The Lord of the Rings – A Musical Tale, the multi award-winning musical production that has been wowing theatregoers in the UK over the past 12 months, is set for a USA debut in Chicago starting this July.

Paul Hart, who created the acclaimed 2023 staging at the UK’s Watermill Theatre, will also oversee the production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s The Yard.

“I can’t wait for this next step in the epic journey of The Lord of the Rings as we craft this new staging for the US premiere production with Chicago Shakespeare Theater for Chicago audiences,” Mr Hart said.

“We loved creating this version which was retold from the perspective of the Hobbits at The Watermill and will now be expanded far beyond those horizons. It will be thrilling to share with new audiences internationally as part of this next stage”

Sam – Nuwan Hugh Perera – and Frodo – Louis Maskell – with Gollum – Matthew Bugg – sneaking in the background… (Photography Pamela Raith)

“Sharing the Watermill’s wonderful expression of The Lord of the Rings on stage with audiences across the globe beginning this summer in Chicago, with the US premiere of Paul Hart’s and Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s collaborative re-imagining, is a dream come true,” says Fredrica Drotos of LOTR theatre-production rights-holder Middle-earth Enterprises.

Just this January, this latest musical retelling of Frodo’s quest scooped eight BroadwayWorld UK/West End awards, including Best New Production of a Musical.

TORn’s own Staffer greendragon gave the Watermill staging a solid thumbs-up in her review last year, while it has also received critical plaudits from The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Mail on Sunday.

The staging is incredibly inventive, with cast moving through the auditorium – and even climbing over it. Stunning puppets create suitably terrifying Ringwraiths and an astonishing Shelob. Elrond causes the river to rise, the doors of Moria glow, even the Balrog appears; every theatrical trick and device is called into play, including impressive lighting and projections, to create Middle-earth in front of and around the audience – and those watching the night I was there were clearly loving it.

Staffer greendragon

“Paul Hart’s production is something rather wizard… it is filled with battles, fellowship, adventure and emotional intimacy. Terrific lighting, projections and puppetry play a huge part.”

The Mail on Sunday

The Lord of the Rings – A Musical Tale features book and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus and original music by Academy Award winner A.R. Rahman (Bombay Dreams, Slumdog Millionaire), Finnish folk band Värttinä, and Tony Award winner Christopher Nightingale (Matilda the Musical).

The Chicago season is slated to run from July 19 to September 1 and further global dates and venues will be announced in June. Get your tickets via the official lotrmusical site here.

In the latest annual financial report from Swedish holding company Embracer Group, the purchase price for its newly acquired Middle-earth IP has been revealed as US $395 million. This is nearly double what Amazon paid for the TV rights to LOTR, and includes everything outside those TV rights — movies, music, merch, games and theme parks.

According to Variety, Embracer also reports “several world-class products” from The Lord of the Rings are in the works. These include the already announced new Warner Bros / New Line Cinema deal for several new films, and an original online MMO RPG persistent world game set in the Third Age from Amazon Games.

It should be noted that Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) were already making big moves before the acquisition. The newly licensed Magic: The Gathering card game The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, five new video games including Gollum Game and a new Weta Digital LOTR game, as well as merch trademarks for Rings of Power were all in process before the Embracer acquisition of MEE from The Saul Zaentz Company.

Interestingly, the Embracer annual report says there was a cash payment of $267 million for Middle-earth Enterprises, implying that the extra $130 million could be performance-based rewards or stock in the new owner. Saul Zaentz, the enterprising filmmaker, music producer and deal maker, owned the rights that enabled all the films and games over the last 50 years. Rumors last year had the rights valued at $2 billion, nearly 5x the actual acquisition price. This may be how much Embracer expects to make from Middle-earth. For comparison, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and LOTR films have made nearly $10 billion in box office, home video, games and merch.

Fandom has lit up again with excitement as more Middle-earth movies, games, LEGO and merch are announced. Here’s what we know about who can do what and where with new LOTR projects.

New Line Cinema continues to be the cinematic home for Middle-earth

Feb 2023 – After a year of wild moves and intense backroom conversations about the future of Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema renews its 25-year-old license with Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) who are now owned by Embracer Group. From the fan perspective, nothing has changed: Warner Bros & New Line are still producing THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM starring Miranda Otto as Eowyn and Brian Cox as Helm Hammerhand.

New projects have not been hinted at, but fans are speculating if Peter Jackson will deliver his promised Super-duper-extended “Unicorn Edition” LOTR featuring deleted scenes like Eowyn’s wedding, Frodo-Gollum nightmare, and more. Peter Jackson is a newly minted multi-billionaire after selling Weta Digital’s toolsets to Unity, and winning Emmy Awards for his Beatles documentary GET BACK.

TORn Tuesday reported over seven years ago that PJ has a secret vault with a “warts and all” documentary, featuring original Aragorn footage. With his documentary awards for GET BACK and THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, maybe the first new LOTR project ready to go is a doc?

Unconfirmed rumors for this new WB & LOTR movie deal have a three-year timeline in place — which would be similar to the time-restrictions put in place with Amazon’s TV deal where they had to be in development within two years and in production within five years. This puts the 25th anniversary of Peter Jackson’s LOTR into play as a way to celebrate the past and herald the future.

Prime Studios and New Line play nice, for now

During production of the billion-dollar-budget RINGS OF POWER series, a cooperation deal was put in place between Amazon and WB. All episodes of Season 1 of Amazon’s show include a full screen logo credit for New Line Cinema, with the characters and some weapons bearing a striking resemblance to the aesthetic established by Peter Jackson’s movies. There have also been rumors that Prime Video will be the streaming home of THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM after its global theatrical run (instead of WB owned HBOmax).

But, it seems the CEO of WB’s owner, David Zaslav, does have a competitive bone to pick with Amazon’s CEO, with The Hollywood Reporter reporting that he “even name-checked Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, almost as if to tease Amazon with the threat of new “Lord of the Rings” properties… and suggested that a move to launch new “Lord of the Rings” movies would take away some of the momentum that Amazon had enjoyed from its launch of a series based on the novels.”

Amazon is solely in the Middle-earth TV business

Jeff Bezos and his team at Prime Studios negotiated directly with the Tolkien Estate for rights the family still held outside of anything New Line, MEE or Embracer have exploited in the past: rights to TV shows. Amazon currently must stay in that lane, but can create as many TV shows as they want with a minimum of 8 episodes per season. Amazon has announced five seasons of The Rings of Power, greenlit the first three, written the first two, are filming Season 2 now in the UK. They intend to make spinoff shows.

Prime has has only licensed the same exact two books that Embracer & Warner Bros has (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), crafting any spinoff from any word or phrase from prologue to appendices. They have uniquely included current figurehead of the Tolkien estate, Simon Tolkien, in the development process, and he alone can approve usage of extra material from other books — such as The Silmarillion or The History of Middle-earth — on a case-by-case basis.

As secretive as Amazon is, word got out that they nearly went with a Young Aragorn show pitched by the Russo Brothers — fresh off their $2 billion Avengers Endgame run — which begs the question, why not both? Would Amazon greenlight another LOTR TV show now that more “friendly competition” from Warner Bros. is coming to cinemas?

Will there be a reboot of The LORD OF THE RINGS?

As of now, absolutely not. Nobody in control wants to reboot the most award-winning film of all time. The Tolkien Estate have mandated that the TV rights are not allowed to remake the movies. Despite WB’s record of reboots and multiverses — last count there are seven Batmans in the cinematic zeitgeist — there seems to be an effort to keep Middle-earth as one cinematic universe to rule them all. Even the new feature film spin off THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM is an expansion of the Peter Jackson MeCU. There are plenty of new stories to mine from the books, and no remakes are expected in film or TV format.

Is Peter Jackson returning?

Unknown as of today. Peter Jackson put out a statement though:

“Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way. We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.”

Peter Jackson

Philippa Boyens, his co-producer and co-writer of LOTR who shared in Oscar glory, is currently producing THE WAR OF THE ROHIRRIM with New Line Cinema. The new film is still “in the Jackson family” with Weta Workshop, John Howe, Alan Lee, and many other Hobbit veterans involved. Could all the local commotion re-ignite Peter’s passion for Middle-earth? Would he come back in a supervisory role, similar to how Kevin Feige produces and manages all of MARVEL films? Only time will tell.

Where can I stream everything LOTR?

Many places! Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBOmax all have the LOTR trilogy Extended Editions streaming free with your account, depending on your country in the world. THE RINGS OF POWER is exclusively streaming on Prime Video and not for sale on DVD. Lord of the Rings has a fresh coat of paint in a 4K Blu-ray release from WB, which is also the version you can buy on iTunes and other digital platforms. The Hobbit movies are streaming on HBOmax, as well as the 1977 Rankin Bass classic animated Hobbit. We like to use JustWatch to see where Desolation of Smaug is currently available on any given month.

Are there really five new LOTR video games coming out?

Yes! Embracer Group, in addition to owning the LOTR rights, is a huge video game developer with tons of studios. They have announced five new LOTR games for 2023, each unrelated to the others, including:

  • Gollum Game
  • Return to Moria
  • Heroes of Middle-earth
  • Untitled Weta Workshop game
  • ? unannounced ?

The Lord of the Rings has a long history of innovation in the video game space. LOTRO, the online MMO, is still going 15 years strong with new expansions and a larger player base than ever before. The console and PC Shadow of Mordor series introducing the Nemesis System and became one of the best of the PS4 generation games. Nearly all LOTR games are unrelated to any LOTR films — though some of us old nerds hold Return of the King fondly in memory.

Separately, Magic: The Gathering is now selling a brand new licensed LOTR card game.

Who is Embracer?

Embracer Group is the new owner of rights that JRR Tolkien himself sold off in 1968. The Swedish gaming and rights holding company purchased these rights in 2022 from Saul Zaentz Company, which was used to create the Oscar-winning LOTR films. These rights, which JRR Tolkien later regretted selling off, are perpetual rights to do anything with everything in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. This includes all merch, board games, card games, movies, theme parks, toys, albums, weapons, alcohol, video games and more. Everything except make TV shows.

Because Embracer owns merchandising rights, Amazon has to go through them to make any merch for RINGS OF POWER just as all the movie merch for LOTR and The Hobbit included “licensed by Saul Zaentz” or Middle-earth Enterprises. Through Embracer, LEGO just announced a new 6,000 piece Rivendell set based on Peter Jackson’s movies that will no doubt sell out.

What’s this about theme parks?

At dawn, on the fifth day, look to Orlando.

TL;DR of LOTR rights

  • Warner Bros & New Line Cinema producing more movies.
  • Amazon & Prime Studios make and stream TV shows.
  • WB releases movies in theaters, then offers to Prime for post-release streaming.
  • Games, cards and mobile apps are licensed, developed & released by Embracer.
  • General consensus is everyone wants to play nice within an unbroken cinematic universe.

Want to talk about all things LOTR — movies, games, art, and ROP? Join the TORn Discord at https://discord.gg/theonering

After a year-long negotiation to renew the rights to Lord of the Rings movies, games and merch, Warner Bros Discovery confirm a long-term deal has been reached with new owners Embracer Group that will see multiple Middle-earth theatrical movies in the future.

Today on the Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) quarterly earnings call, CEO David Zaslav announced that a new licensing deal has been signed today to allow New Line Cinema to produce more Lord of the Rings films.

The Hollywood Reporter (THR) has more details:

The multi-year deal with rights holders Embracer Group AB allows Warners to develop features based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit. Embracer Group, the Swedish gaming company, acquired the rights to LOTR film, games, merchandise, theme parks and live productions when it purchased rights holder Middle-earth Enterprises last year from The Saul Zaentz Company. The deal is a coming not only a coming home for LOTR but also a reunion for De Luca. The executive was the president of production for New Line when the first movie, Fellowship of the Ring, began production, but was famously let go before the movie that movie was released.

The Hollywood Reporter

There have been rumors in recent weeks that Amazon Studios, who hold only rights to make a LOTR TV series, were offering up to $1 billion to secure movie rights alongside the Hobbit rights Amazon got with their $8 billion purchase of MGM studios. But that offer is now moot — the cinematic legacy of Middle-earth continues on with New Line Cinema and WB.

Studio heads of WB confirms they will never remake the heralded trilogy, but continue to expand the Legendarium:

But for all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien remains largely unexplored on film. The opportunity to invite fans deeper into the cinematic world of Middle-earth is an honor, and we are excited to partner with Middle-earth Enterprises and Embracer on this adventure.”

Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy

“We understand how cherished these works are and working together 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 strongest level of quality and production values.”

Lee Guinchard, CEO of Embracer’s Freemode

Fans can look forward to the anime feature film The War of the Rohirrim next year in 2024, which is already halfway through production, and untold new stories beyond. LOTR is staying home with the studio that gave Peter Jackson the freedom to make the most awarded films in history.

UPDATE

Deadline Hollywood just posted a brief statement from Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens regarding the announcement.

“Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way,” the Oscar-winning trio said. “We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.”

It seems significant that the trio say they have been kept updated on the progress of negotiations. One wouldn’t do that for no reason. Of course, part of that might be because Boyens is currently working as Executive Producer on The War of the Rohirrim for Warner Bros. But, still one wonders…

Join the fan discussion on the official TORn Discord at https://discord.gg/theonering

Forbes reports that JRR Tolkien’s estate may have earned up to $500 million on the sale of the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The latest list of highest earning dead celebrities from Forbes puts JRR Tolkien, who died in 1973, at the top.

Embracer spent at least $500 million for Middle Earth [sic] Enterprises, a number Embracer didn’t refute… in what’s been described as the most complex IP rights split in history.

Forbes 2022

Those rights include every word printed in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to make movies, games, merch, theme parks, collectibles, weapons, drinks, and more. Embracer has already said they will be making many games and explore more film spinoffs. Since they now own worldwide merchandising rights, Amazon will have to negotiate with Embracer for any Rings of Power based merch to be brought to market.