Warner Bros. vs. Amazon – The Battle for Lord of the Rings

Despite the best efforts of both Warner Bros. and Amazon, the Tolkien fanbase is still strong, the books fueling a passion unrivaled by any other franchise. While the fans of the books and the world have been consistently strong, the quality of the live-action interpretations of this literary universe have been subpar, to say the least, for over a decade. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered one of the greatest cinematic events in history, its quality unquestionable. However, the subsequent Hobbit trilogy received a generally unfavorable reception, and Amazon’s adaptation in name only, The Rings of Power, was summarily eviscerated by viewers. Ignoring this poor track record, last week, Warner Bros. announced that they would be producing additional LOTR films after striking a new deal with the Embracer Group, which recently obtained the rights to Tolkien’s universe. These films come in addition to WB’s previously announced anime, The War of the Rohirrim. After so many failures, most LOTR fans have reacted to this news with every emotion ranging from skepticism to abject fear. What further damage can be done?

The romantics in the fanbase have speculated this sudden announcement might be in response to Amazon’s abomination, The Rings of Power. They hope that WB’s motivation to make these films was merely to show Amazon how it is done, outing them as the hacks they are. However, it is far more likely that this decision was a purely financial one. WB is currently in an incredibly precarious situation, with the studio admitting $2.1 billion in losses for Q4 of 2022. Their money situation is so dire that they were financially unable to release already completed DC films, forcing them to delay their release. In tandem with the announcement of more LOTR came the announcement of more Harry Potter films as well. The most logical explanation for this sudden dusting off of the Tolkien IP at WB is that they need their heavy hitters back at the plate to save them from bankruptcy.

Due to the less-than-stellar track record of live-action Tolkien adaptations in recent decades, the fanbase quickly evaluated the situation and determined a simple requirement that would make or break even the barest burgeoning of hope: the return of Peter Jackson and his writing team. In an exclusive with Deadline, Peter Jackson confirmed:

Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way. We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.

While this is far from a confirmation, the potential for the smallest hope still exists. Jackson and his writing team may return, and there is an incredibly slim possibility that these new films will have a semblance of quality. Regardless, it is doubtless that they will be of a better quality than Amazon’s abomination, The Rings of Power. Whether or not WB’s motivation was to directly compete with Amazon, they are stepping all over the toes of Amazon and Jennifer Salke. Amazon’s deal for their limited rights will be unaffected by this announcement, as that deal for 50 hours of content was made prior and covers different source material than that to which WB has access. In response to this news, Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, attempted to assuage obvious concerns about the viability of her poorly received series:

We’ll see. We love our original series. We’re extremely proud of it, and invested long term. So, we definitely think there’s enough fan love to sustain ours for a long time.”

Despite the horrendous reception to her series, Salke is putting on a brave face and maintaining her lack of fear. It’s almost a guarantee that the WB films will be superior to Amazon’s series, so this may not be a case of needing WB to win but just one of Amazon losing. That could be nothing but a boon for the audience. Only time will tell if Warner Bros. will sort out their priorities and give the audience accurate and well-made adaptations of Tolkien’s legendarium, but, at this point, hope is not yet justifiable.

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