How exactly did New Line go about mounting its campaign that 10 years ago won The Return of the King a history-making 11 Academy Awards? Vanity Fair interviewed many of those at New Line who were involved in the multi-million-dollar campaign, and the effect that the commercial and critical success had on the way Hollywood views fantasy films.
The biggest problem –– and this started with Fellowship –– was we had the dreaded F word; we were the fantasy movie, and there was no fantasy movies that ever won for best picture. Russell Schwartz, executive vice president of marketing at New Line Cinema in 2004.
Thanks to Ringer Boromir’s Bane for the heads-up.
“For Your Consideration” ads from The Hollywood Reporter. Credit: Ringer Spy Frodosam & Ringer Spy ShelaghC
11 Oscars to Rule Them All: An Oral History of The Return of the King’s Best-Picture Win
It took one ring to rule them all, and 11 Oscars to make movie history. Ten years ago this month, The Return of the King, the third and final chapter in The Lord of the Rings franchise, did the unthinkable: it swept the Academy Awards, winning all 11 categories it was nominated for, including best picture.
On paper, the film––and the franchise as a whole––was the polar opposite of Oscar bait. These were fantasy films filled with dwarves and hobbits and elves and magic rings. They were directed by a filmmaker known for low-budget horror flicks; cast with a group of unknown actors few audiences could pick out of a lineup; and written, planned, shot, and edited all in New Zealand, far away from the cozy awards-friendly confines of sunny Los Angeles.
What Oscar cognoscenti didn’t see from the outset, they would come to realize by 2001, when The Fellowship of the Ring was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. The first chapter would go on to nab 13 nominations––a series high––but only come away with technical awards. A year later, The Two Towers grabbed six nods, but it too lost out on best picture. That set the stage for the final movie, as New Line focused its attention on getting Peter Jackson and the J. R. R. Tolkien-based series the Academy recognition it deserved.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of the The Return of the King’s awards sweep, VF Hollywood pieced together the film’s entire Oscar campaign. Speaking with more than a dozen people involved with the effort––from New Line executives to designers to consultants––we were able to paint a complete picture of how a fantasy film was able to win 11 Academy Awards––including the granddaddy of them all, best picture––and change the trajectory of the Oscars.