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Warner Bros. Urged To Cast Their Lord Of The Rings Movie Rights Into Mount Doom

Amazon Prime Video's "The Rings of Power" has dominated the cinematic Middle-earth conversation (for better or for worse) for the past half-decade. And yet, J.R.R. Tolkien's globally popular fantasy world is far too large even to be contained by the likes of a company as massive as Amazon. Other creative entities are still releasing Middle-earth games, books, and merchandise at a rapid clip. In fact, even when it comes to filmed adaptations, Prime Video doesn't corner the market. Technically, they only have the rights (directly from the Tolkien Estate) to produce a serialized television show in the Second Age using severely limited source material for inspiration.

When it comes to making feature-length movies set in Middle-earth, tracing the rights is a bit more complicated ...so, at the risk of oversimplifying a mind-numbing string of legal events, let's do a quick history lesson, shall we? The "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" rights were sold decades ago by Mr. Tolkien himself (per Tolkien Gateway) for a meager quarter of a million dollars. They were quickly repurchased by independent producer Saul Zaentz, who retained them until 2022, when Embracer Group bought them under the entity of Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE).

Throughout this time, different studios have worked with the rights owners, including Warner Bros., which owns a large chunk of the distribution rights for both movies and merch — at least for the moment. However, a recent exclusive scoop from the fan site Fellowship of Fans claims Warner Bros. has officially been asked to step out of the Middle-earth arena by the end of 2023.

Rumor claims Warner Bros. has been asked to amicably exit Middle-earth

According to the exclusive announcement from Fellowship of Fans, "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" film and merchandise rights owner Middle-earth Enterprises (recently acquired by Embracer Group) has formally asked Warner Bros. to amicably exit the pair of Middle-earth franchises by the end of 2023 with the goal to pave the way for the rights to be sold to a new owner. How's that for a mouthful?

The rumor clarifies that the exit talks have just started, and Warner Bros. has not had a chance to respond yet. It also points out that this doesn't appear to impact Warner Bros.' right to finish its "War of the Rohirrim" Middle-earth anime film (slated to release in 2024). In other words, there's a chance that the studio could still patch things up with MEE and retain the rights moving forward. However, it's plausible that MEE will want to head off in search of bigger fish to fry. There will likely be a line of major studios with deep pockets who will be interested in adapting Tolkien's iconic books. This includes candidates like Disney, Apple, Netflix, and of course, Amazon, which already has the television rights from the Tolkien Estate.

It's a complicated legal web, and the end result (if the rumors are true) could simply be several months of negotiations that end with Warner Bros. still churning out Middle-earth content for the foreseeable future. Then again, this could be a defining moment in the adaptive history of Tolkien's world. It could mark the ushering in of a new regime intent on bringing a fresh wave of Middle-earth movies to the silver screen.

What new Middle-earth content could we see?

Leaving the merch question aside, if Warner Bros. relinquishes its distribution rights by 2024, what new movies could we see from a new studio moving forward? Within the admittedly sticky boundaries of buying, selling, and distributing the movie rights to printed source material (for further reference, see the Hulk's lengthy and complicated rights issues), the news that the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" stories could be back on the market is full of potential.

This starts with the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies themselves. Based on this latest scoop, they could be remade at some point in the next few years. On top of that, "The Rings of Power" series has shown there is a lot of additional content contained within the four books (and especially the appendices of "The Return of the King") that could be spun into new movies. There's the possibility of a "young Aragorn" spin-off film. The War Between the Dwarves and the Orcs (briefly depicted in the "Hobbit" trilogy) is also included in all of its bloody detail. Gollum's origin is an option, too, as is the epic war fought with the Witch-King centuries before "The Lord of the Rings" story.

There's plenty of fodder to work with scattered throughout those hallowed pages of fantasy lore. The unanswered question is, will it be Warner Bros. or another company that will get a chance to helm the Middle-earth film production process moving forward?