Ranking all six Lord of the Rings films

Posted on 5 January 2015
By Mark Langshaw
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies marked the end of an epic journey, a fantastic adventure that began back in 2001 when Peter Jackson first introduced us to his cinematic take on Middle-earth.

Six movies and 13 years later, the fans have plenty to reflect on, from the dizzying highs of epic set pieces like the battle of Helm’s Deep to the eye-rollingly pointless love triangle of the Hobbit trilogy.

Fans have also spent a lot of money on merchandise from posters with movie scenes to tungsten rings
with the Black Speech engraving and everything in between.

Jackson’s ambitious project is now complete, but which of the six films rules them all? Read on for Purple Revolver’s take on this contentious debate…

6) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Let’s get one thing out of the way, JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit is incomparable to Lord of the Rings. It’s a children’s book that pales in comparison to the author’s magnum opus.

It was clear from the start that Jackson and his creative team intended to beef up the source material to bring it in line with his Rings trilogy, but the filmmaker fought a losing battle here.

The first instalment in the Hobbit series suffers greatly in comparison to the Rings films, its kid-friendly tone and pacing issues setting Bilbo’s journey off on the wrong path.

I was as enthusiastic as the next fan to see Sir Ian McKellen don the grey robes of Gandalf once again and applaud virtually every one of Jackson’s casting decisions, but this movie failed to live up to the standards he set with his previous trilogy.

5) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

It surprises most people when I tell them that I didn’t really care for The Return of the King. I’m a big fan of the novels and the first two cinematic instalments, but the finale left me cold.

Return of the King may have won a stack of Academy Awards, but for me, it’s filled with odd storytelling decisions and plot threads that go nowhere. I also maintain that, out of the three Rings films, this one deviates furthest from the book.

I understand that ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ would have felt like an anti-climactic way to bring the curtain down, but Faramir’s relationship with Eowyn should never have ended up on the cutting room floor.

While the set pieces and battles never fail to thrill, none of them top Helm’s Deep from the previous film, although Legolas’s Oliphaunt slaying comes darn close.

4) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Jackson’s second chapter in the Hobbit trilogy swerved many of the pitfalls of its predecessor by taking things a shade darker and bringing its tone more in line with Lord of the Rings.

The director’s decision to split such a short book into three lengthy films is controversial, but it allowed him to dedicate the appropriate amount of screen time to breathtaking set pieces like the barrels escapade and Bilbo’s brush with Smaug.

Desolation of Smaug also enabled Jackson to flesh out his main characters and introduce some welcome new ones ahead of the action-packed final chapter.

The elf-dwarf love triangle that began in this act is beyond pointless, but the film stands tall alongside Jackson’s earlier Middle-earth offerings.

3) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The first two Hobbit films build up to a satisfying payoff as the third and final chapter delivers in almost every respect.

The titular battle is a spectacle to rival any other set piece from the series, while themes such as the futility of war and the corruptive effect of wealth add meaning to the madness.

Jackson successfully bridges the gap between the two trilogies with fan-pleasing segments mined from the appendices Tolkien left behind and enriches the story by building on its framework.

You wouldn’t be the first to call me a Philistine for ranking two Hobbit films above Return of the King, but I feel Jackson and co did a better job fleshing out the source material than they did condensing it.

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

Despite arriving in theatres some 13 years ago, The Fellowship of the Ring still holds up as a cinematic epic in every sense and a shining example of how to adapt a novel for the big screen.

There are few better opening acts in movie history than Jackson’s first Rings outing, the film that established the director as a visionary genius and introduced a new generation of fans to some of the most iconic characters fantasy fiction has to offer.

Although Fellowship feels like a leisurely stroll through Jackson’s Middle-earth at times, this pacing helped cinemagoers acquaint themselves with the characters and root for them when orcs, Nazgul and Balrogs reared their ugly heads.

Everyone remembers the first time they saw this masterpiece, and there are few who viewed fantasy cinema in the same light afterwards.

1) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

As much as I believe Fellowship is a near-perfect adaptation of Tolkien’s work, The Two Towers belongs to an exclusive category of sequel inhabited only by the likes of The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II.

Two words sum up why Jackson’s second Rings offering is superior to his first – Helm’s Deep.

This epic battle that serves as the film’s centrepiece is one of the most spectacular ever committed to celluloid, from its agonising build up to the starkly-beautiful moment when Gandalf the White leads the cavalry into the remaining fray of Uruk-hai.

Towers blew me away back in 2002, and 12 years has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for this stellar sequel.