Amazon is hard at work on its Lord of the Rings TV show, which is set to be the most expensive show ever made. That series will act as a prequel to the J.R.R. Tolkien books most of us think of as Lord of the Rings — you know, the ones that became Peter Jackson’s trilogy. But before Jackson got his mitts on the Middle-earth saga, there was almost a very different Lord of the Rings movie about how Frodo got by with a little help from a very different set of friends. Yes, there was a time when the Beatles were going to be front and center in a Lord of the Rings adaptation.
It was the 1960s and rock and roll artists were popping up in a lot of movies. The Beatles had made some good money off movies like Help! and A Hard Days Night, and film producer Denis O’Dell — who was contractually obligated to get them in another movie — had the idea of casting them in a story of Frodo’s quest to take the Ring to Mount Doom. The movie, in this case, would be a musical featuring original tunes from the John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The Beatles were fans of the books and reportedly keen on the idea. While it’d be the easiest job in history to just cast the four members of the band as the four main Hobbits, the Beatles themselves had different ideas. Paul and Ringo wanted to be Frodo and Sam, respectively. But John Lennon was more interested in being Gollum (can you imagine) and George Harrison had his heart set on Gandalf. The studio was more than happy to give them whatever roles they wanted.
Lennon was championing the idea and he knew just the director he wanted: filmmaking auteur Stanley Kubrick, famous for The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and many, many other classics. Kubrick himself was an avowed Tolkien fan but just didn’t think filmmaking technology had progressed far enough to accurately depict Middle-earth on screen (fair enough!). When Kubrick said no, the Beatles themselves got a little cooler on the idea.
But there was a bigger obstacle. Tolkien himself still held the rights to the books at the time and, according to Jackson, simply didn’t like the Beatles. Tolkien put his foot down and forward progress on the movie stopped altogether until years later, when Jackson talked Hollywood into letting him adapt the trilogy.
It’s almost certainly for the best of all parties concerned, given the benefit of hindsight. But it’s a shame we’ll never get to hear George Harrison’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” on screen.