With fantasy stories in film and television, few projects compare to the overall scale and importance of The Lord of the Rings. Based on the fantasy series of books by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is an epic story of good versus evil as a hobbit undertakes a quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. This saga was famously depicted in Peter Jackson’s award-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- The Hobbit (1977)
- The Lord of the Rings (1978)
- The Return of the King (1980)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022)
However, there are other depictions of Tolkien’s stories about Middle-earth. These include Jackson’s prequel trilogy, The Hobbit, which covers Tolkien’s novel of the same name. Prime Video created The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a television series set thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. Plus, there are animated specials in addition to live-action films.
Below, you’ll find out how to stream, rent, or buy each film or television show.
One of the first adaptations of Tolkein’s books about Middle-earth was the 1977 animated film, The Hobbit. Unlike Jackson’s trilogy, The Hobbit portrayed the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to reclaim the treasure at Lonely Mountain in 78 minutes. The Hobbit was also an animated musical television special, not a movie.
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass of the famous Rankin/Bass production company, The Hobbit featured the voices of Orson Bean as Bilbo Baggins, Richard Boone as Smaug, Hans Conried as Thorin Oakenshield, and John Huston as Gandalf / Narrator.
The Lord of the Rings was a 1980 animated adaptation that covered the entirety of the events in The Fellowship of the Ring and some of the storylines from The Two Towers. The film explains the forging of the Rings of Power and how Sauron created the One Ring to destroy Middle-earth.
Directed by Ralph Bakshi, the film follows Frodo Baggins (voiced by Christopher Guard) and the Fellowship’s quest to destroy the Ring at Mordor. The animated film was a major influence on Jackson’s eventual trilogy and is worth a look for the curious and not-too-critical fanbase.
Where to rent or buy: Prime Video
Rankin and Bass returned to the Tolkien universe with the animated musical television special, The Return of the King. The special is a sequel to 1977’s The Hobbit, not 1978’s The Lord of the Rings.
In The Return of the King, Frodo (voiced by Orson Bean) reaches Mordor with Samwise Gamgee (voiced by Roddy McDowall) as they attempt to destroy the Ring. Meanwhile, Aragorn (voiced by Oscar nominee Theodore Bikel) leads his troops against Sauron’s forces in the battle of good versus evil.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first movie in Jackson’s epic trilogy. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) comes into possession of the One Ring, which has been sought after by the Dark Lord Sauron for centuries. To protect civilization from the Ring’s power, a council determines the ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.
Frodo and eight volunteers form The Fellowship, which includes Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), and Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson). The Fellowship sets off on a quest to dismantle the Ring.
After the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo continues with his journey to Mordor. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) head toward Rohan to free Théoden from Saruman’s control. The foursome then leads an army against orcs in the Battle of Helm’s Deep.
This battle is regarded as one of the greatest fight sequences in cinematic history and the film itself is a terrific middle chapter in the trilogy that also stands on its own as a fine piece of blockbuster fantasy filmmaking.
The Return of the King, the final saga in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, became Jackson’s magnum opus. The film saw Frodo, Sam, and Gollum (Andy Serkis) finally arrive at Mordor, but the power of the Ring begins to consume them on the inside.
With the hobbits in Mordor, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf, and their army face off against Sauron’s forces in the final battle for Middle-earth. Multiple endings aside, this film is just about perfect, fully justifying its eventual win for Best Picture at the 2004 Oscars.
Jackson returned to the world of Middle-earth in 2012 with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As the first installment in the prequel trilogy to The Lord of The Rings, An Unexpected Journey introduces the audience to a 50-year-old Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the Hobbit who will eventually come into possession of the One Ring.
On his birthday, Bilbo is recruited by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join his team of dwarves, which includes Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo reluctantly joins, and the adventure to reclaim the mountain from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) will change Middle-earth forever.
Following the events of An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug picks up with Bilbo and the company’s journey to reclaim Lonely Mountain. Bilbo is now in possession of the Ring, which grants him invisibility. However, Bilbo discovers that the Ring brings darkness and evil to whoever possesses it.
After arriving at the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo enters and tries to steal the Arkenstone, a treasured possession of Thorin’s family. While inside the mountain, Bilbo wakes up Smaug, and the dragon is aware of the dwarves’ plan to steal the gold and reclaim the mountain. The cat-and-mouse game ends with a startling revelation that will affect the people of the nearby Laketown.
The Battle of the Five Armies is the heroic conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy. After abandoning the mountain, Smaug heads to Laketown and sets most of the area on fire. The devasting battle ends in a triumph for humanity. As Thorin refuses to split the treasure at Lonely Mountain, an army of Orcs led by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) moves in on Dale. Gandalf, Bilbo, the dwarf army, Elves, and the remaining townspeople all join forces to face off against the Orc army and protect the city.
Where to stream: Prime Video
Set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Rings of Power depicts the Second Age of Middle-earth. Seminal events in Middle-earth’s history will be depicted in the series, such as the shaping of the Rings of Power, the dissolution of the alliance between Elves and men, and the downfall of the island of Númenor.
However, the greatest mystery in the series is the identity of the Dark Lord Sauron as evil rises to power. After its first season, the story will continue as Amazon renewed The Rings of Power for a second season.
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