Warner Bros. claimed he still rules Middle-earth when it comes to the film rights to “The Lord of the Rings.”
The studio has publicly declared its control over film adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy amid industry rumors that a handful of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ rights are being bought by the owner of for a long time, the Saul Zaentz Co.
The Zaentz Co. and Warner Bros. are in the midst of a private mediation process to help resolve their differences over whether the studio has fulfilled its obligations to retain the license, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. Warner Bros.’ New Line Cinema took “LOTR” to new heights with the success of its Oscar-winning trilogy directed by Peter Jackson: “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001), “The Two Towers” (2002) and “The Return of the King” (2003).
“New Line Cinema has retained the rights to theatrical films, both live-action and animated, for more than two decades now,” a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said. Variety. “We are currently in production on our animated film ‘The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim’ and can’t wait to bring audiences back to Middle-earth.”
Zaentz Co. representatives have been quietly holding pitch meetings in recent weeks to sell the portfolio of Tolkien rights that producer Saul Zaentz acquired in the late 1960s and 1970s. It’s no secret that Warner Bros. and Zaentz Co. have had acquisition discussions for the past decade, but have never come close to a deal.
Zaentz Co.’s holdings encompass the rights to exploit “LOTR” and “The Hobbit” properties in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks. It also includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate decide to make films or other content based on two compilations of Tolkien’s writings which were published after his death in 1973: “The Silmarillion” and “The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth”.
A representative for Zaentz Co. declined to comment.
Warner Bros. has held a long-term license to “LOTR” and “The Hobbit” since the late 1990s. The studio is said to be adamant that it has continually met its retention requirements by maintaining active development on the property. , exercising options in a timely manner and making periodic payments to Zaentz Co.
As if to back up this point, Warner Bros. earlier this week released key details of his plans for a “Lord of the Rings” animated film from New Line and Warner Bros. Animation whose release is now dated April 12, 2024.
Details of the licensing agreement between Warner Bros. and Zaentz Co. are not known, but these agreements often involve producers conducting some level of development and production activity on predetermined dates, among other terms. On February 15, Warner Bros. has released the first production image for “The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim”.
The project has a strong “LOTR” pedigree with Philippa Boyens, who was part of the Oscar-winning writing team for “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, serving as executive producer. Phoebe Gittins, Boyens’ daughter, and her writing partner Arty Papageorgiou are writing the screenplay based on a screenplay by Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews.
The “LOTR” world will also expand this fall when Amazon unveils its highly anticipated television series, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” This project was born out of an agreement between Tolkien’s estate and Amazon, as the transfer of rights from Zaentz Co. does not include television. New Line is also on board as the series producer.
The film rights to “LOTR” are the crown jewel in Zaentz Co.’s profile and are the main lure for any deal with a rival studio or IP-focused entity. The currently purchased portfolio also includes claims to Zaentz Co.’s large share of the profits from the trilogy which grossed over $1 billion worldwide on initial release.
The success of these films, unsurprisingly, has sparked a wave of rights battles and profit-sharing disputes over the past 20 years in various battles between Zaentz Co., Warner Bros., Tolkien’s estate and Jackson. Warner Bros. is also in business with Zaentz Co. as a distributor of its small but impressive film library, which includes such classics as 1975’s ‘Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, 1984’s ‘Amadeus’ and ‘The English Patient” from 1996.
A source noted that the focus of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Zaentz Co. has changed over the years since longtime chairman Al Bendich, famed civil rights lawyer and associate of producer Saul Zaentz, died in 2015. Zaentz, a rock and jazz music mogul and film producer, died at age 92 in January 2014.
The timing of Zaentz Co.’s sale is hardly a surprise given the heat of the global content market for well-known properties. Titles with built-in global fandoms such as the works of Tolkien are more valuable than ever, which is surely why Zaentz Co. and its banker, ACF Investment Bank, mention the prospect of an opening to secure the film rights “LOTR “.
“Somebody say [Zaentz Co.] that it is a lottery ticket, and it is an effort to bid,” a source familiar with the matter said.
(Pictured: “The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim.”)