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Amazon's big Prime Video news: Lord of the Rings, Jack Reacher and more

Lord of the Rings is a new Amazon series
New Amazon Prime Video shows include the Lord of the Rings TV show (Image credit: New Line)

Here's a huge shipment of fresh details about new Amazon Prime Video shows and movies, including the highly anticipated Lord of the Rings series and the newly greenlit Jack Reacher series.

The streaming service unveiled updates on nearly a dozen projects at the Television Critics Association press tour on January 14. Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke also announced first-look overall deals with Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company (Moonlight, The Big Short), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Salke touted Amazon Prime Video’s more than 100 million subscribers and its focus on global originals for regions outside the U.S. The streamer is not concerned about volume, but rather wants to create a curated experience for its customers.

Here’s a show-by-show breakdown of the announcements about new Amazon series and movies:

Lord of the Rings TV series 

At the top of the list of new Amazon series is the Lord of the Rings TV adaptation, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic books. The streamer revealed that the cast recently participated in table reads for the first few episodes. 

“Everything is moving forward,” Salke said of the prequel set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, which will begin production in February 2020. 

Amazon also officially unveiled the first group of Lord of the Rings cast members, including Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman. 

And more names will be coming. “We still have a few key roles to cast,” said Amazon co-head of TV Vernon Sanders.

The executives did not reveal details about characters nor even the races that they cast members are playing (human, elf, hobbit, dwarf, etc.). However, it’s been reported that Aramayo — best known as the young Ned Stark on Game of Thrones -- is playing Beldor, replacing Will Poulter (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) who exited the project due to scheduling conflicts.

Aramayo joins fellow Game of Thrones alum Mawle, who is believed to be the show’s main villain Oren.

Meanwhile, Clark is rumored to play a younger version of Galadriel (played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s films). And it seems that Muhafidin may be an elf: 

Jack Reacher

The newest Amazon series is a Jack Reacher TV adaptation, based on the popular Lee Child books. The property has previously been made into two movies starring Tom Cruise.

Nick Santora, the creator of CBS’ Scorpion, will serve as writer, executive producer and showrunner on the project, which received a script-to-series commitment from Amazon last summer.

The question top of mind, of course, is whether the series will cast an actor more in line with the physical description of Jack Reacher in the books. The character is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds with a 50-inch chest, and the movies received some flak since Cruise is much shorter. 

Salke said the new Amazon series will undertake a big search for the right actor. "You may see us take our time finding this person,” she said.

Wheel of Time

The upcoming adaptation of Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic Wheel of Time is “well underway with production,” according to Amazon executive Sanders.

"We love what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “As you know, these big world-building shows take some time to craft. We feel incredibly optimistic about the show.” 

Salke added, “We haven’t seen the first cut, but the material coming out of production looks incredible.”

The new Amazon series is set in a world where magic exists and only certain women are allowed to access it. Moiraine, a member of the powerful all-female organization called the Aes Sedai, arrives in the small town of Two Rivers. She’s seeking a young man prophesied to be the Dragon Reborn, who will either save or destroy humanity.

Citadel

Amazon announced that the action-packed spy series Citadel from executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo — the directing duo behind Avengers: Endgame — will star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Bodyguard) and Priyanka Chopra (Quantico). 

They’ll headline the U.S. “mothership” edition of the ambitious international-minded Citadel, which will jump-start local-language productions of the franchise in Mexico, Italy and India. 

The new Amazon series does not yet have a release date.

Making the Cut 

Bravo is out, Amazon is in for Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. The former hosts of Project Runway have jumped to the streamer for its fashion competition series Making the Cut, which premieres March 27.

Gunn said that he and Klum decided to leave because Project Runway executives were afraid to change the format. 

"We couldn’t break out of it because there was a fear — not among us, we’re the ones who were thinking creatively and innovatively about what we wanted to do,” he explained. 

Making the Cut will feature 12 style entrepreneurs vying for a $1 million prize to invest in fashion ventures. The judges are Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Altuzarra creative director Joseph Altuzarra, Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld and influencer Chiara Ferragni. 

The new Amazon series was filmed in New York, Paris and Tokyo, and will air twice weekly for five weeks. The focus is less on sewing and more on the business aspect of fashion.

Gunn said Project Runway was like an undergrad program while Making the Cut is PhD leve.

While Amazon will offer some of the contestants' clothing collections for sale, TV co-head Albert Cheng said that those figures don’t matter for Prime Video and won't be used to measure the success of the show.

Underground Railroad 

Another high-profile new Amazon series is Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Underground Railroad, from Colson Whitehead’s bestselling novel.

The Moonlight director is directing all 11 episodes of the limited series, which follows Cora (Thuso Mbedu), ayoung  slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who learns about the Underground Railroad from Caesar (Aaron Pierre), a recent arrival from Virginia; both decide to escape.

Expect Underground Railroad in late 2020; Amazon revealed that Jenkins is still shooting the drama but is also already at work in the editing bay. Salke even played some footage for the reporters at the TCA press tour, which was scored by Nicholas Britell, the composer behind Succession and Moonlight.

More new Amazon series

Untitled Cortés and Moctezuma Project: As part of their overall deal, Luna and Garcia Bernal are executive-producing this four-hour epic drama in partnership with Steven Spielberg and Steve Zaillian. Oscar winner Javier Barden will star.

It follows the inexorable march and eventual clash between Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II, leading to the annihilation of an empire and tragic downfall of a civilization that took centuries to build, but less than two years to destroy.

Them: Amazon announced that Lena Waithe (an Emmy winner for Master of None) is executive producing a horror anthology series titled “Them.” The stories, based on the premise “us vs. them,” follows an African-American family that encounters supernatural horrors when they move into the white neighborhood in Compton in the 1950s.

Daisy Jones and the Six: The musical series adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel Daisy Jones and the Six has its female lead in Riley Keough, but Amazon said they are still conducting a global search for the male lead Billy. The story centers on a fictional rock band in the 1970s as they rise through the ranks in the Los Angeles music scene and become one of the most legendary bands in the world (think Fleetwood Mac). Amazon executive Salke listened to the first batch of songs and said, “There were chills and tears.” 

The Expanse season 5: The space drama found a new home on Amazon after three seasons on Syfy. Sanders said the streamer was thrilled with season 4, which apparently brought new fans to the service. Last summer, Amazon renewed the show for a fifth season and Sanders noted filming is in progress.