Russell Schwartz & Rolf Mittweg

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Russell Schwartz (below, upper photo) had sold the spectacle, the lore, the effects, "the precious." Then, facing the third installment of the wildly successful "Lord of the Rings" franchise, he went for the heartstrings.

Mr. Schwartz, president of domestic marketing at Time Warner's New Line Cinema, focused on the emotional drama of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" to lure back fans of the first two films and broaden the audience to those who hadn't yet latched onto it.

"Our campaign wasn't about `bigger and better,' " he says. "It was about the story and characters. This was the most emotional, the most human, of all three movies. There was a very big promise of resolution, and that's how we positioned it."

To create a sense of finality and urgency, Mr. Schwartz and his team came up with the tagline "The journey ends."

After the first two movies brought in a whopping $660 million domestically, few Hollywood watchers predicted "Return of the King" could top that. It did. "Return of the King" has outpaced both previous films in the trilogy, taking in more than $345 million at the U.S. box office alone, and still counting. (It also picked up 11 Oscar nominations).

Release dates, a key part of any marketing strategy, played a crucial role for New Line, with Mr. Schwartz and Rolf Mittweg (below, lower photo), the studio's president-chief operating officer of worldwide distribution and marketing, plotting the best course. The studio has prided itself on counterprogramming its competitors, and in no year was that perhaps more evident than 2003.

New Line's decision to launch "Elf" in early November, ahead of such anticipated fare as Walt Disney Co.'s "Haunted Mansion" and Universal Pictures' "The Cat in the Hat," was an attempt to grab the family audience in the pre-holiday window. The Will Ferrell film, which cost a paltry $32 million to produce, pulled in more than $170 million at the domestic box office. It and "Lord of the Rings" were the two biggest, but not the only, New Line hits in a strong year.

"Elf's" director, Jon Favreau, says Mr. Schwartz understood the film and didn't try to use "Old School," Mr. Ferrell's recent hit, as a touchstone. "I never had to compromise this movie," Mr. Favreau says.

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