The rights to make video games based on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth are going up for sale, Variety has reported.
The Saul Zaentz Company has decided to sell its Tolkien holdings, which are expected to fetch around $2 billion at auction. Founded by the late Saul Zaentz, who passed away in 2017, the company owns the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – Tolkien's most famous books – in film, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.
Zaentz Co. also has 'limited matching rights' should the Tolkien estate decide to turn The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth – two books published after Tolkien's death in 1973 – into media properties.
Amazon, which is highly expected to be one of the bidders for the rights, exploited a loophole to create its forthcoming Ring of Power TV series. Back in 1976, Zaentz didn't secure the rights for a TV "longer than eight episodes", so Amazon was able to deal with the Tolkien estate directly in 2017.
Warner Bros. – which owns New Line Cinema, the studio which brought Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies to the big screen – maintain some film rights; for example, last year it announced it was creating an anime based on Lord of the Rings. However, Variety understands that in the view of Zaentz Co., "substantial live-action film rights reverted back to them last year in part because Warner Bros. had not been actively developing new “LOTR” and related content."
It was this development that apparently triggered Zaentz Co.'s decision to sell up. Variety also hints that the two companies remain at odds over who actually controls the rights to these properties.