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We Could Be Getting Middle-Earth Projects Beyond Warner Bros. And Amazon Studios

Last year the rights to "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" changed hands for the first time in decades, when they were acquired by Embracer Group. This led to a shake-up in who would be permitted to create and distribute full-length feature films set in Middle-earth, moving forward. 

Just to keep everyone on the same page: Amazon Studio's "The Rings of Power" is based on the television rights, which the studio purchased separately and directly from the Tolkien Estate. 

Earlier this year, there was a bit of drama surrounding whether Warner Bros would remain the primary studio creating Middle-earth content or not. It wasn't long, though, before news came down that the studio would indeed retain its prominent role in Tolkienian on-screen content creation through the rights it was leasing from Embracer. But — and this is a big "but" — WB was not necessarily in sole possession of those rights. At the time of these announcements, the fan site Fellowship of Fans clarified that the rights weren't exclusive to Warner Bros. And now, the same source has broken the news that there is potential for that company to have to make room for other studios to partake in a growing cinematic Middle-earth salad.

According to the scoop, Embracer Group has trademarked "The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth" for, among other things — quoting directly from the trademark text — "Entertainment services, namely, the provision of a website featuring non-downloadable continuing movies featuring fantasy stories and fantasy characters delivered by viewing on a big screen, television, satellite, portable electronic devices, or the Internet." To put it another way, we could be getting streamable Middle-earth content, which Fellowship of Fans also claimed to confirm as being "in the same continuity/ related to the recent Magic: The Gathering card games."

A quick primer on Middle-earth's cinematic history

The cinematic universe of Tolkien's Middle-earth world has been on a low simmer since its inception. Way back in the late 70s and early 80s, there was an initial flurry of films, including the animated "The Hobbit" and Ralph Bakshi and Rankin and Bass's two-part recounting of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. After that initial splurge, on-screen adaptations of Tolkien's material lay dormant for years. It wasn't until two decades later that Peter Jackson and company blew up the film industry with their landmark live-action "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. After that, there was another decade breather before a trifecta of "Hobbit" films came out to more muted acclaim.

After that, there was yet another lull, until Amazon Studios once again stirred the pot by acquiring the rights to a television series set in the Second Age of Middle-earth. A few years later, Warner Bros. announced an anime called "The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim," slated for a 2024 release and based on a critical battle in Rohan's history. As already mentioned, early in 2023, things got dicey with Warner Bros's right to make Middle-earth movies when rumors swirled that they might be amicably exiting the franchise. Shortly afterward, the situation was put to bed when WB announced a continuing role in making and distributing movies.

Now, this most recent news shows that Embracer could be looking for opportunities to expand the Tolkien universe. However, it's worth pointing out that, cinematically speaking, this would most likely happen on the streaming screen at this point. Fellowship of Fans clarified that while not exclusively in control of all Middle-earth movie content, WB still has the sole rights to the theatrical movie side of things.

What Kind of New Middle-earth Content Could We Get?

When WB announced that it had re-upped with Embracer Group to make more "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" related content, it spawned a flurry of speculation about what kind of Tolkienian movies we could see next. Speculation ranged anywhere from a Young Aragorn flick to the histories of Gondor, Rohan, and the Dwarves. All of these were couched in the context of tentpole films with theatrical releases.

Now, it looks like we could get streaming movies, which opens the door to more creative liberties. The streaming world is the home of countless spin-offs, prequels, and other creative additions to pre-existing IPs. Amazon Studios has also blazed the trail with its prolific creation of new characters and storylines to fill up its Second Age series (an admitted necessity based on the paucity of the source material). Will this new push toward streaming rights through the creative lens of yet another Tolkien adaptation (that being the Magic the Gathering iteration) make room for even more completely new material? For better or for worse, it seems much more likely now than ever before.

And that doesn't even touch on the fact that the trademark also makes mention of a variety of other entertainment elements, from theme parks and virtual reality games all the way to live musicals. While this is likely legal safeguarding to keep all potential avenues open in the future, the fact still stands that those elements are mentioned. It's also worth pointing out that while WB and Amazon Studios don't have exclusive rights, that doesn't mean they're excluded from this new creative opportunity. They could be called on to contribute, as well. 

However things ultimately shake out, it seems like the doors are wide open for Middle-earth adaptations moving forward.