If you're finding the noble Frodo Baggins one hard hobbit to break, then you're probably clutching your movie ticket to catch the final installment of The Lord of the Rings' trilogy later today.

With The Return of the King a no-brainer to own the multiplex over the next few weeks, it's probably worth approaching from the investing angle too.

No, it doesn't matter if you aren't sure exactly where Middle-Earth is, or if you think that Aragorn and Legolas are hosiery fabrics. The franchise has been big business, and it goes beyond the big screen.

The epic is the handiwork of Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) New Line Cinema. Director Peter Jackson's gamble of taking a crew out to New Zealand to film the entire trilogy on a $300 million budget has been a slick move. The first two films have already topped $650 million at the box office during their combined theatrical runs and have doubled that sum through the licensing and home video and DVD markets.

From the video games put out by industry leader Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) to sponsored text-messaging contests by Verizon (NYSE:VZ) to the Hasbro (NYSE:HAS) board game, the franchise has been a lord of many rings.

Unfortunately, trilogies by definition only come in threes, and author J.R.R. Tolkien isn't exactly around to flesh out more related epics in George Lucas fashion. That doesn't mean that the popular films won't keep resurfacing as theatrical re-releases and beefier DVD collectable sets, and produce more licensing deals. They will. One can already fathom that the obvious boxed trilogy set on DVD will be the big-ticket winner of the 2004 holiday season. But that's the rub. The popular franchise's take will probably peak in the coming year.

Thankfully for the related companies, they all have more than one ring in the furnace. That is why it always pays to be a diversified entertainment company.

Did you already see The Return of the King? Did the trilogy close with a bang or a whimper? How true was it to the book? Where can the franchise go from here? All this and more -- in the Lord of the Rings discussion board. Only on Fool.com.