In 1967 and 1968 the Beatles were feeling ambitious. They founded Apple Records. They also started a division called Apple Films run by an associate named Denis O’Dell who had been instrumental in getting A Hard Day’s Night made. Apple Films was more successful than people remember—it released the Beatles’ 1967 TV movie Magical Mystery Tour, the theatrical Beatles releases Yellow Submarine and Let it Be, 1972’s The Concert for Bangladesh, and a few others, including the 1974 John Hurt cult movie Little Malcolm and the T.Rex concert film, Born to Boogie, which was directed by Ringo Starr.
One of the projects the Beatles were interested in pursuing—particularly John—was a Beatles adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
In 2002 Paul McCartney ran into Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson at the Academy Awards and told him of the Beatles’ plans. Jackson told Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper, “It was something John was driving and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it.”
CNN reported at the time:
John Lennon wanted to play the grasping, thieving creature Gollum in a 1960s Beatles version of the “Lord of the Rings,” New Zealand movie director Peter Jackson told Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper.
George Harrison was to play the wise wizard Gandalf who advises the hobbit Frodo in his quest to destroy the evil golden ring at the center of the epic tale of good versus evil, one of the most popular books of the 20th century.
Ringo Starr was to play Frodo’s devoted sidekick Sam, while Lennon would take the part of the hobbit-like creature that tracks the heroes throughout the story, trying to get his hands on the powerful ring
Mockup of a fake—yes, fake—soundtrack for a Beatles/Kubrick Lord of the Rings movie
Notice there’s no mention of who Paul would have played. Some sources say he would have played Frodo. To direct, The Beatles wanted to get either David Lean or Stanley Kubrick. According to Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes, John wanted to play Gandalf.
According to Walter Everett’s 1999 book The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology, Apple Films also wanted to adapt Lennon’s two books (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works) as well as produce some kind of vehicle for the model Twiggy.
Why Tolkien’s animus towards the Fab Four? It’s not entirely clear, but Matthew Schmitz at First Things does point out the following:
In a 1964 letter to Christopher Bretherton, Tolkien complained about “radio, tele, dogs, scooters, buzzbikes, and cars of all sizes but the smallest” making noise “from early morn to about 2 a.m.”
“In addition,” Tolkien wrote, “in a house three doors away dwells a member of a group of young men who are evidently aiming to turn themselves into a Beatle Group. On days when it falls to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.”
We don’t have the Beatles Lord of the Rings movie, but we do have the inevitable YouTube mashup—here’s a bunch of LOTR footage matched up to a big chunk of Side 2 of Abbey Road.