Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: One Budget to Rule Them All

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has long been a foundational franchise for the fantasy genre, and ever since Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, which generated nearly $3 billion in revenues, Hollywood studios and streaming services alike have been hunting for IP that can capture the LOTR audience and generate similar numbers. HBO captivated viewers with Game of Thrones, but others haven’t quite hit the mark. Amazon’s exclusive rights to LOTR, however, has the potential to give fans exactly what they’re looking for: new stories from Middle-earth.

The first season of the Prime Video series will cost Amazon about $465 million, with Stuart Nash, New Zealand minister for economic development and tourism, commenting that it will be the “largest television series ever made.” Keep in mind that the rights to LOTR alone cost Amazon an estimated $250 million, but by comparison, Jackson’s entire film trilogy had a budget of $281 million, while each season of Game of Thrones cost HBO about $100 million.

With Amazon’s annual profit soaring during the pandemic, the online juggernaut has more gold at its disposal than Smaug can hoard, but this massive investment isn’t just to make an appealing LOTR television show. It’s an investment into Prime Video (and by association, Prime membership itself) – if Amazon Studios can succeed in creating something truly compelling for LOTR fans and fantasy afficionados overall, it has the potential to greatly expand its streaming audience at a time when competition is fierce and bidding wars for content keep executives at HBO Max, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, and others in an endless Tolkien-worthy battle.

Prime Video’s LOTR show is still in production and is planned to debut later this year. It’s set thousands of years before the events of LOTR, in Middle-earth’s Second Age, which gives the show’s writers fresh material to work with but also makes the content less familiar for average viewers. The good news for Amazon is that Prime Video viewers are huge LOTR fans, with the franchise coming in second only to Harry Potter among fantasy IPs, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure®. Additionally, among LOTR fans in the US, 44% subscribe to Prime Video, which is second only to Netflix at 61% for streaming services.