As one of the largest fantasy franchises ever, it’s no surprise that producers wanted to snag Hollywood royalty like Sean Connery for the Lord of the Rings. Released between 2001 and 2003, the original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is among both the most expensive and most profitable films ever made.
All three of the Lord of the Rings movies were shot back to back between October 1999 and December 2000 and earned a combined 2.9 billion at the global box office. Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship’s quest to destroy the One Ring also made history by winning seventeen Academy Awards, and even now, the Lord of the Rings cast is grateful for the opportunity to work on this adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.
In an interview with The Independent, Ian McKellen, who played the Lord of the Rings character Gandalf, quipped, “They only wanted me because the established stars said no. They wanted Tony Hopkins and Sean Connery.”
That might be how McKellen remembered it, but New Line Cinema’s executive Mark Ordesky has a slightly different version of events. “Ian’s being self-deprecating,” he added. “We desperately wanted him.”
Still, Ordesky revealed that they did offer a part to the former James Bond star, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. “We did make an offer to Connery but he said no,” the producer explained. “We never got an answer until years later, but apparently, he read the material and just didn’t get it.”
In fairness, as magical as the fantasy movie series may be, I can understand Connery’s point. The novels the films were based on are notoriously dense, and the movies themselves aren’t exactly light-watching either. You’d have to set aside 557 minutes (nine and a half hours) to watch the theatrical cuts of the trilogy, while their respective extended versions are closer to 12 hours long in total.
It’s also worth remembering that the Lord of the Rings isn’t just a whimsical story. Through Middle-earth, Tolkien created a vast and vivid inner-world, and while that enriches the story further, it’s also a lot of take in. Movies like James Bond probably helped Connery avoid any potential headaches.
That being said, Connery clearly wasn’t opposed to adventure movies, having starred in Indiana Jones 3 and Highlander. But the best actors are those who not only care about the roles they perform but also know the right time to take a step back, and it was probably the right move to let someone who is more passionate and well-read around the nuances of Lord of the Rings.
For more on the Fellowship’s quest and beyond, here are our guides to all the Lord of the Rings movies in order, the new Lord of the Rings movie, the best movies of all time, and the Lord of the Rings War of the Rohirrim release date.