The company that owns the rights to JRR Tolkien’s works, including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, has been bought by the Swedish gaming firm Embracer Group, which has hinted it could make spin-off films based on popular characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn and Gollum.
Embracer has acquired Middle-earth Enterprises, the holding company that controls the intellectual property rights to films, video games, board games, merchandise, theme parks and stage productions relating to Tolkien’s two most famous literary franchises.
The deal also includes “matching rights” in other Middle-earth-related literary works authorised by the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins – primarily The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth – which were published after Tolkien’s death in 1973.
When the business was put up for sale by the Saul Zaentz Company, which acquired its rights from the heirs and estate of Tolkien and HarperCollins in 1976, it was expected that Amazon would buy it to build its own Middle-earth empire.
In 2017, Amazon paid $250m (£208m) for the rights to make a big budget prequel to Lord of the Rings, called Rings of Power, which is to have a global release on its Prime Video service on 2 September.
Amazon negotiated directly with Tolkien’s estate to make the series, as the original rights deal struck by Saul Zaentz in 1976 did not include control of making a TV series of more than eight episodes.
Embracer, which already holds the licence to publish board games and card games based on LOTR and The Hobbit after its acquisition of Asmodee Group earlier this year, says it is to open up more “transmedia opportunities” for the assets.
Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests in future works including Rings of Power; the Warner Bros animated film The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim to be released in 2024; and Electronic Arts’ mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth.
A spokesperson for Embracer said: “Other opportunities include exploring additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from the literary works of JRR Tolkien, and continuing to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences.”
Embracer is primarily involved in making PC and console games. In May the company acquired the studio behind the Tomb Raider franchise and it has also been expanding its intellectual property portfolio into other media.