The Academy Awards were established in 1929; in the almost-century since, only three films have won 11 Oscars: Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Despite their vast differences in plot and setting, the three have a lot in common: all are epics, set in the past (in Return of the King’s case, an imaginary one), and brimming with special effects-laden spectacle. They are, in other words, the exact sort of movies one thinks of when one thinks of the word “Hollywood.” Return of the King was made mostly by Kiwis, filmed entirely in New Zealand, and based on the book of a South African-born British author whose stated goal was creating “a mythology of England,” but it’s also the epitome of American filmmaking: big, brash, and perfect for popcorn.
That an SFX-heavy epic won so many Oscars isn’t surprising; that a high fantasy film did is. Or at least, it would have been surprising only a few years before. Jackson’s films changed the equation.