Legal action could scupper Wellington director Peter Jackson's plans to make The Hobbit movies.
The estate of the Rings books' author, JRR Tolkien, and original publisher HarperCollins started legal proceedings in Los Angeles yesterday against Hollywood film studio New Line Cinema, claiming the company failed to pay a cut of gross profits from the Lord of the Rings movies.
The three films, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003), have earned nearly $NZ7.7 billion worldwide, according to the complaint. Between them the movies won 17 Oscars.
The plaintiffs are seeking more than $NZ190 million in damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including The Hobbit.
The order would stymie plans New Line has to make a two-film prequel based on the book, which was first published in 1937.
New Line and Jackson announced in December that he and his partner, Fran Walsh, would act as executive producers for the two films.
A director for the prequel films has yet to be named, but Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy) has been rumoured to be in talks over the role.
The film's production was set to begin next year, with the first release planned for 2010, and the sequel scheduled for 2011.
A spokesman for Jackson said he had no comment to make on yesterday's development.
"This is a legal matter between New Line Cinema and the Tolkien Estate."
In 2005 Jackson and Walsh sued New Line Cinema for unpaid profits, estimated to be $US100 million, arising from the Lord of the Rings blockbusters.
The action was a big stumbling block to Jackson being involved in The Hobbit, but when the announcement came last year that they would work together on the upcoming films, Jackson and New Line said they had put their differences behind them and settled all legal action.
-AP with The Dominion Post
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