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The Lord of the Rings (film series)

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The Lord of the Rings
The poster for the trilogy is a montage that features a range of characters and scenes from all three films
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by
  • Peter Jackson
  • Barrie M. Osborne
  • Fran Walsh
  • Mark Ordesky
  • Tim Sanders (The Fellowship of the Ring)
Screenplay by
  • Fran Walsh
  • Philippa Boyens
  • Peter Jackson
  • Stephen Sinclair (The Two Towers)
Based on The Lord of the Rings 
by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Elijah Wood
  • Ian McKellen
  • Viggo Mortensen
  • Sean Astin
  • Liv Tyler
  • John Rhys-Davies
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Billy Boyd
  • Dominic Monaghan
  • Hugo Weaving
  • Christopher Lee
  • Sean Bean
  • Andy Serkis
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Andrew Lesnie
  • WingNut Films
  • The Saul Zaentz Company
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date(s)
  • 19 December 2001 (2001-12-19)
  • (The Fellowship of the Ring)
  • 18 December 2002 (2002-12-18)
  • (The Two Towers)
  • 17 December 2003 (2003-12-17)
  • (The Return of the King)
Running time
  • 558 minutes
  • 683 minutes (extended edition)
  • 726 minutes (special extended Blu-ray edition)
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Budget $281 million
Box office $2.92 billion

The Lord of the Rings is a film series consisting of three epic fantasy adventure films co-written and directed by Peter Jackson and based on English author J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The films are, by subtitle, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). They were distributed by New Line Cinema.

Considered to be one of the biggest and most ambitious film projects ever undertaken, with an overall budget of $281 million, the entire project took eight years, with the filming for all three films done simultaneously and entirely in Jackson's native country, New Zealand. Each film in the series also had special extended editions released on DVD a year after their respective theatrical releases. While the films follow the book's general storyline, they do omit some of the novel's plot elements and include some additions to and deviations from the source material.

Set in the fictional world of Middle-earth, the three films follow the hobbit Frodo Baggins ( Elijah Wood) as he and a Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and thus ensure the destruction of its maker, the Dark Lord Sauron. The Fellowship becomes divided and Frodo continues the quest together with his loyal companion Sam ( Sean Astin) and the treacherous Gollum ( Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Aragorn ( Viggo Mortensen), heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) unite and rally the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, who are ultimately victorious in the War of the Ring.

The series was a major financial success, with the films collectively being among the highest-grossing film series of all time. The films were critically acclaimed and heavily awarded, winning 17 out of 30 total Academy Award nominations. The series' final film, The Return of the King, won all 11 of its Academy Awards nominations, tying it with Ben-Hur and Titanic for most Academy Awards received for a film. The series received wide praise for its innovative special and visual effects. Due to the series' success, Peter Jackson decided to make The Hobbit prequel trilogy (2012–2014), which is also based on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.


Director Peter Jackson first came into contact with The Lord of the Rings when he saw Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings. Jackson "enjoyed the film and wanted to know more." Afterwards, he read a tie-in edition of the book during a twelve-hour train journey from Wellington to Auckland when he was seventeen.

In 1995, Jackson was finishing The Frighteners and considered The Lord of the Rings as a new project, wondering "why nobody else seemed to be doing anything about it". With the new developments in computer-generated imagery following Jurassic Park, Jackson set about planning a fantasy film that would be relatively serious and feel real. By October, he and his partner Fran Walsh teamed up with Miramax Films boss Harvey Weinstein to negotiate with Saul Zaentz who had held the rights to the book since the early 1970s, pitching an adaptation of The Hobbit and two films based on The Lord of the Rings. Negotiations then stalled when Universal Studios offered Jackson a remake of King Kong. Weinstein was furious, and further problems arose when it turned out Zaentz did not have distribution rights to The Hobbit; United Artists, which was in the market, did. By April 1996, the rights question was still not resolved. Jackson decided to move ahead with King Kong before filming The Lord of the Rings, prompting Universal to enter a deal with Miramax to receive foreign earnings from The Lord of the Rings while Miramax received foreign earnings from King Kong. It was also revealed that Jackson originally wanted to finish King Kong before The Lord of the Rings began. But due to location problems, he decided to start with The Lord of the Rings franchise instead.

When Universal cancelled King Kong in 1997, Jackson and Walsh immediately received support from Weinstein and began a six-week process of sorting out the rights. Jackson and Walsh asked Costa Botes to write a synopsis of the book and they began to re-read the book. Two to three months later, they had written their treatment. The first film would have dealt with what would become The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, ending with Saruman's death, and Gandalf and Pippin going to Minas Tirith. In this treatment, Gwaihir and Gandalf visit Edoras after escaping Saruman, Gollum attacks Frodo when the Fellowship is still united, and Farmer Maggot, Glorfindel, Radagast, Elladan and Elrohir are present. Bilbo attends the Council of Elrond, Sam looks into Galadriel's mirror, Saruman is redeemed before he dies and the Nazgûl just make it into Mount Doom before they fall. They presented their treatment to Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the latter of whom they focused on impressing with their screenwriting as he had not read the book. They agreed upon two films and a total budget of $75 million.

During mid-1997, Jackson and Walsh began writing with Stephen Sinclair. Sinclair's partner, Philippa Boyens, was a major fan of the book and joined the writing team after reading their treatment. It took 13–14 months to write the two film scripts, which were 147 and 144 pages respectively. Sinclair left the project due to theatrical obligations. Amongst their revisions, Sam is caught eavesdropping and forced to go along with Frodo, instead of Sam, Merry, and Pippin figuring out about the One Ring themselves and voluntarily going along after confronting Frodo about it, as occurs in the original novel. Gandalf's account of his time at Orthanc was pulled out of flashback and Lothlórien was cut, with Galadriel doing what she does in the story at Rivendell. Denethor attends the Council with his son. Other changes included having Arwen rescue Frodo, and the action sequence involving the cave troll. Arwen was even going to kill the Witch-king.

Trouble struck when Marty Katz was sent to New Zealand. Spending four months there, he told Miramax that the films were more likely to cost $150 million, and with Miramax unable to finance this, and with $15 million already spent, they decided to merge the two films into one. On 17 June 1998, Bob Weinstein presented a treatment of a single two-hour film version of the book. He suggested cutting Bree and the Battle of Helm's Deep, "losing or using" Saruman, merging Rohan and Gondor with Éowyn as Boromir's sister, shortening Rivendell and Moria as well as having Ents prevent the Uruk-hai kidnapping Merry and Pippin. Upset by the idea of "cutting out half the good stuff" Jackson balked, and Miramax declared that any script or work completed by Weta Workshop was theirs. Jackson went around Hollywood for four weeks, showing a thirty-five-minute video of their work, before meeting with New Line Cinema's Mark Ordesky. At New Line Cinema, Robert Shaye viewed the video, and then asked why they were making two films when the book was published as three volumes; he wanted to make a film trilogy. Now Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens had to write three new scripts.

The expansion to three films allowed much more creative freedom, although Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens had to restructure their script accordingly. The three films do not correspond exactly to the trilogy's three volumes, but rather represent a three-part adaptation. Jackson takes a more chronological approach to the story than did Tolkien. Frodo's quest is the main focus, and Aragorn is the main sub-plot, and many sequences (such as Tom Bombadil) that do not contribute directly to those two plots were left out. Much effort was put into creating satisfactory conclusions and making sure exposition did not bog down the pacing. Amongst new sequences, there are also expansions on elements Tolkien kept ambiguous, such as the battles and the creatures. During shooting, the screenplays continued to evolve, in part due to contributions from cast looking to further explore their characters. Most notable amongst these rewrites was the character Arwen, who was originally planned as a warrior princess, but reverted to her book counterpart, who remains physically inactive in the story (though she sends moral and military support).

To develop fight and sword choreography for the trilogy, the filmmakers employed Hollywood sword-master Bob Anderson. Anderson worked directly with the talent including Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban to develop the film's many sword fights and stunts. Bob Anderson's role in The Lord of the Rings series was highlighted in the film Reclaiming the Blade. This documentary on sword martial arts also featured Weta Workshop and Richard Taylor, The Lord of the Rings illustrator John Howe and actors Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban. All discussed their roles and work on the series as related to the sword.

Production design

Alan Lee at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, August 2005.

Jackson began storyboarding the series with Christian Rivers in August 1997 and assigned his crew to begin designing Middle-earth at the same time. Jackson hired long-time collaborator Richard Taylor to lead Weta Workshop on five major design elements: armour, weapons, prosthetics/make-up, creatures, and miniatures. In November 1997, famed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe joined the project. Most of the imagery in the films is based on their various illustrations. Production designer Grant Major was charged with the task of converting Lee and Howe's designs into architecture, creating models of the sets, while Dan Hennah worked as art director, scouting locations and organising the building of sets.

Jackson's vision of Middle-earth was described as being " Ray Harryhausen meets David Lean" by Randy Cook. Jackson wanted a gritty realism and historical regard for the fantasy, and attempted to make the world rational and believable. For example, the New Zealand Army helped build Hobbiton months before filming began so the plants could really grow. Creatures were designed to be biologically believable, such as the enormous wings of the fell beast to help it fly. In total, 48,000 pieces of armour, 500 bows, and 10,000 arrows were created by Weta Workshop. They also created many prosthetics, such as 1,800 pairs of Hobbit feet for the lead actors, as well as many ears, noses, and heads for the cast, and around 19,000 costumes were woven and aged. Every prop was specially designed by the Art Department, taking the different scales into account.


Principal photography for all three films was conducted concurrently in many locations within New Zealand's conservation areas and national parks between 11 October 1999, and 22 December 2000, a period of 438 days. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The series was shot at over 150 different locations, with seven different units shooting, as well as soundstages around Wellington and Queenstown. As well as Jackson directing the whole production, other unit directors included John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osbourne, Rick Porras, and any other assistant director, producer, or writer available. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units interpreting his envisioned result, he only got around four hours of sleep a night. Due to the remoteness of some of the locations, the crew would also bring survival kits in case helicopters could not reach the location to bring them home in time. The New Zealand Department of Conservation was criticised for approving the filming within national parks without adequate consideration of the adverse environmental effects and without public notification. The adverse effects of filming battle scenes in Tongariro National Park meant that the park later required restoration work.


The following is a list of cast members who voiced or portrayed characters appearing in the extended version of The Lord of the Rings film series.

Character Film
The Fellowship of the Ring The Two Towers The Return of the King

The Fellowship of the Ring

Frodo Baggins Elijah Wood
Aragorn Viggo Mortensen
Boromir Sean Bean
Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck Dominic Monaghan
Samwise Gamgee Sean Astin
Gandalf Ian McKellen
Gimli John Rhys-Davies
Legolas Orlando Bloom
Peregrin "Pippin" Took Billy Boyd

The Shire and Bree

Bilbo Baggins Ian Holm   Ian Holm
Mrs. Bracegirdle Lori Dungey  
Barliman Butterbur David Weatherley  
Rosie Cotton Sarah McLeod   Sarah McLeod
Gaffer Gamgee Norman Forsey   Norman Forsey
Elanor Gamgee   Alexandra Astin
Bree Gate Keeper Martyn Sanderson  
Farmer Maggot Cameron Rhodes  
Old Noakes Bill Johnson  
Everard Proudfoot Noel Appleby   Noel Appleby
Mrs. Proudfoot Megan Edwards  
Otho Sackville Peter Corrigan  
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins Elizabeth Moody  
Ted Sandyman Brian Sergent  

Rivendell and Lothlórien

Arwen Liv Tyler
Elf escort (a.k.a. Figwit) Bret McKenzie   Bret McKenzie
Lord Celeborn Marton Csokas   Marton Csokas
Lord Elrond Hugo Weaving
Lady Galadriel Cate Blanchett
Haldir Craig Parker  
Rúmil Jørn Benzon  
Glóin John Rhys-Davies  

Rohan and Gondor

Damrod   Alistair Browning
Denethor   John Noble
Éomer   Karl Urban
Éothain   Sam Comery  
Éowyn   Miranda Otto
Faramir   David Wenham
Freda   Olivia Tennet  
Gamling   Bruce Hopkins
Grimbold   Bruce Phillips
Háma   John Leigh  
Haleth   Calum Gittins  
Irolas   Ian Hughes
King of the Dead   Paul Norell
Madril   John Bach
Morwen   Robyn Malcolm  
King Théoden   Bernard Hill
Théodred   Paris Howe Strewe  
Treebeard   John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Isengard and Mordor

Sméagol/Gollum Andy Serkis
Gorbag   Stephen Ure
Gothmog   Lawrence Makoare
Craig Parker (voice)
Gríma Wormtongue   Brad Dourif
Grishnákh   Stephen Ure  
Lurtz Lawrence Makoare  
Mauhur   Robbie Magasiva  
Mouth of Sauron   Bruce Spence
The One Ring Alan Howard (voice)   Alan Howard (voice)
Saruman Christopher Lee
Sauron Sala Baker   Sala Baker
Shagrat   Peter Tait
Sharku   Jed Brophy  
Snaga   Jed Brophy  
Uglúk   Nathaniel Lees  
Witch-king of Angmar Shane Rangi
Brent McIntyre
Andy Serkis (voice)
  Lawrence Makoare
Andy Serkis (voice)

Historical figures

Déagol   Thomas Robins
Elendil Peter McKenzie  
Gil-galad Mark Ferguson  
Isildur Harry Sinclair   Harry Sinclair


Each film had the benefit of a full year of post-production time before its respective December release, often finishing in October–November, with the crew immediately going to work on the next film. In this period's later part, Jackson would move to London to supervise the scoring and continue editing, while having a computer feed for discussions to The Dorchester Hotel, and a "fat pipe" of Internet connections from Pinewood Studios to look at the special effects. He had a Polycom video link and 5.1 surround sound to organise meetings, and listen to new music and sound effects generally wherever he was. The extended editions also had a tight schedule at the start of each year to complete special effects and music.


To avoid pressure, Jackson hired a different editor for each film. John Gilbert worked on the first film, Mike Horton and Jabez Olssen on the second and longtime Jackson collaborator Jamie Selkirk and Annie Collins on the third. Daily rushes would often last up to four hours, with scenes being done throughout 1999–2002 for the rough (4½ hours) assemblies of the films. In total, six million feet of film (over 1,100 miles) was edited down to the 11 hours and 23 minutes (683 minutes) of Extended running time. This was the final area of shaping of the films, when Jackson realised that sometimes the best scripting could be redundant on screen, as he picked apart scenes every day from multiple takes.

The first film's editing was relatively easygoing, with Jackson coming up with the concept of an Extended Edition later on, although after a screening to New Line they had to re-edit the beginning for a prologue. The Two Towers was always acknowledged by the crew as the most difficult film to make, as "it had no beginning or end", and had the additional problem of inter-cutting storylines appropriately. Jackson even continued editing the film when that part of the schedule officially ended, resulting in some scenes, including the reforging of Andúril, Gollum's back-story, and Saruman's demise, being moved to The Return of the King. Later, Saruman's demise was cut from the theatrical edition (but included in the Extended edition) when Jackson felt it was not starting the third film effectively enough. As with all parts of the third film's post-production, editing was very chaotic. The first time Jackson actually saw the completed film was at the Wellington premiere.

Many filmed scenes remain unused, even in the Extended Editions. Promotional material for The Fellowship of the Ring contained an attack by Orcs from Moria on Lothlórien after the Fellowship leaves Moria, replaced with a more suspenseful entrance for the Fellowship. Also cut were scenes from the book, including Frodo seeing more of Middle-earth at Parth Galen and an extended Council of Elrond, and new scenes with an attack upon Frodo and Sam at the river Anduin by an Uruk-hai. The major cut to The Two Towers featured Arwen and Elrond visiting Galadriel at Lothlórien, with Arwen then leading the Elven reinforcements to Helm's Deep. This scene, and a flashback to Arwen and Aragorn's first meeting, was cut during a revision of the film's plot; the Elves' appearance was explained with a telepathic communication between Elrond and Galadriel.

Éowyn was to have a greater role in defending the refugees in the Glittering Caves from Uruk-hai intruders, while in Osgiliath, Faramir was to have a vision of Frodo becoming like Gollum, with Frodo and Sam having an extended fight sequence. Filmed for The Return of the King were two scenes present in the book; Sam using the Phial of Galadriel to pass the Watchers at Cirith Ungol, and further epilogue footage, with endings for Legolas and Gimli, Éowyn and Faramir's wedding and Aragorn's death and funeral. Sauron was to fight Aragorn at the Black Gate, but with Jackson deciding the scene was inappropriate, a computer-generated Troll was used instead. To give context for Wormtongue killing Saruman, and Legolas in turn killing Wormtongue, it was to be revealed Wormtongue poisoned Théodred. The final scene cut was Aragorn having his armour fitted for the Battle of the Black Gate by the trilogy's armourers, which was the final scene filmed during principal photography. Peter Jackson has stated that he would like to include some of these unused scenes in a future "Ultimate Edition" home video release, also including out-takes.


Howard Shore composed, orchestrated, conducted, and produced the trilogy's music. He was hired in August 2000 and visited the set, and watched the assembly cuts of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King. In the music, Shore included many leitmotifs to represent various characters, cultures, and places. For example, there are leitmotifs for the hobbits as well as the Shire. Although the first film had some of its score recorded in Wellington, virtually all of the trilogy's score was recorded in Watford Town Hall and mixed at Abbey Road Studios. Jackson planned to advise the score for six weeks each year in London, though for The Two Towers he stayed for twelve. As a Beatles fan, Jackson had a photo tribute done there on the zebra crossing.

The score is primarily played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and many artists such as Ben Del Maestro, Enya, Renée Fleming, James Galway, Annie Lennox and Emilíana Torrini contributed. Even actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto (extended cuts only for the latter two), and Peter Jackson (for a single gong sound in the second film) contributed to the score. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens also wrote the lyrics to various music and songs, which David Salo translated into Tolkien's languages. The third film's end song, " Into the West", was a tribute to a young filmmaker Jackson and Walsh befriended named Cameron Duncan, who died of cancer in 2003.

Shore composed a main theme for The Fellowship rather than many different character themes, and its strength and weaknesses in volume are depicted at different points in the trilogy. On top of that, individual themes were composed to represent different cultures. Infamously, the amount of music Shore had to write every day for the third film increased dramatically to around seven minutes.


Sound technicians spent the early part of the year trying to find the right sounds. Some, such as animal sounds like tigers' and walruses', were bought. Human voices were also used. Fran Walsh contributed to the Nazgûl scream and David Farmer the Warg howls. Other sounds were unexpected: The Fell Beast's screech is taken from that of a donkey, and the mûmakil's bellow comes from the beginning and end of a lion's roar. In addition, ADR was used for most of the dialogue.

The technicians worked with New Zealand locals to get many of the sounds. They re-recorded sounds in abandoned tunnels for an echo-like effect in the Moria sequence. 20,000 New Zealand cricket fans provided the sound of the Uruk-hai army in The Two Towers, with Jackson acting as conductor during the innings break of a one day International cricket match between England and New Zealand at Westpac Stadium. They spent time recording sounds in a graveyard at night, and also had construction workers drop stone blocks for the sounds of boulders firing and landing in The Return of the King. Mixing took place between August and November at "The Film Mix", before Jackson commissioned the building of a new studio in 2003. The building, however, had not yet been fully completed when they started mixing for The Return of the King.

Special effects

The first film has around 540 effect shots, the second 799, and the third 1,488 (2,730 in total). The total increases to 3,420 with the extended editions. 260 visual effect artists began work on the series, and the number doubled by The Two Towers. The crew, led by Jim Rygiel and Randy Cook, worked long hours, often overnight, to produce special effects within a short space of time. Jackson's active imagination was a driving force. For example, several major shots of Helm's Deep were produced within the last six weeks of post-production of The Two Towers, and the same happened again within the last six weeks on The Return of the King.



The trilogy's online promotional trailer was first released on 27 April 2000, and set a new record for download hits, registering 1.7 million hits in the first 24 hours of its release. The trailer used a selection from the soundtrack for Braveheart, and The Shawshank Redemption among other cuts. In 2001, 24 minutes of footage from the trilogy, primarily the Moria sequence, was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, and was very well received. The showing also included an area designed to look like Middle-earth.

The Fellowship of the Ring was released 19 December 2001. It grossed $47 million in its U.S. opening weekend and made around $871 million worldwide. A preview of The Two Towers was inserted just before the end credits near the end of the film's theatrical run. A promotional trailer was later released, containing music re-scored from the film Requiem for a Dream. The Two Towers was released 18 December 2002. It grossed $62 million in its first U.S. weekend and out-grossed its predecessor, grossing $926 million worldwide. The promotional trailer for The Return of the King was débuted exclusively before the New Line Cinema film Secondhand Lions on 23 September 2003. Released 17 December 2003, its first U.S. weekend gross was $72 million, and became the second film (after Titanic) to gross over $1 billion worldwide.


Box office

Film Release date Box office revenue Box office ranking Budget Reference
United States International Worldwide All time USA All time worldwide
The Fellowship of the Ring 19 December 2001 $315,544,750 $555,985,574 $871,530,324 #32
No. 31 $93,000,000
The Two Towers 18 December 2002 $342,551,365 $583,495,746 $926,047,111 #22
No. 21 $94,000,000
The Return of the King 17 December 2003 $377,845,905 $742,083,616 $1,119,929,521 #17
No. 6 $94,000,000
Total $1,035,942,020 $1,881,564,936 $2,917,506,956 $281,000,000
List indicator(s)
  • (A) indicates the adjusted ranks based on current ticket prices (calculated by Box Office Mojo).

Public and critical response

Unadjusted for inflation, The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the highest grossing film trilogy worldwide of all time, higher even than other film franchises such as the original Star Wars trilogy and The Godfather trilogy. The film series grossed a total of $2.91 billion. The film series also tied a record with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the total number of Academy Awards won for a single film with The Return of the King receiving eleven Oscars.

The majority of critics have also praised the series, with Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times writing that "the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal". In particular, performances from Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, and Bernard Hill stood out for many in audience polls, and special effects for the battles and Gollum were praised. Some were critical of the films' pacing and length: "It's a collection of spectacular set pieces without any sense of momentum driving them into one another" according to the Philadelphia Weekly.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the series received a positive 94% average rating from critics – 92%, 96%, and 94% respectively, making it one of the highest-rated film series of all-time, along with the Toy Story trilogy (in which the first two films earned a perfect 100%, and the third earned 99%), The Apu Trilogy (97%, 93%, and 100%), the Dollars trilogy (98%, 93%, 97%), The Dark Knight trilogy (85%, 94%, 87%), and the original Star Wars trilogy (94%, 97%, and 79%). Metacritic, based on its ratings for each film (92%, 88%, 94%), lists the series as one of two most critically acclaimed trilogies of all time. Every film is placed in the top 100 of the 'Metacritic Best-Reviewed Movies' list, a position achieved (as of July 2010) by only one other trilogy, the Toy Story trilogy.

The series appears in many "Top 10" film lists, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association's Top 10 Films, IMDb top 250, Time magazine's All-Time 100 Movies, and James Berardinelli's Top 100. In 2007, USA Today named the series as the most important films of the past 25 years. Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Bringing a cherished book to the big screen? No sweat. Peter Jackson's trilogy—or, as we like to call it, our preciousssss—exerted its irresistible pull, on advanced Elvish speakers and neophytes alike." Paste Magazine named it one of the 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000–2009), ranking it at No. 4. In another Time magazine list, the series ranks second in "Best Movies of the Decade".

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
The Fellowship of the Ring 92% (210 reviews) 92% (34 reviews)
The Two Towers 96% (224 reviews) 88% (39 reviews)
The Return of the King 94% (245 reviews) 94% (42 reviews)
Average 94% 91%

Academy Awards

The three films together were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17, a record for any movie trilogy (the 3 nominations for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings the series' total to 33 nominations). The Return of the King won in every category in which it was nominated, an extremely rare feat; its Oscar for Best Picture was widely perceived as an award by proxy for the entire series. The Return of the King also tied a record for the total number of Academy Awards won, 11, with Ben-Hur and Titanic (though both of those films had additional nominations that they lost out on). It currently holds the Oscar record for the highest clean sweep. No actors in any of the three films won Oscars, although Ian McKellen was nominated for his work in The Fellowship of the Ring.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring — Nominations: 13, Wins: 4
  • The Two Towers — Nominations: 6, Wins: 2
  • The Return of the King — Nominations: 11, Wins: 11
Award Awards Won
The Fellowship of the Ring The Two Towers The Return of the King
Art Direction Nominated Nominated Won
Cinematography Won
Costume Design Nominated Won
Directing Nominated Won
Film Editing Nominated Nominated Won
Makeup Won Won
Music (Original Score) Won Won
Music (Original Song) Nominated
("May It Be")
("Into the West")
Best Picture Nominated Nominated Won
Sound Editing Won
Sound Mixing Nominated Nominated Won
Supporting Actor Nominated
(Ian McKellen)
Visual Effects Won Won Won
Adapted Screenplay Nominated Won

As well as Academy Awards, each film in the series won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie, and the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film. The first and third films also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film. The soundtrack for The Two Towers did not receive a nomination because of a rule prohibiting a soundtrack including music from a previous soundtrack to be eligible for nomination. This rule was overturned in time for The Return of the King to receive the Oscar for Best Music Score. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded The Return of the King its Best Picture Award at the 2003 Awards Ceremony, hosted by Andrew Johnston, chair of the organisation at that time, who called it "a masterful piece of filmmaking."

Reactions to changes in the films from the book

The film series caused reaction amongst fans and scholars of the book and were seen as changing parts Tolkien felt thematically necessary in terms of characters, themes, events and subtlety. Some fans of the book who disagreed with such changes have released fan edits of the films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Purist Edition. which removed many of the changes to bring them closer to the original.

Various changes to characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Arwen, Denethor, Faramir, Gimli, and the protagonist Frodo, when considered together, were seen by some to alter the tone and themes from those found in the book. Several critics contend that the portrayal of women, especially Arwen, in the films is thematically faithful to (or compatible with) Tolkien's writings despite some differences. Wayne G. Hammond, a Tolkien scholar, said of the first two films that he found them to be "travesties as adaptations... faithful only on a basic level of plot" and that many characters had not been depicted faithfully to their appearance in the novel. Other critics have argued that Tolkien's characters were weakened and misinterpreted by their portrayal in the films.

Changes to events (such as the Elves participating at the Battle of Helm's Deep, Faramir taking the hobbits to Osgiliath), and the deletion of the chapter " The Scouring of the Shire", are seen as changing Tolkien's themes.

Janet Brennan Croft criticises the films using Tolkien's own terms "anticipation" and "flattening", which he used in critiquing a proposed film script. She contrasts Tolkien's subtlety with Jackson's tendency to show "too much too soon".

Supporters of the series assert that it is a worthy interpretation of the book and that most of the changes were necessary. Many who worked on the series are fans of the book, including Christopher Lee, who (alone among the cast) had actually met Tolkien in person, and Boyens once noted that no matter what, it is simply their interpretation of the book. Jackson once said that to simply summarise the story on screen would be a mess, and in his own words, "Sure, it's not really The Lord of the Rings ... but it could still be a pretty damn cool movie." Other fans also claim that, despite any changes, the films serve as a tribute to the book, appealing to those who have not yet read it, and even leading some to do so. The Movie Guide for The Encyclopedia of Arda (an online Tolkien encyclopaedia) states that Jackson's films were exceptional since filming the whole story of The Lord of the Rings was probably impossible. This notion is partially supported by a review published in 2005 that otherwise criticised a lack in "faithfulness to Tolkien's spirit and tone." Douglas Kellner argues that the conservative community spirit of Tolkien's Shire is reflected in Jackson's films as well as the division of the Fellowship into "squabbling races".


Air New Zealand painted this Airbus A320 in a Lord of the Rings livery to help promote the films.

The release of the films saw a surge of interest in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works, vastly increasing his impact on popular culture. It was rumoured that the Tolkien family became split on the series, with Christopher Tolkien and Simon Tolkien feuding over whether or not it was a good idea to adapt. Christopher has since denied these claims saying, "My own position is that The Lord of the Rings is peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form. The suggestions that have been made that I 'disapprove' of the films, even to the extent of thinking ill of those with whom I may differ, are wholly without foundation." He added that he had never "expressed any such feeling". In 2012, however, he described the films as having "eviscerated" the book, and criticised the resulting "commercialisation" of his father's work.

As a result of the series' success, Peter Jackson has become a player in the film business (sometimes called a mogul) in the mould of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, in the process befriending some industry heavyweights like Bryan Singer and Frank Darabont. Jackson has since founded his own film production company, Wingnut Films, as well as Wingnut Interactive, a video-game company. He was also finally given a chance to remake King Kong in 2005. The film became a critical and box office success, although not as successful as The Lord of the Rings series. Jackson has been called a "favourite son" of New Zealand. In 2004, Howard Shore toured with The Lord of the Rings Symphony, consisting of two hours of the score. Along with the Harry Potter films, the series has renewed interest in the fantasy film genre. Tourism for New Zealand is up, possibly due to its exposure in the series, with the country's tourism industry waking up to an audience's familiarity.

In December 2002, The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition opened at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand. As of 2007, the exhibition has travelled to seven other cities around the world. A musical adaptation of the book was launched in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 2006, but it closed after mostly poor reviews. A shortened version opened in London, United Kingdom, in the summer of 2007. The success of the films has also spawned the production of video games and many other kinds of merchandise.

They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25, and it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film. [...] Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away.

Christopher Tolkien, Le Monde, 9 July 2012

The legacy of The Lord of the Rings is also that of court cases over profits from the trilogy. Sixteen cast members (Noel Appleby, Jed Brophy, Mark Ferguson, Ray Henwood, Bruce Hopkins, William Johnson, Nathaniel Lees, Sarah McLeod, Ian Mune, Paul Norell, Craig Parker, Robert Pollock, Martyn Sanderson, Peter Tait and Stephan Ure) sued over the lack of revenue from merchandise bearing their appearance. The case was resolved out of court in 2008. The settlement came too late for Appleby, who died of cancer in 2007. Saul Zaentz also filed a lawsuit in 2004 claiming he had not been paid all of his royalties. The next year, Jackson himself sued the studio over profits from the first film, slowing development of the prequels until late 2007. The Tolkien Trust filed a lawsuit in February 2008, for violating Tolkien's original deal over the rights that they would earn 7.5% of the gross from any films based on his works. The Trust sought compensation of $150 million. A judge denied them this option, but allowed them to win compensation from the act of the studio ignoring the contract itself. On 8 September 2009, a settlement of this dispute between the Trust and New Line was announced (clearing a potential obstacle to the making of a new film based on The Hobbit).

Video games

Numerous video games have been released to supplement the film series. The releases include: The Two Towers Pinball, The Return of the King, The Third Age, The Third Age (GBA), Tactics, The Battle for Middle-earth, The Battle for Middle-earth II, The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king, Conquest, Aragorn's Quest, War in the North, Lego The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar and the most recent game Guardians of Middle-earth.


Peter Jackson is currently directing three films based on Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit. The first film, titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was released on 12 December 2012. The second film, subtitled The Desolation of Smaug, will be released on 13 December 2013, and the third film, subtitled There and Back Again, will be released on 17 December 2014. Several actors from The Lord of the Rings, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm (as old Bilbo), Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom will reprise their roles.

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