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Middle-earth will return to our screens again

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Recently, my colleague Daniel Helen argued that more films set in Middle-earth were highly unlikely. I disagree. And here’s why.

The Lord of the Rings film series has been an astounding commercial success: with $3bn in box-office tickets and a further $3bn in merchandise, when added together with The Hobbit they have netted a combined total over $10bn. That’s $10,000,000,000. To put it into context, that’s roughly equivalent to the GDP of Mongolia. That’s a fairly good return on the $250 million investment on the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Not only are we living at a time when large franchises dominate cinema – typified by the Marvel Cinematic Universe – but we are also at a time when reboots and remakes are abound. Planet of the Apes, Godzilla and Spider-man (twice) have all been rebooted in recent years whilst the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale has proven that a reboot can revitalise a series to critical and commercial acclaim. Warner Bros. – owner of New Line Cinema who holds the production rights to Tolkien’s franchises – has rebooted Superman with Man of Steel and is set to reboot Batman (again) with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Often, people somehow think that The Lord of the Rings is immune to this possibility due to The Return of the King‘s 11 Academy Awards, its high critical acclaim, and financial success. The 1957 film Ben-Hur – at the time of its release the second-highest grossing film of all time after Gone with the Wind – received 12 Oscar nominations, winning 11, and is set to be remade in a film due out next year. Let us not forget that before Jackson there had already been two radio series on the BBC and one in the USA, multiple video games, and an animated film released in 1978. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings was already a remake: if it’s been remade once it can be remade again.

In The Hobbit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay and Twilight: Breaking Dawn the film studio has split up the book into multiple parts in order to extend the franchise. Not only will the success of the Tolkien film franchise mean that movie executives will look to resurrect the franchise, but also look to new intellectual property such as The Appendices or The Silmarillion (once they are become available). Born of Hope and The Hunt for Gollum prove that there is sufficient scope within The Appendices to create other films in their own right.

To a certain extent, The Silmarillion is a red herring in this debate. Regardless of whether Christopher Tolkien (or future literary executors of the Estate) sell the rights, or when the copyright expires at some distant point in the future, The Silmarillion will be made. Tolkien is a proven money-maker and although we might not see it in our lifetime movie execs will not forget the most successful film trilogy of all time – the temptation to delve into The Lord of the Rings‘s prequel’s prequel will be tantalising and irresistible. The Silmarillion could not be made as a single film, of course – that would be as ridiculously unwieldy as making a film of the Bible – but like the Bible individual stories will be dramatised. Obvious candidates for this include the story of Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin, and the Fall of Gondolin. An epic live-action fantasy TV series – in the mould of Game of Thrones or The Chronicles of Narnia series on the BBC in the 1980s – would surely prove to be be an excellent vehicle for chronicling the First Age. The Silmarillion will happen but it’s just a matter of time.

There are also a variety of possibilities of how The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings could be remade. They could be turned into a Pixar-style CGI film aimed at children, they could be turned into a very adult hack’n’slash (by which I mean graphic blood and gore) or even a comedy adventure. Certainly another director would want to emphasise different elements of the stories and – particularly with The Hobbit – feel that there is scope for refashioning the format of the book (e.g. only one film). You only need to look animated films of the late 70s, the Finnish adaptation Hobitit, and the proposed adaptations by The Beatles and John Boorman to realise how many different potential adaptations exist.

When you put aside all emotion about the books and the films you realise that franchises are dominating cinema whilst remakes and reboots are increasingly common. The film industry is fundamentally a money-making business. The Lord of the Rings constitutes the highest-grossing film trilogy ever based on the best-selling and most-loved book of all time. Start counting down the days now as another Middle-earth film is only a matter of time. I can’t wait.

About the Author: Shaun Gunner
Shaun is the current Chair of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2013, Shaun regularly speaks about adaptations of Tolkien's works whilst passionately believing the Society needs to reach out to new audiences. In his spare time can be found in the cinema, playing video games and Lego, or on Twitter.