The original LOTR trilogy is in my mind the greatest trilogy of all time. Yes, better than Star Wars, better than Indiana Jones, even better than The Godfather. One through three, there was not a single weak entry. The Hobbit trilogy, however, is a different story. The Hobbit for me is what I imagine the Star Wars prequels were for people who grew up watching the original Star Wars movies. A set of “prequels” that completely miss the point of what made the original trilogy so special. Still, they are part of the LOTR franchise, so they count on this list. There is an Amazon series on the way, but we do not know what it will be about. For now, these six movies are all we have from the LOTR universe in live action. So here is what I think of each of them, and where they rank in the franchise.
6. The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies
I hate this movie. This may be the most disappointed I have ever been in a movie. There are certainly worse movies I have seen, but none that have ever annoyed me this much, because of the expectations I had.
For as boring and slow as the prior two Hobbit movies were, I foolishly went into this movie assuming that because the movie is about a giant war, it would be better. Finally, they could overcome the handicap of having to break a 300-page book into three movies, and have a movie without wasted time. Not only was I wrong about this assumption, but that was only the start of what made this movie bad.
I saw this movie twice. And I know, if I hate it so much, why did I see it twice? Well because I am an idiot who thought maybe if I saw it again, it wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, it was worse the second time. I saw it in 3D the second time, and it was an eyesore. It didn’t look like a #D movie, it looked like a normal movie, filmed in front of a flat background. It looked almost like a Spanish telenovela.
Even in non-3D, the movie looked awful. Remember how in the original movies, everyone praised the practical effects on the orcs? Well, they through that out, and decided to make them ugly CGI creations. Everything looked so fake making it hard to get invested.
Martin Freeman was the best thing about The Hobbit movies, and he was barely in this movie. The Hobbit is about Bilbo’s journey, and he is pretty much a background character.
Legolas was a joke in this movie. Every time he was on screen, everything just felt so stupid. In the originals, he was a badass but to a believable degree. But the feats he pulled off in this movie, like literally walking on air, made him feel cartoonish. There was no reason for him to be in these movies at all. He was not in the books, and he served no purpose in the movies.
The forced romance was a joke. We were given no reason to actually care about the two characters in the love story. They barely had any screen time together, and it felt super forced and undeeded. Another subplot that could easily be cut out. I understand adding a female character that was not in the story, but you kind of undercut her by making her story about a romance. Do Hollywood studios understand you can put a female character into a movie without making her story about the boys in her life?
There is so much more wrong with this movie. I didn’t even mention how uninteresting all the action was. I didn’t mention how scattered and hard to follow the war was. I didn’t mention the forced references to the original trilogy.
One thing I liked about this movie, was the battle between the main Orc, and Thorin. But the fact Thorin was completely unlikeable, and uninteresting, made it hard to care. Had they written the character well, the scene itself would have worked because the battle on the ice, with the orc swinging around a flail breaking the ice, was a cool concept.
But besides for that, the movie was awful.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This movie also had the bad CGI and uninteresting dwarf characters. But what it has going for it over BOFA, is Martin Freeman. He is the perfect choice to play Bilbo. The scenes with him in it, which in this movie, are most scenes, are always elevated.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else here. Most of the problems in this movie stem from the fact that this book does not have enough material to cover three movies. So the characters in this movie are not given anything to do. So they pad the time with boring dwarf stories, and… musical numbers.
The musical numbers worked in the book because it is a kids book. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit for his children. But these movies tried to make the story adult. So why add the silly music numbers?
There is very little tension in this movie. They sit around Bilbo’s house doing nothing and saying nothing interesting. Then sit around Rivendell doing and saying nothing interesting, and occasionally sit around campfires doing and saying nothing interesting.
When there actually is action, it is not tense at all. There is so much going on, that it is hard to follow. And it never feels like the characters are in danger. Which in the books, is on purpose. It is supposed to mostly be a light-hearted adventure. But it does not work in the movie when it tries to adopt a serious tone.
The best scene is the Gollum and Bilbo. Andy Serkis is as good as ever, and the chemistry between him and Freeman is great.
Besides that, there are few interesting scenes though. The biggest sin of this movie is that it is boring.
4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
This movie is the Revenge of the Sith of the LOTR movies. It is at times fun, but still not very good.
It has all the problems the other Hobbit movies have. A stretched out plot that drags at times. Bad effects. Pointless hard to follow action scenes, and a contrived romance subplot.
Smaug is interesting though. He is not on screen for very long, but he carries a weight no other antagonist in these movies has. Unfortunately, the movie ends in incredibly dumb fashion. Ending the movie in the middle of the fight with Smaug is a huge middle finger to the audience.
The dwarves are incredibly interesting in these movies. None of them have personality, besides for the few main ones. In that case, those peoples personality is being dull. They are supposed to be hard to tell apart in the book, it is a running joke. But in the movie, they do not treat it as a joke.
There isn’t much else to say that I haven’t already said. These movies completely failed to live up to the three LOTR movies. They are not epic, or interesting, or well made. it felt like Peter Jackson just crapped out the movie. It is as if he did not really want to to make these movies, and the studios tied his hands and did not give him the creative control he had in the other movies. It is if he was rushed by the studio, and did not have adequate time to prep.
3. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The gap between the best Hobbit movie and worst LOTR movie is wide. Fellowship of the Ring may not be as epic as Two Towers or Return of the King, but it is by no means boring. There are solid action scenes throughout, and when there is no action, the characters are actually enjoyable and the dialogue is interesting.
Though the production was not quite as impressive as its two sequels, mostly because it doesn’t have the huge scale battles to show off its production, this movie still looked amazing. Rivendale was beautiful, The Shire was beautiful, and Moria looked great. Most of the orcs were practical effects, and they looked amazing. The things that were CGI also looked great. The Balrog is impressive looking even to this day.
It was tense when it had to be. When Frodo and the other Hobbits were running from the Ring Wraiths, it felt tense. When they were in the mines of Moria, it was super tense. Just watch an action scene from this movie, and then the goblin cave scene from the first Hobbit, and you will see the difference. The screen is not as cluttered. The fact we can easily keep track of what is happening makes the action more interesting.
The long dialogue-heavy scenes are actually interesting here. They found inventive ways to deliver the long, sometimes exposition-heavy dialogue, without making it feel boring.
The Fellowship[ is a fantastic movie, that sometimes gets a bad rap because it lacks the huge war that the two following movies both had. But despite that, it is still almost just as good because of the fantastic cast, the top-notch directing, and masterful film craft.
2. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
It is super close between this one and Two Towers. Both are the best examples of what a big budget Hollywood picture can be. They stand up to this day. Both of them feature amazing performances from the ensemble cast. But more importantly, both give Andy Serkis more of a chance to shine than he got in Fellowship. In the first movie, Gollum is barely a character, but he is front and center in the two sequels, and I still say he deserved an Oscar for his performance as Gollum.
I put Two Towers over Return for one reason. And no, it is not the multiple endings. People complain about those all the time, but I actually like them. I mean were they not supposed to wrap up all the plots? We needed to see Aragorn become King, it is the end to his arch, and the movie would feel incomplete without it. We needed to see the Hobbits return to the Shire. and Frankly, we needed to see Frodo, Biblo, and Gandalf depart at the end. I am not sure which of the endings they were supposed to cut.
No the reason I rank Two Towers a little higher is Saruman. Without Saruman, and also Wormtoungue, Return lacked a real antagonist. I mean, they had Sauron, but he is not an active antagonist, he is more or less an idea. All we see of him is an eye in a tower. There was Denethor, but he only serves as an antagonist of one plotline. He was not a threat to the story overall, just a side villain.
Saruman however, was a force we could see. He had his own motives on display, and his presence carried weight overall. Wormtoungue to an extent as well filled this role.
Return is still a great, almost flawless movie. I mean the final battle is amazing, and the drama between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum is still great. The Merry and Pippen plotline gets away from the movie a little bit, but they are not super essential characters anyway. But I rank it just a little bit below Two Towers.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Two Towers is still, the greatest Fantasy movie of All Time, and the best sequel of all time. Maybe I am a bit bias, but I see very few flaws in this movie.
For all the things I have already said were good about the other two movies, like acting, set design, production, writing, etc. I do not think it is possible for a Hollywood, big-budget movie, to be much better than this.
The battle at Helms Deep is one of the best cinema moments of all time. It felt hopeless. The odds of them winning felt so low, yet they found believable ways for them to triumph.
But that wasn’t even the best parts of the movie. I mentioned Andy Serkis as Gollum before, and he really is what puts this movie over the top. The inner struggle of the character, not knowing whether to help or betray Frodo, is so interesting to watch.
Two Towers stands as one of the few movies I would rate as a 10 out of 10.