Looks like Middle-earth is big enough for everybody. At least that’s how Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke feels about Warner Bros. making competing projects based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
Salke, who has held the top content job at Amazon since 2018, walked a Monday red carpet for the premiere of Michael B. Jordan’s “Creed III” where she spoke with Variety about last week’s news that Warner Bros. had secured film rights to some of Tolkien’s books.
One of Salke’s defining moves at Amazon was to secure television rights to the same literary works, which she achieved at great expense. The first season of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” premiered in 2022 with a big global marketing push and critical acclaim — as well as a reported budget north of $450 million for the first batch of episodes. Previously, Warner Bros. pushed out two massively successful film franchises with auteur Peter Jackson beginning in 2001. Those films grossed over $5 billion at the worldwide box office and brought home a best picture Oscar for one of the entries.
“We’ll see,” Salke told Variety when asked how much “LOTR” would be too much for the market. “We love our original series. We’re extremely proud of it, and invested long term. So, we definitely think there’s enough fan love to sustain ours for a long time.”
The executive pedigree behind these projects is also noteworthy. Last March, Amazon acquired MGM in a deal valued at $8.5 billion. MGM’s film operation was headed at the time by veteran producers Mike De Luca and Pamela Abdy. Both executives left MGM shortly after the transaction closed to take a job running Warner Bros. Pictures. The “LOTR” news, announced by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav on the company’s quarterly earnings call last week, will be De Luca and Abdy’s first major franchise effort at their new studio home. On the call, Zaslav directly mentioned Amazon CEO Andy Jassy was “pushing” on the intellectual property “with a lot of success.” Salke, by the way, absorbed control of MGM’s film, TV, distribution and marketing operations last November.
“For all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien remains largely unexplored,” De Luca and Abdy said upon announcing the new WB films.
Season 2 of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” does not yet have a release date, though reports have suggested it will debut sometime in 2023.