Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have announced the return to the big screen of the fantasy universe created by JRR Tolkien. What are the limits of the Tolkien State?
The trilogies of The Lord of the rings and The Hobbit directed by Peter Jackson were, for a long time, our only audiovisual reference to the fantasy universe created by British author JRR Tolkien, but that would change forever last year with the premiere of the ambitious Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. With a second season already confirmed -and shot- on Prime Video, the series has probably not been as revered as the aforementioned films, but the truth is that it has explored unknown territory and has dared to present a new story on Earth. Media full of new characters that has managed to captivate a good part, at least, of the fans of the franchise.
The series, first announced in 2017, did not materialize until five years later, but now, barely half a year after its premiere, the Middle-earth faithful may glimpse more than just new episodes of The Rings of Power on the horizon. And we’re not just talking about the animated movie. The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim planned for 2024, but to the ambitious plans by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema for the production of new films of The Lord of the rings.
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One of the great news, without a doubt, with which 2023 has begun.
Just a few weeks ago, last February, the exciting and feared news was announced: The world created by JRR Tolkien would return to the big screen. Warner Bros. announced that it had reached an agreement to make “multiple” films based on the books and developed through the studio brand New Line Cinema, the same one that already made the original films.
For now, however, nothing solid confirmed. Although Peter Jackson has admitted that he has been kept informed during the process, there are still no directors linked to the potential projects, nor are there any known plans concrete about future movies.
What we can do, however, is open the complex melon of rights to Tolkien’s work.
Who owns the rights to what and what they can do with them is a question. key question when carrying out one or another project, but the reality is that the rights to the work of JRR Tolkien are absolutely divided and that makes the matter quite confusing.
What can and can’t Warner do with the rights it owns and what are the limits of the Tolkien Estate?
First of all, as well summarized on the website gizmodo After learning about Warner’s ambitious plans, we have to know that, as far as the rights of the universe are concerned The Lord of the ringsthere are four entities in play: Tolkien Estate, together with the HarperCollins publishing house; Embracer Group, the owner of Middle-earth Enterprises; Warner Bros., through New Line Cinema; and Amazon Studios, Amazon’s film and television subsidiary.
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But what can each of them do according to the rights they possess? A good summary would be the following: Only the Tolkien Estate owns the rights to The Lord of the rings in its entirety, while the others have some parts.
Thus, as far as Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema are concerned, the rights that have been owned since the late 90s are the cinematographic rights to the works The Lord of the rings and The Hobbit. Warner, obviously, also owns the rights to the films for projects that, as precisely what is intended, can be set in the same world or give continuity to those that already exist.
About what Warner can’t dothe limit are the other novels and works of Tolkien’s universe that were published posthumously: the annotations, the famous silmarillion and works like The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. While the license fees of The Lord of the rings and The Hobbit yes they were sold The Tolkien Estate retains those of these later worksso when talking about the potential that the silmarillion to give rise to series and films, it must be taken into account that, as long as it continues like this -and it does not seem to change-, that is not going to happen.
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And to make a small mention of Amazon, which owns a small but not insignificant part, it is curious to know that, although the adaptation rights of The Lord of the rings and The Hobbit belong to Middle Earth Enterprise -which is the one Tolkien sold the rights to and recently has a Swedish holding company as its new owner-, there is a clause that leaves it out of series of more than eight episodes. Thus, in 2017 Amazon was able to negotiate directly with the Tolkien Estate the rights for a longer series upon payment of 250 million dollars.
What movies can Warner make about The Lord of the rings?
Leaving aside that the production company could, if it wanted, make ‘remakes’ of the Jackson trilogies, it seems that the plans of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema are not going that way at all. Embracer Group -the new owner of Middle Earth Enterprises- already commented on the possibility of “exploring other films based on emblematic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from Tolkien’s literary works”, but also Warner executives followed the same line when announcing their big news in February:
“Despite all the scope and detail masked in the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by JRR Tolkien remains largely unexplored in moviessaid Warner Bros. bosses Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy as they announced their partnership with Middle-Earth Enterprises and Embracer to give the film franchise a new future.
The appendices are full of potential stories, but also the adventures of the characters that we know so well have great unexplored recesses.. Of course, all set in the Third Age: the story of Gollum, the origins of Aragorn or Tom Bombadil, the arrival of the Istari and their work in Middle-earth during the Third Age and a long etcetera.
Maybe we’ll find out more soon.