Through March 31, production had cost 676 million New Zealand dollars, or $561 million at current exchange rates, according to financial documents filed Friday in New Zealand, where the movies are being made.
Distributor Warner Bros. and director Peter Jackson may consider it money well spent. To date, only the first movie in the latest trilogy has been released. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" took in just over $1 billion at the box office.
The documents, filed online by New Zealand's Companies Office, provide a rare insight into the exact costs of a blockbuster Hollywood production. Often studios release only rough estimates, if anything.
When making the trilogy, Warner Bros. created a wholly-owned New Zealand company it named "3 Foot 7 Ltd," in reference to the diminutive stature of the movie's hobbits and dwarves. Company documents show that New Zealand taxpayers have so far contributed NZ$98 million to the trilogy through an incentive scheme designed to attract big budget movies to the country. Such schemes are common among U.S. states and foreign countries that compete for movies.
The trilogy also appears to be one of the most expensive movie productions in which two or more movies are shot at the same time.
Both Box Office Mojo and Guinness World Records estimate the most expensive single movie ever made was "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" with an estimated $300 million production tag. That movie, in conjunction with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" — which was shot at the same time — held the previous record for the most expensive total production, costing an estimated $450 million to $525 million.
According to Box Office Mojo, Jackson's previous trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," cost a total $281 million to make. The Star Wars prequel trilogy, meanwhile, cost $343 million, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks movie costs and box office receipts.
In making "The Hobbit," New Zealand director Jackson chose to shoot both in 3D and at 48 frames per second, rather than the standard 24, in the hopes of giving audiences greater picture clarity and a more immersive experience. Both techniques added significant expense. The higher frames per second received mixed reviews, as did the movie itself, which starred Martin Freeman as the title character.
The trilogy is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novel of the same name and traces the adventures of hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he attempts to help a group of dwarves regain their wealth and stature from the dragon Smaug. "The Hobbit" is the precursor to Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," which was made into a movie trilogy that was also directed by Jackson.
The second movie in the latest series, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is due out in December while the final movie, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," is due out in December 2014.
Warner Bros. representatives this week replied to emails sent by The Associated Press but did not immediately provide answers to a series of questions about the "The Hobbit" budget.