Every studio in Hollywood wants the next Game of Thrones (GoT), which is understandable given the social, economic, and cultural impact this long-running series has achieved for HBO. GoT represents the holy grail of non-linear storytelling; a universe built upon a giant, sprawling fantasy world that contains dozens of characters, with the potential for spin-offs, licensing, and the accrual of millions of future viewers/scubscribers/etc.
Hollywood has been scrambling to find that next GoT-level property and is in a buying frenzy. Among the more notable fantasy works in-development: Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Mistborn’ series, Patrick Rothfuss’ ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ books, and Robert Jordan’s massive ‘Wheel of Time’ are all up for film, TV, or streaming adaptation. And yet, all of these properties, including those of GoT’s George R.R. Martin, are mere distillations of the granddaddy of all fantasy epics: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR).
Unfortunately, the recent film adaptations of The Hobbit — a 300-page novel needlessly stretched into a movie trilogy — have taken a bit of the shine off of Tolkien’s creation. Though each iteration of these Hobbit films collected nearly a billion dollars at the global box office, they were roundly criticized by fans and the media alike. The final chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, hit theaters in 2014, which is more than enough time lapsed for modern Hollywood to consider a reboot of the whole franchise.
Who would be so bold (or so crazy) as to undertake an overhaul of one of the biggest — if not THE most beloved — fantasy franchise of them all? Dare I say, the one franchise to rule… nope, I’m not gonna say it; got a little carried away there… Not Netflix, not HBO, and not Hulu either. In a major coup, Amazon Studios secured the global television rights to the LOTR franchise, which they’ll develop in collaboration with publisher HarperCollins, New Line Cinema, and the Tolkien Estate and Trust.
Amazon, as a streaming entity, unofficially ranks behind Netflix and Hulu in terms of prestige-level original content. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and Transparent are no slouches, but they lack the buzz and cultural impact as Stranger Things or The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively. LOTR, as a major entertainment property, simply trumps everything in terms of public recognition and money-printing power. According to THR, in 1999 the LOTR trilogy was named Amazon customer’s favorite book of the millenium.
Amazon’s new head of scripted content, Sharon Tal Yguado issued a statement:
The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen. We are honored to be working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line on this exciting collaboration for television and are thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”
To decode what Yguado is saying: Amazon’s LOTR series will merge the original novels with the recent films, borrowing characters, settings, and situations from each. The deal also includes a potential spinoff series. Terms were not disclosed, but Deadline recently reported that Netflix and HBO were previously offered the rights for around $200 – $250 million.
What makes this deal even more intriguing is the synergy between Amazon Studios and Amazon Prime — you know, the online service where you’ll be buying all your holiday gifts next week. Consider that Amazon can partner with outside vendors to create all manner of shirts, hats, mugs, and other physical products branded with LOTR, which people will purchase with abandon, because the power of LOTR is absolute.
Competition in the streaming space is exploding, and Amazon needed such a deal to really solidify themselves as major players. As has been widely reported, Netflix is spending billions to produce original content, Hulu is also moving aggressively, but the real elephant in the room is Disney, which has already announced that they’re creating new Marvel and Star Wars series to debut exclusively on their streaming service. Amazon and LOTR is a smart match, regardless of the costs involved, as this is precisely the kind of prestige project that can go toe-to-toe with Marvel, DC, Stephen King, or anything else out there.