Disney Universal

Why Disney and Universal Haven’t Made a Lord of the Rings Theme Park

The Lord of the Rings is perhaps one of the most successful and beloved franchises in the entertainment industry. With J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy generating an enormous fan base since the release of the novels, the author was perhaps not aware of the immense popularity his stories would attain once they were adapted for the silver screen.

Upon being adopted by director Peter Jackson into the Lord of the Rings movies, the franchise took on a life of its own, turning main characters Gandalf, Frodo Baggins, and Aragorn into household names. A few years later, Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy only increased the fandom, bringing it to a newer generation who had not grown up around the books. Even so, for those who haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s movies, Tolkien’s novels were profound and immersive enough to make the reader feel as if they are truly living on Middle Earth.

However, as most other successful and beloved film franchises, like Harry Potter and Star Wars, enjoying immersive theme parks in multiple locations around the world, many Lord of the Rings fans are left to wonder why Disney or Universal Studios haven’t made a Lord of the Rings theme park yet.

History of the Franchise

If there is one thing that can be said about the writing of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, it is that his fantasy world, characters, and stories have stood the test of time. It has been almost 100 years since Tolkien first penned his epic trilogy, which is today considered one of the greatest fantasy works of the modern age.

“The trilogy follows the heroic journey of a simple yet brave Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and the journey of the forgotten king Aragorn to reclaim his rightful place on the throne. The heroic journeys of Tolkien’s characters are both driven and made difficult by the power of the one true ring, forged in the fiery pits of Mordor, which the nephew of Bilbo Baggins, named Frodo, is tasked with returning to Mordor to destroy it once and for all,” said Esti Prager, “The stories of Middle Earth and the fantastical yet relatable characters that live there have gone on to inspire hundreds of people, finding their way onto practically every college student’s shelf and lyrically inspiring the classic rock band Led Zeppelin.

Today, the Lord of the Rings franchise is included in the trinity of ultimate nerd fantasy and fandoms, alongside Harry Potter and Star Wars. However, while the latter two franchises have their theme parks in Disney and Universal Studios, there has never been any word on a Lord of the Rings theme park. So, what’s all this about?

While it may be easy for many Lord of the Rings fans to dream up a shire-based theme park or a real-life Middle Earth, the reasons why this has not yet come about boils down to main factors: money and franchise rights. While Walt Disney and Universal would have to make multiple gambles to acquire the rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise, they know more than anyone how profitable of a theme park it would be.

However, obtaining theme park rights of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchise is not something that Disney and Universal have never thought of before. It has served as the basis of an ongoing battle between them and the Tolkien Estate. Many Lord of the Rings fans may know that Tolkien was highly reluctant to give the rights to his work to any company, especially Disney. Even the Beatles tried to obtain the rights to adapt Middle Earth into a live-action feature film, but the author opposed practically anyone who tried to obtain rights from him.

Recent Efforts

In recent years, and perhaps since Tolkien’s death, the Tolkien estate has become much more willing to discuss the future rights to his work. Universal Studios had been negotiating with the Tolkien estate about the possibility of a Middle-Earth themed park well before J.K Rowling came on to the scene and inspired millions with her fantasy novels. Universal Studios has even aimed to add Lord of the Rings to their Orlando-based resort since the 1990s. However, for at least two decades, the discussion has occurred on and off.

However, more recently, discussions have been reignited between the two parties, especially since Universal’s Epic Universe Theme Park gained immense traction in recent months. While it is still officially unconfirmed, various media groups have speculated that the Epic Universe theme park will soon be welcoming a Lord of the Rings themed land.

Universal does not yet own the theme park rights to The Lord of the Rings. All talks that have taken place between Universal Studios and Middle-Earth Enterprises (the new title for the Tolkien Estate) up until now have been completely under the table, with no official decisions made yet.

Moreover, there have been zero confirmations of reports about Disney’s aim to add The Shire as a themed land to one of their Disney Land parks. What’s more, with the Epic Universe Theme Park due to open as late as 2025, it would make sense for Lord of the Rings themes to be added only until the third gate for the theme park opens. What can be said with surety is that they do not intend for the Lord of the Rings to debut at Epic Universe theme park.

However, reports from the Theme Park University and the Orlando Weekly suggest that Universal is at least considering, if not making moves to, replace Toon Lagoon at the Epic Universe Park with Middle Earth land. In other words, fans could be saying goodbye to Islands of Adventure in the coming years, only to welcome a Middle-Earth-themed land.