Before Peter Jackson directed The Hobbit films, Guillermo del Toro was at the helm of the project - so why did he leave the franchise? The Lord of the Rings prequel series, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 novel, debuted in 2012, but the actual journey getting the novel to the big screen turned out to be a long and complicated process.
Hopes for developing The Hobbit into a movie first began in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, the rights to Tolkien's story stalled any plans for over a decade, in which time Peter Jackson delivered the mega-successful The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In April 2008, del Toro was hired to direct The Hobbit. By that point, he was already a well-known filmmaker through his directing work in Cronos, Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, Blade II, and Hellboy.
Del Toro was a fan of Tolkien's work as a child but he found many of his storytelling tropes complex, as did many fellow readers. He was still very excited for the project and worked closely with Peter Jackson to collaborate on the screenplay. Despite having positive feelings about the process along the way, del Toro departed from The Hobbit in May 2010, two years after he signed on.
Del Toro did a ton of research when he first took on the coveted director's role, working endlessly with Jackson and the writing team in developing and reworking the script. While this was very much a part of the same world as Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, del Toro still had his own vision in mind with what he wanted The Hobbit to become from book to film. His visual approach would have been something previously unseen in the world of Middle-earth, more resembling a fairy tale than what came before. In doing so, the story kept constantly evolving - and grew to being a two-part endeavor - which kept pushing back the tentative production schedule.
Along with the writing and production delays, development on The Hobbit was stalled due to MGM's financial troubles in the mid-2000s. MGM didn't even officially give The Hobbit the green light until May 2010, the same month that del Toro left the project; the director later revealed that everything was designed and sorted out but the project couldn't move forward until MGM figured out the business side.
Ultimately, the scheduling delays conflicted with the time that del Toro allocated for The Hobbit. He had no choice but to step away. Jackson then took over as director, although del Toro was still credited as one of the screenwriters for the trilogy. Today, Guillermo del Toro's The Hobbit remains one of the most intriguing, unmade films.