It’s hard to believe it’s already been over 20 years since Peter Jackson’s first The Lord of the Rings film graced theaters all over the world. The screen adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s revolutionary fantasy novels remains an epic movie event that lasts a lifetime, a timeless story of perseverance, friendship, morality, teamwork, and courage. These themes help ground a plot that is filled with creatures that are truly fantastical, such as hobbits, orcs, wizards, and goblins.
A decade after the first trilogy, Jackson adapted The Hobbit for the big screen, also breaking the story up into three separate movies. While this move might have been more financially motivated than anything else, these movies are still enthralling and entertaining. Improved CGI helped to make the special effects of Middle Earth more modern, a decision that some didn’t always agree with.
One unanimous opinion has got to be that the world of movies has never been the same since these six pictures were created. The scope, scale, and aspirations behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit deserve infinite adulation, and we’ve decided to honor their legacy by counting them down from six to one to declare which film is the best of the bunch.
The final movie in Tolkien’s universe made by Jackson is also, unfortunately, the worst of the bunch. The Battle of the Five Armies tries to make The Hobbit into something it’s not, increasing the scale of the book with massive CGI battles and overdone fighting sequences that are a far cry from what many fans remembered so fondly from The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Seeing Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett for the final time in this series is a pleasure, though.
The first movie in The Hobbit trilogy is a faithful tribute to the book it is based upon, but fans had gripes with this movie’s emphasis on new-age special effects and the typical Jackson runtime that felt unnecessary rather than vital to the story. Biblo Baggins’ journey (Martin Freeman) is certainly a fun one once you focus on the meatier sections of it rather than the overdone prologue of the film.
The middle movie in The Hobbit trilogy is perhaps the only one that captures a semblance of the iconic storytelling techniques that Jackson became so famous for a decade earlier when The Lord of the Rings finished. The Desolation of Smaug was positively received because it found an ideal balance of translating the children’s book it is based upon while also understanding that the plot needed more action and adventure with a visual flair. Benedict Cumberbatch was also praised for his voice work as Smaug in the film, with many citing his as the best performance of the bunch.
Often criminally under-appreciated and even disrespected within the fandom of Tolkien’s work, The Two Towers bridged the gap between the first and last films in the trilogy to perfection. As the Fellowship breaks up in their quest to destroy the Ring of Power and save Middle Earth from Sauron, Peter Jackson does a tremendous job of balancing the different character groups so they all get equal screen time. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) must trek to Mordor all by themselves now, while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads his group of the Fellowship to Rohan, all with the heroic hobbits in the back of his mind.
The Two Towers should be remembered as the movie that helped let audiences know that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was going to be much more violent and intense than casual viewers may have originally imagined. Without the decisions made in this film, The Return of the King would not have hit us so hard just a year later.
The Return of the King is often cited by critics and audiences as the best Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation, and we don’t mind this sentiment. In our list, it comes in at number two, and there’s no issue with that either. The final movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the only one to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Despite coming in at a budget of under $100 million, the movie remains a true spectacle. As the heroes of Middle Earth break off into factions to fight the enemies conjured by Sauron and his allies, the sheer force of the war scenes in this film was unlike anything released before it or since.
The Return of the King is often poked fun at for being a little too long, with multiple endings that drag out the last 30 minutes or so of the film. We think this is something that makes the film undeniably legendary, as Jackson takes the time to pay homage to all of the characters we went on the journey to Mordor with. No matter how many orcs die or whether the Ring of Power is destroyed or kept for someone else to wrangle with, the heart of Tolkien’s work is the strong themes that are exhibited by the protagonists’ personalities. The Return of the King bids them adieu in supreme style.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring tops our list of Peter Jackson’s adaptations because it distills everything about Tolkien’s world and themes into a masterclass of storytelling that transcends not only the medium of film, but the entire fantasy genre. Subsequent films in the original trilogy would grow in scale, culminating in massive battles and climaxing with harrowing conclusions about life, death, and war. It’s Fellowship of the Ring that would truly resonate with the largest audience because it encapsulates the age-old truism that the journey of life is more important than the destination.
The film takes people from completely different walks of life, binds them together under a singular purpose (to destroy the Ring of Power), and then lets us see the ways that this diversity is a strength rather than a weakness. While all of the characters are tempted by the treasures of the Ring, all of them have redeeming, heroic qualities that win out over the negatives no matter the harsh circumstances they’re thrown into.
The Fellowship of the Ring is also the most important fantasy film ever made. The soundtrack invites viewers into the world of Middle Earth. The camera work and cinematography remain a pinnacle of blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking over 20 years later. The chemistry of the main cast makes it feel like you’re watching a true family fight through adversity and win out over the immorality of the outside world. The movie is truly one of the best of the 21st century, and it always will be.
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