Sean Astin and Elijah Wood in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring released in 2001.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection
Warner Bros. and New Line return to Middle-earth, with the studio securing a deal that will allow it to develop more Lord of the Rings films.
The multi-year deal with rights holder Embracer Group AB allows Warners to develop features based on JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit. Embracer Group, the Swedish gaming company, acquired the rights to LOTR films, games, merchandise, theme parks and live productions when it bought rights holder Middle-earth Enterprises from The Saul Zaentz Company last year.
The move, announced during Warner Bros. Discovery’s investor call Thursday, comes as CEO David Zaslav looks to reassure Wall Street that Warners is very strong in the franchise game while looking back on the glory days of the 2000s, as the studio with Lord of Money coined the trilogy “Rings”, “Harry Potter” and “The Dark Knight”. In November, Zaslav said he would like to make a deal with author JK Rowling for more Harry Potter and initially had the idea of Lord of the Rings returning in mind.
Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which ran from 2001 to 2003. The series grossed $2.9 billion at the box office, with 2003’s Return of the King winning Best Picture. Jackson returned to direct The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-14). New Line already had the animated feature film The War of the Rohirrim on the calendar for 2024.
The rights to Tolkien’s works have always been a bit tricky, and a long-running legal battle between Warners and the Tolkien estate dragged on for years before being settled in 2017. A more recent complicated affair from a consumer perspective: Amazon holds the TV rights to Lord of the Rings, with its mega-budget Rings of Power streaming last year. One question the new film series will address is how to convince audiences to go to the theater when you can get it at home. A big difference is that Amazon focuses on the second age, thousands of years before the events of the films. Film rights have focused on the third age, where the most well-known events happen and the most popular characters lived. It’s possible that Warners could now take on Tolkien’s big guns like Gandalf, Bilbo and Aragorn.
And of course, as much as new movies offer opportunities for big franchise swings, they’re getting as much scrutiny from fans as current Warners franchise hits like DC and Fantastic Beasts.
In a statement, those involved in the project acknowledge the task ahead.
“We understand how treasured these works are, and in collaboration with our partners at New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures, we plan to honor the past, look to the future and adhere to the highest standards of quality and production” , said Lee Guinchard, CEO of Freemode, which is part of Embracer.
And Warner Bros. film executives Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy signaled they are not interested in a retread of what Jackson has already done, saying in their own statement: “Twenty years ago, New Line took an unprecedented leap of faith daring to bring the incredible stories, characters and world of The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. The result was a seminal series of films embraced by generations of fans. But for all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex, and dazzling universe that JRR Tolkien envisioned remains largely unexplored in the film. It is an honor to have the opportunity to take fans deeper into the cinematic world of Middle-earth and we are excited to partner with Middle-earth Enterprises and Embracer on this adventure.”
The deal is not only a homecoming for LOTR, but also a reunion for De Luca. The executive director was New Line’s production president when Fellowship of the Ring began production, but he was famously fired before the film was released.