They’re making new ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. I have questions.

Warner Bros. Discovery announced new Tolkien films are on the way. PLUS: ‘Quantumania’ has a historic drop, ‘Succession’ is ending, and Marc Maron’s new special is fantastic.

They’re making new ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. I have questions.
Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. / Warner Bros. Pictures

Somehow, Sauron returned.

Hopefully the writers tasked by Warner Bros. to return us to the world of Lord Rings have a better plan than those three words.

Warner Bros. Discovery announced on Thursday that new movies set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world were in the works. The news came as a surprise, as Warner Bros. had already completed two trilogies based on his books, the acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy … and then another trilogy based on The Hobbit. On top of that, Amazon has its own live-action TV series set in Middle-earth.

Let’s see if we can answer any of the questions surrounding the announcement of new Lord of the Rings movies.

Why is Warner Bros. making new Lord of the Rings movies?

You’ll be shocked by this one, but Warner Bros. Discover is a massive corporation and it loves making money. Loves it. It’ll even bury movies to collect a write-off if it means it’ll help their bottom line.

Since the merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery was completed, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been eager to capitalize on the lucrative franchises in the studio’s stable. Whether that means rebooting the DC superhero movies with James Gunn or possibly working with J.K. Rowling again to make new Harry Potter movies (hey, what’s a few transphobic remarks when a new Harry Potter video game rakes in $850 million?), Zaslav knows an iconic franchise like Lord of the Rings still has money left to be wrung out of it. People kept paying to see the Hobbit movies despite their poor special effects, so he has a point.

Terms of a deal weren’t disclosed, but WBD is partnering with Embracer Group AB, a video game and media holding company, to make these new Lord of the Rings movies. The rights to Tolkien’s works have long been a tricky knot to untie, but Embracer wound up with rights to make video games and movies based on his core novels.

What are the new Lord of the Rings movies based on?

This one is unclear. Once again, rights to Tolkien’s works aren’t an easy line to trace. New Line is already making an animated movie based on The War of the Rohirrim. If I had to guess, Warner Bros. wants to capitalize on the characters — and actors — fans know from its two Tolkien trilogies. This might be creating new Middle-earth stories from scratch.

Would actors like Ian McKellan and Viggo Mortensen want to reprise their roles as Gandalf and Aragorn? McKellan already returned for The Hobbit trilogy, but it didn’t sound like that experience made him eager to ever return.

“I cried, actually. I cried,” McKellan told ContactMusic about the shoot in 2012. “Then I said out loud, ‘This is not why I became an actor.’ Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard.”

Who is directing the new Lord of the Rings movies?

It’s definitely too early to make that call. Warner Bros. only just announced that these movies are in the works a few days ago. That said, the Peter Jackson train is starting to get moving.

“Warner Brothers and Embracer have kept us in the loop every step of the way,” Jackson and his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens told Deadline. “We look forward to speaking with them further to hear their vision for the franchise moving forward.”

Huh. While Jackson brought the original Lord of the Rings trilogy to life, earning a ton of praise (including The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King sweeping all eleven categories it was nominated for at the 2004 Oscars), Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy failed to live up to the lofty legacy of the original films. It seemed like Jackson directed those movies out of an obligation to the franchise after Guillermo del Toro stepped aside.

Are the new Lord of the Rings movies connected to The Rings of Power?

Nope. That shouldn’t be confusing for anyone, right?

Amazon’s television rights apply to a very specific selection of Tolkien’s works, and while The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power mimics the look and feel of Jackson’s films (even down to bringing original trilogy composer Howard Shore for Rings of Power’s theme music), the show has no official connection to the six current films or any plans WBD has for the future of the franchise.

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The News
A promo image for Succession. / HBO

Succession to end after its upcoming season

We’re less than a month out from the premiere of Succession’s fourth season. Turns out, it’ll be the last season premiere we get from the HBO show.

Series creator Jesse Armstrong confirmed to The New Yorker that Succession will end after four seasons.

“I got together with a few of my fellow-writers before we started the writing of Season 4, in about November, December, 2021, and I sort of said, ‘Look, I think this maybe should be it. But what do you think?’” Armstrong told The New Yorker. “And we played out various scenarios: We could do a couple of short seasons, or two more seasons. … Or we could do something a bit more muscular and complete, and go out sort of strong. And that was definitely always my preference.”

Zachary Levi in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. / Warner Bros. Pictures

Shazam! Fury of the Gods tracking behind its predecessor

Things aren’t looking so hot for Shazam! Fury of the Gods. While DC Studios co-chair James Gunn and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav have been raving about The Flash, it’s been quiet on the Shazam front.

How quiet? The film is currently tracking for a domestic opening weekend between $35 million and $40 million. This falls behind the first Shazam’s $53.5 million opening weekend.

Despite Zachary Levi’s insistence that he’s “Gucci” when it comes to his future in the new DCU, these kinds of numbers paired with the lack any prominent praise from the people running DC Studios and WBD makes me think Levi and Shazam (at least this version of the character) aren’t going to make it through the reboot.

Steven Yeun in Nope. / Universal Pictures

Steven Yeun joins the MCU

As Thanos once said, “run from it, dread it, destiny arrives all the same.” That thinking applies to the Marvel Cinematic Universe too, as it eventually comes for every actor. Steven Yeun’s time has come, with Deadline reporting the Minari and Nope star has been cast in Thunderbolts.

Who’s Yeun playing?

In classic MCU form, it’s a secret, with Deadline saying that it’s “a part that is not only significant to this film but could also play a role going forward in future films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

Yeun joins an expansive Thunderbolts cast. The film already stars Florence Pugh, Sebastian Stan, David Harbour, Harrison Ford, Hannah John-Kamen, Wyatt Russell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ayo Edebiri and Olga Kurylenko.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Avengers: The Kang Dynasty writer Jeff Loveness with Kathryn Newton. / Marvel Studios

Quantumania writer talks writing Avengers: Kang Dynasty

As Popculturology discussed last week, Marvel Studios has tasked two of the writers from the early parts of the Multiverse Saga with writing the next two Avengers films. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness writer Michael Waldron is writing Avengers: Secret Wars and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s Jeff Loveness is writing Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.

One of the trickier parts of this arrangement is that the people writing these capstone films are working ahead of other movies that don’t even exist yet.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a tricky thing. But much like when I took on this Ant-Man job, I can’t really focus on that outside stuff,” Loveness told Gizmodo. “I have just got to lay down the bones of a good story, hopefully, and find the characters that I want to tell [it]. And then it becomes a game of ping pong with the other people. Like whoever comes on and does Fantastic Four or Blade or — I’m probably not even using those characters, you know — but it all informs itself. And so, you just keep an ear open if [someone says], ‘Hey, if Blade wants to jump in, go for it, man.’”

I’m very curious to see how Marvel pulls off this saga. One of the things the Infinity Saga had going for it (besides not having the pressure of even being a saga at first) was that much of the core storytelling toward the end of it was in the hands of just a few people. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote all three Captain America movies and Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Anthony and Joe Russo then directed all of the projects except Captain America: The First Avenger.

We’re seeing a much larger division of labor for the Multiverse Saga. The only repeat director when it comes to the movies in this saga is Destin Daniel Cretton, who will helm Avengers: The Kang Dynasty after bringing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to life. (There are likely still several unannounced films to fill out Phase Six.) It’s great to see more voices and creative input this time around, but what if having a small group of writers and directors besides Kevin Feige play a huge role is what gave the Infinity Saga its momentum?

Jon Favreau tells fans to check ‘user-generated content’ to figure out why Grogu is back on ‘The Mandalorian’

The amount of cover Jon Favreau has been trying to put down to justify Lucasfilm’s decision to undo Din Djarin and Grogu parting ways in a show that wasn’t The Mandalorian is getting a bit ridiculous.

After previously telling Empire that they “couldn’t just hit a hard reset” and that Din and Grogu “coming back together was a really good plot point that allows us to jump back into Season 3 while maintaining the central relationship,” Favreau went back to this well again while trying to tell Empire how fans who didn’t watch The Book of Boba Fett (and missed the Din/Grogu reunion) can catch up.

“For people who didn't see The Book Of Boba Fett, we’re gonna have videos that catch people up on it on [Disney+],” Favreau told Empire. “And there’s plenty of user-generated content [on the Internet] helping people get up to speed, which is a tool that I use when I watch a show after it’s been off the air for a while.”

I’m using all my restraint to not smash my head into the keyboard as I write this. Favreau really doesn’t understand the situation here, huh? This isn’t the case of The Mandalorian being on for 25 seasons (I mean, it’s not The Big Bang Theory) and people want to start watching but are worried about jumping in. This is a situation where a show that has been on for two seasons spent those two seasons building toward a story point (Din finding a Jedi to take Grogu and train him) but undoing that huge plot development in another show. This isn’t something that “user-generated content on the Internet” is meant to solve.

And, yes, I get that The Book of Boba Fett was teased at the end of The Mandalorian’s Season 2 finale, which should have clued people in on the two shows being connected, but that’s not how the connective tissue of Star Wars has been presented before this point. This isn’t the MCU.

At this point, just recut the Din/Grogu stuff from The Book of Boba Fett into Episode 0 of Season 3 of The Mandalorian.

Bill Skarsgård in It. / Warner Bros. Pictures

It prequel series coming to HBO Max

I’ve mentioned in this newsletter before how I don’t mess with horror films. This makes me a horrible resource when it comes to telling you whether or not an It prequel series on HBO Max is a good idea or not.

Variety reported on Thursday that Welcome to Derry will be developed by Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti and Jason Fuchs. Andy Muschietti directed the two recent It films, with Barbara producing.

Rihanna to perform at the Oscars

Performing at the Super Bowl wasn’t enough for Rihanna. The Academy announced last week that the singer will also appear during next month’s Oscars ceremony, performing “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

How will she top her surprise pregnancy announcement from the Super Bowl? Will she reveal that host Jimmy Kimmel is pregant?

One final over-the-top sketch for James Corden

The end approaches for The Late Late Show. With host James Corden leaving the show and CBS supposedly replacing it with a @midnight revival, there’s only so many rounds of “Carpool Karaoke” left to go.

CBS announced on Friday that the final episode of The Late Late Show will air on April 27. To send off the show and Corden, CBS will air The Last Last Late Late Show that evening at 10 p.m. Part of the special will feature Corden and Tom Cruise performing something from The Lion King musical.

Because nothing says “hip, cool late-night show” like throwing back to a musical that began in 1997.

At least Corden will have more free time to yell at waiters soon.

💬 💬 💬 Wanna share your comments, questions or recommendations? Leave a comment at the bottom of the newsletter.

Deep SNL Thoughts
Woody Harrelson during Saturday Night Live. / NBC
Deep SNL Thoughts: Woody Harrelson’s antivax monologue kicks off an otherwise fun episode
Happy Sunday evening. Deep SNL Thoughts is a touch late today, but I had to spend the morning trying to get a bunch of menacing boxes and a weirdo UPS driver out of my front yard … This was a solid episode of Saturday Night Live. Kenan Thompson has fully embraced his role as

Paul Rudd and Kathryn Newton in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. / Marvel Studios

Weekend of Feb. 24-26, 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (1)
Weekend gross: $32.2M / Total domestic gross: $167.3M / Percent drop: -70

YIKES. After exceeding expectations its opening weekend, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania suffered a historic drop this past weekend, becoming the first film that opened with at least $100 million to fall 70 percent in its second weekend. The pull of a MCU movie was enough to secure a fantastic opening weekend but not strong enough to combat poor reviews and poor word of mouth.

  1. Cocaine Bear (N)
    Weekend gross: $23.1M / Total domestic gross: $23.1M / Percent drop: -NA
  2. Jesus Revolution (N)
    Weekend gross: $15.5M / Total domestic gross: $15.5M / Percent drop: -NA
  3. Avatar: The Way of Water (2)
    Weekend gross: $4.7M / Total domestic gross: $665.4M / Percent drop: -28
  4. Magic Mike’s Last Dance (3)
    Weekend gross: $3M / Total domestic gross: $23.3M / Percent drop: -45

Box office numbers via The Numbers

Marc Maron in Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark. / HBO

Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark

Marc Maron’s latest special is one of my favorite standup hours I’ve watched in awhile. While I’ve fallen off from listening to WTF, Maron’s iconic podcast, I still like the guy and my heart goes out to him after losing his partner, Lynn Shelton, a few years ago.

“I don’t think everything’s going to get better ever again,” Maron says matter-of-factly at the beginning of his special, kicking off his process of working through Shelton’s death through comedy.

I’m happy Maron still remains one of the good guys.

Nick Nolte in the Poker Face episode “The Orpheus Effect.” / Peacock

Poker Face

“The Orpheus Syndrome”

What a great episode of Poker Face. Natasha Lyonne directed this one, and she possibly delivered the best episode of the series so far.

The entire episode felt different than what’s come before. The vibe shifted with Lyonne behind the camera. (This episode had Twilight Zone-y vibes, right? Was it the music?)

Nick Nolte and Cherry Jones continued the string of standout performances that we’ve been lucky enough to see on Poker Face.

Over the past few episodes, I’ve felt like we’ve become detached from part of the core conceit of the show — the idea that Charlie is on the run and needs to stay away from law enforcement. It was nice to see that element of the show pop back up when Charlie bailed before the police could arrive after she reported a death.

Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams in the Abbott Elementary episode “Teacher Conference.” / ABC

Abbott Elementary

“Teacher Conference”

Abbott Elementary delivered one of its most Office-y episodes yet, which was appropriate as the show finally (kind of) made good on the will-they-or-won’t-they energy between its Jim and Pam.

Watching the Abbott Elementary staff go to PECSA — a teach conference in sexy Allentown — brought back memories of The Office episodes like “The Convention.” If we’re comparing Janine and Gregory to Pam and Jim, then “Casino Night” would also be an accurate comparison for the milestone the episode held for the two characters: A kiss that wasn’t acted on.

Despite Janine and Gregory finally acting on their feelings toward each other, Abbott Elementary isn’t ready yet to allow the characters to explore those feelings. (Hey, there are still six episodes left in the season. Gotta pad it out until the season finale.)

Hot Ones

“LL COOL J Needs Some Milk While Eating Spicy Wings”

There are few funnier things on Hot Ones than watching Sean Evans have to pretend that the third or fourth sauce are painful to him in order to not make a guest feel bad. Yes, Sean, Los Calientes is definitely one LL Cool J should be having trouble with …

The Links

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Odds and Ends

Behind the Sketch: Mario Kart Trailer

I love seeing how the Saturday Night Live crew turns around sketches like “Mario Kart Trailer” in only a few days. I’m hoping we get to see a “Behind the Sketch” segment about how this week’s “Cologuard” sketch came together. (There was green screen and puppets!)

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