Adapting all three of JRR Tolkien’s notoriously “unfilmable” Lord of the Rings books back-to-back is one of the riskiest moves in Hollywood history, but Peter Jackson managed to pull it off. His Lord of the Rings trilogy is regarded as a landmark in the fantasy genre and in blockbuster cinema in general. A decade later, the director returned to Middle-earth for a similarly ambitious (but not similarly acclaimed) adaptation of The Hobbit. After George Lucas went back to a galaxy far, far away, The Hobbit movies marked yet another prequel trilogy to a beloved blockbuster phenomenon that was criticized for disjointed storytelling and reliance on CGI.
The Lord of the Rings was already a three-part epic that Jackson had to condense to fit into a nine-hour trilogy. The Hobbit is a slim children’s book that Jackson had to stretch out to the same length so New Line Cinema could get the same bang for its buck. As a result, the movies in the former trilogy are a lot more rewatchable than the latter trilogy.
6 The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)
The final installation in The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, drags out a relatively minor event from the original novel that doesn’t feature any of the main characters into a two-and-a-half-hour epic so the trilogy can have a big finale. A lot of The Battle of the Five Armies is spectacle for the sake of spectacle, which gets old fast.
The third hobbit movie doubles down on the fan service, bringing back Lord of the Rings fan favorites like Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, and Ian Holm. But it fails to utilize those beloved icons in a way that significantly expands their characters or adds any real depth.
5 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The first hobbit movie, dubbed An Unexpected Journey, got the trilogy off to a promising start. It takes a while for Bilbo and the Company of Dwarves to leave the Shire. They party all night at Bilbo’s house before finally setting off.
But once they get going, the movie becomes a rolling fantasy adventure. Ian McKellen is always a joy to watch in the role of Gandalf, and he’s featured more prominently in An Unexpected Journey than its sequels.
4 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
The first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, gets off to a slow start. It’s brilliantly made, bringing Tolkien’s beautifully realized world to life on-screen, but it spends a while in the Shire introducing all the characters and conflicts before Frodo and his fellow hobbits set off to destroy the One Ring.
There’s a lot of exposition in Fellowship. It’s crucial to the plot, but it’s not very rewatchable. Once the audience knows all the mythology, they don’t need to hear Gandalf explain it over and over again. The first movie builds to a thrilling climax in which Gandalf battles the Balrog, but it takes a long time to get there.
3 The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013)
The second installation in The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is easily its most action-packed. This tends to be the case with the second movies in trilogies. The first movie is burdened with setting up the conflicts and the third movie is burdened with tying up the loose ends. The second movie can jump right into the adventure and end on a shocking cliffhanger like Han Solo being frozen in carbonite or Batman taking the rap for Harvey Dent’s crimes. In this case, it’s Smaug escaping from the Lonely Mountain and descending upon Laketown.
The narrative in desolation still feels stretched. Tolkien’s thin source novel didn’t need to be adapted into three movies. But the second hobbit film has some fun set-pieces to make up for it, like when the Dwarves escape from captivity by riding barrels downriver.
2 The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
In the middle chapter of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once again, the second movie gets to dive into the spectacle and isn’t burdened with wrapping up any story threads in time for the end credits. There’s a lot of walking in The Two Towers – in the words of Randal Graves, “Even the f***ing trees walked in those movies!” – but it’s also the most action-packed entry in the trilogy.
The centerpiece of The Two Towers, the Battle of Helm’s Deep, is one of the greatest action sequences ever put on film. It’s epic in scope, but it’s shot, choreographed, and edited through an intense, intimate lens.
1 The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
The grand final of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the Kingmade Oscar history when it tied with Ben Hur and Titanic as the movie with the most Academy Award victories. The threequel infamously takes a long time to get to the end credits. Almost every single character in the ensemble gets their own ending before Jackson finally concludes the trilogy. But it’s still the most rewatchable entry in the series.
Building to the final showdown in the fires of Mount Doom, The Return of the King is the action-packed climax of the whole saga. It has the most riveting set-pieces of the franchise, but it’s also the one with the most dramatic depth. The movie provides an emotionally resonant resolution to the heart of the story: Frodo’s undying friendship with Sam.
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