The Lord of the Rings prequel spin-off series is currently in the works at Amazon Prime Video, and it was revealed last month that the first season would cost an eye-popping $465 million (about Rs. 3,408 crore) to produce. In a new interview, Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke has clarified that The Lord of the Rings’ astronomical budget is due to the “huge world-building” required — from the Middle-earth setting to costumes, props, and so on for the many species of characters involved in LOTR — and that it’s about “really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series.”
Those who have been following Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings from the start will know this fits into the overall plans and estimates that have been known for over three years now. In April 2018, it was reported that Amazon had a five-season commitment on The Lord of the Rings prequel series that would cost it over a billion dollars during that run. That would be in addition to the $250 million (about Rs. 1,832 crores) Amazon paid the Tolkien Estate for merely the rights in November 2017. Since then, Amazon’s LOTR has been the most expensive series of all time.
“This is a full season of a huge world-building show,” Salke told The Hollywood Reporter, when asked about that reported $465 million figure for The Lord of the Rings season 1 — and the viewership Prime Video will need to bring in to justify that expenditure. “The number is a sexy headline or a crazy headline that’s fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series. […] As for how many people need to watch Lord of the Rings? A lot. A giant, global audience needs to show up to it as appointment television, and we are pretty confident that that will happen.”
Apart from the fact that the $464 million will set up the runway that will be used for all future seasons, you have to also consider that The Lord of the Rings season 1 is not like a typical prestige drama. While most big-budget event TV shows such as Game of Thrones, The Mandalorian, The Crown, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier run for between six to 10 episodes a season, The Lord of the Rings season 1 will have 20 episodes. That’s like two Thrones seasons or three seasons of a Marvel series. And when you consider that they cost between $15–25 million (about Rs. 109–183 crores) per episode, LOTR’s budget is a bit more understandable.
But then again, they had stars who were returning in major roles. Game of Thrones cost $15 million per episode in its later years. Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings is costing more than that in its beginning. What will become of it as its stars become household names deep into its run?