The Lord of the Rings (1978 Film)
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The Lord of the Rings 1978 Film

The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings (1978).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed byRalph Bakshi
Produced bySaul Zaentz
Screenplay by
Based onThe Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Music by
CinematographyTimothy Galfas
Edited byDonald W. Ernst
Fantasy Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 15, 1978 (1978-11-15)
Running time
133 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$4 million[3]
Box office$30.5 million (U.S./Canada)[2]
$3.2 million (U.K.)[4]

The Lord of the Rings is a 1978 animated dark fantasy adventure film directed by Ralph Bakshi.[5] It is an adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's high fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, comprising The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) and the first half of The Two Towers (1954). Set in Middle-earth, the film follows a group of hobbits, elves, men, dwarves, and wizards who form a fellowship. They embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring made by the Dark Lord Sauron, and ensure his destruction.

Ralph Bakshi encountered Tolkien's writing early in his career, and had made several attempts to produce The Lord of the Rings as an animated film before being given funding by producer Saul Zaentz and distributor United Artists. The film is notable for its extensive use of rotoscoping, a technique in which scenes are first shot in live-action, then traced onto animation cels. It uses a hybrid of traditional cel animation and rotoscoped live action footage.[6] The film features the voices of William Squire, John Hurt, Michael Graham Cox, and Anthony Daniels, and was one of the first animated films to be presented theatrically in the Dolby Stereo sound system. The screenplay was written by Peter S. Beagle, based on an earlier draft by Chris Conkling.

Although Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings was a financial success, it received mixed reactions from critics, and there was no official sequel to cover the remainder of the story. Nonetheless, the film became a cult classic that continued to run as a matinee and a midnight movie for nearly two decades, and was an influence on Peter Jackson's trilogy, as detailed in the DVD extras of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.


Early in the Second Age of Middle-earth, elven smiths forge nine Rings of Power for mortal men, seven for the Dwarf-Lords, and three for the Elf-Kings. Soon after, the Dark Lord Sauron makes the One Ring, and uses it to attempt to conquer Middle-earth. After defeating Sauron, Prince Isildur takes the Ring, but after he is killed by orcs, the Ring lies at the bottom of the river Anduin for over 2,500 years. Over time, Sauron captures the Nine Rings and transforms their owners into the Ringwraiths. The One Ring is discovered by Déagol, whose kinsman, Sméagol, kills him and takes the Ring for himself. The Ring twists his body and mind, and he becomes the creature Gollum (Peter Woodthorpe) who takes it with him into the Misty Mountains. Hundreds of years later, Bilbo Baggins (Norman Bird) finds the Ring in Gollum's cave and brings it back with him to the Shire.

Decades later, during Bilbo's birthday celebration, the wizard Gandalf (William Squire) tells him to leave the Ring for his nephew Frodo (Christopher Guard). Bilbo reluctantly agrees, and departs for Rivendell. Seventeen years pass, during which Gandalf learns that evil forces have discovered that the Ring is in the possession of a Baggins. Gandalf meets Frodo to explain the Ring's history and the danger it poses; and Frodo leaves his home, taking the Ring with him. He is accompanied by three hobbits, his cousins, Pippin (Dominic Guard), Merry (Simon Chandler), and his gardner Sam (Michael Scholes). After a narrow escape from the Ringwraiths, the hobbits eventually come to Bree, from which Aragorn (John Hurt) leads them to Rivendell. Frodo is stabbed atop Weathertop mountain by the chief of the Ringwraiths, and becomes sickened as the journey progresses. The Ringwraiths catch up with them shortly after they meet the elf Legolas (Anthony Daniels); and at a standoff at the ford of Rivendell, the Ringwraiths are swept away by the river.

At Rivendell, Frodo is healed by Elrond (André Morell). He meets Gandalf again, after the latter escapes the corrupt wizard Saruman (Fraser Kerr), who plans to ally with Sauron but also wants the Ring for himself. Frodo volunteers to go to Mordor, where the Ring can be destroyed. Thereafter Frodo sets off from Rivendell with eight companions: Gandalf; Aragorn; Boromir (Michael Graham Cox), son of the Steward of Gondor; Legolas; Gimli (David Buck) the dwarf, along with Pippin, Merry, and Sam.

Their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, and they are forced into Moria. There, they are attacked by orcs, and Gandalf falls into an abyss while battling a balrog. The remaining Fellowship continue through the elf-haven Lothlórien, where they meet the elf queen Galadriel (Annette Crosbie). Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, and Frodo decides to continue his quest alone; but Sam insists on accompanying him. Boromir is killed by orcs while trying to defend Merry and Pippin. Merry and Pippin are captured by the orcs, who intend to take them to Isengard through the land of Rohan. The captured hobbits escape and flee into Fangorn Forest, where they meet Treebeard (John Westbrook). Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas track Merry and Pippin into the forest, where they are reunited with Gandalf, who was reborn after destroying the balrog.

The five then ride to Rohan's capital, Edoras, where Gandalf persuades King Théoden (Philip Stone) that his people are in danger. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas then travel to the Helm's Deep. Frodo and Sam discover Gollum stalking them in an attempt to reclaim the ring, and capture him; but spare his life in return for guidance to Mount Doom. Gollum eventually begins plotting against them, and wonders if "she" might help. At Helm's Deep, Théoden's forces resist the orcs sent by Saruman, until Gandalf arrives with the absent Riders of Rohan, destroying the orc army.


The cast of the film was:[7]

Character actors



Director Ralph Bakshi was introduced to The Lord of the Rings during the mid-1950s while working as an animator for Terrytoons. In 1957, the young animator started trying to convince people that the story could be told in animation,[9] and even began developing an original science-fantasy film, which would become Wizards, as "Tolkien in the American idiom".

In 1969, the rights were passed to United Artists, where an "elegant" Peter Shaffer script was abandoned. Denis O'Dell was interested in producing a film for The Beatles, and approached directors David Lean (busy with Ryan's Daughter), Stanley Kubrick (who deemed it "unfilmable") and Michaelangelo Antonioni. John Boorman was commissioned to write a script in late 1969, but it was deemed too expensive in 1970.[3] Bakshi believed Disney had the rights prior, but while they were interested, they never claimed the rights.[10] He said UA spent $800,000 on development for the films, engaging Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman to film.

Bakshi approached United Artists when he learned (from a 1974 issue of Variety) that Boorman's script was abandoned. Learning that Boorman intended to produce all three parts of The Lord of the Rings as a single film, Bakshi commented, "I thought that was madness, certainly a lack of character on Boorman's part. Why would you want to tamper with anything Tolkien did?"[11] Bakshi began making a "yearly trek" to United Artists. Bakshi had since achieved box office success producing adult-oriented animated films such as Fritz the Cat but his recent film, Coonskin, tanked, and he later clarified that he thought The Lord of the Rings could "make some money" so as to save his studio.[12]

In 1975, Bakshi convinced United Artists executive Mike Medavoy to produce The Lord of the Rings as two or three animated films,[13] and a Hobbit prequel.[14] Medavoy offered him Boorman's script, which Bakshi refused, saying that Boorman "didn't understand it"[15] and that his script would have made for a cheap film like "a Roger Corman film".[16]

They said fine, because Boorman handed in this 700-page script, and do I want to read it? I said, 'Well, is it all three books in one?' They said, 'Yes, but he's changed a lot of the characters, and he's added characters. He's got some sneakers he's merchandising in the middle.' I said, 'No, I'd rather not read it. I'd rather do the books as close as we can, using Tolkien's exact dialogue and scenes.' They said, 'Fine,' which knocked me down, 'because we don't understand a word Boorman wrote. We never read the books. [...] We ain't got time to read it. You understand it, Ralph, so go do it.'

-- Director Ralph Bakshi[11]

Although he was later keen to regroup with Boorman for his script (and his surrogate project, Excalibur), Bakshi claimed Medavoy didn't want to produce his film at the time, but allowed him to shop it around if he could get another studio to pay for the expenses on Boorman's script.[16] The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer office was located in the same building. Bakshi entered the office of then-president Dan Melnick, who was having a meeting with Peter Bogdanavich.[16] Knowing Melnick read the books, Bakshi "thought he would understand what The Rings meant, because UA did not".[11] He convinced Melnick's secretary to tell him "Ralph Bakshi is here with the rights to The Lord of the Rings",[17] which caused Melnick to cut the meeting with Bogdanavich short, much to the latter's anger.

Bakshi and Melnick made a deal with Mike Medavoy at United Artists to buy the Boorman script. "The Boorman script cost $3 million, so Boorman was happy by the pool, screaming and laughing and drinking, 'cause he got $3 million for his script to be thrown out."[11] Boorman, however, was unhappy with the project going to animation after Tolkien once wrote to him, pleased that he was doing it in live-action. He never saw Bakshi's film, and after it was released, tried to remake his live-action version with Medavoy.[18]

Work began on scripts and storyboards. When Melnick was fired from MGM in 1976, Bakshi's studio had spent between $200-600,000, and the new executive Dick Shepherd hadn't read the books and, according to Bakshi, obliviously asked whether The Lord of the Rings is about a wedding,[16] and didn't want to make the movie.[11] Bakshi then contacted Saul Zaentz (who had helped finance Fritz the Cat) to ask him to produce The Lord of the Rings, and Zaentz agreed. Medavoy and United Artists returned to the production as the distributors instead of MGM.

Before the production started, Bakshi met with Tolkien's daughter Priscilla to discuss how the film would be made. She showed him the room where her father did his writing and drawing. Bakshi says, "My promise to Tolkien's daughter was to be pure to the book. I wasn't going to say, 'Hey, throw out Gollum and change these two characters.' My job was to say, 'This is what the genius said.'"[19]

Bakshi was approached by Mick Jagger[16] who wanted to play Frodo, but at the time the roles were already cast and recorded. David Carradine[15] also approached Bakshi, offering to play Aragorn and even suggested that Bakshi do it in live-action, and while Bakshi's contract allowed this, he said it couldn't be done and that he'd "always seen it as animation".[13] He said it was impossible to make it in live-action without it being "tacky".[15]


Bakshi began developing the script himself. Learning of the project, Chris Conkling got an interview with Bakshi but was initially hired to "do research, to say what the costumes should look like or what the characters would be doing at any given time".[17] Together, they first decided how to break the films down. When they started, they contemplated a three-film structure, but "we didn't know how that middle film would work"[20] without a beginning and an end. Conkling even started writing a treatment for one long, three-and-a-half hour feature of the entire work, but eventually settled on scripts for two 150-minute films, the first of which was titled "The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship".[21]

The second draft[20] of the screenplay, written by Conkling,[3] told the bulk of the story in flashback, from Merry Brandybuck's point of view, so as to lead into the sequel.[22][21] This version included Tom Bombadil, who rescues the Hobbits from the Barrow Downs,[21] as well as Farmer Maggot, the Old Forest, Glorfindel, Arwen, and several songs.[20][21] Bakshi felt it was "a much too drastic departure from Tolkien".[22] Conkling began writing a draft that was "more straightforward and true to the source"[22] which would end with Saruman's death and Frodo and Sam entering Mordor, secretly followed by Gollum.

Still displeased, Bakshi and Zaentz called in fantasy author Peter S. Beagle for a rewrite.[3][22] Beagle said a complete overhaul of the script was required, and according to the website of publisher Conlan Press, Beagle wrote multiple drafts of the script for only $5,000, on the strength of promises from Saul Zaentz to hire him for other, better-paying projects afterward. Zaentz later reneged on these promises.[23] Beagle's first draft eliminated the framing device and told the story beginning with Bilbo's Farewell Party, climaxing with the Battle of Helm's Deep, and ending with the cliffhanger of Gollum leading Frodo and Sam to Shelob. The revised draft includes a brief prologue to reveal the history of the Ring.[22]

Fans threatened Bakshi that "he'd better get it right"[17] and according to artists Mike Ploog, Bakshi would constantly revise the story to include certain beats at the behest of such fans.[24] While writing, Zaentz found the similarity of the names Saruman and Sauron confusing, and it was decided to rename him "Ruman" or "Aruman" but when Beagle was rewriting the shooting script, he began reinstating Saruman while the scenes were being recorded, which resulted in inconsistency in the wizard's name.[22]

Differences from the book

The film makes some deviations from the book, but overall follows Tolkien's narrative quite closely.[25] Of the adaptation process, Bakshi stated that elements of the story "had to be left out but nothing in the story was really altered".[9] The film greatly condenses Frodo's journey from Bag End to Bree. Stop-overs at Farmer Maggot's house, Frodo's home in Buckland, and the house of the mysterious Tom Bombadil deep in the Old Forest are omitted. Maggot and his family and Bombadil and his wife Goldberry are thus all omitted, along with Fatty Bolger, a hobbit who accompanied Frodo at the beginning. According to Bakshi, the character of Tom Bombadil was dropped because "he didn't move the story along."[9] Additionally, the character Glorfindel is amalgamated with Legolas.


Bakshi in January 2009

Bakshi said that one of the problems with the production was that the film was an epic, because "epics tend to drag. The biggest challenge was to be true to the book."[9] When asked what he was trying to accomplish with the film, Bakshi stated "The goal was to bring as much quality as possible to the work. I wanted real illustration as opposed to cartoons."[9] Bakshi said that descriptions of the characters were not included because they are seen in the film:

It's not that important to me how a hobbit looks. Everyone has their own idea of what the characters look like. It's important to me that the energy of Tolkien survives. It's important that the quality of animation matches the quality of Tolkien. Who cares how big Gandalf's nose is? The tendency of animation is just to worry about the drawing. If the movie works, whether you agree about Bilbo's face or not, the rest becomes inconsequential.

While he was aware of the work of illustrators like the brothers Hildebrandt,[26] Bakshi insisted it did not affect the style of his film. Instead, his major artistic influences on the film were classical illustrators such as Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth.

The film is a clash of a lot of styles like in all my films. I like moody backgrounds. I like drama. I like a lot of saturated color. Of course, a big problem was controlling the artists so they drew alike. How do you have 600 people draw one character alike? The tendency is to want to let the artist have some freedom but then someone would leave off a hat or horn on a hat on a character. [...] I think we've achieved real illustration as opposed to cartoons. Artistically, we can do anything we want.

-- Ralph Bakshi[9]


Publicity for the film announced that Bakshi had created "the first movie painting" by utilizing "an entirely new technique in filmmaking".[9] Much of the film used live-action footage which was then rotoscoped to produce an animated look.[9] This saved production costs and gave the animated characters a more realistic look. In animation historian Jerry Beck's The Animated Movie Guide, reviewer Marea Boylan writes that "up to that point, animated films had not depicted extensive battle scenes with hundreds of characters. By using the rotoscope, Bakshi could trace highly complex scenes from live-action footage and transform them into animation, thereby taking advantage of the complexity live-action film can capture without incurring the exorbitant costs of producing a live-action film."[3]

I was told that at Disney the actor was told to play it like a cartoon with all that exaggeration. In Lord of the Rings, I had the actors play it straight. The rotoscope in the past has been used in scenes and then exaggerated. The action becomes cartoony. The question then comes up that if you're not going to be cartoony, why animate? [...] It is the traditional method of rotoscoping but the approach is untraditional. It's a rotoscope realism unlike anything that's been seen. It really is a unique thing for animation. The number of characters moving in a scene is staggering. In The Lord of the Rings, you have hundreds of people in the scene. We have cels with a thousand people on them. It was so complex sometimes we'd only get one cel a week from an artist. It turned out that the simple shots were the ones that only had four people in them.

-- Ralph Bakshi[9]

Bakshi went to England to recruit a voice cast from the BBC Drama Repertory Company, including Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes, Anthony Daniels, and John Hurt. Daniels remembers that "The whole cast were in the same studio but we all had to leave a two second gap between the lines which made for rather stilted dialogue."[27] For the live-action portion of the production, Bakshi and his cast and crew went to Spain, where the rotoscope models acted out their parts in costume in the open or in empty soundstages. Additional photography took place in Death Valley. Bakshi was so terrified of the horses used in the shoot that he directed those scenes from inside the caravan.[24]

Bakshi had a difficult working relationship with producer Saul Zaentz. When Saul would bring potential investors to Bakshi's studio, he would always show them the same sequence, of Frodo falling off of his horse at the Ford (which was his stunt double actually falling over).[24]

During the middle of a large shoot, union bosses called for a lunch break, and Bakshi secretly shot footage of actors in Orc costumes moving toward the craft service table, and used the footage in the film.[28] Many of the actors who contributed voices to this production also acted out their parts for rotoscoped scenes. The actions of Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were performed by Billy Barty, while Sharon Baird served as the performance model for Frodo Baggins.[29] Other performers used on the rotoscoping session included John A. Neris as Gandalf, Walt Robles as Aragorn, Felix Silla as Gollum, Jeri Lea Ray as Galadriel, and Aesop Aquarian as Gimli. Although some cel animation was produced and shot for the film,[30][31] very little of it appears in the final film. Most of the film's crowd and battle scenes use a different technique, in which live-action footage is solarized (per an interview with the film's cinematographer, Timothy Galfas, in the documentary Forging Through the Darkness: the Ralph Bakshi Vision for The Lord of the Rings) to produce a more three-dimensional look. In a few shots the two techniques are combined.

Bakshi claimed he "didn't start thinking about shooting the film totally in live action until I saw it really start to work so well. I learned lots of things about the process, like rippling. One scene, some figures were standing on a hill and a big gust of wind came up and the shadows moved back and forth on the clothes and it was unbelievable in animation. I don't think I could get the feeling of cold on the screen without showing snow or an icicle on some guy's nose. The characters have weight and they move correctly."[9] After the Spanish film development lab discovered that telephone lines, helicopters, and cars could be seen in the footage Bakshi had shot, they tried to incinerate the footage, telling Bakshi's first assistant director that "if that kind of sloppy cinematography got out, no one from Hollywood would ever come back to Spain to shoot again."[28]

Following the live-action shoot, each frame of the live footage was printed out, and placed behind an animation cel. The details of each frame were copied and painted onto the cel. Both the live-action and animated sequences were storyboarded.[32] Of the production, Bakshi is quoted as saying,

Making two pictures [the live action reference and the actual animated feature] in two years is crazy. Most directors when they finish editing, they are finished; we were just starting. I got more than I expected. The crew is young. The crew loves it. If the crew loves it, it's usually a great sign. They aren't older animators trying to snow me for jobs next year.[9]

Although he continued to use rotoscoping in American Pop, Hey Good Lookin', and Fire and Ice, Bakshi later regretted his use of rotoscoping, stating that he felt that it was a mistake to trace the source footage rather than using it as a guide.[33]

By the time Bakshi was done animating, he had only four weeks left to cut the film[16] from a nearly 150-minute[34] rough cut. Restoring a piece of animation where Gandalf fights the Balrog (replaced in the finished film by a photomontage), Eddie Bakshi remarked that little of the film was left on the cutting room floor. Bakshi asked three additional months to edit the film, but was declined.[16] After test-screenings, it was decided to re-cut the end of the picture so that Gollum would resolve leading Frodo and Sam to Shelob before cutting back to Helm's Deep, so as to not end the film on a cliffhanger.[20][22]

Working on the film were Tim Burton as well as Mike Ploog (co-creator of Werewolf by Night).[35] Ploog also was involved in other Ralph Bakshi animations, notably Wizards[35] and Hey Good Lookin'.


The film score was composed by Leonard Rosenman. Bakshi wanted to include music by Led Zeppelin but producer Saul Zaentz insisted upon an orchestral score because he would not be able to release the band's music on his Fantasy Records label. Rosenman wanted a large score, involving a 100-piece orchestra, 100-piece mixed choir and 100-piece boy choir,[36] but ended up with a smaller ensemble. Bakshi initially called his score "majestic",[26] but later stated that he hated Rosenman's score, which he found to be too cliché.[37]

In Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in Global Context, Ernest Mathijs writes that Rosenman's score "is a middle ground between his more sonorous but dissonant earlier scores and his more traditional (and less challenging) sounding music [...] In the final analysis, Rosenman's score has little that marks it out as distinctively about Middle Earth, relying on traditions of music (including film music) more than any specific attempt to paint a musical picture of the different lands and peoples of Tolkien's imagination."[38] The film's score was issued as a double-LP soundtrack album in 1978. A limited collector edition was created by Fantasy Records as a picture disc double LP featuring four scenes: The Hobbits leaving Hobbiton, The Ringwraiths at Bree, Gandalf and the Balrog, Journey with the Orcs. In 2001, the album was reissued on compact disc, with bonus tracks.[39]


The film was originally intended to be distributed as The Lord of the Rings Part I.[11][19] At the time, Arthur Krim resigned from United Artists and was replaced by Andy Albeck. According to Bakshi, when he completed the film, United Artists executives told him that they were planning to release the film without indicating that a sequel would follow, because they felt that audiences would not pay to see half of a film:

"I told them they can't drop the Part One, because people are going to come in thinking they'll see the whole film, and it's not there. We had a huge fight, and they released it as Lord of the Rings. So when it came to the end, people were stunned in the theater, even worse than I ever realized they would be, because they were expecting to see the whole film. People keep telling me I never finished the film. And I keep saying, 'That's right!'"[11]

"Had it said 'Part One,' I think everyone would have respected it. But because it didn't say 'Part One,' everyone came in expecting to see the entire three books, and that's where the confusion comes in."[19]

Although UA found that the film, while financially successful, "failed to overwhelm audiences", Bakshi did begin working on a sequel, and even had some B-roll footage shot. The Film Book of J.R.R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings, published by Ballantine Books on October 12, 1978, still referred to the sequel in the book's inside cover jacket.[40] Indeed, in interviews Bakshi talked about doing "a part two film picking up where this leaves off"[26] and even boasted that the second film could "pick up on sequences that we missed in the first book".[20] Zaentz even tried to stop the Rankin-Bass The Return of the King TV special (which was already storyboarded before Bakshi's film came out) from airing, so as to not clash with Bakshi's sequel.[41] A merchandise catalog containing a letter from Zaentz' company dated January 1980, claims writing is on the way for Part II, "scheduled for release during the Spring or Summer of 1981."[42]

Bakshi was aware of Rankin/Bass The Hobbit TV special, and angrily commented that "Lord of the Rings is not going to have any song for the sake of a record album."[43] During the lawsuit, he commented that "They're not going to stop us from doing The Lord of the Rings and they won't stop us from doing The Hobbit. Anyone who saw their version of The Hobbit know it has nothing to do with the quality and style of our feature. My life isn't going to be altered by what Rankin-Bass choses to do badly."[41] Years later, he called their film "an awful, rip-off version of The Hobbit."[44]

Bakshi found the two years spent on Rings immensly stressful, and the fan reaction was scathing. He took comfort in talking to Priscila Tolkien, who said she loved it, but got into an argument with Zaentz[20] and refused to do Part Two.[16] Reports vary as to whether the argument had to do with the dropping of the "Part One" subtitle[45] or Bakshi's fee for the sequel.[36]

Bakshi said he was "proud to have made part one"[46] and that his work was "there for anyone who would make part two".[15] In interviews leading up to the year 2000, he still toyed with the idea of making the sequel.[47] For his part, Saul Zaentz said he kept in touch with Bakshi,[20] but also confided to John Boorman that making the film was the worst experience of his life, which made him protective of the property.[18] Indeed, he commented that the film "wasn't as good as we should have made"[20] and later remarked that an "animated [film] couldn't do it. It was just too complex for animated to handle it, with the emotion that was needed and the size and scope."[48]

During development of the live-action films, Bakshi said he was approached by Warner Brothers to make the second part, but refused as he was angry of not being notified about the live-action film.[49] He did use the renewed interest in his film to restore it to DVD, and had the final line redubbed to bolster the film's sense of finality. After the live-action films found success, Bakshi stated that he would never have made the film if he had known what would happen during the production. He is quoted as saying that the reason he made the film was "to save it for Tolkien, because I loved the Rings very much".[34]

Bakshi also stated that he felt that the film "took more out of me than I got back".

"[The film] made me realize that I'm not interested in [adapting another writer's story]. That the thing that seemed to interest me the most was shooting off my big mouth, or sitting in a room and thinking about how do you feel about this issue or that issue and how do you get that over to an audience, was the most exciting part of my life."[34]


Box office

The Lord of the Rings was a financial success.[50] Reports of the budget vary from $4[3] to $8 million, and as high as $12,[51] while the film grossed $30.5 million at the United States and Canadian box office.[3] In the United Kingdom, the film grossed over $3.2 million.[4]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for both the Hugo and Saturn Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation and Best Fantasy Film, respectively. Leonard Rosenman's score was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Motion Picture Score, and Bakshi won a Golden Gryphon award for the film at the Giffoni Film Festival.[52]

Critical response

Critics were generally mixed in their responses to the film, but generally considered it to be a "flawed but inspired interpretation".[3] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 52% based on reviews from 42 critics with the consensus: "Ralph Bakshi's valiant attempt at rendering Tolkien's magnum opus in rotoscope never lives up to the grandeur of its source material, with a compressed running time that flattens the sweeping story and experimental animation that is more bizarre than magical."[53]

Frank Barrow of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film was "daring and unusual in concept".[3] Joseph Gelmis of Newsday wrote that "the film's principal reward is a visual experience unlike anything that other animated features are doing at the moment."[3]Roger Ebert called Bakshi's effort a "mixed blessing" and "an entirely respectable, occasionally impressive job ... [which] still falls far short of the charm and sweep of the original story."[54]Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "both numbing and impressive".[55]

David Denby of New York magazine felt that the film would not make sense to viewers who had not previously read the book. Denby wrote that the film was too dark and lacked humour, concluding that "The lurid, meaningless violence of this movie left me exhausted and sickened by the end."[56]Michael Barrier, an animation historian, described The Lord of The Rings as one of two films that demonstrated "that Bakshi was utterly lacking in the artistic self-discipline that might have permitted him to outgrow his limitations."[57]


The film has been cited as an influence on director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, although Jackson said that "our film is stylistically very different and the design is different."[58] Jackson had watched Bakshi's previous films, including Wizards, and at the age of seventeen went to see the film when it premiered in New Zealand. He had "heard the name" of the book but was yet to read it, nor had he seen the Rankin/Bass TV specials. A few weeks after watching the film, he bought a tie-in single-volume, paperback edition of the book, followed up by The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, as well as a recording of the 1981 radio adaptation, in which two of Bakshi's cast reprised their roles.

Reading about attempts to make the films live-action by Boorman and the Beatles contacting Kubrick and David Lean to do the same, Jackson agreed animation was the most sensible choice at the time. Jackson remembers Bakshi's film as a "brave and ambitious attempt".[59] In another interview, Jackson stated that it had "some quaint sequences in Hobbiton, a creepy encounter with the Black Rider on the road, and a few quite good battle scenes" but "about half way through, the storytelling became very disjointed"[60] and it became "confusing"[59] and "incoherent".[46] He and Fran Walsh remarked that Bakshi's Treebeard "looked like a talking carrot". Jackson watched the film for the first time since its premiere in 1997, when Harvey Weinstein screened it to begin the story conferences.[46]

Ahead of the films' release, Bakshi said he did not "understand it" but that he does "wish it to be a good movie". He felt bad that he wasn't contacted by Zaentz, who was involved in the project, and erroneously said they were screening his film at New Line while working on the live-action films.[46] Nevertheless, he clarified he wished the filmmakers success.[47][61] He claims Warner Brothers approached him with a proposal to make part two at the time, but he complained that they didn't involve him in the live-action film, and refused.[49]

After the films were released Bakshi said that while, "on the creative side", he does "feel good that Peter Jackson continued" he begrudged Saul Zaentz for not notifying him of the live-action films. He also said that, with his own film already made, Jackson could study it: "I'm glad Peter Jackson had a movie to look at--I never did. And certainly there's a lot to learn from watching any movie, both its mistakes and when it works. So he had a little easier time than I did, and a lot better budget."[34]

Bakshi had never watched the films,[44] but saw trailers[15] and while he praised the special effects,[62][63] he said that Jackson "didn't understand"[49] Tolkien and created "special effects garbage" to sell toys,[15] saying his film has "more heart" and that, had he a similar budget, would have made a better film.[45] Bakshi was told the live-action film was derivative of his own,[64] and blamed Jackson for not acknowledging this influence: "Peter Jackson did say that the first film inspired him to go on and do the series, but that happened after I was bitching and moaning to a lot of interviewers that he said at the beginning that he never saw the movie. I thought that was kind of fucked up."[34] Bakshi then said that Jackson mentioned his influence "only once" as "PR bologny".[15] Jackson, who took a fan photograph with Bakshi in 1993, remains puzzled about Bakshi's indignation.[46] In 2015, Bakshi apologized for some of his remarks[15] and, in 2018, had clarified that he's "not mad about it. I don't care."[65] Bakshi's animator Mike Ploog[24] and writer Peter Beagle both praised the live-action film.

In fact, Jackson did acknowledge Bakshi's film as early as 1998, when he told a worried fan that he hoped to outdo Bakshi,[66] as well as mentioning in the behind-the-scenes features that "the black Riders galloping out of Bree was an image I remember very clearly [...] from the Ralph Bakshi film."[67] In the audio commentary to The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson says Bakshi's film introduced him to The Lord of the Rings and "inspired me to read the book" and in a 2001 interview, said he "enjoyed [the film] and wanted to know more".[68] On the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson acknowledges one shot, a low angle of a hobbit at Bilbo's birthday party shouting "Proudfeet!", as an intentional homage to Bakshi's film, which Jackson thought was "a brilliant angle".[58]

Another influence came through John Howe, who unwittingly copied a scene from Bakshi's film in a painting that depicted the four Hobbits hiding under a branch from a Ringwraith,[69] which Jackson turned into a scene in the film. Jackson's decision to do a scene that misdirects the audience to think the wraiths slew the Hobbits may also derive from Bakshi.


The film was adapted into comic book form with artwork by Spanish artist Luis Bermejo, under licence from Tolkien Enterprises. Three issues were published for the European market, starting in 1979, and were not published in the United States or translated into English due to copyright problems.[70][71]

Bakshi's film sparked enough interest in Tolkien's work to provoke not only an animated TV special produced by the Rankin-Bass animation studio based on The Return of the King, but a complete adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on BBC Radio. For this broadcast, Michael Graham Cox and Peter Woodthorpe reprised their roles of Boromir and Gollum, respectively.

Warner Bros. (the rights holder to the post-1973 Rankin-Bass library and the pre-1990 Saul Zaentz theatrical library) first released the film on DVD in September 2001, one of which being through the Warner Bros. Family Entertainment label. While the VHS version ends with the narrator saying "Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring.", the DVD version has an alternate narration: "The forces of darkness were driven forever from the face of Middle-Earth by the valiant friends of Frodo. As their gallant battle ended, so, too, ends the first great tale of The Lord of the Rings." Later, The Lord of the Rings was released in a deluxe edition on Blu-ray and DVD on 6 April 2010.[72]The Lord of the Rings was selected as the 36th greatest animated film by Time Out magazine,[73] and ranked as the 90th greatest animated film of all time by the Online Film Critics Society.[74]


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