Back in 2017, the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien, along with executives from Warner Bros., was shopping the television rights to “The Lord of the Rings.” Netflix saw a ready-made franchise. HBO was hoping to get another “Game of Thrones.” But in the end, with the backing of Jeff Bezos, Amazon won out, paying nearly $250 million for the rights. Lord Of The Rings Cost
Over the next five years, Amazon would mount “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” an eight-episode season premiering September 2. It is the most expensive season of television ever made.
Between its first-season budget and the rights agreement, the Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power costs roughly $715 million, or about 5,143,885 annual Prime subscriptions—0.15% of Amazon’s 2021 revenues and approximately one-fifth what New Zealand, where the series was filmed, allocated for its defense budget this year.
For Amazon, it’s a chance to give its Prime Video service what “Transparent,” which premiered in 2014, and even more recent hits like “The Terminal List” cannot provide: a franchise that spawns spinoffs, merchandise and cultural conversation the way “Game of Thrones” did. But “The Rings of Power” is a costly gamble, coming just two weeks after a new “Game of Thrones” show premiered to impressive numbers on HBO, and it’s unclear whether appetite for Middle-earth stories can expand beyond the die-hard fans.
Descriptions of “The Rings of Power” were redacted from a 42-page tax-break memorandum of understanding signed between Amazon and New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. What is known: “The Rings of Power” takes place thousands of years before the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, drawing inspiration from events described in cursory detail in the novels.
The cast includes new and established characters, played by actors that decamped to New Zealand for more than a year of filming, contending with quarantine orders as Covid-19 spread. The new series returns to some of the vistas and locations seen in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. Lord Of The Rings Cost according to the team.
For Tolkien fans—like Mr. Bezos, 58, who once led a summer camp for younger neighbors with a reading list that included “Lord of the Rings”—the adaptation is a seismic event. While Harry Potterheads over the past decade got “Fantastic Beasts” movies and even a Broadway show, and Star Wars’ world expanded into new movies and “The Mandalorian,” “Lord of the Rings” fans had to make due with films that were released between 2001 and 2003, and the “Hobbit” prequel trilogy whose last release was in 2014.
Here are some things author and Super fan Kellie Rice revealed to WSJ. Magazine…
Author and Tolkien super-fan Kellie Rice on her initial reaction to Amazon’s deal:
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“A lot of us do look at the Amazons of the world as the Rockefellers, as the robber barons, who are taking and not giving back,” said Ms. Rice, a 38-year-old in Santa Cruz, Calif. It can feel to her like a modern-day Sauron, the power-hungry villain of the books vying for absolute domination. “There is a parallel to be drawn.”
Though she was skeptical at first of the early footage—which initially struck her as sanitized and emotionless—she’s grown more optimistic since hearing the series showrunners, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, speak of their devotion to Tolkien.
“Myths are retold every generation,” she said.
On the rights:
Film rights to the series took a circuitous route after Tolkien sold them in 1969 for 100,000 British pounds (the equivalent of around $1.3 million today) he needed to help settle a tax bill. Mr. Jackson’s trilogy ended in 2003 as a Warner Bros. release and one of the signature critical and commercial achievements of modern Hollywood.
Collectively, the movies grossed nearly $3 billion at the global box office. The final installment, “The Return of the King,” won a record-tying 11 Academy Awards, including best picture.
It was not always happy behind the scenes. In 2012, the estate sued the trilogy’s studio, Warner Bros., over the use of “Rings” characters in online games and slot machines—a merchandising decision that sullied the books by associating them with the “morally questionable (and decidedly non-literary) world of online and casino gambling,” the lawsuit alleged.
Five years later, the two sides reached an agreement with an unexpected proviso: The estate would unlock television rights to the books, and the two parties would shop them together. Warner Bros. would get a payday, and the Tolkien estate would see the property’s popularity extend for another generation.
The market was perfectly primed for what they were offering. Amazon’s Prime Video team wanted a breakout show that would pull in subscribers to its Prime membership service, then hovering around 90 million users.
On the competition:
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But it would have to fight off other suitors. Netflix Inc. executive Ted Sarandos wanted a chance at the rights. He outlined a plan that included one show and several spinoffs, before sending the Tolkien heirs and studio executives off with goodie bags and free Roku devices, said people involved in the talks. HBO’s team went after it, too, seeing in “Lord of the Rings” a chance to apply lessons learned from building “Game of Thrones”—whose own spinoff series premiered Aug. 21.
The sellers had expected to receive between $50 million and $75 million for the rights, said one person involved in the talks.
The nearly $250 million offered by Amazon—split roughly 50/50 between the Tolkien estate and Warner Bros.—came after the company pledged several seasons of the show and highlighted its ability to cross-promote the author’s books on its website. (In 1999, Amazon customers named “Lord of the Rings” the best book of the millennium.)
The author’s heirs have used proceeds from his work to donate sizable sums to charity over the past several decades, with focuses including environmental causes and disaster relief.
On Jeff Bezos’s involvement:
To win the “Rings” rights, Mr. Bezos worked with Amazon executives on the pitch—an unusual degree of involvement from the company’s then-CEO, according to former colleagues of Mr. Bezos. With several seasons planned, Amazon’s total spending on “The Rings of Power” is expected to exceed $1 billion.
“We all told ourselves at the time that we couldn’t imagine people spending this money,” said one of the executives involved in the sale. “It was a special moment in time.”
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Photos: MATT GRACE/PRIME VIDEO/COURTESY OF WSJ. MAGAZINE
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