After a three-film Lord of the Rings series, New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. will return to Middle Earth for another trilogy.
The three companies and series architect Peter Jackson announced Monday that The Hobbit, the prequel to the LOTR series that was initially planned to be broken into two parts, will instead be split into three. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the third film will be released in summer 2014. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters Dec. 14, and the second film, There and Back Again, is due Dec. 13, 2013.
"Upon recently viewing a cut of the first film, and a chunk of the second, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and I were very pleased with the way the story was coming together," Jackson said in a statement. "We recognized that the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, gave rise to a simple question: Do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved 'yes.'
"We know the strength of our cast and of the characters they have brought to life," the Oscar-winning director continued. "We know creatively how compelling and engaging the story can be, and -- lastly, and most importantly -- we know how much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur would remain untold if we did not fully realize this complex and wonderful adventure. I’m delighted that New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. are equally enthusiastic about bringing fans this expansive tale across three films."
Jackson ran footage of his first Hobbit film -- the first two were shot simultaneously in New Zealand -- at this month's Comic-Con in San Diego. The films star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and return from the LOTR series Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Smeagol and, in smaller roles, Elijah Wood as Frodo and Orlando Bloom as Legolas.
The director has said he filled in two films with information that the series author, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote later and put in an appendix at the end of the third LOTR book, The Return of the King. (Jackson's Return of the King won a record-tying 11 Oscars, including best picture, in 2004.) He teased at Comic-Con that he had shot plenty of extra footage.