12:30 p.m. UPDATE: The Weinstein Co. just issued the following statement:
“Quite frankly, we are surprised and frustrated by the position Warner Bros is taking with regards to The Hobbit franchise. Since the beginning, Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein have been a force in getting these books to the screen. In fact, they funded the initial technology for the films at Peter Jackson’s WETA. Without these early investments, none of these pictures would have been made. We are shocked that New Line and Warner Bros don’t recognize that fact. The position they have taken, in our view, is not in line with the contract we signed. That contract stated that the story of The Hobbit was to be told over three movies. Thus, Miramax and The Weinstein’s have the rights to all three. We will let the courts decide and feel confident we will ultimately prevail.”
Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who reaped their share of riches for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the first “Hobbit” film, have sued Time Warner and New Line, asserting that they’re entitled to profits from the forthcoming sequels as well.
Miramax controlled rights to the Tolkein classics in the 1990s, when the Weinsteins headed the studio; via an agreement made in 1998, the Weinsteins were paid a share of the films’ grosses, which have streaked past $3 billion worldwide.
Filed Wednesday in New York State Supreme court, the lawsuit claims “greed and ingratitude” were behind Warners’ and New Line’s decision to split the “Hobbit” films into three pictures – then freeze out the Weinsteins for the final two. The lawsuit seeks damages of no less than $75 million.
Warner Bros. stood by its actions in a statement issued Wednesday.
“This is about one of the great blunders in movie history,” WB said. “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.”
Warner Bros. did in fact bring the case to arbitration last week in New York, but that didn’t prevent the Weinsteins from suing.
Peter Jackson’s second installment, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” opens Friday. It was a co-production between New Line Cinema, whose parent is WB, and MGM; though the Weinsteins did not put up any cash for that film, they did help seed Jackson’s original “Rings” trilogy, and are arguing that the three-picture split of Tolkein’s slim first volume is an end-around to their rightful stake in the IP.