Embracer Group AB, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Freemode, has entered into an agreement to acquire Middle-earth Enterprises, a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, which owns a vast intellectual property catalog and worldwide rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Included in the sale are the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings motion pictures, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks, and stage productions, as well as matching rights in other Middle-earth-related literary works authorized by the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins, which have yet to be explored.
“I am truly excited to have The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, one of the world’s most epic fantasy franchises, join the Embracer family, opening up more transmedia opportunities, including synergies across our global group,” said Lars Wingefors, Founder and Group CEO Embracer Group.
“I am thrilled to see what lies in the future for this IP with Freemode and Asmodee as a start within the group. Going forward, we also look forward to collaborating with both existing and new external licensees of our increasingly stronger IP portfolio.”
“We at the Zaentz Company have had the honor over the past half-century of stewarding the Tolkien rights so that Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans worldwide could enjoy award-winning epic films, challenging video games, first-rate theatre, and merchandise of every variety,” said Marty Glick, COO of The Saul Zaentz Company.
“We could not be more thrilled that it is Embracer now taking up the responsibility, and we are confident their group will take it to new heights and dimensions while maintaining homage to the spirit of these great literary works.”
The Saul Zaentz Company, based in Berkeley, California, was founded in 1976. It was originally set up as a film production company, which produced award-winning films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Saul Zaentz Company acquired its rights from the heirs and estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and HarperCollins Publishers, who maintain the print publication rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary works.
The Saul Zaentz Company first acquired the rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in 1976 in an arrangement with United Artists to produce an animated version of The Lord of the Rings, to be directed by Ralph Bakshi. The film was released in 1978 and has become a cult classic.
In 1998, The Saul Zaentz Company licensed New Line Cinema to enable director Peter Jackson’s live-action trilogies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The movies have grossed over USD 6 billion at the box office and won many Academy Awards.
Through its Middle-earth Enterprises division, The Saul Zaentz Company, inspired by a deep appreciation for the fictional world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, also has produced and licensed a wide variety of successful video games, board games, stage productions, and merchandise based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for more than 45 years.
Embracer’s operative group Asmodee Group is already one of the most successful licensees of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit through board games and card games, having published over a dozen games with over 100 expansions since the release of The Lord of the Rings board game over 20 years ago, including classics such as The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, a fully-cooperative, app-supported board game set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic land of Middle-earth.
Key upcoming works set in Middle-earth, in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests, include the much-heralded Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which will premiere this September and is set thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; the animated movie The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros), set for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic Arts).
Embracer says that 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 J.R.R. Tolkien and continue to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences.
The company adds: “The acquisition of the rights is in line with Embracer’s IP-driven transmedia strategy. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are among the world’s largest, most enduring iconic entertainment franchises and birthed the fantasy genre.”
Middle-earth Enterprises will be a part of the newly-founded operative group Embracer Freemode. The company will continue to operate independently under the existing Middle-earth Enterprises leadership team.
That team will work closely with Embracer Freemode management and other Embracer operative groups to foster opportunities, growth, and synergies within the Group to continue to build and expand the great franchise.
Mirko Parlevliet has been reporting on the entertainment industry since 1998 and founded Vital Thrills in 2018 to cover the latest streaming, movie, TV, and video game news. Mirko previously created the websites ComingSoon, Spider-Man Hype!, SuperHeroHype, and ShockTillYouDrop.