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What connects Stanley Kubrick, JRR Tolkien, and The Beatles?

The Answer

The Beatles tried to make a Lord of the Rings film in the 1960s, but were turned down by Stanley Kubrick and J.R.R. Tolkien.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles were under contract with United Artists to create three films for the studio.

The fab four’s first film, A Hard Day’s Night, enjoyed considerable success. Their second film HELP! was not quite as highly regarded, but was still enjoyed by many.

Then came the time for them to come up with the idea for the third film…

John, Paul, George, and Ringo grew up in England in the 1950s and were, like many, big fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why not make an adaption of their childhood-favourite series?

They wanted to honor it by creating an epic psychedelic adaptation that would feature their original songs. Paul McCartney would portray Frodo Baggins, and Ringo Starr would star as his affectionate sidekick, Sam Gamgee. George Harrison would portray the wise wizard Gandalf and John Lennon would appear as the unfortunate Gollum.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles wanted to star in a "Lord of the Rings" film directed by Stanley Kubrick and featuring original songs

What was Stanley Kubrick’s connection to the project?

The Beatles liked the director of their previous two films, but felt that director Stanley Kubrick would be the man to turn their vision into reality. When approached Kubrick declined to get involved to work on another project – 2001 A Space Odessey. It is believed that Kubrick thought the source material was too complex to be made into a film (which was arguably true in the 1960s).

Did the Beatles or United Artist own the rights to LOTR?

No. At the time, J.R.R. Tolkien had not sold the rights to anyone yet.

Was he willing to sell the rights?

When he was approached, Tolkien refused without any negotiation.

Tolkien was quite a traditionalist and he openly disliked the new musical trend sparked by the Beatles.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles wanted to star in a "Lord of the Rings" film directed by Stanley Kubrick and featuring original songs

So, with that, the project died before it even got off the ground.

We’re only left to wonder what kind of songs might have emerged from a psychedelic Lennon/Gollum, a wise old Harrison/Gandalf wizard, a melodious McCartney/Frodo, or a very rhythmic Ringo/Samwise.

If we can ever travel between alternate universes, that’s one that I’d like to visit for a little while.

What ended up being the 3rd Beatles film in the UA contract?

Since the Lord of the Rings never got made, they were still on the hook to United Artists for a third film.

In 1967, The Beatles made Magical Mystery Tour. However, it was not released in theaters so it didn’t satisfy their contract.

Next came Yellow Submarine. It was released in theaters. So, contract satisfied, right? Nope. UA argued that it didn’t because it was animated and the band was not heavily involved. They didn’t even voice their own animated characters.

The project that did end up satisfying the contract was the 1970 documentary/concert film Let It Be.

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