Lord of the Rings TV show: when is it coming to Amazon Prime?

(Image credit: Future)

If you haven't heard already – yes, there's a Lord of the Rings TV show in the works. 

Retailer, streaming service, and production studio Amazon beat off fierce competition to purchase the rights to the books, paying a whopping $250 million (£230m, or AU$270m) for the privilege of creating up to five seasons based on J. R. R. Tolkien's epic high fantasy novels, which lay out a mystical world of elves, dwarves, dragons and hobbits besieged by a great evil known as Sauron (the big eye from the films, remember?).

Amazon, like seemingly everyone else these days, is looking to create the next Game of Thrones phenomenon (there's even an upcoming Game of Thrones prequel) – and few source novels have as much cultural cache as Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings.

But if you're thinking that there might be film adaptations of these books already, you'd be right. Peter Jackson's trilogy of films, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King hit cinemas between 2001 and 2003, making for an iconic piece of cinematic history – and many will be wondering how Amazon's take on Middle-Earth can improve on the originals.

The Lord of the Rings TV show won't be retreading the movies, though. We now know the series will take place during the Second Age, which is a 3,441-year period before the events of the films (which take place in the Third Age). That's a big slice of time, though we don't how expansive a story Amazon will end up telling.

Much like Frodo and his hobbit companions, Amazon is still starting out on its journey to bring The Lord of the Rings to life for the small screen. We know enough about the setting, creative team, and when the TV series is likely to hit our screens to get us excited – and you can begin your adventure below.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Amazon's TV adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth series of novels
  • Where can I watch it? Amazon Prime Video
  • When will it be released? Probably 2021

Tolkien

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Details are still somewhat sparse on the content of the show, other than the events being set during the Second Age, which covers the rise of Sauron – the dark lord that crafted the fabled ring of power, which is destroyed at the end of The Return of the King.

We expect Amazon is planning to make all five of the seasons it has the rights to make, meaning we could get a story on a real epic scale, covering years, decades or even centuries of the magical Middle-Earth. 

The Tolkien estate is naturally protective its intellectual property, with the power to stop Amazon from altering any of the canonical events as set out in Tolkien's writings (via A.V. Club). However, Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey – who is acting as a consultant on the TV series – suggests that Amazon will have quite a blank slate to work with:

"Tolkien wrote some of it down, but as far as the Second Age goes, the information we have is a three-page timeline in the appendices to the Lord of the Rings and the List of Kings of Númenor and a little more material in the Unfinished Tales, but that’s about all" (via Deutsche Tolkien).

(Any budding Tolkien cartographers can take a peek at this map Amazon released of the series' Middle-Earth, too.)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Lord of the Rings TV show release date

When will The Lord of The Rings TV show actually hit our screens? Production is rumored to be starting in 2020, and given the intended scale of the series, it's unlikely the show will be ready to stream before 2021. That's obviously a while to wait, but Amazon's ambitious plans for the show should mean you have plenty to binge when it does land.

How ambitious? Amazon's Tolkien consultant Tom Shippey has said that 20 episodes are being planned for the first season (via Deutsche Tolkien). If we assume a 40-60 minute run time per episode, that's a lot of television that needs to be filmed. (And you thought the films were long!)

Lord of the Rings TV show: who's involved?

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Let's get one thing straight: you're unlikely to see any returning faces from the Peter Jackson trilogy.

Given the timeline that the show is going to be set in, most of the characters from the movies are yet to be born. Some of the older characters like or Gandalf or Galadriel – or even Sauron – could hypothetically appear. There were rumors of the series featuring a young Aragorn (by Tolkien fan site theonering.net), though that's since been contradicted by the official time period being announced.

We expect the show will find interesting ways to tie into the elements of Tolkein's world that viewers are already familiar with, but given the different production team and earlier sertting, we think it unlikely any actors will be reprising their roles.

We do, however, know some exciting news about the writers and directors involved. J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) will be serving as an executive producer, and also directing the first two episodes of the series (via Variety).

Production design will come courtesy of Rick Heinrichs, who worked on the visually stunning Star Wars: The Last Jedi – while Game of Thrones writer Brian Cogman will be consulting on the series.

JD Payne and Patrick McKay will serve as showrunners, having worked together on scripts for Star Trek: Beyond and the now-cancelled Star Trek 4 movie, as well as 2020's upcoming Godzilla Vs. King Kong.

You can see a video introduction of more of the creative team in the video below:

Lord of the Rings on Amazon: how to watch

Amazon's huge spend on acquiring the rights makes a lot of sense when you consider the wider Amazon ecosystem – as anyone wanting to stream the TV show will need to sign up to Amazon Prime to do so.

An Amazon Prime subscription ($12.99 / £7.99 / AU$6.99 per month) will net you access to the entire Amazon Prime Video library, which you can access through browsers, smart TV apps, streaming devices like the Fire TV Stick, or even smartphone and tablet apps. 

Prime Video includes popular shows like The Boys, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Grand Tour, and Good Omens. Amazon doesn't quite have the breadth of Netflix, but there are some worthwhile titles – as well access to the Amazon Music streaming service, and a host of other membership perks.

You also get faster delivery – often only one day – as well as exclusive discounts and offers through virtue of being a Prime subscriber. You can see everything you get for the service – and whether it's worth it – in our Amazon Prime review.

Will the Lord of the Rings TV show be in 4K / HDR?

(Image credit: Future)

As stunning as Peter Jackson's trilogy of LOTR films were – with The Fellowship of the Ring nabbing an Oscar for best cinematography – it's been over a decade since the last movie came to cinemas. Video recording equipment has vastly improved, and there's potential for a real visual overhaul of Middle-Earth.

We strongly suspect Amazon will be filming the show in 4K Ultra HD resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels), to bring out the landscapes and characters in sharper detail than the HD films.

Amazon was also an early supporter of HDR (high dynamic range) – before Netflix at least – and we expect to see the show streaming in the HDR10+ format used on the Amazon platform, for enhanced contrast and popping colors. Keep in mind you'll need an HDR-capable 4K TV to make the most of those improved visuals.