The Beatles nearly had a second career as leading actors in The Lord of the Rings. For the 50th anniversary of Help!, Variety looked back at what the Fab Four’s film career could have been. Just before Help!‘s debut (and a year after 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night), the producer of the two films, Walter Shenson, told Variety that the “boys” wanted their third film to be “different.” The band had lots of ideas for what the third film — under their three-contract film with United Artists — could be, but the most bizarre was a John, Paul, George and Ringo-starring The Lord of the Rings film.
“The Beatles once approached Stanley Kubrick to do The Lord of the Rings,” explained director/producer Peter Jackson to Deadline last year. “This was before Tolkien sold the rights. They approached him and he said no. I actually spoke about this with Paul McCartney. He confirmed it. I’d heard rumors that it was going to be their next film after Help. John Lennon was going to play Gollum. Paul was going to play Frodo. George Harrison was going to play Gandalf, and Ringo Starr was going to play Sam.”
J.R.R. Tolkien himself also turned down the idea, according to Variety, although he was seemingly more annoyed about their loud practice sessions. “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,” wrote Tolkien in a letter. “On days when it falls to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.”
While the seemingly absurd idea did quickly fizzle, the Beatles did have film success when they proposed the idea prior to the launch of Help!. Hard Day’s Night outshined expectations, earning two Oscar nominations, and providing the basis for United Artists to give the quartet a bigger budget for Help!. They ended up getting a budget of $1.5 million for the film, a comedy adventure about the band members facing off against an evil cult. The film was in color and was shot in Austria and the Bahamas, according to Variety. It didn’t end up having the same critical and commercial success as their first, though.
The Beatles did finally make a third film, the 1970 documentary Let It Be. In between, the Beatles recorded some of the most long-lasting ’60s records: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be. We can only wonder what would’ve happened if, instead, the quartet starred in The Lord of the Rings.