Since ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ area opened at Universal Studios Florida 12 years ago, rumors of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed land at either Universal or Walt Disney World have swirled around the internet. In 2010, shortly after the opening of ‘Wizarding World’, a guest survey was apparently sent out by Universal to gauge public interest in other themed lands. The survey went on to inquire about a potential Lord of the Rings themed ride or area:
“Imagine if you will a world unlike any you’ve ever visited before: it’s Middle Earth, the ancient and beautiful land forged by J.R.R. Tolkien as the backdrop for his two most well known creations, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Walk as a human among dwarves, elves, orcs and hobbits — all faithfully recreated and portrayed in the spirit of the original characters as they appeared in both the books and the movies. In this land you’ll experience one-of-a-kind rides and attractions that bring to life some of the most memorable experiences of Tolkien’s world including Bilbo’s hobbit hole, the fortress at Isengard (before it was destroyed) and even the dark world of Mordor — including the terrifying volcanic Mount Doom.”
Many websites (including, of course, TOR.n!) reported on these rumors, but there has been nothing to substantiate them. Some rumored concepts that have been floating around for the past few years included areas themed around Hobbiton and Rivendell, Middle-earth shops and dining, a boat ride, a ‘Fall of Gandalf’ flying ride (similar to the ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride at Universal Studios), ‘Escape from Moria’, and a Mordor/Eye of Sauron dark ride.
Cut to 2019: Universal Studios Florida announces that they are creating a 4th theme park (along with Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay) called Epic Universe. Universal has not officially confirmed the new themed areas of this park yet, but the first phase opening (sometime in 2025) is heavily rumored to include areas tied to Super Nintendo World, How to Train Your Dragon, Universal Monsters, and another Wizarding World area (possibly a Ministry of Magic dark ride).
Along with these potential areas, as well as a hotel, shopping and dining areas, are 2 large plots of land set aside for expansion of the park. One area, which is over 20 acres, is next to the proposed Wizarding World land, and it is thought that Universal is holding onto this area should they acquire another large IP (Intellectual Property), which The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit most definitely are!
The theme park fansite ScreamScape recently reported that their sources indicated the first planned expansion for Epic Universe will be to bring the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the park. Whether that would include The Hobbit and the upcoming Amazon tv show is not known. Since the park isn’t scheduled to open for another 3 years, an expansion is most likely 5-10 years away (at least).
At this time, Universal Studios does not have the rights to any Tolkien property. It is worth noting, however, that although the Tolkien Estate holds the rights to Professor Tolkien’s literary works, the movie, merchandise, and theme park rights belong to Middle-earth Enterprises. So it’s not impossible that Universal could buy the rights to design a land, as they did for the Harry Potter franchise. Again, we want to stress that this is all speculation and rumor – as of this writing there are no official plans for The Wizarding World of Middle-earth!
What do you think about a Middle-earth theme park area: “Yay!” or “No Way!”
According to Variety’s sources, the argument stems from disagreement about whether the studio has met ongoing obligations needed to maintain the long-term license that it has held since the late 1990s.
In a statement to Variety, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said:
New Line Cinema has maintained the theatrical film rights, both live-action and animated, for over two decades now. We are currently in production on our anime film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’ and look forward to bringing audiences back to Middle-earth.
As Variety points out, license deals such as this “often involve producers conducting a certain level of development and production activity by pre-determined dates, among other clauses.”
However, it is the Saul Zaetnz Co. (through its subsidiary, Middle-earth Enterprises) that holds the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit “in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.”
Variety adds that this includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate make movies or other content based on two Tolkien books published after his death: The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
The Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced that it will auction all its Tolkien IP rights. Universal and Warner Bros. are both reported to be interested.
Could the Disney theme parks be the next potential location for a Lord of the Rings-themed attraction? We reported back in January and also in February that tongues were wagging about a possible Middle-earth theme park partnership between Warner Brothers and Universal. There was even documentation that the Saul Zaentz Company had registered “several uses for Middle-earth properties that includes theme parks.” But those rumors seemed to have fizzled.
Now it seems that, “Disney and Warner Brothers have either signed or are very close to singing an agreement that will bring “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movie-inspired areas to the Disney Parks.” WDW News Today is reporting that the partnership has been in the works since late last year and is now practically a fait accompli. The story claims that Disney may incorporate a Middle-earth attraction as part of an overhaul at the California Adventure park in Anaheim, CA. It also suggests that Disney may be looking for Hobbits to give them an edge over Hogwarts in order to compete with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area at Universal Studio’s theme park.
WDW News today says, “As with any rumor, you should take this with a grain of salt until it is actually announced.” Is it likely that Disney would be able to overcome the hurdles that have hung up similar ventures? That they could overcome the long-held anti-Disney prejudice from within the Tolkien Estate itself? TORn staffer Demosthenes points out Tolkien’s Letter #13, where he famously insisted that he would “veto anything from or influenced by the Disney Studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).”
Additionally, should the supposed negotiations be happening on the studio level, making an end-run around the Tolkien Estate, it seems unlikely that Warner Brothers would be keen to work together after Disney stole Oz out from under them when they released Oz the Great and Powerful earlier this year. “The Walt Disney Company did not own rights to the original 1939 The Wizard of Oz movie but moved stealthily to mount an audacious raid on the story and leave a rival studio flat-footed.”
But perhaps TheOneRing.net’s April Fools’ story this year was actually prescient and we will enter an era where Hobbit feet and Mouse ears can coexist in one big glorious theme park universe. Or maybe we’ll all just have to aspire to visit the real Hobbiton for a while longer.
Guillermo del Toro is on record saying he would love to someday make H.P. Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness,” but that no studio was about to give him money for that project. But he happened to be living in New Zealand for a while during James Cameron’s work there on big 3D project “Avatar.” (You might have heard of it.) It is pretty easy to imagine the two of them sitting around with Peter Jackson discussing dream projects and things that are difficult to get studio approval for. Cameron has faced that prospect himself a time or two. Deadline.com is reporting that the pair will now be working together on GDT’s dream project, with Cameron lending his name and clout to the project as a producer. Continue reading “Guillermo and Cameron go ‘Mountain’ climbing?”