Beyond Sinbad movies, Robin Hood & Three Musketeers movies, Greek and Norse myths, and various fairy tales, the animated Hobbit is what got me really fired up about fantasy in general. After I saw it, and found out there was a longer sequel in the works, I sought out the books (all 4 of them) and acquired them thanks to an encouraging aunt of mine and that was pretty much what started the whole thing. It was the spark that lit the smoldering mass into a full-on flame. For years afterwards I read the whole thing over again every year. Within a few more years I had discovered D&D, then later Conan and Fafhrd and the Mouser and Sanctuary and a whole bunch of other books and games and all those same bad movies we all watched back then. It also led to Warhammer and that whole miniatures
What makes it so good? Enough has been written that I'll keep it short: For me it starts with a low key hero (no special bloodline, prophecy, power, or skill) who is dragged into an adventure where it seems like everyone else knows more about what's going on than he does, which is not a bad metaphor for several stages of life in my experience. Once in this situation, while he doesn't seek danger he doesn't automatically run from it either. Instead he deals with it as it comes, to the best of his abilities, and in the end he makes it through with some new friends and some good stories to tell - who doesn't want that?
As far as movies go, while I'm sure some hate it, the animated version all over this post pretty much defined the look of a lot of fantasy creatures for me. From Gandalf, to the dwarves, to those goblins (!) and Smaug, I still find myself picturing things in this style from time to time even now. It's very distinct and one that's never left my head or been totally overwritten. I had the animated movie eventually but before that I had the book & cassette and saw the filmstrip - remember those, kids?- in school more than once. So it was around a lot.
I'm sure the new movie will be good, and it will be a nice way to introduce people to the book with a modern look. I loved the LOTR movies and trust Peter Jackson to handle it well. I am concerned about the decision to make it into 3 movies - even with the appendices and all I think that may be stretching the material a bit thin. We'll just have to see. I am looking forward to the big release today. I probably will see it later in the weekend but I will be there, ready for the latest version of a story I have been following for a long long time.