Amazon Studios’ The Lord of the Rings television show is going to cost all the gold in the Lonely Mountain.
The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Amazon will spend roughly NZ$650 million — $465 million in U.S. dollars — for just the first season of the show.
That’s far above previous reported estimates that pegged the fantasy drama as costing an already record-breaking $500 million for multiple seasons of the show.
“What I can tell you is Amazon is going to spend about $650 million in season one alone,” Stuart Nash, New Zealand minister for economic development and tourism, told Morning Report. “This is fantastic, it really is … this will be the largest television series ever made.”
The figures were released as part of the New Zealand government’s Official Information Act and initially reported by the New Zealand outlet Stuff. The documents also confirmed the studio’s plan to film potentially five seasons in New Zealand — as well as possible, as-yet-unannounced spinoff series.
By comparison, HBO’s Game of Thrones cost roughly $100 million to produce per season, with its per-episode cost starting at around $6 million for season one and eventually rising to around $15 million per episode in season eight.
The eye-popping Lord of the Rings price tag almost certainly doesn’t reflect season one’s production cost alone. The rights to the Tolkien property cost an estimated $250 million. Plus there are considerable startup costs when bringing Middle-earth to life — such as sets, costumes and props — that will be used throughout the series.
Amazon’s spending will trigger a tax rebate of NZ$160 million ($114 million U.S). This is somewhat controversial in New Zealand as the government could end up on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars to help subsidize Amazon’s elves-and-hobbits drama series. Stuff reported that the country’s treasury has labeled the show a “significant fiscal risk” given there is no capped upside to how much Amazon — and therefore the government — might spend. But others point out that the boost in local spending by the production plus the potential tourism surge from Lord of the Rings fans far outweighs the taxpayer-funded kickbacks.
Amazon picked up the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle-earth franchise in 2017, and early on it was estimated the show could end up eventually becoming the world’s first TV show to cost $1 billion after factoring in the rights deal, production and marketing for multiple seasons.
The official description: The Lord of the Rings “brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”
The show’s large cast includes Robert Aramayo (Game of Thrones), Owain Arthur (Kingdom), Nazanin Boniadi (Counterpart), Ismael Cruz Cordova (The Catch), Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones) and many others. J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay (Star Trek 4) serve as showrunners on the series.
The series is in production for a planned debut in later this year. Amazon Studios declined to comment.