Peter Jackson’s beloved Lord of the Rings movies is incredible enough upon realizing just how well their special effects have aged. However, the movies become even more impressive once you realize Jackson and company had the difficult job of condensing 1,171 pages to the screen. Given that J.R.R Tolkien was a heavily expositional writer who sometimes did his world-building at the expense of his narrative, it’s no easy task.
As for The Hobbit trilogy? Well, that’s another story. Indeed, the movies were well-cast, but Jackson was burnt out by this point in the game. Certainly, if you’re a fan of Middle-Earth, you’ll enjoy the way he depicts the universe regardless. And Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is a joy to watch – as is Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey.
That being said – how to rank the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies overall? Well, let’s see…
6. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
If there’s one thing the Hobbit relies on too much, it’s CGI. As a result, you often feel like you’re watching a video game. While the titular battle is epic, no tension is felt during the movie. We know Legolas survives to see LOTR – but it only makes things worse when he effortlessly defies the laws of gravity and is unfettered by any adversary he comes across. As usual, Martin Freeman’s performance remains the best part of the film, and when a particular character does bite the bullet, you can’t help but feel a little sadness. By no means is Battle of the Five Armies a bad movie – in fact, none of the films on this list are terrible, per se. However, its preference for epic fantasy warfare over actual storytelling makes it the weakest of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth movies. While there’s room for both in a Middle-Earth film, they succeed only when both of these are executed in equal measure.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
While it may be An Unexpected Journey, it is somewhat expected padding. After all, we knew at the time Jackson was doing three Hobbit movies based on a 310-page children’s book. Therefore, he needed to add his own embellishments to justify three films and get our money. To his credit, Jackson adds Galadriel to the plot to espouse exposition and further emphasizes Elrond’s importance to the story. And, look, Martin Freeman is inarguably perfect casting for naïve, charming Bilbo Baggins. However, we care little for the personality-less dwarves, and the video game-like fight scenes are so devoid of tension they feel more annoying than welcome. That said, the movie has those gorgeous New Zealand panoramas – and seeing Andy Serkis play Gollum is always a pleasure.
4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
The Hobbit movies are middling at best, so it’s hard to choose the best contender. That said, after some thinking, it’s evident Desolation of Smaug takes the top spot. The set-pieces are fantastic – from the spiders of Mirkwood to the Elves and, of course, Smaug himself. Also, as Bilbo and company tread closer to Smaug, there are far more stakes felt than in the previous film. And as Gandalf investigates further into the necromancer and Bilbo realizes the ring’s alluring power, we can’t help but feel chills of foreshadowing regarding LOTR. It’s not Peter Jackson’s best Middle-Earth effort. But it is the best of the three Hobbit movies, and you’ll have tons of fun here. And if you like the theatrical cut, maybe give the Extended Edition a go – you won’t regret it.
3. The Two Towers (2002)
The Two Towers is a fantastic entry. Certainly, it’s better than any of the three Hobbit films that followed. However, it suffers from being the middle-entry of the trilogy. Therefore, it doesn’t benefit from Fellowship’s engrossing set-up, nor does it have Return of the King‘s epic conclusion. That said, its introduction to Andy Serkis’s Smeagol/Gollum, the Riders of Rohan and Treebeard, and the Ents help expand Middle-Earth in a charismatic way. And then, of course, there’s the iconic Battle of Helms Deep, which is a strong reminder that there’s still room for live-action medieval fighting in cinema without overly relying upon CGI. Without a doubt, The Two Towers has some of the best battles in the Lord of the Rings movies.
2. The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Fellowship is a milestone in cinema. Blockbuster movies revolving around magic swords, ancient prophecies, and elves and dwarves were hardly popular stuff in 2001. Yet, Jackson’s first journey into Middle-Earth engrossed us into a movie universe unlike anything depicted before. When we weren’t mesmerized by Hobbiton and Rivendell, we were swept up by Frodo’s pressurizing destiny and fell in love with the titular fellowship, character-to-character. Fellowship is also a glowing reminder of how using an even mix of real locations and CGI can do wonders. Remarkably, the 2 hour 58-minute runtime glides by, thanks to the movie’s excellent pacing and success in hooking you at every turn. By the end of this film, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and company will have you wrapped around their finger, like the One Ring itself.
1. Return of the King (2003)
Wow, wow, wow. This is how you craft a satisfying narrative conclusion. Return of the King neatly rounds off Peter Jackson’s trilogy by bringing in the big guns – from the Battle of Pelennor Fields to the large spider Shelob all the way to Mount Doom; Return of the King is action-packed. But what makes the action work is its culmination of several character arcs coming to a close. The film separates the comedic duo Merry and Pippin as they find responsibility on the battlefield and beyond. Frodo and Sam must deal not only with the mischievous Gollum but also the temptation of the ring as he furthers into Orc territory. And Aragorn finally seizes his destiny as the ruler of Gondor. It’s mired somewhat by an overlong ending, but overall, it’s the best LOTR film.
That said, this is just our take on what constitutes the best Lord of the Rings movies. Do you agree or disagree with our ranking? And are you pumped for the upcoming Lord of the Rings series on Amazon Prime?