The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King

Elijah Wood on the red carpet at the World Premiere.

Elijah Wood on the red carpet at the World Premiere

On 1 December, 2003 Wellington hosted the World Premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Crowds massing close to 120,000 lined Wellington's streets to salute The Lord of the Rings filmmakers and stars as they paraded through the central city in open top classic cars. Led by a group of Maori conch callers, the parade also included groups of The Lord of the Rings characters - Hobbits, Orcs, Elves, Rohan, Gondorian soldiers, Ringwraith Riders, Easterlings and Uruk Hai.

The filmmakers and stars stepped from their cars on to 470 metres of red carpet, stretching the length of Courtenay Place. They spent hours signing autographs, posing for photos, talking to fans and giving media interviews. Three giant screens projected the World Premiere scenes for all to see.

Spotlight on Wellington

Wellington City Council was proud to host the event in association with New Line Cinema, Roadshow Films and the New Zealand Government. Close to 500 international journalists and media organisations beamed images of the Capital in full party mode around the world, published articles in most major international dailies and posted stories on news websites.


"I just want to thank Kerry Prendergast and the Wellington City Council and the Government for throwing this party. You guys have just got behind it so incredibly well and you couldn't have done a better job. I mean this is just amazing, and I know it's taken a huge amount of hard work. It must have been a nightmare to put together - this is harder than making a movie. You guys have done this great job so thank you so much."
Peter Jackson, Director

"Hello Wellington! From the first day I arrived here you guys have made me feel right at home. I've got so many great friends here now. Thanks very much for coming out to party with us tonight. Thank you."
Billy Boyd, Actor (Pippin)

Economic impact

A McDermott Miller report estimated the World Premiere would be worth:

  • $9.5 million in new spending
  • $25 million in international media exposure
  • $5 million a year annually in new tourism spending
  • $25 million annually in on-going feature film production spending

This report was based on 170 journalists attending the event. Given the numbers were closer to 500 these estimates are now considered to be extremely conservative.

Embassy Theatre

The Embassy Theatre, a Wellington landmark, is the home of The Lord of the Rings. It hosted the Australasian Premieres of the first two The Lord of the Rings films in 2001 and 2002 and again took centre stage for the 2003 World Premiere.

To host the World Premiere, the Embassy Theatre underwent extensive restoration work. The building was seismically strengthened and the interior of the auditorium was restored in line with its original design. The restoration work was made possible through public fundraising and a Wellington City Council underwrite of $4.66 million. The underwrite has meant Wellington City Council is now the proud owner of one of Wellington's most important heritage icons.

Creative Wellington

The Council supported the World Premiere because of its close fit with the Council's long-term strategic vision for the city - Creative Wellington - Innovation Capital - and the city's burgeoning reputation as a world-class centre of film and television production.

The city, and New Zealand, boasts highly-qualified film workers who are sought-after overseas and considered - value for money - in terms of international wage levels. The city has first-rate post-production facilities and another is planned - this will be a soundproofed warehouse-style space, allowing for filming to be uninterrupted by weather and other noise, and will include a purpose-built sound studio.

The Capital is home to film and creative businesses associated with Peter Jackson and Oscar winner Richard Taylor - these include Weta Workshop, Weta Digital and The Film Unit. The city is also the base of the NZ Film Commission, Film NZ, the Film Festival, Film Archives, Silverscreen, Gibson Group, Ninox and many more.

Wellington City Council has actively supported the local film industry in many ways, such as:

  • supporting the Film and Television School
  • establishing New Zealand's first film friendly policy in 1996
  • setting up the first film office - Film Wellington - with full-time staff dedicated to working directly with film and production companies
  • providing funds and support to a film and television cluster
  • working with Massey University to establish an international film school

The Council's Creative Wellington - Innovation Capital vision aims to consolidate the local film industry so that it can become a genuinely self-sustaining size and attract constant international work.