Can you imagine that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film of a trilogy based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, was released 15 years ago? #feelold. It seems like just yesterday we were first introduced to the idyllic Shire, watched the Hobbits flee from the dread Ringwraiths and our hearts leaped when the Fellowship was first formed.
I was blown away by the wonderful fantasy world of Middle Earth and for the next two Decembers I drank up the other installments, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, like pints of ale from The Green Dragon. And then we had a prequel movie trilogy based on the novel The Hobbit which was good but never attained the heights of the original films.
But in honour of Fellowship‘s birthday we will be ranking all six films in the Middle Earth series. You have my sword, my bow, my axe and, with a SPOILER ALERT, my list:
#6 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson did a marvelous job bringing Tolkien’s world to life in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But when he decided to stretch the short children’s book The Hobbit into a trilogy he was biting off more than he should chew. In no other movie is this more apparent than in the first film The Unexpected Journey. From an interminable dinner scene to a video-game-like experience with the goblins to an anticlimactic climax the movie was dragged down by too much filler. Like butter scraped over too much bread this piece of story was stretched over two hours and 49 minutes.
Martin Freeman was charming though as the young Bilbo Baggins and it was great to have Ian McKellen back as Gandalf the Grey. Richard Armitage was also ool as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield and it was lovely seeing Gollum again, finding out how the trolls were turned to stone, watching the discovery of the blade Sting and returning to the wonders of Rivendell. But these nuggets could not make up for an underwhelming experience overall.
#5 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The end of the Hobbit trilogy was the final chance for Jackson and company to shoot their arrow and hit the target with a film worthy of the LOTR trilogy. But while An Unexpected Journey suffered from being too bloated The Battle of the Five Armies suffered from being too thin. The majority of the almost two-and-a-half hours was spent with fights and battle scenes, and much of the heart and humour the franchise is known for were lacking.
And while the one-on-one fights were interesting the large scale battles were hollow CGI-fests that made you wish you were watching the siege of Helm’s Deep or the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The movie did have a couple of touching moments and was generally entertaining but was still a disappointing final chapter.
#4 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The second entry of the Hobbit trilogy is by far the best of the lot. And I can sum this up in one word – Smaug! The greedy, vindictive and vile dragon was magnificently brought to life by the voice talents of Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Sherlock’, Doctor Strange) and an extremely skilled special effects team. Smaug was a scene stealer and the best movie dragon of all time. His scenes with Bilbo were enthralling and the final battle with the dwarfs a wild ride.
Outside of Smaug I enjoyed seeing Legolas again kick some Orc posterior and meeting Bard the Bowman and fierce elf fighter Tauriel, though her relationship with dwarf Kili seemed a tad forced. The film would have been better if it ended with Smaug’s death though, rather than an ineffective cliffhanger.
#3 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
For our number three on this list we go to the original trilogy and the first film in the franchise. Fellowship was simply magical and really set a golden standard for fantasy films. There are so many iconic lines and moments in the movie. “You shall not pass” and “One does not simply…” both inspired internet memes.
From the Shire escape and the battle with the Ringwraiths to the Grey Council in Rivendell to the thrilling battles in the Mines of Moria, it was mind-blowing how good this film was. And not enough can be said about the brilliant cast, costuming and effects.
#2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The original trilogy certainly went out with a bang with this final entry. This is the very definition of epic fantasy. We had Frodo and Sam battling Gollum/Smeagol and the best giant spider ever! At Gondor we had the cowardly Denethor and Merry showing his bravery. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were sidelined a bit but still had some great scenes.
The Battle of Pelennor Fields was epic piled upon even more epic (am I saying epic too much? I really don’t care) and remains one of the best large scale battles ever put on film. Théoden’s speech still gets me inspired to this day! Sure the film ended about four times but it was all touching and heartwarming and, like director Peter Jackson, it was difficult for us to say goodbye. A thoroughly satisfying end to a beloved trilogy.
#1 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Two Towers was neither a beginning nor an end but still managed to tell a strong story and deliver the best film in the entire franchise. All three parts of the film are fantasy perfection: Gollum is such an interesting, engaging and tragic character and I loved his strained relationship with Sam and Frodo; Merry and Pippin with the Ents was amusing; and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli with the Rohirrim was 12 flavours of awesome sauce.
Bernard Hill killed it as King Théoden, McKellen was at his best as Gandalf the White and our trio of heroes were also at the top of their game. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is exciting, touching, visceral and beautiful. Of all the films The Two Towers is the most complete experience and has the best action, humour and heart. And that is why it is number one on this list. For Frodo!
So which Middle Earth movie is your favourite? Feel free to comment below.