Amazon's spending $465 million on just the first season of its precious Lord Of The Rings show

William Hughes
·3 min read
Fun fact: This is the least appetizing cake we have ever seen.
Fun fact: This is the least appetizing cake we have ever seen.

Look: We’ve known for a while now that Amazon’s long-gestating Lord Of The Rings TV show was going to be one of the most expensive TV shows ever made. In its efforts to finally get out from under the shadow of its glossier, more expensive competitors—and maybe break out of the “indie TV” niche so often occupied by streamers—Big Daddy Bezos and his crew were perfectly willing to break out the bank account in numbers rarely, if ever, seen on the small screen. Even so, this is kind of staggering: A THR report, sourced from New Zealand’s minister of Economic Development and Tourism, stating that Amazon is spending something like $465 million on the first season of the show. (Reminder: This thing is supposed to run for at least five seasons, which means that those old “billion dollar” estimates for its full series run are starting to look pretty chintzy.)

For one comparison point—in an effort to try to come to terms with how wild these numbers are—we can look to the show Lord Of The Rings is most clearly trying to emulate (up to the point that its popularity fell off a cliff, anyway): HBO’s Game Of Thrones. But even in that show’s final season, when it was staging massive battles and blowing up castles with some regularity, episode budgets were clocking in at an only-mildly-astronomical $15 million per. (In other words, you could get another 31 episodes of late-GoT, if you wanted them, for what Amazon’s shelling out here.) Or, hey, here’s another data nodule: Peter Jackson spent less than $300 million, total, for his three Lord Of The Rings films, despite having to craft his Middle-Earth solely from scratch. Oh, and here’s one more: That $465 million budget? It situates just one season of Middle-Earth life in between Israel and Ireland—as in, the countries—on the list of national gross domestic product. It’s a lot of money, is our point.

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THR notes that there are a few caveats to this second, third, maybe even fifth-breakfast-sized spending spree. For one thing, the numbers touted presumably include the absolutely huge bushel of cash Amazon shelled out to the Tolkien estate for the rights to LoTR (a reported $250 million), as well as start-up costs for the series that won’t have to be repeated. Also, New Zealand itself will be footing part of the bill, with the country offering the global retail Balrog a tax break equal to more than $100 million in exchange for the effects the series is likely to have on the country’s filming and hobbit tourism industries. Even so, though, that is a completely ludicrous amount of money, one that raises the question of what success would even look like for a show like this, given that the series will presumably be distributed, for free, to Amazon Prime subscribers. Is this just about Big Jeff having his own dragon? How many hobbits can $465 million buy?