The studio today said that Bob and Harvey Weinstein made a big “blunder” over the rights to The Hobbit movies and now they’re trying to fix their own mistake through the courts by suing over profits from upcoming sequels. “This is about one of the great blunders in movie history,’ said WB in a statement today after the brothers and Miramax filed a $75 million in damages lawsuit in NY Superior Court Tuesday. “Fifteen years ago Miramax, run by the Weinstein brothers, sold its rights in The Hobbit to New Line. No amount of trying to rewrite history can change that fact. They agreed to be paid only on the first motion picture based on The Hobbit. And that’s all they’re owed.” The Weinsteins of course see it very differently. “This case is about greed and ingratitude,” says the filing (read it here) against Warner Bros Entertainment and New Line Cinema about the studio’s approach. “Warner’s position is simply an improper attempt to deprive the people originally responsible for hugely successful films being made from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien of their right to share in revenue from two of the three filmed installments of Tolkien’s The Hobbit,” it adds. As always in these things, it all depends how you look at the deal. For Bob and Harvey, the fact that there are three movies being made out of the one Hobbit book means they should get a slice of all the action. To that end, the 60-page breach of contract complaint also seeks a declaration from the court that the plaintiffs are “entitled to compensation from the second and third installments of The Hobbit film.” Being that timing can be everything it is not surprising that the Weinstein’s legal move comes just days before The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is set to be released. The third Hobbit film is scheduled for a December 2014 release.
Part of the brothers’ core claim is also based on the premise that because of their initial $10 million investment back in the 1990s to the Tolkien-created stories when Miramax owned the rights, they deserve money to Smaug and the next film. Since a 1998 deal when New Line took over the rights to the property, the Weinsteins have made over a $100 million on the first three Lord Of The Rings moves and last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, sources tell me. Obviously, Bob and Harvey believe they are entitled to more. As this is all happening, the Weinsteins and Warner Bros, the parent company of New Line, are in arbitration over the same dispute. In a double dose move, the arbitration will continue despite the lawsuit.
This is the second time in recent months that the Weinsteins and WB have faced off with lawyers. Back in the summer the two parties squared off over the title to what was eventually called Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Supported by the MPAA, WB said that it owned the rights to the film title The Butler because of a 1916 silent comedy short of the same name. The Weinsteins fought the initial ruling against them by the MPAA. In late July, just before the civil rights White House drama came out, the two sides settled on a middle ground for the now multi-SAG Awards nominated and Oscar-buzzed pic. With both sides so dug in over The Hobbit pics, reaching an agreement might not be so straight forward in this new case.