THE HOBBIT, the next fantasy franchise produced and directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson, will ultimately be three films forming one of the most anticipated trilogies of the next few years. The LORD OF THE RINGS auteur finally confirmed the decision by saying that there was more story to tell than could be contained in the originally planned two films. The films will draw on the original story by novelist J.R.R. Tolkein’s original story, providing a full background history to explain the Middle Earth. For Warner Bros., which is backing the fantasy film through New Line in partnership with MGM, creating an extra HOBBIT sequel will bolster a film slate that recently saw two of the studio’s biggest franchises, Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN films and the HARRY POTTER series, wrap up after nearly a decade of blockbuster grosses. The first film in what is now a trilogy, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, will hit theaters worldwide on December 13, 2012, with newcomer Martin Freeman starring as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen returning as the wizard Gandalf.