The Hobbit and … Backward? 6 Movies Filmed Out of Order

Image: James Fisher © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and MGM Pictures Inc.
Image: James Fisher © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and MGM Pictures Inc.

You don't have to be a time traveler to sort out the hash Hollywood makes out of our great serial works of literature ... but it wouldn't hurt. From the '60s onward, filmmakers have run amok through one beloved franchise after another, filming the books in whatever order suits them, and counting on the populace to keep up (ultimately just contributing to a state of generalized anxiety that's forced us to coin words such as  "prequel" and "threequel"  as coping mechanisms). Below -- in good old-fashioned chronological order -- are some of the top offenders.

Dr. No (1962)
1953's Casino Royale was the first of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, but Dr. No -- the sixth in the series -- was where the story began for film audiences. It could have been worse: The film's producers came close to starting with the ninth novel, the scuba adventure Thunderball. This surely would have  set an awkward precedent for upcoming installments, sandbagging the audience with questions about why their hero suddenly spent so much time mucking about on dry land.

Return to Oz (1985)
Nearly fifty years later, young Fairuza Balk attempted to pick up where Judy Garland left off. One problem: Dorothy Gale doesn't return to the merry old land of Oz until the third book in L. Frank Baum's series, Ozma of Oz. While the later film does crib a few characters (Jack Pumpkinhead, the evil witch Mombi, the Gump) from the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, it's hardly the sort of attempt that qualifies as a true sequel.

The Black Cauldron (1985)
Disney did a real number on Lloyd Alexander's beloved Prydain novels, jumping straight into a lackluster animated version of The Black Cauldron. The attempt to round things out with a few desultory bits of the introductory novel (The Book of Three) was a dismal failure. Fortunately the author himself has been a great sport about it, acknowledging to Scholastic that there's "no resemblance" between the movie and the book, but that he found the film to be very enjoyable. "I had fun watching it," he claims. Now there's a man who deserves a do-over! Disney, however, having lost $4M on "The Black Cauldron" at the box office, is not likely to try and make it up to him anytime soon.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
"Master and Commander" is indeed the title of the first book in Patrick O'Brien's popular "Aubrey–Maturin" series of seafaring historical novels, but "The Far Side of the World" is the title of the tenth. In fact, hardly any of this film's content is derived from the first book -- the studio just didn't think audiences would be smart enough to recognize any of those other titles. Unfortunately this complicates things for anyone later on who'd like to make a real adaptation of Master and Commander: What on earth would they call it?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
C.S. Lewis fans howled about the order of the Narnia books getting all flim-flammed with this latest release, but in all fairness it's actually a terribly confusing issue. Technically Dawn Treader really was the third book published, but these days it's considered the fifth book because of the series' internal chronological order. So the studio really may have shot themselves in the foot by not adapting "The Horse and His Boy" instead -- what are they going to do later on? Film a "prequel" that's made to be watched between films number three and four? Good luck explaining that one to your children.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
If you want to sound well-read, then you absolutely must stop referring to the upcoming "Hobbit" movies as prequels. You may be surprised to learn that J.R.R. Tolkein only wrote The Lord of the Rings to expand upon the world he'd already created in The Hobbit. We pitiful modern wretches fumbled the order in our eagerness to get to the monstrous three-part epic, and now we're left trying to wring closure from a film event which was never meant to support that kind of burden, or which (in the best case scenario) will outshine the films meant to succeed it.

  • Michael

    I was very afraid that The Chronicles of Narnia was going to show up on this list because of HarperCollins's butchery of the publication order. C. S. Lewis wrote these books in the order he wrote them, and the story chronology is a poor excuse to rearrange them. Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third Narnia book, and the studio did Lewis justice by presenting it as such. After all, The Magician's Nephew is first in the chronology of the story, but sixth in publication order, and there is much from the first five that a reader must understand in order for the sixth (as published) volume to make sense. Perhaps The Magician's Nephew should have been the first film?

    Finally, if order of original publication and authorial intention is good enough for Lewis's friend J. R. R. Tolkien, certainly it's good enough for Lewis, as well.

    • John


      In a letter to a fan in 1957, C.S. Lewis wrote:

      "I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother's. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn't think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published."

      Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, told Harper Collins about this when he suggested the numbering order for their publication order,

  • Tim

    Can I just mention another first movie in a series ...

    Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope



      • Salmo

        Because these are all based on books where they started later in the series. Star Wars was not based no books, and the first movie made was also the first one written. The whole "episode 4" thing was just a reference to those old serials Lucas likes so much.

    • Joe

      True, but the article is about books filmed out of sequence.....

  • Elsie

    To complicate even further, both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were set in a world Tolkien had created in 1917, in the Silmarillion, and that didn't even get published until after Tolkien's death. He wrote The Hobbit because he despaired of ever getting a publisher to accept the longer, heavier Silmarillion, which created that world by literally starting with the Creation of the World.

    But hey, if you've read LOTR, it's technically the 'last chapter' of the Silmarillion, so now you know how it all turns out!

    • jim

      Having read Silmarillion, I can't see it having been made into a movie, anyway. Also, The Children of Huren would make a great movie, but there's probably very few of us that realize it as a Tolkien book about the same world from LOTR and The Hobbit.

      There was actually an animated version of The Hobbit many years ago -- not a Disney type cartoon (thank goodness), but not very good anyway.

      I am actually looking forward to the Hobbit. Then I'll buy the extended version on DVD and watch it and LOTR sequentially at my leisure.

      • JimH

        Richard Boone was a great Smaug.

  • Tom

    It seems to me that "Silence of the Lambs" would work here too. Granted, "Manhunter" (the first attempt to film "Red Dragon" was indeed produced earlier, but the trilogy starring Anthony Hopkins put "Red Dragon" at the end.

  • bfh

    how would you explain the most recent Star Trek movie, that was like a re-boot mixed with a prequel.

  • Eire


  • Brandon

    The Bourne Series

    Granted they based the movie on a fair bit of the first book, several things that didn't happen until the third movie also happened in the paper copy of The Bourne Identity.

    Just as well though really. If you've read the initial trilogy you've found that the movies really tell their own story that is only loosely based on Ludlum's original material, discarding many things along the way, including Bourne's own impetus for becoming who he was.

  • Jessie

    But the hobbit was a prequel to lord of the rings and you even stated that in your article so why must we stop referring to it as a prequel, when essentially that is what it is?

    • JP

      The Silmarillion would be the book, with The Hobbit as it's first sequel, and LOTR as the second sequel (or the sequel to the Hobbit)

    • Native Angeleno

      Because The Hobbit is only a prequel as far as the films are concerned; it was written long before Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings; it predates the latter chronologically; it introduces characters who merely return in LOTR; in every way it has been filmed out of chronological order. That's not the definition of prequel, which is a sequel written second, explaining the origins of the first produced work.


  • Rich

    OK, what am I missing.

    "You may be surprised to learn that J.R.R. Tolkein only wrote The Lord of the Rings to expand upon the world he’d already created in The Hobbit."

    "you absolutely must stop referring to the upcoming “Hobbit” movies as prequels"

    If he wrote LOTR after The Hobbit, why isn't The Hobbit a prequel?

    • Joey

      Read what you just wrote. "If he wrote LOTR after The Hobbit, why isn’t The Hobbit a prequel?"

      If he wrote The Hobbit after LotR, it would have been a prequel. Seeing as The Hobbit was written BEFORE LotR, it's really not a prequel, is it? Prequels are things that are written AFTER the original, to give some back-story. LotR was written after The Hobbit, so you could say that LotR was a sequel.

  • Zack

    Jessie, the term prequel means that it was written after the book it intends to shed light on with information that happens before the book was written.

    In this case, The Hobbit isn't a prequel because it was written many years before LOTR, even though the events in the hobbit occur before LOTR. It is ESSENTIALLY a stand alone book, with none of its events directly influencing actions in the LOTR trilogy.

    • Joey

      "with none of its events directly influencing actions in the LOTR trilogy."

      Except for, ya know, this one ring.

    • El Cid

      I'd say Baggins getting the ring and meeting Gollum pretty directly influenced LOTR.

    • Richnorm

      Actually quite a bit of what happened in The Hobbit is applicable to Lord of the Rings. The Necromancer (Sauron), Gloin (Gimli's father), and of course the Ring and Gollum.

  • Joe;
    Actually there were books/screenplay of Star Wars, they were just relatively unknown/unpublished.
    Why else would they have made the Title of the first film as it was? Episode IV...

    • Manny


      The "Episode IV" and "New Hope" didn't appear in the first release of Star Wars. I remember being confused as hell when I saw "Episode V" float by at the beginning of Empire. WTF? What happened to Eps I - IV?

    • Jack Meoff

      Really? I think each of you should read the info regarding Star Wars on Wikipedia. When Mr.s lucas wrote the Original Star Wars as a screenplay, it was NEVER as a book. as he was finishing with SW he began to realize that the story was much bigger than the one movie. When Star Wars was first released, it did not have an episode number. When Empire Strikes Back appeared in theaters 3 years later, it was called "episode II". Mr. Lucas also has stated that he wrote Star Wars as 9 movies as well, but has backed off that in recent years

  • Gus

    Chronologically Angels and Demons takes place before The Da Vinci Code, but were filmed in reverse order.

  • adda

    does it really matter in what order there filmed in so as long as its a good film

  • Actually, the fifth Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy, comes after The Lion. The events in that book happen during the reign of the Pavensies. In that film, the Pavensies only get little more than cameos, and the protagonists are complete unknowns. What is more, because the siblings reigned for years, they are adults when they show up. Maybe the producers decided on this order to give them time to at least be in their late teens/early twenties by the time they get to the fifth and seventh movies.

  • Steve

    I actually read The Hobbit first when I was a kid and had no idea the LotR books existed until my older brother told me.

  • terrance

    i think people are treating "sequel" and "prequel" as words that are exact opposites.