'The Lord of the Rings' Gets a New Owner - Theme Park Deals Next?

August 18, 2022, 12:45 PM · Are you one of the many fans who have been wishing for a theme park, land, or even attraction based on J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"? That dream may have become one step closer to becoming reality today. Or, maybe it's a step farther away. As with pretty much everything on this never-ending journey, it's often difficult to tell where things are going.

Here is what we do know. The Saul Zaentz Company, which owns the media rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit through its subsidiary Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly Tolkien Enterprises), has sold Middle-earth Enterprises to video game conglomerate Embracer Group, Embracer announced today.

That gives Embracer the motion picture, stage production, video game, board game, merchandising, and - yes - theme park rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The deal also includes matching rights in any other Middle-earth-related literary works authorized by the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins, including future works.

An immersive land based on The Lord of the Rings long has been a dream for many theme park fans, who have shipped those rights with Universal and Disney in countless online discussions over the years. But Tolkien famously loathed Walt Disney, and the Tolkien family has spurned every offer it has gotten from theme park companies over the years. With the recent passing of the last of Tolkien's children, however, it appears that family at last has stepped away from influence over the media rights for the Middle-earth franchise.

What Embracer will do with those rights is yet to be seen.

"We at the Zaentz Company have had the honor over the past half century of stewarding the Tolkien rights so that Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans worldwide could enjoy award winning epic films, challenging video games, first rate theatre and merchandise of every variety," The Saul Zaentz Company COO Marty Glick said in a statement released by Embracer. "We could not be more thrilled that it is Embracer now taking up the responsibility and we are confident their group will take it to new heights and dimensions while maintaining homage to the spirit of these great literary works."

"I am truly excited to have The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, one of the world’s most epic fantasy franchises join the Embracer family, opening up more transmedia opportunities including synergies across our global group," Embracer Group Founder and Group CEO Lars Wingefors said. "I am thrilled to see what lies in the future for this IP with Freemode and Asmodee as a start within the group. Going forward, we also look forward to collaborating with both existing and new external licensees of our increasingly stronger IP portfolio."

That last sentence sounds to me like an invitation for Universal and Disney to pick up the phone and give Lars a call. I doubt that any other theme park company would be able to match the numbers that Disney and Universal will offer to license the Middle-earth theme for their parks.

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Replies (19)

August 18, 2022 at 1:52 PM

I’ve always felt that Sea World/Busch Gardens could use a marketable IP beyond Sesame Street to take their parks to the next level. However, I haven’t been a fan of their recent cost cutting techniques and stripped down theming for their recent attractions, so I wouldn’t trust them to provide LOTR the service that the franchise deserves.

I’m also concerned that the new Amazon series will not live up to the bar established by the Peter Jackson movies, which are what really put LOTR on the map and made the IP worthy of theme park application.

August 18, 2022 at 2:46 PM

Disregarding the idea of a budget, I think Busch Gardens Williamsburg would be the perfect park for a Lord of the Rings themed land. There is a big plot of land to the left of the park between BGW and a golf course that would be perfect for something like this, and the European theming of the rest of the park already fits with the inspiration for the franchise. However realistically, based on recent rumors it seems that The Lord of the Rings could be one of the first major expansions to Epic Universe in Orlando. While I think Universal would do well with the IP, I think having this in the same park as a Wizarding World land doesn't do well for variety's sake. Whatever happens, I hope it's sooner rather than later, as some of the actors are getting too old to reprise their roles, such as Sir Ian McKellan or John Noble.

August 18, 2022 at 5:42 PM

If Universal acquires the rights, you can count on a immersive well themed land with rides that are fun, interesting and unique. Sea World, would just build a largely unthemed coaster with little land theming. BGW was once a park with varied attractions when AB owned it. Yes, it's beautiful, but now it's become just another 'coaster park'. It's doubtful BGW would do anything more with Lord of the Rings than Six Flags does with their DC franchise.

August 18, 2022 at 6:54 PM

I voted Disney, and knew I would be in the minority. Universal has its hands full with the definitive theme park land with the Wizarding World franchise, and their creative people don’t need to split their resources across two different fantasy franchises.

Having said that, there would be concern Disney would fumble the ball. I can hear all the complaints when they base a lane on the upcoming Amazon series when everyone wants the Lord of the Rings trilogy…

August 18, 2022 at 7:19 PM

Hmm. I suspect the acquisition has much more complexities, and maybe there is something else going on. If the Amazon series takes off, then we may see something happen. I really liked what Peter Jackson did, and maybe he did the best anyone can do, but (and I will be in the vast minority here), the movies had a fundamental misunderstanding of the material and focused on the action. It needed the real ending and the focus on faith and sacrifice, which the films do touch on.

As to theme park rights, I think Universal succeeded so much with Potter due to the limitations they were given. I absolutely would not want Disney to get it. They would have $2000 a night stays at the Prancing Pony with three hour lines for attractions unless you paid in mithril to skip the lines. If the trust does allow theme park rights, I would prefer Universal with limitations. The problem is that it has almost too much potential. The fans would want to explore the Shire, Mirkwood, Mordor, Gondor, Moria, and Rohan. To leave those areas out would be a mistake. To do it right the park would almost need to devote a single park to the entire IP.

I hate to say it, but I will always have the books, and they may be all I ever want. On the other hand, theme parks may introduce new readers to what I believe is the greatest world the literary world has ever gotten. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of interesting things on the horizon.

August 18, 2022 at 7:38 PM

Finally, theme park attractions featuring dragons!

August 18, 2022 at 8:45 PM

^And princesses!

Can't forget the princesses.

August 18, 2022 at 11:09 PM

…one IP away from BLOWING IT WIDE OPEN…

August 18, 2022 at 10:03 PM

Finally! Now we get a long-overdue adaptation of the Scourging of the Shire...as a theme park attraction.

August 18, 2022 at 11:16 PM

I think Middle Earth has the same problem as Star Wars when it comes to theme parks: It's possible to do a singular attraction well, but it will never be feasible to capture the world in a way that will satisfy true fans. This is even more true of a world filled with several races who don't tend to come into contact with each other on a large scale, as there's no hub location in Middle Earth that could be used as a catch-all spot. Plus, the window has pretty much closed on using the Jackson version of the realm (especially if the film actors were to be brought back), so whatever they'd go with would likely be less recognizable to casual visitors, and there are other strong fantasy IPs available that would probably cost less and yield comparable increases in visitation. Personally, I don't see a need for a Lord of the Rings theme park land.

If it were to happen, however, I would trust Universal to develop a compelling attraction far more than I'd trust Disney or any other theme park developer. However, the more outside IP each company goes for, the more it dilutes their brand and product, so I'd hope neither goes after it.

August 19, 2022 at 3:45 AM

Years ago, I can remember rumours that a delegate from LOTR were being taken around Islands of Adventure - Toon Lagoon was said to be on the cards for changing. A few years later, Volcano Bay opened. Any design for a LoTR island would have surely involved Mount Doom (not saying it was going to be LoTR water park, but you could imagine a volcano on the sky line next to Jurassic and across from Hogwarts). Sure there are old LoTR designs in the Universal vault that are ready to used for Epic, if have not already been recycled elsewhere. A coaster through the Mines of Moria (meeting orcs and a Balrog) or a Gondor recreation as the landmark? This has got stage two of Epic Universe written all over it.

August 19, 2022 at 7:10 AM

AJ, I think if they spend the money and had the real estate it is possible. Of course the Shire is the entry area. However, unlike Star Wars or Potter, the other areas are very different. Also, there is low hanging fruit for attractions. Coaster in Moria, river ride for Mirkwood/River Running, Eagle flight for Mordor. To me the challenge is how to transition. To me, if there is enough room, you go through a short walk through area in Shire to Bree by way of a short Old Forest. Bree through walk through to Rivendell. Another short walk through Mirkwood to river ride and turn to Moria. Next to Moria is another short walk through Fangorn to Eagles.

The good think about the IP, is there are tons of references to food and drink. Green Dragon in Shire. Prancing Pony in Bree. Then salads for the healthy people in Rivendell. I do think they must pony up and find a way to get actors from the New Line films. The nice thing is the actors are all very fan friendly and approachable, so if they give them a reasonable fee they would do it.

The other thing with the IP is that you don’t have to have intricate story attractions. You can hint at events without playing the active part in a story. Catching hints of locations and characters would be enough. Put hints of Bombadil in Old Forest by projections.

It is possible, I just think the space to do it right is problematic. The difference with Potter and Tolkien is Potter is an urban take on the fantasy world, and Tolkien is very much wilderness with roots and trees. I just don’t want to have to pay $10,000 for a hotel stay.

August 20, 2022 at 1:17 PM

The Tolkien stories can be split up within its timeline to include multiple Middle Earth locales for multiple theme parks. For example, Universal Orlando Resort can add LOTR (Rivendell/Gondor/Mordor) to UEU, The Hobbit (Hobbiton/Mirkwood/Erebor) to IOA and any other Tolkien expanded universe story locales to USO. It can be done and done well by Universal. And they can spread the wealth between parks like Harry Potter!

August 19, 2022 at 12:38 PM

I think AJ brings up an important point with the cost/benefit of LOTR given the length of time that has passed since Jackson completed The Hobbit trilogy. The Amazon series could reinvigorate the fan base, but could have a completely different design aesthetic than Jackson brought to Middle Earth, which was the IP’s peak popularity.

Trying to adapt the IP to a theme park today seems simple, but as Disney showed with Galaxy’s Edge could prove very challenging. It does seem logical to do an entire LOTR theme park with individual lands themed around different locations in the series, but that could really limit the audience. Even Star Wars, probably the most widely recognized IP in the world, couldn’t justify building a single IP park (unless you consider the Galactic Starcruiser as a Star Wars theme park), so trying to do that with an IP that lack the same wide-ranging appeal and limited current media would be incredibly risky.

August 20, 2022 at 5:42 AM

Not sure if there are any restrictions on the theme park ip as we all know Tolkien hated Disney with a passion. And I hope Disney doesn't get it because we would end up the shopping mall next to Hobbiton and the pink tower of princess Sharon, the good sister of Sauron.
There can be only one and that is Universal, they know how to work well with ip owners, will take from the movies and the books, they work with Warner and Peter Jackson/Weta so the end result will be stunning and the rides will be unique.

August 20, 2022 at 4:49 PM

OT: "And I hope Disney doesn't get it because we would end up the shopping mall ..."

Me: Yeah! We don't need another Diagon Alley!

August 20, 2022 at 11:25 PM

You...you do know that's exactly what it was in the books right? ??

August 21, 2022 at 8:59 AM

@Kevan If it was a mall in the books there would have been an enchanted Aunt Annie's Pretzel kiosk next to Olivander's.

August 24, 2022 at 10:18 PM

Merlin should buy the rights and build an entire park around it. More competition to Disney and Universal.

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