elijah Wood also spoke to Deadline about how the film’s Cannes preview “showed so many things” to industry figures who were nervous about “Lord of the Rings” being a risky financial flop. Wood recalled “the level of artistry that Weta Digital and Peter’s team were capable of in bringing that cave troll to life in a way that felt genius. To feel that palpable buzz of excitement in the air was wonderful.”

“Everybody thinks the make-or-break moment of a big movie is the opening weekend, but in some respects, I think that Cannes screening was our opening weekend, certainly in terms of all these distributors being on board,” Jackson added. “The success of the movie in its initial release was going to depend a lot on the amount of effort and hard work that the different distributors put into the film, because they were all in charge of promotion and marketing in their own territories. What that Cannes screening did was it motivated and united all of them in the sense they realized this could be huge if they put in the extra effort.”

Head over to Deadline to read more interviews tied to the 20th anniversary of “The Lords of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

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