The rights holder to several of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works has decided to put them up for auction, as Saul Zaentz Co. announces the sale of movie, merchandising, gaming, and live event rights to titles such as ‘Lord of The Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’ and more.
The combined properties are expected to fetch at least $2 billion based on recent valuations for A-list IP and content producers. Zaentz Co. has hired ACF investment bank to handle the sale, which is now in talks with several Hollywood studios who might be interested in the rights.
The sale comes amid Amazon’s upcoming premiere of the super high-budget LotR saga ‘The Rings of Power’ in September and it’s expected that Amazon Studios will be the most interested party in acquiring the additional rights from Zaentz.
Zaentz Co. holdings currently possess the rights to exploit ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ properties in film, video games, merchandising, live events, and theme parks. It also holds limited rights to two compilations of Tolkien writings that were published after his death: ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth’.
However, Zaenetz’s rights ownership has been the subject of several ongoing legal battles as Warner Bros. also maintains some of the development rights to LotR through its possession of New Line Cinema, which had produced the widely-acclaimed trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. Last year WB also announced plans for an anime theatrical feature produced by New Line and Warner Bros. Animation, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’.
But Zaentz Co. argues that live-action film rights reverted back to them last year, since WB hadn’t been actively developing any new LotR content. That, and the anticipation for Amazon’s upcoming release, were reportedly the prime reasons Zaentz has now decided to auction off the rights it owns.
As for Amazon, they were able to produce ‘The Rings of Power’ series due to a loophole in the Zaentz deal that was struck in 1976, which did not include rights to a TV series that was longer than eight episodes. This allowed Amazon to cut a deal directly with the Tolkien estate in 2017.
Zaentz Co. was founded by Saul Zaentz – an entrepreneur in music and film who died in 2017 and was known for being the longtime leader of Fantasy Records, and producing films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975), ‘Amadeus’ (1984) and ‘The English Patient’ (1996).