(Photo by New Line/Everett Collection)
J. R. R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy, was hesitant about seeing his beloved Middle-earth adapted for the movies, with filmmakers themselves skeptical whether The Lord of the Rings could ever be faithfully created on-screen. That certainly didn’t stop people from trying during Tolkien’s lifetime, with Walt Disney, Stanley Kubrick, George Harrison, and John Boorman among the artists in the adaptation orbit.
It was after Tolkien’s death in 1971, with his personal protections and safeguarding removed, that we began to see film and TV works sprout. The first was the Rankin and Bass TV special from 1977, followed a year later with Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings animated film, which depicted The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. In 1980, Rankin and Bass completed this ad hoc series with a Return of the King special.
The Peter Jackson trilogy beginning in 2001 set the standard upon which all other Tolkien adaptations will be judged for generations to come. Epic in scope and unlike any film project taken on up to that point, The Lord of the Rings movies featured groundbreaking CGI while existing at the tail-end of the practical effects era of filmmaking. With a perfect cast reaching across unknowns and legends, Howard Shore’s involving and moving score, and exemplary production design, the melding of Jackson’s craft and Tolkien’s high fantasy was to be the perfect escape in the chaotic, frightening immediate aftermath of 9/11 when Fellowship debuted in December 2001. Along with the Harry Potter franchise (Sorcerer’s Stone premiered just a month earlier in November), the movies were instrumental in the rise of fantasy in pop culture and the mainstream. The three films would win 17 Academy Awards over 30 nominations, with The Return of the King taking Best Picture in 2003.
After Guillermo del Toro left The Hobbit project in 2008, Jackson returned to the franchise, expanding the planned two films into three. The films didn’t quite reach the same level of box office or critical acclaim but did achieve an additional six Oscar nominations for the franchise.
The Lord of the Rings returned to television in 2022 with The Rings of Power, set millennia before the rest of the franchise. Amazon has committed to five seasons, so look for years of updates to come to our guide of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and shows ranked, with Certified Fresh works first.
Adjusted Score: 104116%
Critics Consensus: The Two Towers balances spectacular action with emotional storytelling, leaving audiences both wholly satisfied and eager for the final chapter.
Adjusted Score: 103505%
Critics Consensus: Visually breathtaking and emotionally powerful, The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is a moving and satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.
Adjusted Score: 100742%
Critics Consensus: Full of eye-popping special effects, and featuring a pitch-perfect cast, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic to vivid life.
Adjusted Score: 83684%
Critics Consensus: While still slightly hamstrung by “middle chapter” narrative problems and its formidable length, The Desolation of Smaug represents a more confident, exciting second chapter for the Hobbit series.
Adjusted Score: 77950%
Critics Consensus: Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth is an earnest, visually resplendent trip, but the film’s deliberate pace robs the material of some of its majesty.
Adjusted Score: 70820%
Critics Consensus: Though somewhat overwhelmed by its own spectacle, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ends Peter Jackson’s second Middle-earth trilogy on a reasonably satisfying note.
Adjusted Score: 51974%
Critics Consensus: Ralph Bakshi’s valiant attempt at rendering Tolkein’s magnum opus in rotoscope never lives up to the grandeur of its source material, with a compressed running time that flattens the sweeping story and experimental animation that is more bizarre than magical.