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Peter Jackson’s wrong about the best LotR movie, but gets this right

What is the best Lord of the Rings movie? It's a contentious debate among Middle-earth fans, but Peter Jackson probably has it wrong.

Viggo Mortensen in LotR two towers Helm's Deep

Peter Jackson will always be a legend in our eyes for successfully turning Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings into one of cinema’s greatest trilogies. Given the unwieldy nature of Tolkien’s writing, that’s a staggering achievement and the director can take a lot of credit for the resurgence of fantasy as a mainstream genre overall.

But an artist can’t be objective about their art, and that’s probably why the Lord of the Rings director isn’t quite right about which of the three films is the best movie in the series. However, Jackson is correct about the trilogy’s greatest scene.

“I like The Two Towers, and I particularly like the Battle of Helm’s Deep sequence in that film,” Jackson said, in a conversation with Cape Cod Times when asked about his favorite film of the three. Controversy! The received wisdom is that either the slower, more whimsical Fellowship of the Ring or grander, action-orientated Return of the King is the best fantasy movie from the trilogy.

In contrast, The Two Towers is a lot of setup and serves as a middle-ground between the two, and it also suffers from the Lord of the Rings cast being split up across Middle-earth, and the lack of Gandalf for much of the runtime. It’s still brilliant, of course, and the exploration of Rohan, the introduction of Eowyn, and Gollum’s intersection with Frodo and Sam is all a highlight. But even with that in mind, the film is still not quite as beloved as those to either side of it.

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That is, other than for the fact that it brought the Battle of Helm’s Deep to life. Recognized as one of the greatest onscreen battles ever, the sequence shines as a highlight. With perfect pacing and an astonishing sense of scale, it’s the most thrilling and perfectly realized sequence in the entire fantasy genre.

It’s brought to life with a mixture of practical miniatures, extras in make-up and armor as the fearsome Uruk-hai, wonderfully choreographed stunts and action scenes, and some brilliantly atmospheric lighting. If that all sounds dramatic and over-the-top, it’s because it is. But we wouldn’t change it for the world.

So Jackson’s both dead right and dead wrong. Perhaps, as new movies from Middle-earth come to screens over the next few years, we’ll get to some battles that rival Helm’s Deep: maybe we’ll see the siege of Siege of Barad-dûr come to life, or something even deeper from Middle-earth’s past, like the Fall of Gondolin.

Either way, new Lord of the Rings movies are coming and will stand alongside Rings of Power season 2 in establishing a Tolkien renaissance. For more on Middle-earth, check out our guide to the best Lord of the Rings characters, or see the only way to watch the Lord of the Rings movies in order. You can also learn about the upcoming War of the Rohirrim release date.