This blog post is a contribution to A Tolkien Blog Party 2022 hosted by The Edge of the Precipice.
I may have some quibbles with how Peter Jackson chose to portray Tolkien’s stories and characters (more on that later), but the fact remains that Jackson got many, many more things right than he got wrong. I truly love both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy! But…I do love some of those films more than the others, so today I’ll be ranking all six from least-favorite to most-favorite. There will be fangirling, a few critiques, and maybe a controversial ranking or two. Let’s go!
6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
What I like: The usual suspects—Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, everything with Smaug, the beautiful visuals. The spider fight in Mirkwood is also good stuff, particularly the bit where Bilbo goes crazy over the ring. Excellent work from our beloved Martin Freeman. I also enjoy the soundtrack! The new leitmotifs for Kili + Tauriel and Laketown are great.
What I don’t like: It’s boring? Really boring? Your mileage may vary, of course, but there are only a handful of scenes in The Desolation of Smaug that really capture my attention. Beorn, Mirkwood, Gandalf investigating the return of Sauron…sadly, I’m bored more often than not. Oh, and don’t get me started on the orc attack in Laketwon. *yawns*
Ultimately: One of these films had to be in last place. There’s still a lot about Desolation that I like, but at the end of the day I’m not a fan of its too-long sequences (river chase, sneaking around Laketown, orc attack) and downer ending.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
What I like: All of the Shire scenes are pitch-perfect, no question about it. And casting was not one of the faults of the Hobbit trilogy. I know I’ve already mentioned Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, but he bears mentioning again! Rarely have I seen an actor and a character so well suited for each other. The opening bit with him and Gandalf and “good morning” is cinematic gold.
(Oh, and the soundtrack is also splendid, as always.)
What I don’t like: Radagast. 😛 And the whole Goblin-town sequence is (again) boring.
Ultimately: An Unexpected Journey is perhaps the coziest of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films. I’ll always be happy to rewatch it, even if I do skip over Radagast’s scenes. (I just do. not. like. him.)
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
What I like: Rohan, Théoden & family, Gandalf’s return, Andy Serkis’ brilliant performance, Helm’s Deep, “Look for my coming,” THE MUSIC, the flashback scene w/ Boromir, the last march of the Ents, Merry and Pippin.
What I don’t like: I’m not going to talk about this at great length, but Faramir’s character (or lack thereof) in The Two Towers consistently rubs me the wrong way. Not a fan. I also think that TTT is the slowest-paced and least uplifting installment in the LOTR trilogy. (Which I suppose isn’t suprising, as it’s the middle section and so much still has to be resolved.)
I also don’t care for the subplot with Aragorn’s ‘death.’ It doesn’t add much (if anything) to the overall story, so it feels like a waste of time.
Ultimately: There really is a lot to love about The Two Towers (especially Théoden’s character arc!!!), but even Sam’s speech at the end can’t lift the forboding, gloomy vibes.
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
What I like: It’s the cast and characters that really elevate this movie. Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, Bard, Thranduil, Kili, Fili and the list goes on. I love them! The relationships between these characters, the drama, Thorin’s downward spiral and subsequent redemption, Bilbo’s return home, that final scene, ‘The Last Goodbye’…it’s all so good. Not as epic as The Return of the King, no doubt, but very, very good in its own right.
What I don’t like: The titular battle drags on and on and, if you watch the extended (R-rated) edition, it ends up being extremely gory. Ugh.
Ultimately: On a different day, I might have ranked The Two Towers above The Battle of the Five Armies. But I really do love Armies this much. It’s bittersweet and beautiful and I want to rewatch it right now.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
What I like: Where to begin??? I’m getting choked up just thinking of certain scenes and lines from this glorious film. But I’ll try to write out a list of my absolute favorite things. They are…
Minas Tirith, Faramir and Pippin’s friendship, Frodo not giving up, the music (always have to mention that), the ride of the Rohirrim (!!!!!!!!!), the 1.5 scenes devoted to Éowyn and Faramir’s romance, Gandalf and Pippin discussing the afterlife, Gandalf and Pippin’s friendship in general, everything after the ring is destroyed, and I could keep going.
What I don’t like: Frodo and Sam’s fight on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Nope, nope, nope.
Ultimately: The Return of the King is a masterpiece, deep and detailed and wonderful in every sense of the word. The very best send-off possible for both the characters and the fans. I doubt it will ever be surpassed, as epic finales go.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
What I like: Pretty much everything. No lie.
What I don’t like: I’m sure there’s something, but…what?
Ultimately: The Fellowship of the Ring has three things going for it that no other Middle-earth film has—the entire fellowship travelling and fighting and sightseeing together, (almost) all of Boromir’s scenes, and Howard Shore’s indescribable ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship.’ I absolutely love this film, and it could never have been anywhere on this list but here.
Are you shocked, absolutely shocked that I placed The Battle of the Five Armies higher than The Two Towers? How would you rank these six films? Do let me know in the comments!
Yeah, our ranking is pretty similar. I think mine is:
6 An Unexpected Journey
5 The Two Towers
4 The Desolation of Smaug
3 The Return of the King
2 The Battle of the Five Armies
1 The Fellowship of the Ring
I almost never watch the extended version of TBOTFA, though. It’s the only one where the theatrical version was excellent and the extended just is so-so. (Reading this, I was like, wow, is it rated R? I hope I didn’t show it to my kids… oh, wait, of course I didn’t — I always watch the theatrical version, heh.)
Anyway, I’m not shocked because I also rank TBOTFA super high. It’s just THAT good.
Yeah, I don’t think the extended edition of TBOTFA adds much besides gore. 😛 I’m a completist, so whenever I watch any of the six movies I’ll watch the extended edition. But I still love the theatrical version of TBOTFA.
Oooooh, I totally want to do this, now. I enjoyed reading your rankings!
The Desolation of Smaug IS boring. xD There’s just a lot of gloomy filler. Don’t love it.
“The Breaking of the Fellowship” AHHH! My favorite track. It’s so gorgeous.
I’d love to read a similar blog post from you!
Yup, that’s my favorite track as well. It’s *almost* up there with ‘The Call’ for giving me those aching, heartbreaking vibes.
I love this! And I agree with you about Radagast–I can’t see that guy without wanting a shower. Ugh.
Lol! Yeah, he’s not the cleanest person. 😛
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Personally, I’d put the Hobbit movies in reverse (Desolation of Smaug is my favourite of the three), and they’d all be below all entries of the LOTR trilogy. I’d agree there are some choices done with the story in The Two Towers that don’t quite work, but my least favourite scene in the extended trilogy is where The Witch King destroys Gandalf’s staff. In the books, The Witch King couldn’t even scratch Gandalf if The White Wizard didn’t want him to. Although Sauron started off the more powerful of the two, he and Gandalf are members of the same race – the Maiar, which in Tolkien literature, basically makes them the equivalent of lesser angels (Sauron being a fallen angel). White Wizard Gandalf pretty much has full access to his powers – he’s just not supposed to use them unless there are further surprises like the Balrog of Moria. But he was partly given full access to his powers to depower and banish Saruman from the order to the point where he basically wasn’t even a Maiar any more.
Oh yeah, that scene with Gandalf and the Witch King is…not the best. 😛 It’s so cool, knowing all the lore about Gandalf (even if it wasn’t included in the movies).
I feel like a good film editor with a ruthless cutting streak could make The Hobbit into two good movies. Cut out everything with Tauriel and Kili, chop down the boring bits, refocus it on the Hobbit, reduce Smaug to more of his role in the books (cleverness; take out the dwarves trying to kill him with the molten gold), but keep everything with Gandalf/Galadriel. There are moments The Hobbit is really, really good (Bilbo and Smaug in the treasure horde) and moments when it’s not, but it suffers from the Peter Jackson “bloat.”
The Fellowship of the Ring is by far the best movie in the LotR franchise, and my personal favorite. There’s nothing I would change about it. It’s a cinematic masterpiece and, IMO, far more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar than RotK. Not that RotK isn’t GOOD, but FotR is the best.
There are already a number of fan edits that do just that. I recently watched one that turns the entire trilogy into one 4 hour movie that was mostly really good – the Maple cut. It completely removes the White Council stuff, which I’d rather have left in, but the guy who did the Maple cut does have a separate, 1 hour movie that’s mostly about the White Council stuff.
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I’ll have to check that out sometime. How would they make the White Council stuff into a separate episode, since it has no ending?
I would have preferred the White Council stuff included in the movie, and it didn’t really work as a standalone film, but it’s at least an interesting experiment.
I’d recommend looking into fan edits and choosing which one sounds best to you. There’s one that turns the entire trilogy into 1.5 hours, another that turns it into two movies that are about 2.5 hours each … there are plenty of them. And as long as you own copies of the actual trilogy, it’s perfectly legal to watch privately.
I found one guy from YouTube who tweaked them all by about an hour / 40 minutes, he left in the important stuff, so I may check out his cut this weekend. I do own all the movies already, so that’s not a problem.
Too bad Peter Jackson didn’t have you as a script/story consultant when he made the Hobbit trilogy. 😉
I think I read that the Academy waited to unleash alllll the Oscars until ROTK because the awards were really for the trilogy as a whole. But yes, I agree that FOTR most deserved Best Picture.
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It is. Everyone should consult me. I’ve noticed that the closer you are to the source material, the less clearly you can see it. IMO, directors really need an independent cutting editor to come in and tweak their movie, just to see where the fat could be trimmed that they didn’t see. There are numerous little things throughout the trilogy that, if you were really serious about tightening it, you could shorten without losing any dialogue (for example, when Sauron reveals himself to Gandalf in the Hobbit, that scene just goes on and on and on with the strobing effect, when it could be a lot shorter). But that’s minor nitpicks. FotR is the only movie where there’s nothing I would change. It’s flawless.
I understand the reasoning of the Academy (wait until it’s all over, so it doesn’t keep winning everything) but I don’t agree with it. 😉
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I couldn’t really judge since I didn’t see the Hobbit movies. I honestly don’t get why it has to be three movies when the Hobbit book is so short.
I did see the Lord of the Rings trilogy so I do think the first one is the best one because it introduces the world of hobbits and elves and dwarfs and wizards, etc. Certainly I think the casting is quite perfect. Of course now, if I ever re-read the books, I think of those actors in those roles. But the third movie, I would vote as second best because the endings just seem quite perfect, not too sweet and not too overly done.
Have a lovely day.
Some of the length of the Hobbit trilogy comes from including scenes from LOTR’s appendices and such (like one scene where Gandalf meets up with Thorin prior to the party at Bag End). But overall, the trilogy is pretty bloated with scenes that go on for too long. Sigh.
Great ranking of the LOTR films!
“The Last Goodbye” is *chef’s kiss*
I’ve always loved that song since it came out (I was in college when the Hobbit movies were released). I used to listen to it on repeat in the computer lab when I was doing my homework. Good times, good times.
It really is!!! One of my favorite songs ever.
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First off – it brings me so much joy to read a review on the Peter Jackson movies rather than the Rings of Power TV Show for once this month! (Thank you!) I’m not absolutely shocked that you ranked The Battle of the Five Armies higher than The Two Towers. I think the fact that the originals(Fellowship of the Rings, Two Towers, Return of the King) are my go-to favorites due to the overwhelming nostalgia. The ‘amazing editing job’ in that one scene where Frodo is taken to Elrond in Rivendell was the only section that I disliked in the Fellowship of the Ring. The head cut outs of Elrond and Frodo are hysterical! The prolonged period of screen time that Gollum gets should be shaved down to a stub in the 2nd and 3rd movies.
I liked the first Hobbit movie – but the second and third movies immediately went downhill when the Smaug sequence was split between two movies. Smaug should have died at the end of the second movie – not at the beginning of the third movie! Why build up to something important just to let it bleed into the next movie? To this day I cannot watch those two separate from each other or I’ll be upset. My ranking: 1.The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2.The Fellowship of the Ring, 3.The Return of the King, 4.The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 5.The Battle of the Five Armies, 6.The Desolation of Smaug
Apart from those, the 1978 version of the Lord of the Rings isn’t too shabby. The only way I can watch the Rings of Power series is to view it as a fanfic comedy.
The LOTR films are all truly amazing in terms of overall quality–I think it’s just that these lists come down to personal preference. Nostalgia definitely has a big part in that, like you mentioned!
LOL. The ‘amazing editing’…I’d forgotten about that, but that probably wasn’t the best look. 😉
I don’t mind the cliffhanger at the end of The Desolation of Smaug, although leaving his death until the third movie means that the title of the second doesn’t entirely make sense.
I really enjoy The Hobbit (1977). It’s a lot of fun! The ’78 LOTR was a little too weird for my tastes, but I know there are several people who like it. Haven’t seen Rings of Power, though I won’t say I’ll never watch it. 🙂
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