Gollum, Gollum!

Andy Serkis will direct a new Lord of the Rings film about Gollum

Gollum, Gollum!

Warner Bros. has announced that more Lord of the Rings film are on the way. Per TheOneRing, the studio is bringing back the team behind the iconic film trilogy–Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens–who will produce a pair of new films. The first is tentatively titled The Hunt for Gollum, and will be star and be directed by Andy Serkis. There's no word on what the second film will be just yet.

This announcement isn't entirely unexpected: a year ago, Warner Bros. struck a deal with the Embracer Group AB (which holds a number of media rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's world) to produce some new films. It's also in addition to an upcoming animated film called The War of Rohirrim (which is slated for a December 2024 release) and the upcoming second season of Prime Video's streaming series The Rings of Power (which isn't under the Warner Bros. umbrella, but seems to at least be someone congruent with Jackson's films.)

Since its merging with Discovery and its entry into the streaming world, Warner Bros. has been busy mining its back catalog for IP for new projects. It brought out The Matrix Resurrections in 2021 and recently put a fifth film in the franchise into development, all while it's rebooted its DC comics film franchise under the helm of James Gunn and Peter Safran, begun work on a Harry Potter streaming series, brought back its Weird mystery series True Detective for a fourth (quite good) season, and a bunch of others. Middle-earth is part of that strategy, and with the wealth of backstory and appendices that Tolkien included in The Lord of the Rings and other works, there's a lot that Warner Bros. can play with.

The War of Rohirrim is a good example of that, I think: it's based on the stories in LOTR's Appendix A, which explores the origins of the Riders of Rohan, centuries before they played a pivotal role in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. When word of the new films broke back in 2022, the Embracer Group noted that they'd be interested in exploring the stories of characters like "Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other[s]."

Today's announcement falls right in line with that, and my thoughts about strip-mining classic stories for parts aside, I think there are some things to be optimistic about. Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens' involvement is potentially good, as they helped launch the original adaptations in the first place, and certainly have an in-depth knowledge of the world and its mechanics, as well as how to adapt Tolkien's words for the screen. Second, Andy Serkis is Gollum. The character was–and remains–an astonishing figure in the films, fueled by Serkis's incredible performance (his return as the audiobook narrator for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are also not to be missed). Serkis has since made a name for himself as a filmmaker in addition to everything else, so having him helm the project also seems like a no-brainer.

The popularity and technical elements of the character aside, there's certainly space for a really good film about Gollum to be made. He's an enormously tragic figure in Tolkien's world, a Hobbit who discovers and is corrupted by the One Ring long before he encounters Bilbo and Frodo on their respective journeys. There's a lot of ways this could go wrong (like say, if they lean into the slapstick and goofiness of the character), but I think there's a path to something with potential here.

Speaking with Deadline, Jackson explained some of their thinking: "We really want to explore his backstory and delve into those parts of his journey we didn’t have time to cover in the earlier films. It’s too soon to know who will cross his path, but suffice to say we will take our lead from Professor Tolkien." 

There's always the argument to be made that there's no shortage of other stories to adapt and that Warner Bros. is beating a dead horse. I don't think this is wrong, but it's an argument that's already long since been lost: Hollywood is risk-adverse, Tolkien is a well-known name amongst audiences, Jackson still has lots of goodwill left over from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and so forth.

The Hobbit trilogy is a good counter-argument here for filmmaker excess, and hopefully, everyone involved will take some of the lessons they learned and avoid repeating the mistakes they made for those films. If they want to keep Middle-earth around as a viable franchise, they'll have to do more than just coast on the name: they need to make good films.

We'll see if they're up for the task when the first film comes out in 2026.

Update, 5/15: added quote from Jackson via Deadline.