With The Hobbit drawing to a close this month we are once again saying farewell to Middle-Earth - a touch less fondly than we did with Return of the King, mind you. While doing press for the film Sir Ian McKellan gave one of those quotes that sites like to pick up and turn into a speculative spin piece. He said:
I was told by Peter, in 2001 that that was the end, that it was all over. Here we are 13 years later. So I don’t believe necessarily that this is the end of the journey.
The question is could Jackson or Warner Bros make more movies in this world - do they have the rights? Most people - Jackson included - point to the legal hassles of Jackson's other great Middle-Earth work, The Silmarillion, as a reason why the story stops here. But let's be honest - anyone who has read The Silmarillion knows you don't adapt that book. It's basically The Bible of Middle-Earth, and it's largely interested in the events of The First Age. To put that in perspective, Lord of the Rings closes out The Third Age. It's a hyper-prequel in the way Noah is a prequel to Titanic.
While Jackson doesn't have the rights to that book, and likely never will thanks to hostility from the Tolkein estate, he does have two powerful things: the fifty years between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring and the Appendices in Return of the King. With all of that time, and with the information and world-building in the Appendices, Jackson could have turned what was once going to be a single 'bridge movie' connecting The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings into a whole new trilogy.
I'm not saying he should. And the level of invention required here - this would put making up a girl elf who falls in love with a dwarf to shame - would likely anger the hardcore fanbase. But that fanbase isn't giving a billion bucks global to these films, and it would be very easy for Jackson to basically create his own Expanded Tolkein Universe stories using characters, concepts and event guideposts created by Tolkein. There must already be some kind of a treatment for the bridge movie - a basic idea, at least - and Jackson has long ago proven he can take even the smallest idea and make something very, very long out of it.