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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 11:15 GMT
Rings joins Oscar's big winners
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online

Charlton Heston was named best actor for Ben-Hur
Only two other films have equalled The Return of the King's tally of 11 Oscars - 1959's Ben-Hur and 1997's Titanic.

This puts Peter Jackson's Middle-earth epic on a par with two of Hollywood's most celebrated, and costly, epics.

But is there a common link between the three films that have won more Academy Awards than any other?

If so, you can bet that producers are now trying to crack the magic formula. Here are some pointers that could just help them out.

Take your time

If you want Oscar voters to sit up and take notice of your film, remember this golden rule: it can never be too long.

Ben-Hur clocks in at a whopping 212 minutes. Titanic stays afloat for 194, while The Return of the King weighs in at 201.

What they say is this: this film is important. It's gargantuan. It's worth over three hours of your precious time.

And if people still don't get the message, wait a couple of months and release a Director's Cut that's even longer.

Spend some money

If Titanic, Ben-Hur and The Return of the King have taught us anything, it is this: speculate to accumulate.

The Return of the King
Thousands of real and virtual extras were used in The Return of the King
Money talks, and there's no way of speaking louder than putting your money where your film is.

Ben-Hur cost $15 million - small change now, but astounding for 1959 - while Titanic's budget soared to $200 million (106m).

And though The Return of the King cost a modest-sounding $94 million, you have to factor in New Line Cinema's total investment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy - $300 million (160m).

Wow your audience

Dialogue and plot are all very well, but spectacle is the key to earning a place in Oscar history.

The chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur took five weeks to film, required 15,000 extras and was shot on a Roman amphitheatre set that took up 18 acres.

For Titanic, director James Cameron had a full-size replica built of one side of the ship in a water tank in Mexico.

And the epic battle scenes in The Return of the King featured 200,000 extras - even if the vast majority were created by computer.

Actors aren't everything

It's nice to have good actors in your cast, but it's hardly essential.

James Cameron
Titanic director James Cameron is renowned as a hard task-master
Both Titanic's nominated actresses - Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart - left the 1998 Oscars empty-handed, while none of the Return of the King ensemble was even considered.

There is an exception to every rule, though, and Ben-Hur is it.

Two of its 11 Oscars went to Charlton Heston and Hugh Griffith, who were named best actor and best supporting actor respectively.

Make them sweat

If there is one other thing that links Oscar's most lauded trio, it's the forceful personalities in charge.

Ben-Hur director William Wyler was a notoriously hard task-master, famous for demanding endless takes. (His nickname was "Once-More Wyler".)

Titanic director James Cameron is legendary for putting his cast and crew through the wringer. (After an earlier film, crew members had T-shirts made saying "I survived The Abyss".)

And Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne has praised Peter Jackson for demanding "110 per cent" from everyone involved in the project.


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