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As a lifelong Beatles fanatic, I am well aware of their plans to make a Lord of the Rings movie. When they hit the big time, that signed a contract for 3 feature films. The first two were A Hard Day's Night and Help!, after which they got bored with movies and focused on making revolutionary rock and roll. However, they were still contractually obligated to make a third film.

Around 1966-67, they finally started thinking about what this film should be. John Lennon suggested The Lord of the Rings, which he and the other Beatles were fans of. Everyone loved this idea, and they decided which characters each of them should play:

  • John = Gollum
  • Paul = Frodo
  • Ringo = Samwise
  • George = Gandalf

They wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct the movie, but he refused, apparently because the scope of the project intimidated him.

Unfortunately (who knows whether the movie would be any good, but just think of how awesome the soundtrack would be!), the idea was eventually scrapped.

Why? Has the reason ever been revealed?

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  • 45
    Because the Beatles doing LoTR would have ended up being about as close as Space Balls is to Star Wars ...
    – brhans
    Jul 22, 2015 at 14:02
  • @brhans, I dunno... I mean it depends how campy they went with. But everyone mentioned there were very talented people. (But I do agree that it could've been disastrous as well.) Jul 22, 2015 at 19:17
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    @brhans, or as close as Spock + Hobbit. Jul 22, 2015 at 19:54
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    These days, with big, high quality CGI movies, it's hard to remember that before Peter Jackson stories like Lord of the Rings was considered unfilmable. Heck, I personally considered it unfilmable when I first read the book. The best you could come up with was something like Willow or Krull
    – slebetman
    Jul 23, 2015 at 2:19
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    @Praxis: I meant (big (high quality CGI) movies). not (big high quality (CGI) movies). Yeah, the screenplay these days mostly suck but you have to admit that it's no longer as easy as it used to be to see the CGI-ness on screen.
    – slebetman
    Jul 30, 2015 at 3:03

2 Answers 2

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The answer is quite boring: Tolkien didn’t like the idea.

Peter Jackson, who directed a slightly better-known film adaptation, met Paul McCartney at the Academy Awards in 2002, where he learnt about these plans. He gave a comment to a New Zealand paper:

Jackson, whose own version of the first book in the fantasy trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring won four Oscars this week, told the newspaper that the Beatles plan fell flat when author J.R.R. Tolkien rejected the plan. […]

“[The film] was something John was driving and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage but he didn't like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson told the newspaper.

Matthew Schmitz has an article at First Things has written a bit more about the plans, and has a plausible guess for why Tolkien felt animosity towards the Beatles:

In a 1964 letter to Christopher Bretherton, Tolkien complained about “radio, tele, dogs, scooters, buzzbikes, and cars of all sizes but the smallest” making noise “from early morn to about 2 a.m.”

“In addition,” Tolkien wrote, “in a house three doors away dwells a member of a group of young men who are evidently aiming to turn themselves into a Beatle Group. On days when it falls to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.”

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It's unclear whether the Beatles actually tried to acquire the rights, but at the time they announced their plans Tolkien's publisher was already in the middle of negotiating a contract with United Artists, and they would not have been available. Also, Tolkien hated the Beatles, especially John Lennon

Allen and Unwin had already began negotiating with United Artists in 1967.

Already by mid-1967 Allen & Unwin began to negotiate with United Artists, who wished to purchase film rights to both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (though their interest was chiefly in the former work). A deal was struck at last in 1969.
J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide - "Adaptations"

However the Beatles seem to have announced their plans to adapt The Lord of the Rings without ever even entering into a conversation with either JRR Tolkien or his publisher. It's unclear if they ever tried doing so, but by 1968 they still hadn't and at that the point the rights wouldn't have been available any more.

Tolkien heard about their "plans" the same way that the general public did and he was not happy, as he seems to have really hated the Beatles. His secretary Joy Hill, wrote a memo to his publisher about Tolkien's opinion on it.

At the end of 1968 there were reports that the Beatles might be involved with a proposed film of The Lord of the Rings. On 7 January 1969 Joy Hill wrote a memo to Rayner Unwin after a visit to Tolkien: ‘Professor Tolkien is getting more and more furious about this … because it seems that the Beatles are announcing plans in connection with the film. … He is livid that the Beatles have done this and loathes them anyway. … Particularly … he seem to have a thing against John Lennon’ (Tolkien–George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins).
J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide - "Music"

Two weeks later, his publisher, Rayner Unwin wrote back to Tolkien, expressing his own doubts about the news as he seems to not have heard anything about it either.

Rayner Unwin writes to Tolkien. He doubts that the Beatles are really involved with plans for a film of The Lord of the Rings; ‘however this may be, I think it is one of the wearisome things that we shall all of us, doubtless be subjected to as a price of the film contract once it is made! This is part of the show business world. I am perfectly certain that we shall both of us dislike intensely every manifestation of what is done to The Lord of the Rings.’ But he reminds Tolkien of their agreement: that if a film brings cash, they will waive any kudos. He points out that whatever a film is like, ‘the book remains inviolable and that is the main thing. What they do with the property in other media will, I regret to say, be entirely their responsibility from an aesthetic point of view, will only vary in degrees between bad at best and execrable at the worst’ (Tolkien–George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins).
J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide - Chronology "20 January 1969"


I'm unaware of the source, but according to Kristin Thompson, the Beatles did enter negotiations with United Artists, while UA was still in negotiations to acquire the rights but Tolkien threatened to halt the negotiations if the Beatles were going to be involved.

the Beatles conceived a desire to star in an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Their production company, Apple Films, already had a relationship with UA, which had distributed the group’s first two films, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) in the United States. Some negotiations apparently occurred, but Tolkien threatened to withdraw from the ongoing talks with UA, and the Beatles’ hopes were squelched.
A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien - "Film Adaptations: Theatrical and Television Versions"

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  • "but by 1998 they still hadn't " surely 1968? :-) Jul 26, 2021 at 7:53
  • @DavidRoberts - thanks
    – ibid
    Jul 26, 2021 at 23:39
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    It is true that they still hadn't in 1998 too
    – JK.
    Jul 27, 2021 at 1:05

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