Court Ruling Clears Way for Next Battle Over 'Lord of the Rings' Theme Park Rights

October 29, 2015, 5:19 PM · The road toward bringing "The Lord of the Rings" has taken longer to travel that the original journey from The Shire To Mordor. But that journey might not yet have come to the dead end that many fans feared had been reached.

The theme park rights to "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" have been tied up in a larger legal battle between the heirs of author J.R.R. Tolkien and Warner Bros., the studio that made the recent films. The Tolkien family has taken a narrow view of the rights it assigned to Warner Bros. — claiming they were for the movies and "tangible" merchandise derivatives. The studio claims that it has the rights to license a much wider range of branded products, which would include online video games and, potentially, theme park attractions.

The heirs sued; Warner Bros. countered with a breach-of-contract claim, and then the estate tried to get the Warner Bros. action thrown out of court. This week, a federal appeals judge ruled that Warner Bros.' action could move forward, taking the whole process closer to trial... or a negotiated settlement.

The Middle Earth franchises have grossed more than five billion dollars in worldwide box office, making them one of the world's most valuable entertainment franchises. Universal long has been tipped to be after the theme park rights, following its very successful development of multiple theme park lands devoted to Warner Bros.' Harry Potter franchise.

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Replies (36)

October 29, 2015 at 6:26 PM · Can't wait for Disney to buy the rights and sit on them for 10 or 12 years.
October 29, 2015 at 7:02 PM · I don't see why anyone would want these rights. No one really cares about Lord of the Rings anymore. Although it was popular about a decade ago, the Hobbit failed to revive the franchise's popularity. So yeah, I don't think anyone would really care if they built a Lord of the Rings land or something along those line.
October 29, 2015 at 7:28 PM · Maybe not to you Juan, but a lot of people are still fanatical about Lord of the Rings.
October 29, 2015 at 7:37 PM · If WarnerBros get the rights then they should re-start their own themepark business. With Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, DC Comics, Loonely Tunes...etc, they have great properties that will be very popular the world over.
October 29, 2015 at 7:46 PM · Sign me up. I'd love to see a faithful recreation of the world.
October 29, 2015 at 8:32 PM · Worldwide Box Office:
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings - $887,217,688
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - $934,703,179
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - $1,141,408,667
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - $1,017,003,568
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - $960,366,855
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - $955,119,788

Please explain the statement, "...the Hobbit failed to revive the franchise's popularity." Where was the failure, and when did it need reviving?

October 29, 2015 at 8:35 PM · The trilogy grossed nearly 1 billion dollars per film, hardly a failure. As much as I would love Universal to build a hobbit theme park land, I do think it would be awkward to have it share a park with Harry Potter. Too much wizardry for one park imo.
October 29, 2015 at 8:36 PM · I would LOVE to see a well done Middle Earth themed land. The possibilities are endless as to what they could do with it. I think it's still a little ways off before anybody's going to be bidding on theme park rights, but this is a good start.
October 29, 2015 at 8:56 PM · I feel like there is so much potential for a Lord of the Rings land or park, though I expect it would be a while before we saw it.
October 29, 2015 at 9:07 PM · An IP with instant immersion qualities-Middle Earth is VERY relevant to any theme park worthy of gaining its rights.
October 29, 2015 at 9:30 PM · While Lord of the Rings would not likely draw Harry Potter-level crowds, it would definitely be a very popular addition to a theme park. However, I just can't think of a good place to put it. J.R.R. Tolkien reportedly despised Disney so I think it is unlikely they'd buy the rights (not that I think they'd even be interested) and Universal has enough other franchises that Lord of the Rings is probably an extraneous franchise for them. Merlin would be a good option as they are a British company and aren't saturated with IP, but I don't know that they've got the money to buy the rights and develop a land that does the property justice. A lot still needs to happen before the rights go up for sale, but if they do it will be really interesting to see what happens.
October 29, 2015 at 10:10 PM · I'd love it if Universal did this justice, but surely their funds earmarked for rights acquisition are running low; I can't imagine Nintendo came cheap? So, is Paramount pursuing LOTR a possibility? If you look at their London plans, I think they're really planning on doing the theme park thing right this time around, it would be right at home as a British IP, and they've already proven themselves interested in acquiring such appealing, British IPs with their BBC deal. Just a thought.
October 30, 2015 at 1:16 AM · I would love for someone to build "Middle Earth". I really loved the look of those movies especially where the Elves lived. I would think the environments could be enjoyed by anyone even someone who didn't like the movies. The LOTR fan base is pretty intense and encompasses a large range of ages because those books have been around since 1937.
October 30, 2015 at 2:24 AM · Merlin? They're nothing more than a 6 flags type operation.

For us consumers it would be bad news if Disney bought it - as it would be built when we're long gone. We can only hope Universal make a go for it.

Lastly, this is a huge opportunity - it's not just the movies, but the books are everlasting and some of the most popular literature ever written.

October 30, 2015 at 3:27 AM · Islands of Adventure needs this! You could build an entire middle earth actually.
October 30, 2015 at 4:41 AM · I sure hope Universal gets the theme park rights. Then they can finally build an attraction that features a dragon.

Next they can add a ride with a T-Rex.

October 30, 2015 at 5:38 AM · Jaiden,

First off, nice profile pic.:) Second I agree with you. IOA would be the perfect park to put in LOTR if Universal gets the rights. In fact, I hope Universal does get the rights. Even though I'm more of a Disney fan, I think selling out Tolkien's creation and legacy to a company that he personally despised would be a bad way to honor his memory.

And TH,

Maybe Universal can combine LOTR with Jurassic Park! That way we can get a ride with a dragon AND a T-Rex!!!

October 30, 2015 at 7:39 AM · Lloyd Christmas - "So you're telling me there's a chance... YEAH!"
October 30, 2015 at 9:34 AM · Hate to pop your bubble on that dragon/T-Rex thing about Universal TH, but Universal only has a slight lead over Disney in that category in Central Florida.

Universal's dragons and dinosaurs themed stuff:
-Jurassic Park
Children's Play Areas
-Camp Jurassic
-Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
-A Day in the Park with Barney
-Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
-Jurassic Park River Adventure
-Dragon Challenge
-Raptor Encounter
-Jurassic Park Discovery Center
-Pteranodon Flyers
-Skull Island (upcoming)
-Pizzaria Predatoria
-Burger Digs

Disney's dragons and dinosaurs themed stuff:
-Dinoland USA
-Pandora (upcoming)
Children's Play Areas
-The Boneyard
-Ellen's Energy Adventure
-Primeval Whirl
-Triceratop Spin
-Flight of Passage (upcoming)
-Nine Dragons Restaurant

The validity in your perception stems from the fact that the Magic Kingdom has exactly zero attractions themed to dragons or dinosaurs, and since most of us think of the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland when we think of Disney parks, it's easy to see where things go astray.

But enough digression! I want the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit in a Universal park because they'll get it done quickly even if it means that we get an attraction featuring Smaug, and it makes TH Creative look more right than he really is!

October 30, 2015 at 10:20 AM · But the Magic Kingdom does have that fabulous fire spouting dragon in their afternoon parade. And, it's pretty impressive, though a notch below the excitement of Gringott's Dragon.
October 30, 2015 at 1:11 PM · Before even clicking on the comments section, I had a pretty good idea what I would see -

1) Someone questioning why should a LOR land or area be built in a theme park (good question).


2) Listing of box office numbers for LOR movies.

Yes, the films were a big box office draw (a decade ago) along with the diminishing returns of the Hobbit. Looking at the top box office films of all time, this is the one "franchise" that hasn't been developed in a park form or any other merchandise form since its inception (probably due in part because of the rights issues). The other big draw being "Titanic", but if you want to see commercialization of it, just visit Branson, Missouri.

Should there be themepark related lands-rides based on Lord of the Rings? My question would be is there really a demand for it? Is the fanbase that has read the books and watched the movies really interested in visiting a themepark, much less have an inclination to go to one even if a LOR area did exist? I would assume if they weren't interested in visiting one before, they would be if a land is built, but how many people are we really talking about here? Enough to warrant the building of a hundred million dollar land? Probably not.

Like Avatar, I don't think LOR has a "sticky-ness" to it with the general public. What I mean is something along the following - for 100 random people on the street, could they name three characters from Avatar or LOR. For LOR, they could probably name at least two (Gandalf, Frodo-Bilbo, and/or Gollum). I bet you could find very few that could for Avatar. Sure, you can quote box office receipts and dvd sales as being high, but if the overall characters, places, concepts, and names don't stick with the public, why would they be interested in visiting a "land" based on them.

Franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel, and the various Disney princess films have this stickyness to them. Ask a person on the street to name three characters from any of them. The percentage would definitely be higher than asking about LOR or Avatar.

Yes, there will be an increase in guests when the Avatar land is built. Yes, the statistics will show that Disney's Animal Kingdom is drawing more guests than it was prior to the land being built. But are any of these people basing their visit solely on the Avatar film? Did they not have an interest in visiting Disney prior to the land being built, but this persuaded them to book a flight to Florida? I highly doubt it.

Yeah, I got off track with Avatar, but to me it has the same feeling as LOR. I don't see it as a big tourist draw for the general public.

October 30, 2015 at 3:02 PM · "Diminishing returns"... As if "only" making $955M is a disappointment. Some folks are tough to please.

As for the "stickyness" of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, they have been captivating people for upwards of 80 years (the Hobbit was first published in the late '30s). How much more sticky can an IP get?

October 30, 2015 at 3:28 PM · Avatar is not yet open. This speculation is weird. You doubt something without knowing anything. People base vacations for any number of reasons. I suppose the idea is Animal Kingdom will get more clicks at the gate. That marginal difference is huge in terms of revenue and profits. Many people only give an after thought to the minor parks. This will change with Avatar.
October 30, 2015 at 5:20 PM · My feeling is that currently there isn't enough technology to build a decent LOTR there park.
October 30, 2015 at 7:35 PM · It's not the technology. It's the scale. LOTR must be grand and should cover at least 4 realms. Shire, Rivendell, Moria, and Mordor. No small project here. A bit of wizards, dwarves, elves, and orcs. Like Harry Potter, Medieval Times, and Hell put together.
October 30, 2015 at 9:06 PM ·

You don't even need smaug (although it's silly to imply that Universal has too many dragons or Dinosaurs). Have an attraction where you encounter Azog, gollum, and the Necromancer that would be one heck of a ride!

October 31, 2015 at 11:00 AM · Wet and wild becomes the LOTR park.
October 31, 2015 at 11:00 AM · Wet and wild becomes the LOTR park.
October 31, 2015 at 5:29 PM · I could see LOTR come to a theme park near you, but which one?

My bet is Universal. I think Disney is content with their Star Wars since they can control the whole thing!

October 31, 2015 at 6:18 PM · Wet & Wild site, too small. Plus Universal has other designs for that plot.
November 2, 2015 at 8:28 AM · New Zealand tourism is doing well due to the Middle Earth movies. People will travel to visit that world. They will even travel is more when they can eat and drink at the Prancing Pony and The Green Dragon Inn. There is an endless amount of food and drinks that can be lifted from the movies and books. The amount of adventures there are endless.
As far as I know Universal has an excellent working relationship with both Warner and Peter Jackson. Warner know Comcast will deliver and go the extra miles to make the experience at authentic as possible.
The books and mythology are there for 80 years and the books have sold about 150 million. Can't wait to see IOA's newspaper comic strips getting a mayor makeover in the future.
November 1, 2015 at 7:20 PM · There's a huge fan base of the books and movies, it's been around for so many years and people still love it, it may not draw as much crowds as potter but it will draw a lot, and I believe there will be a lot of people booking flights just for a chance to be in middle earth , I personally want them to replace lost continent with something of Lord of the rings , than have it connect to universal like potter does.
November 1, 2015 at 7:26 PM · This would be right up there with Avatar. Movies I have no interest in but would make an incredible theme park land. Forget about whether you like the IP. A good ride is a good ride regardless of the source material. This would do very well and make someone a ton of cash
November 2, 2015 at 3:11 AM · Sounds great to me! I'd be more interested in LOTR than Star Wars.
November 2, 2015 at 3:25 AM · I like this idea. I'd rather have a LOTR themed area or park than Star Wars IMO.
November 3, 2015 at 5:14 AM · People forget that though the Hobbit movies weren't as popular critically as the Lord of the Rings movies, they each made a billion dollars.

That's a 3 billion dollar franchise. People still like this series.

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