They often say the 1960s had three big pop-culture milestones beginning with the letter B: Bond, Batman, and The Beatles. But there was actually a fourth: Bilbo Baggins. Although Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the mid-50s, the books really took off a decade later—largely due to the counterculture movement. Rumors of a live-action The Lord of the Rings movie starring the Fab Four circulated like wildfire. Now, according to a report coming from BBC (via Games Radar), it appears those stories had a kernel of truth.
While promoting his epic Beatles Disney+ documentary Get Back, Jackson confirmed that the group once really pursued a Beatles-starring Lord of the Rings film. Denis O’Dell, their Apple film producer, suggested doing Tolkien’s massively popular books as a film to the band. According to Jackson, “When they went to Rishikesh and stayed in India, it was about three months with the Maharishi at the beginning of 1968, he sent the books to The Beatles.” The hope was that reading the books on their spiritual retreat might spark their interest.
So who would have played which characters? O’Dell intended to cast Paul McCartney as Frodo Baggins, and Ringo Starr would have been Samwise Gamgee. (We can totally see those two in those roles). O’Dell wanted John Lennon as Gollum, and George Harrison as the wizard Gandalf. And they even pursued Stanley Kubrick, fresh off of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to direct it. Possibly as a musical with Beatles songs? Who knows. But it’s fun to imagine. This might have kick-started a fantasy film revolution 30 years before Jackson’s films did.
So why didn’t it ever happen? Well, you can blame J.R.R. Tolkien himself. The legendary creator of Middle-earth refused to sell the screen rights to his books. He didn’t want a mere “pop band” bringing his epic to life. But Jackson confirmed that for a brief moment, it was really in play. “For a moment in time, The Beatles were seriously contemplating doing that at the beginning of 1968.” One thing’s for sure, geek culture might have played out very differently had this version of the movie come to fruition. We would love to at least visit the alternate timeline where this version of The Lord of the Rings came to pass. If only to hear John Lennon say the words “my precious.”