With Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series on track to arrive soon, now is a good time to look back at the critics’ reactions to the Peter Jackson film trilogy.
The award-winning film by Peter Jackson, almost universally adored the Lord of the Rings trilogy does not need an introduction. Love for these films only seems to grow over time, and it’s now generally accepted that they are the benchmark against which all other fantastic adaptations are measured. The trilogy’s star cast, iconic scenes and unforgettable dialogue cemented its exalted place in cultural history. And with Amazon’s highly anticipated big-budget series set in the Second Age, now is the perfect time to pick up on the critical reactions to these beloved films.
Using an average of the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores, here is a definitive ranking of the the Lord of the Rings trilogy according to critics. It’s worth noting that the score differences are incredibly small – these three films are enjoyed in their own right. Nonetheless, there is a definitive ranking and it is interesting to see why some chapters are more popular than others.
3. The two towers – 91 percent
Coming at a close third spot, the second installment of the trilogy seems to lag a bit in the opinion of some critics, which is a common problem for sophomore franchise entries. The great amount of plot movement that must occur in The two towers and the density of its lore are two reasons it’s not a good place to start for new viewers, besides the simple fact that it’s a direct continuation of the first film.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean The two towers is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Among other highlights, it presents the introduction of Rohan, a vital kingdom in the world of Middle-earth, and culminates with the famous Battle of Helm’s Deep. The action scenes are somewhat confrontational – some find Legolas’ shot surfing an iconic and epic staircase, while others think it’s utterly ridiculous. Either way, no one could argue that it’s not memorable.
2. The Fellowship of the Ring – 91.5%
The first chapter of the trilogy was a turning point in the history of cinema, a film that truly swept the world and dazzled audiences and critics alike. No one had ever imagined such an ambitious adaptation of a work so difficult to adapt, and a complete green-lit, one-shot fantasy trilogy was a concept entirely foreign to the film industry at the time. Much to the relief of all concerned, The Fellowship of the Ring was an immediate and resounding success.
The perfect cast drew special attention; critics couldn’t get enough of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf or Cate Blanchett’s bright and imposing Galadriel. Then there was the enchanting craftsmanship and dedication exhibited in every frame of the film. Perhaps more importantly, people were blown away by the obvious artistic passion for the script and the story, which was supported by the huge budget rather than supplanted by it. Thinking back to that movie, the sheer number of standout footage it contains is truly astonishing – from Bilbo’s boisterous birthday party to Gandalf’s epic showdown with the Balrog.
Camaraderie is so well regarded that some might be surprised it did not take the top spot on this list. When considering the passionate expectation, he and The two towers stirred for the epic conclusion, however, it makes perfect sense that the next and final entry is the winner.
1. The return of the king – 93.5%
The king’s return was an unadulterated triumph, sweeping the Oscars the year it was released and breaking multiple records for the most awards won by a single film. In fact, at that point, he still holds the record for most Oscars won by a film – not bad for an image released over 15 years ago. It’s hard to say how eagerly awaited this final chapter was. After a breathless wait of several years, Return of the king brought the entire Tolkien saga to a touching and memorable end, capped off with lingering farewells to many beloved characters.
Critics praised the strength of the script and the cast’s powerful performances, with many finding the story’s conclusion deeply moving. Iconic scenes such as Eowyn’s famous moment of triumph in the fields of Pelennor have become etched in the cultural memory of generations to come. As with the first two chapters, the extravagant CGI and practical effects of the film were hailed as revolutionary. While there were a few shy voices less enamored with the film than others – some felt that Viggo Mortensen didn’t quite manage to achieve the gravity demanded by Aragorn’s character, for example – the majority critics seemed to agree that The king’s return is Jackson’s crowning achievement, breathtakingly satisfying in magnitude until the last moment.
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