Every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Movie, Ranked

The cultural impact of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings movies rivals that of behemoth franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars. Its box office successfully launched the high fantasy genre from the world of novels onto the big screen in mainstream culture. The first installment of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, grossed $ 897 million worldwide. The second film of the series, The Two Towers, beat its predecessor with $ 947 million – an unusual feat for many sequels. The final movie of the series, The Return of the King, again surpassed both previous films, being the second movie after Titanic to gross over $ 1 billion worldwide.

The reverberations of The Lord of the Rings films were felt around the world. The original novels and other works of JRR Tolkien saw a boosted interest. New Zealand, the location in which many of the film’s beautiful scenes were shot, saw growth in tourism following the release of the film. In homes around the world, extended versions of the films were released with the most recent 2021 iteration being a 31 disc collector’s edition containing all six films from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This edition boasts audio remastering, improved visual effects, and a 4k Blu-ray format, and is part of the tradition of massive excess in The Lord of the Rings, from running times to budgets; the latest instance of this being the anticipated new Amazon series The Rings of Power, which will have a $ 465 million budget.

The first film in The Hobbit trilogy was released in 2012 and is again directed by Peter Jackson. All three films are based on the 1937 novel written by JRR Tolkien that predates the Lord of the Rings novels. This series received mixed reviews, but in a media landscape with limited high fantasy blockbusters and an incredibly robust fan base, the film was by many metrics a success. How do these films compare to the others? Well, here is every Lord of the Rings movie, ranked.

7 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

People of Middle Earth look up in The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies
Warner Bros. Pictures

This is the third and final film of the Hobbit trilogy. It was released in 2014 and details the climatic war between Bilbo, the dwarfs, and their allies against the evils of the Orc army. This film falls last on our list today, not because it is a bad movie, but because this film exemplifies the issues faced when turning one novel into three feature length films. In short, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies feels a little bloated. Long, drawn-out scenes are a classic element of Lord of the Rings movies (again indicative of its tendency toward excess), but usually these sequences have a point and propel the narrative forward. Scenes that revolve around the Master of Lake-town and his cronies seem to function as comic relief and less on building the story or the world.

Related: Peter Jackson Was Pushed Hard to Kill a Hobbit in The Lord of the Rings

On the upside, this film contains a lot of great action sequences. It utilizes an incredible amount of CGI, which may be refreshing to some when compared to the original series. We are able to see all the disgusting details of the Orcs, magic at the helmet of Gandalf, and the terrifyingly grand horror that is Smaug. If you are a fan of action, then this film may be one of your favorites, but if you are a diehard fan of the original trilogy, then this concluding feature may have left a less-than-savory taste for the Hobbit trilogy.

6 The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (1977 & 1978)

People hide beneath a shadowy figure in Lord of the Rings 1978
United Artists

These are two separate movies that came out within a year of each other in the late ’70s. They are grouped together because both are both animated in the same kind of style and are often paired back to back, and although they are based off of the same source material, they are not in the same canon as the more recent Hobbit or Lord of the Rings series. Instead, the two films retell the story of Bilbo and Frodo respectively, basing their narratives off of the original Tolkien novels.

The Hobbit was released first in 1977 and is directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin. The Lord of the Rings is directed by the great animator Ralph Bakshi, and has become a kind of underground cult classic for many. Both films offer a refreshing and interesting take on the original novel, and through the medium of animation, the two movies can do things that live-action often can not, and creates an artistic and pleasant viewing experience because of it. While by no means as epic, dramatic, and impressive as the live-action films, if you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings and enjoy animated content, these are two charming little adaptations you should check out.

5 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Bilbo wields a sword in The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug
Warner Bros. Pictures

Now back to the Hobbit series. Fifth on our list is The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. In this film, we pick up where the first Hobbit leaves off, which is the pursuit of Lonely Mountain and the treasures that lie beneath. A handful of very interesting mythical creatures are introduced in this movie, including giant spiders, a skin-changer, Wood-Elves, and Smoug. The beginning of the film is filled with misadventures towards the lonely mountain, but once Bilbo and the dwarves reach the mountain, Smaug is introduced.

Possibly one of the best character introductions of the entire series, it involves Bilbo sneaking into the Lonely Mountain to find the treasure known as the Arkenstone. Wading through mountains of gold, Bilbo stumbles upon Smaug, who up until this point is thought to have died. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the monstrous echoes of Smaug’s words reverberate throughout the entirety of the Lonely Mountain. This scene induces a sense of overwhelming awe and fear, and while it could use some editing, the entire film is incredibly captivating and worthy of the praise it’s received.

4 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Bilbo grips his walking stick in The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the highest ranked of the Hobbit movies on our list today. It does an incredible job of capturing the sense of adventure and journey that The Lord of the Rings movies do so well, but does so with a much more lighthearted and folksy tone, as reviews of the movie point out. Starting the movie in the shire, with unexpected dwarf guests showing up at Bilbo’s house, you are immediately taken back to the first Lord of the Rings film and the similar circumstances unfolding in that movie. It is the perfect blend of familiarity and novelty with the entire movie doing a beautiful job of painting the fantastic world of Middle Earth that we know and love.

3 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum on the ground in The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
New Line Cinema

The top three spots on this list are occupied by the original trilogy. The second film of the series, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towersfinds Frodo and Sam creeping closer to Mordor with the help of former hobbit Gollum. The dynamic between the three of them is fantastic. Gollum claims to know a hidden path to Mordor but is also obsessed with the ring that Frodo keeps. Frodo puts his trust into Gollum but Sam’s suspicion toward the creature continues to be raised.

Related: Preparing for Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis Would Walk on All Fours for Hours

Meanwhile, the Sauuman storyline progresses as he has pledged his allegiance to Sauron. This film really is an amazing epic, and when it comes to the three Lord of the Rings movies, they are all almost equally captivating, but middle parts of trilogies usually always come up a bit short compared to the exciting introductions of first films and the satisfying conclusions of third films.

2 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring started it all for most people. It is the first time that we meet all the characters we grow up with as their arcs develop. It is also here that we must note the amazing casting throughout this trilogy. Elijah Wood as Frodo perfectly fits the bill; with looks and cadence, he perfectly embodies the Hobbit mentality. Next is everyone’s favorite Hobbit, Sam, played by Sean Astin. He approaches the charismatic and lovable character with such grace and poise, and the acting is as beautiful as the friendship Sam and Frodo build throughout the series.

Although he does not have an incredible amount of screen time, Ian Holm does a superb job at playing Bilbo. His part in creating exposition about the power of the ring through its addictive attributes is instrumental to the lore of this narrative. And finally, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the affable magic grandad who we all want in our lives. This cast, the story, and this movie occupies a space in cinema that only few have reached. It truly is a masterpiece.

1 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The group of hobbits walk through the mountains in The Lord of the Rings Return of the King
New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has the tremendous benefit of bringing the narrative and character arcs from the preceding Lord of the Rings movies to a close. As the trilogy concludes, there is a bittersweet feeling. The movie really is incredible, and how the story develops and ends after much darkness is surprisingly sweet and heartwarming. The bitterness only comes when the credits roll and the amazingly fantastical story comes to an end. Luckily, this trilogy is easy to binge, as each movie’s end feeds right into the beginning of the next, and with a 31-disc collectors edition and added runtime for all the movies, there’s a ton of content for fans. So if you have a spare 10 hours and have not already partaken in your annual Lord of the Rings marathon, it’s a great weekend activity!

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