In 2001, 20 years ago this year, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. In honor of the 20th anniversary of the film franchise, myself, Eric Lankford and Christian Eulinberg hosted a special episode of the Music City Drive In Podcast where we talked all things J.R.R. Tolkien in film. You can find the episode here. For today’s Binge Watch, I decided to publish my rankings for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, including the classic 1977 animated version of The Hobbit.
Without further ado, here’s my ranking. Agree, disagree, have a different take? Share your favorite films and moments in the comments below.
7. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
About: This is the third and final Hobbit film from Peter Jackson. As we discussed on the Podcast, there weren’t supposed to be three films originally, and this is the one where you feel that the most. I maintain that the Hobbit films suffer from some of the same issues as the Star Wars prequels in that the stakes aren’t there because we know what comes after. But watching them as a prelude to Lord of the Rings works better. That being said, this one doesn’t work that well for me. It’s OK, but the weakest of all these films.
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
About: This one is better than Five Armies, and has some great moments, but doesn’t totally work for me. This has my favorite moment of the whole trilogy, when Thorin (Richard Armitage) sings Misty Mountain, and I like the sequence between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis). That being said, I feel like this film tries too hard to capture the tone and story flow of the first installment of Lord of the Rings.
5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
About: This is the middle film in the trilogy, and this one is my favorite of Jackson’s Hobbit films. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoy Bilbo’s journey into the mine and his exchange with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). I like the cliffhanger ending, too. This one has some of the worst CGI in the franchise, but I like the experience and the story the best.
4. The Hobbit (1977)
About: My early introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien was having my dad read me The Hobbit, with illustrations from this 1977 cartoon film. I’ve always thought of The Hobbit as more of a children’s book, which is why the tone and scope of Jackson’s movies didn’t fit for me. This one, with its early animation has a lot of heart and captures the story the way I always think of it. It’s a tight hour and 30 minutes, but it’s always stuck with me.
3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
About: This finale to the Lord of the Rings trilogy brings it all together. It won the most awards, including Best Picture, but I think that was largely given for the collective work of the trilogy. This one has some soaring moments, and I’ve appreciated its artistry. But the Denethor (John Noble) storyline doesn’t work for me, and I agree it has a few too many endings. This is nitpicking since I think the entire trilogy is great and an incredible achievement, but this is the one I love the least.
2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
About: This is the one that started it all. I still remember when I finished the book just in time to catch and opening day screening of this film. I was a junior in college, and the ending shook me because Jackson opted to take a sequence from The Two Towers to close the first film. But it got me hooked. This one still has my favorite moment in any of the films, when Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) are sitting in the mountain pass, discussing Gollum and the burden of the ring. I tear up each time because I think it’s beautiful and gets to the heart of the film and the story.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
About: For some, this is their least favorite of The Lord of the Rings films. For me, it’s my most favorite. I love so many of the moments—the Ents, Gollum’s war with himself, Gandalf first reappearing—but the best part is the Battle of Helm’s Deep. I thought it was the most impressive set piece and sequence of any of the films. So, it sits as my favorite.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.