After years of repeatedly rewatching Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, J.R.R. Tolkien fans can celebrate now that fresh tales from Middle-earth are finally on the way. Amazon just released a first look at its upcoming Tolkien-inspired fantasy series and announced a premiere date of Sept. 2, 2022.
The upcoming series takes place thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, during the Second Age of Middle-earth. With the premiere still a year away, it’s just the excuse no one needed to revisit the existing Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films. To help you prioritize, we’ve ranked all six movies from worst to best.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Something has to take the bottom spot, and The Battle of the Five Armies is the obvious choice. The film drags on for nearly two and a half hours. That’s more than half the time it takes to listen to the entire audiobook. And while that’s a pretty standard run time for a Tolkien movie, the lack of excitement in Five Armies makes it feel substantially longer. The majority of those 2 hours and 24 minutes consists of vast armies of indiscernible, computer-generated warriors marching into battle. It gets pretty hard to care about thousands of faceless characters when they feel more like part of a video game cut scene than part of a big-budget movie. The characters are flat, and the film fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the prequel trilogy.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The middle installment of the prequel trilogy is slightly better than the finale, but it’s even longer (2 hours and 41 minutes). The inclusion of some quality special effects is its saving grace. Namely, Smaug. The massive, treasure-hoarding dragon — voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch — is easy on the eyes and makes for one of the best characters in the trilogy. Despite the fire-breathing dragon and a shape-shifting bear-man, it’s still low on the list for unnecessarily stretching a single section of Tolkien’s shortest book into a movie that’s 2 hours and 41 minutes.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The movie that kicked off the prequel trilogy stands a full head and shoulders above the others. Unlike its two sequels, An Unexpected Journey actually stays true to the book. Where Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a dark war story, The Hobbit is a lighthearted children’s adventure.
As Bilbo Baggins reluctantly hosts a growing party of drunken, singing dwarves only to get swept away on an adventure, fans of the book are eager to join in on the unexpected journey. If only the rest of the prequel trilogy adhered to the carefree tone of the first installment, they might not have been relegated to the bottom half of the list. When The Lord of the Rings is unavailable, and you need a quick dose of Middle-earth, An Unexpected Journey will suffice.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Return of the King is leagues ahead of The Hobbit trilogy and falls only slightly behind its two predecessors. The conclusion to the legendary LOTR trilogy cleaned up at the 2004 Academy Awards, taking home 11 Oscars, including the awards for best picture and best director.
But despite being an undeniably great film, The Return of the King also runs long. After the ring is finally destroyed and the plot of the entire trilogy reaches its resolution, the film drags on for 27 minutes as Peter Jackson spoon-feeds viewers six different endings. Character goodbyes that should be emotionally charged moments suffer because they take so damn long. The massive final battle loses some emotional power for the same reason. As the fight moves into the third hour, the stakes don’t seem so high.
Despite these nitpicky criticisms, The Return of the King is absolutely rewatchable.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Sitting proudly at second place is the movie that started it all. The Fellowship of the Ring introduced moviegoers to Tolkien’s Middle-earth and the endless entertainment possibilities of the fantasy genre. The film brings the magical world of hobbits, wizards, and elves to life in an epic, multigenerational war story. The first installment also gives the Ringwraiths — some of the series’ biggest badasses — the screen time they deserve. And through Boromir’s redemption and death, the film delivers the most heroic last stand of the entire six-film series.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson’s second LOTR film is nearly perfect. Picking up immediately after the breaking of the fellowship, The Two Towers moves at breakneck speed from start to finish. It captures the emotional gravitas of the books and delivers nonstop action.
The four halflings demonstrate why hobbits are the real heroes of the series. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli showcase their full fighting abilities, which are only hinted at in Fellowship. But it’s the iconic battle for Helm’s Deep that makes The Two Towers edge out the other two movies.
The monumental struggle between good and evil takes place on a rain-swept castle wall. There’s a friendly kill-count competition between elf and dwarf, a badass surfing-down-the-stairs-while-shooting-arrows sequence that barely remains on the right side of ridiculous, and a suicidal sapper who literally brings the house down. It’s fantasy warfare made to perfection. The moonlit battle makes Two Towers the one film to rule them all.
Until Amazon’s new series arrives next fall, the original films are worth watching again — in whatever order you prefer.