How do you watch The Lord of the Rings movies in order? From epic battles to powerful wizard duels few franchises are as influential or as beloved as The Lord of the Rings. Adapted from J.R.R Tolkien’s literary masterpiece of the same name, there’s no denying that Peter Jackson’s adventure movies helped shape the very fantasy genre. However, with two sets of trilogies and six movies in total, it can be tricky deciding where to start your movie marathon of Middle-earth.
The story of Lord of the Rings is told throughout the course of six unnumbered fantasy movies: the Hobbit prequel trilogy, and then the 2000s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The events of all of these films are designed to be experienced chronologically, despite their confusing release date order.
Although you can choose to forgo the Hobbit movies entirely in your fantasy watch through, we here at The Digital Fix are fans of canon, and are here to guide you through the best way to experience the whole story of the ‘One Ring’. So buckle up pals, because we are about to embark on a vast cinematic quest of our own. Below we go through how to watch The Lord of the Rings movies in order.
How to watch the Lord of the Rings movies in order:
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
- The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Set 60 years before the events of the Lord of The Rings, the Hobbit movies build up some major plot developments going forward in the franchise. So, despite Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy being better films as a whole, if you want the full Tolkien experience, you will have to start with this movie.
The film begins with the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who, approaching his 111th birthday, begins writing a book about his adventures for his nephew Frodo. Watching his memories play out in front of us, here we see Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo setting forth on a quest with the wizard Gandalf, and a party of Dwarves to reclaim lost treasure from the Dragon Smaug’s clutches.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey shows us how the ‘One Ring’, which will go on to be the central plot in upcoming movies, ended up in Bilbo’s care. It also introduces us to one of the best Lord of the Rings characters, Gollum, and gives us a stellar first look at Middle-earth as a whole.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Picking up where the last movie left off, Bilbo and his dwarf companions finally make their way to the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon Smaug lies in wait. After using the power of the Ring that he won from Gollum in the last movie, Bilbo must sneak into the dragon’s lair and steal a gem called the Arkenstone – which the dwarfs see as the key to restoring their power.
The Desolation of Smaug is arguably the best in the Hobbit trilogy, capturing the fast-paced action and gripping story that dominate the rest of the Lord of the Rings movies. The film also gives us our first ‘look’ at Sauron (going by the name of The Necromancer in this movie), the ultimate big baddie of the franchise. With Sauron’s introduction, we begin to see the build-up of evil in Middle-earth.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014)
The final film in The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of Five Armies, sees Bilbo go from one sticky situation into a full out war, and offers a glimpse into Sauron’s scary reach and influence.
With Smaug now out of the Lonely Mountain, the hobbit and his companions must deal with an army of Orcs and the dwarf king Thorin, losing his mind after he becomes obsessed with the Arkenstone. We also witness the elven queen, Lady Galadriel banish a formless Sauron and his forces to the east, but as we all know, you can’t keep a power-hungry dark lord down for long.
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At the end of Battle of Five Armies, we are swept back into the present day, with the 111-year-old Bilbo shown to still be in possession of the ‘One Ring’. With this revelation and the hobbit’s birthday about to commence, we are ready to officially begin one of the best trilogies ever made, The Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The 2000s movie that started it all and catapulted Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien into a worldwide phenomenon, The Fellowship of the Ring, is the start of Frodo Baggins’s story. After Bilbo gives Frodo his beloved ring on the night of his 111th birthday, the hobbit is thrown into an epic adventure that no one could have predicted.
It turns out that the ring that we all saw in the first Hobbit movie is none other than Sauron’s, and the dark Lord is desperate to get it back. In order to prevent Sauron’s evil plans, Frodo and his party of companions must set forth to Mordor and destroy the ring at Mount Doom – from the fires in whence it came.
Here we get the full explanation of Bilbo’s mysterious Ring, learn how the creature Gollum originally got it, and witness Sauron’s (a.k.a The Necromancer) backstory and intentions. Seeing all of the story threads from the Hobbit films come into play in The Fellowship of the Ring is super satisfying as we move away from Bilbo’s adventures and officially begin Frodo’s journey.
The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Following on from the events of the Fellowship, here we see the action in the Lord of the Rings kicked up a notch, as Frodo’s party (now split up) must face the wrath of Sauron’s armies. The Oscar-winning movie is packed with exciting developments, new characters and doesn’t shy away from diving into the epic fantasy elements of the franchise.
Frodo and his trusty companion Sam are joined by the creature Gollum who begins to guide them towards Mordor. While the trio continue their journey, we see the rest of their companions prepare for the battle of Helm’s Deep and confront the corrupt wizard Saruman in Isengard (shout out to Treebeard and the rest of the Ents).
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With Frodo getting closer to Mount Doom, and his friends engaged in non-stop battle, the climax of the trilogy is perfectly set up as we move into the events of the final film in the franchise.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Here is the epic conclusion to the whole franchise, and trust us, it doesn’t disappoint. The Return of the King is the behemoth of the entire series showing the final standoff between good and evil as well as the end of Frodo’s journey.
In it, we witness one of the best battle scenes in cinematic history as Sauron’s forces clash with the powers of good in an effort to end the age of man. On top of all the mind-boggling fight sequences, the movie is also heartfelt and will undoubtedly leave you bawling like a baby at its conclusion.
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The film was nominated for 11 Oscars following its release, and won every category it was up for at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture. So, needless to say, The Return of the King ends the franchise on an extremely high note, and may just cause you to dive into another Lord of the Rings movie marathon after its credits begin to roll.
If you are after more Lord of the Rings content, fear not, because we are in the midst of a return to Middle-earth right now. Amazon Prime Video’s new Rings of Power TV series which takes place thousands of years before the events of the Hobbit. You can catch new episodes of the fantasy series every Friday on the streaming service until the first season ends.