Returning to New Zealand to star as Gandalf in the Hobbit trilogy has made Sir Ian McKellen one of the highest paid actors of pensionable age.

The 73-year-old earned £6.3 million (NZ$12.3 million) in the last year, the Daily Mail reports.

It is a hefty pay packet for Sir Ian, who recently revealed he doubted returning to the role of Gandalf for the Lord of the Rings prequels because it meant long periods away from home.

The Oscar-nominated actor's post-tax earnings were almost £4.7 million (NZ$9.2 million) for the period between April 2011 and March 2012, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.


Despite the doubt about leaving home for long stints, Sir Ian said the attraction of New Zealand helped convince him to return as Gandalf in The Hobbit.

"I don't want anyone else to play Gandalf, I enjoy going to New Zealand and I have fun working on these films, so it wasn't a difficult decision to make."

The first part of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be released in December and is one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year.

It stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug the dragon, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield and Cate Blanchett as Queen Galadriel.

The second and third instalments are expected to screen by 2014.

Actors from other mystical films also made the Sunday Times Rich List, including wizard actor Daniel Radcliffe whose leading role in the eight Harry Potter films puts his estimated fortune at £54 million (NZ$105 million).