Netflix Pitched A Lord Of The Rings Series That Freaked Out The Tolkien Estate

Netflix apparently "freaked out" the Tolkien estate by pitching a Marvel model of connected Lord of the Rings series.

By Michileen Martin | Published

In spite of being offered a mighty sum of $250 million, the Tolkien estate gave a firm “You shall not pass” to Netflix’s Lord of the Rings series pitch, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The outlet’s sources say the estate was “completely freaked out” at the streamer‘s pitch, which “took the Marvel approach” and would’ve included individual solo series for popular Tolkien heroes like Gandalf and Aragorn.

THR doesn’t elaborate on what exactly it was about the notion of a Marvel-like screen narrative that “freaked out” the estate, but it isn’t too difficult to imagine a few reasons. The estate–a legal body made up mostly of the late author’s family–has long been concerned with the integrity of Tolkien’s vision. The narrative needs of not just one series, but a group of connected Netflix Lord of the Rings shows would almost certainly include creating brand new stories unsupported by what Tolkien wrote.

Nor were Netflix the only bidders for a Lord of the Rings series before Amazon finally won out. THR says HBO had their own pitch for a show that would basically adapt the same stories portrayed in the Peter Jackson directed trilogy.

In spite of their financial offer not being quite as large as Netflix’s for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Studios TV co-head Vernon Sanders said it was their “passion and fidelity to Tolkien” that made them the top contenders. Their pitch included not only big dollar signs, but a commitment to give the Tolkien estate a voice in the creative process.

As doomed as the Netflix Lord of the Rings pitch may have been, it isn’t too surprising to hear the streamer was that tone deaf to the kinds of things that would concern the estate. Any entertainment executive is likely to look at the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and squeak out a whine like a hungry puppy. The mythos the author created for Middle-earth is both vast and remains largely untapped.

Even though The Rings of Power turns the clock back quite a ways compared to Jackson’s films, there is so much in Tolkien’s stories that has never been adapted and quite possibly never will be. For example, we have never seen a live-action adaptation of the War of Wrath in which Valar, humans, and Elves joined forces to fight Morgoth. We’ve never seen the creations of the races such as the Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

One of the Netflix Lord of the Rings series was supposedly going to be about Gandalf, and the Wizards of Middle-earth are another area about which there remains a lot of mystery. We know in Tolkien’s mythos there were five Wizards sent to Middle-earth, but we only know the names of three of them: Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast. Then there are two Blue Wizards about which Tolkien only wrote cryptically.

It perhaps worked out best for everyone involved that neither Netflix nor HBO managed to secure the approval for their Lord of the Rings projects. With HBO’s House of the Dragon, Netflix’s The Witcher, and Amazon’s The Rings of Power; all three streamers have popular fantasy series rather than just one of them having all the swords and sorcery to themselves. At the end of next month, Disney+ will have its own contender with the sequel series Willow.