The Gaffer’s Elite: The Films

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies (posters)

Ranking all things Middle-earth

It is useless trying to escape the unavoidable.

With this final post from The Gaffer’s Elite series, it is time to rank the Middle-earth films.

Yes, you heard that right: writing down, from 1 to 6, the best films from the good ones.

I’m sweating just typing that sentence; most fans can attest to the special viewing experience gained from every one of these six movies.

And yet, it is no use denying that there will always be that one film, from either of the two trilogies, that makes you feel geekier and more impressed whenever re-watching.

Do not hate me for the Herculean task I have had to complete in creating this list!

***

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Without question, Peter Jackson’s opening to the Middle-earth saga is the undisputed champion of this list. Limited visual effects, practical filmmaking, (real) breathtaking environments, and master storytelling; perhaps the fact that it was the first to be released might explain my close affinity to it.

Trollshaw Forest

Whatever it is, it’s strong, nostalgic and the best fantasy film ever made – cleverly blurring the line between reality and Tolkien’s Secondary World.

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Bearing the monumental burden of concluding an epic trilogy for over 10 years, The Return of the King is now responsible for bringing to a close one massive saga spanning two trilogies.

Mordor Orcs

Needless to say, the final installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy continues to live up to its hype. The scope and breathe of the story, the range of characters, the battles, and the emotional farewell to Middle-earth, are nothing short of spectacular.

  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Perhaps a surprise for some, and if I had written this post a year ago you would have been looking at praise for An Unexpected Journey instead. After re-experiencing the return to Middle-earth via the first Hobbit film, it was difficult to top its sense of wonder and enjoyment. But as more viewings took place, The Desolation of Smaug appeared to be better balanced.

Bilbo in Mirkwood (Enchanted Stream)

That sense of adventure and companionship was stronger; a wealth of new environments and characters to explore was introduced to us; and our hero’s enemies just got bigger and better.

Although it deviates from the beautiful simplicity of the book, as the middle chapter of the trilogy,The Desolation of Smaug feels like an uncharted Middle-earth that has yet to be explored and experienced in its entirety.

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

To continue from the previous ranking, An Unexpected Journey was an experience both new and familiar. Whilst the film did not compare to The Lord of the Rings in terms of awe and surprise elements (for I had already experienced the wonders of Middle-earth), it did manage to achieve an outstanding level of emotional resonance.

I’m referring in particular to the first half of the film. Going back to The Shire and Bag End, and revisiting that environment from a diverse perspective, a new story and populated by a different set of characters, was simply fantastic. It’s faithfulness to the book, especially during certain key sequences, is commendable.
Hobbiton (The Shire)

It’s interesting how The Hobbit films have got a high “re-watchability value” to them, more so than The Lord of the Rings. I’ve seen An Unexpected Journey numerous times and would probably be more inclined to pick up that DVD than one from the Rings Trilogy.

The reason behind this may be mostly due to the less complex and simpler multi-threaded story-line of The Hobbit. With The Lord of the Rings, no matter how many times you see it, you need to invest yourself into the story to fully appreciate the depth, the emotion and the journey.

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

This is the tricky one. So here’s a piece of my mind on the matter…

Although The Hobbit trilogy does not reach the level of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I still consider it a worthy set of films (with a few kinks along the way that could easily have been avoided).

If The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a mature adult, The Hobbit Trilogy is the slightly juvenile teenager.

And I’m not referring to the adapted story, but rather the complete product. As two whole packages they work both independently of each other and close together; however, since each trilogy is comprised of a series of 3 films, there will always be a third of that whole package which is better than a third of the other.

Still with me? Good.

Now the case for The Two Towers is interesting because as a stand-alone film it is a remarkable achievement and worthy of much praise.

hd

Furthermore, it is the backbone of the entire trilogy – without which The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the same.  The fact that it is also the middle chapter should place it alongside The Desolation of Smaug.

In many ways, it would surpass its Hobbit counterpart. The Two Towers is a much richer and significantly more elaborate piece of film than Desolation.

However, the “re-watchability value” I was talking about before comes into full effect here. Present me with a copy of The Two Towers and another of The Desolation of Smaug and I’d probably pick the latter. Not because I prefer one from the other, but the relative “laid-back” sense brought about from The Hobbit, is perhaps more indulgent and easy-going than the intense, political and epic drama of Towers.

  1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After the evolution of the story in The Desolation of Smaug, the third Hobbit film promised something bigger, more emotional and satisfying. My fingers are twitching as I’m typing these next few sentences, but it is an undeniable fact that The Battle of the Five Armies left me wanting more.

The film has some extraordinary moments. I still believe the opening sequence is the best of all 6 films. In addition, the concluding scenes were brilliant in seamlessly blending into the world we find in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, the over-use of CGI, undeveloped dwarf personalities, and some inexplicably odd editorial and directorial choices, have left me unsatisfied with this installment.

Bard vs Smaug

The fact that this was made by the same director and team who gave us the other 5 extraordinary films makes it that bit more frustrating.

You are made to wonder what they could have achieved with this third film, and it constantly raises questions beginning with: “But why?” Perhaps that is just me.

Things may change slightly with the release of the Extended Edition.

Nonetheless, I still find it compelling and entertaining. Yet, it is regrettably the thin link between the two trilogies.

***

As I emerge out of the deep recesses of my mind – exhausted and shaken by the task undertaken – I will now seek refuge from the naysayers and the ardent fans who believe The Battle of the Five Armies should have ranked higher; or perhaps The Return of the King placed lower.

I hand over the baton to you now to let us know how YOU would rank the Middle-earth films.

And that brings to an end The Gaffer’s Elite series. I hope you found this weekly posts entertaining and insightful. But don’t worry, more posts are on the way … 😉

Copyright of images belong to Warner Bros., MGM Studios and New Line Cinema

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56 thoughts on “The Gaffer’s Elite: The Films

  1. Interesting placing. Unfortunately, I would not even rank the hobbit films in the same category as the LOTR. I think all three LOTR films would, for me, place higher then all three hobbit films. After that I would hold the same opinion as you with regards to which of the Hobbit films placed higher than the other. Then again, I hold all three LOTR films to be a single movie split into three parts, thus unable to be ranked above one another.

    great job!

    Cheers

  2. I actually really like your ranking. The Desolation of Smaug is the one I reach for the most, followed by the fellowship, followed by the Two Towers, and so on. I’m glad to see Desolation higher on the list. I think it’s the best of the three. There are a lot of really enjoyable and exciting scenes, the introduction of Smaug, Laketown, and the Mirkwood elves. Just needed a little bit more developing, but the Hobbit trilogy is still better than a lot of crap they release. It’s just frustrating that some films get praised for bloated, CGI battles (cough, cough, 300), but heaven forbid Peter Jackson uses CGI. I don’t care about CGI as long as the story is good.

    • Thanks Toni! DoS contains a really good package – mixing the familiar Middle-earth, with the unknown. A good dose of thrills, balancing comedy and severity, and a fantastically realised dragon! 😀

  3. This has been an interesting post series, but I really think you should have waited until after the EE of BotFA comes out. I (and many many other fans I know) didn’t like DoS very much at all (relatively speaking) when it came out in theaters, but the Extended Edition makes the film so much better. It’s now one of my favorite of all the Middle-earth movies. I think the release of the BotFA EE will encourage a similar reaction among many fans and I suspect each of your Gaffer’s Elite lists would be slightly different if you had written them after seeing the BotFA EE.

    • I think you’re right Andrew. Hopefully, once the EE is out, I can update this list. Here’s hoping it will be a significant improvement …

  4. This is a really great post! I really like hearing your opinions. My list, however, is quite different. It would go more like this:

    1. The Return of the King – easily the most epic & emotional, and very satifying.
    2. The Two Towers – Expands the trilogy and introduces great new characters.
    3. The Fellowship of the Ring – While an amazing adventure story, it’s pretty slow-paced.

    As much as I love the Hobbit Trilogy, I prefer LOTR. But, to continue:

    4. The Desolation of Smaug – My favorite of the trilogy. It feels the most complete 🙂
    5. The Battle of the Five Armies – Though it’s epic & action-packed, it has some faults.
    6. An Unexpected Journey – Not as rewatchable as the other films, it VERY slow.

  5. I must agree with a few of the comments in saying that I much prefer the LotR series to the Hobbit. I think the Hobbit is unnecessarily drawn out and I’m disappointed with the deviations from the book, some of which would have Tolkien turning in his grave (an elf and a dwarf falling in love? what?!). That said, I appreciate the magnitude of effort it would have taken in putting the story to screen so kudos to PJ for that.

    • I’m in agreement with most people here. I’m a bit of a Peter Jackson apologist, but certain things in The Hobbit just make me wonder what they were thinking :S

  6. To be clear, I don’t *dis*like any of the movies. (Well that’s not true. I only dislike one movie out of all six, which is a pretty good ratio, I think.) But if I had to choose an order of preference for them, it would look like this:

    1. The Fellowship of the Ring
    2. The Return of the King
    3. An Unexpected Journey
    4. The Desolation of Smaug
    5. The Battle of Five Armies
    6. The Two Towers

    • Same here Alyssa. You can’t dislike any of these films but there are certainly preferences. Thanks for sharing your ranking. Interesting to see TTT in last place 😉

      • It’s my least favorite of the books as well, so it’s not *really* a surprise. On top of that, in the film there’s that whole business with Faramir that I just can’t overlook or forgive, and I really dislike what they did with Eowyn as well.

  7. It is so difficult to tell people which is my favorite among these 6 movies… my answer always goes as— err… ummm…ummm…ALL… I just cannot rank these movies. 😉

  8. I kind of agree with this list and where I don’t, I can completely understand the reasons of your rating. 🙂 I’d probably poke up AUJ and TTT before DOS. But that’s about it.

    • Hi Lisa, I actually found it difficult to decide between AUJ and DOS. I would have ranked them together but the “uncharted territory” of the latter outweighed the familiar of the former, in the end 🙂

  9. While I disagree, I understand your points.

    However, I will say I feel like some folk (not you) forget the faults in LOTR, as good as those films are.

    For instance, the only performance in The Hobbit films that grated with me after a while was Ryan Gage as Alfrid, mostly because he was in it too much. Everyone else I LOVED in The Hobbit.

    LOTR however had a couple issues that continue to annoy me today. For instance, Aragorn’s constant whispering tone in the films was a bit annoying, and Jon Noble as Denethor, while not horrible, could have been much improved. And as much as I like moments that build atmosphere, LOTR has a little too much of that at times.

    Still, I love all six. Just my personal opinion.

    • Hey Dylan, thanks for pointing out the other aspect of the subject. As you correctly stated, not everything is perfect about LOTR either. Perhaps, I’m more judgmental of The Hobbit because I read the book first and had seen LOTR – so I may have been expecting things to pan out differently.

      Whilst I do not necessarily concur with your comments on Aragorn and Denethor film version, I still believe there are things which could have been done better. Definitely.

  10. Great ranking James. Not sure how I would rank them, just amazed that the films had so many moments in them I enjoy given the pressures everyone in the films had to handle. For me, the best hobbit and best villain goes to the hobbit films but there will always be something special about the LOTR films (like the first Star Wars films) they were my introduction ‘live actor’ film-wise to Middle Earth and so amazing. Smaug was magnificient; Sauron obviously forgot the advice – never work with children or animals or you will get outdone on the big screen! 😉

    • Thanks Bob! Indeed, no matter how good The Hobbit trilogy may be, LOTR will always be superior. Not just the quality of the films themselves, but also the feeling of experiencing them for the first time.

  11. Great post ! What a difficult task…
    Ok , here’s my ranking:
    1 -The Return of the King (who said: epic ? )
    2- The Two Towers
    3 – The Fellowship of the Ring
    4- The Desolation of Smaug (my fav Hobbit movie)
    5 – An Unexpected Journey
    6 – The Battle of Five Armies ( not fond of this one….)
    I do agree: there’s something special with the LOTR trilogy like in the 1st Star Wars trilogy …..

    • It was a very difficult task LadyButterfly!

      Great ranking from your end. I’m glad to find out I’m not the only one who’s favourite Hobbit movie is DoS 🙂

      You also make a good point on comparing the LOTR trilogy with the original Star Wars. I think a lot of that sentiment has been reflected in a very similar way with The Hobbit.

      • Thanks a lot, James!
        I found it hard to compare the 2 trilogies even if I like The Hobbit one. As strange as it may seems, I never saw the LOTR trilogy in theatres (on big screens) because these were the years when I became a mother (2001). I must admit that i didn’t have spare time between 2001 and 2003 ….
        But of course, I have all the dvd (extended versions).
        About Star Wars, I’m old enough to say “I saw the 1st trilogy when it was released”. (I was just a kid) . So, I think there’s a part of nostalgia even I don’t want to be stuck in the past.

  12. I had no idea my love of Two Towers wasn’t universal! Ha. I’d go:

    1. Two Towers
    2. Fellowship of the Ring
    3. Return of the King
    4. An Unexpected Journey

    And then I’d stop ranking, but that’s another unpopular opinion, probably!

    • Hey Michelle, it’s not universal – but don’t worry! I know others who think TTT is the best of all 3 (or 6) 🙂 In reality, I’d rank all of the films first but practically, that doesn’t work 😉

  13. Wow, I’m surprised by your list, but obviously you enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy much more than I did. I didn’t like them very much at all, although I appreciate several moments in them. I just think PJ went overboard with trying to turn any small phrase in the book into a full blown action sequence (ahem, stone giants). Also the suspension of disbelief required in many action scenes is also too much for me (Bombur taking out about 20 orcs in the barrel-riding scene). This is a problem that many filmmakers have now though, I just thought PJ was above that (maybe I should have remembered King Kong). Too many action films have the characters stumble through scenes by way of blind luck and coincidences. The LOTR films seemed to portray that type of action as being the result of the characters’ skills, rather than luck.

    Anyway, that said my list goes like this:
    1. Fellowship
    2. The Two Towers
    3. Return of the King (very close to TTT though-in fact I think they work very well together, whereas Fellowship stands tall as a single film)
    4. Battle of the Five Armies (I don’t know why, but this film left me less annoyed than the other 2 and I’m anxious to see the extended edition). I think because there was more room to create new scenes during the battle while Bilbo was knocked out, whereas the other Hobbit films should have stuck to the book. I think for this one I just shut my mind off and enjoyed the ride.
    5. An Unexpected Journey
    6. Desolation of Smaug

    Sorry to be so negative. I do think the extended Hobbit films are much better and I did like the elements of the films that tied things to LOTR. It’s mostly the overblown action sequences that bother me, like covering Smaug in gold. I wish we could have a trilogy that does away with a lot of that stuff and sticks to the character moments, which were well done.

    • Hey Mark, you’re not negative at all! You are right in that PJ seems to have gone overboard with The Hobbit trilogy. I also find certain decisions/moments annoying which make me wonder what he was thinking. I’m intrigued by your comment that BoTFA didn’t annoy you as much as the others – which I find somewhat fascinating, considering it felt it was the film that deviated mostly from the scope of the book.

      • Thanks James! I’ve only seen BoTFA once, but I think I am almost expecting the EE to fix a lot of things and that might make me feel more positive about it than I should be, ha ha. Like I’m pretty sure we will get to see a bit more Beorn ass-kicking, other than just jumping down from an eagle 🙂

        But I’m probably ok with most of the changes in BoTFA because I went into it thinking all that was left in the story was Thorin going mad over the gold/Arkenstone, Bilbo sneaking out with the stone, then the big fight and major deaths. So it was interesting to see how PJ would flesh that out into a whole movie. I liked seeing the humans led by Bard dealing with orcs invading Dale, for example.

        Whereas the first 2 films have enough fun parts that they didn’t need to be fleshed out much more. I mean in terms of bloated action sequences mainly. I must stress that I liked the extra parts about the Necromancer and everything Galdalf did. These parts were intriguing things happening in the story that we didn’t get to read about in the book.

        Anyway, as I watch the EE versions and all the making of footage, I grow fonder of the Hobbit films because of the work put into them, and I can start to ignore the parts I don’t like. Maybe in a future comment though I will list the parts that grate on me 🙂

  14. Interesting…
    I personally LOVED The Two Towers for the opposite reasons why you didn’t like it. I think it is very rewatchable as with every new viewing, you can pick up on something new entirely due to the fact that there is so much going on. being dragged between Frodo, Sam & Gollum, Aragorn, Gimli & Legolas and Merry, Pippin & the Ents was expertly done IMO with each scene with a particular group made you heavily emotionally invest in each trio, which makes TTT one of the richest storylines of the 6.
    My irrelevant ranking woud be as follows:
    1. FoTR
    2. TTT
    3. RotK
    4. AUJ
    5. DoS
    6. BotFA.

    I was so disappointed with battle of the 5 armies. afetr spending 2 long films building up Thorin and the quest for erebor and the viewer wanting to see the dwarves reclaim their homeland, Thorin, Kili and Fili all die and once that happens, nothing is spoken of the fate of erebor again with now mention of Dain taking the throne, at least not in the theatrical release. Add that in with the Kili/Tauriel relationship, the CGI effects that made characters look like they were video games and the often irrelevance of a lot of Legolas’ part (what was that s@#t about Aragorn at the end?!), I was thoroughly disappionted with the BotFA. Although yes, that opening sequence was awesome

    • Hey John, thanks for your feedback. Don’t get me wrong, I love TTT and, as you rightly point out, the editing is superb.

      I like your ranking and agree on everything you said regarding BOtFA. The opening, lead-up and concluding scenes with Bilbo were great. The climax wasn’t so much … what a real pity :/

  15. This is great! I would have put AUJ and DOS the other way round, as I feel the middle films tend to be the weakest, but that’s just personal choice 🙂 I think maybe the EE of BOTFA might just give it a better edge than DOS though, it was the same case with ROTK, but we’ll have to wait and see 🙂 Fellowship (EE) was hands down the best out of all 6, it had everything spot on!!

    • Let’s hope the BOTFA EE scenes will make it more powerful. I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like this last film. Not at all. I loved it, but felt that certain crucial moments were underwhelming and didn’t deliver. Let’s hope the EE will remedy this.

      And I agree about FOTR EE. The absolute best 😀

      • I agree and I really really hope the EE will fix that, I’ll be absolutely devastated if it doesn’t. There’s so much they need to put in, like the funeral, just felt like Thorin, Kili and Fili were left where they died :/

      • Especially Fili! At least, Kili had Tauriel and Thorin had Bilbo (and the other Dwarves). No one seemed to care about poor old Fili …

  16. Am I the only person who thought BOtFA was closet to the book of any of the movies except FOTR?

    I have read your blog for a long time, but have never posted. But I am just trying to figure out which key moments in BOFA you thought were underwhelming. You said the climax, but I thought the battle was very well-done,(especially the Dwarven Sheild-wall and Thorin’s charge out of the Mountain), and except for Legolas vs. Bolg I liked the Ravenhill scenes. And I thought that Thorin killing Azog was one of the most intense moments in all six movies.

    My only real complaints with BOTFA were that I think It needed more of the Dwarves inside the mountain before the battle, and more scenes at the end. And It sounds like all these will be in the EE.

    • Hey Ironfoot, welcome to the blog! Thanks for your feedback. I enjoyed BoTFA but regarding the climax, the battle was great, the Ravenhill scenes are problematic. From a technical point of view, they’re great – the cinematography, the choreography, the performance. But it was greatly underwhelming. Isolating the three dwarves from the main battlefield was PJ’s worst decision of this trilogy, in my opinion. A post about it shall follow soon 😉

      • I think they wanted to avoid the thing that happens a lot of times in big battles, where the heroes have their heroic fights, and all of the hundreds of people around them give them a big circle and never try to interfere. Like in ROTK, when Aragorn fights the Troll. They are surrounded by Gondorians and Rohirrim, but none of them try to save the king, and Legolas is the only person who tries to help.

        But I understand your opinion. In my opinion, I think this could be helped a lot by more cutting back to the Main Battlefield. The Concept books talk a lot about The other Dwarves fighting after Thorin, Dwalin, Fili, and Kili leave, and Balin leading them. lets hope it was filmed!!

  17. Awww, the end of the series? I’m sad to hear that — I’ve been enjoying your ranking posts!

    I would have two lists, one of which ones are my favorites, and one of which ones I more objectively think are the best. My more objective list would be fairly similar to yours, probably. But my list of favorites would be FOTR, TBOTFA, DOS, ROTK, AUJ, TTT. What I love about a movie isn’t necessarily what makes it really good, I guess.

  18. Just realized! This shouldn’t be the last Gaffers Elite list, what about the Extended Editions ranked, for I find they are separate entities compared to the original cut.

    Personally, here are my thoughts:

    • The Two Towers (which I realized only after I saw the EE of TTT) and The Battle of the Five Armies are the ones that desperately needed the extended edition (though what is in the EE of BOTFA we shall wait to see).

    • Desolation of Smaug didn’t shout out for more scenes in it, but I was pleasantly surprised that the EE the movie improved greatly (when I first saw the original cut I hated it, so I guess I wasn’t expecting much from the EE either)

    • The Fellowship of the Ring was perfect in every way with and without the EE

    • Although always a pleasure to see it, An Unexpected Journey didn’t improve that much with the EE

    Anyhow, when the time comes, I hope you make your own list so I can hear your thoughts

    • Hey David, you’re right. I based all my first 5 films on the final extended editions – so I wasn’t being fair with BoTFA. Once we get to see the EE, I’ll revisit the list and see whether it ranks higher than it this. Of course, if this turns to be so it’ll mean The Two Towers will be last … :/

      • nah, I doubt the Extended Edition of TBOTFA will be better and the Extended Edition of TTT, but I’m still really hyped! Then, maybe then we shall finally see the long awaited Ultimate Edition… 🙂

  19. Also, my mind is quite perplexed at the moment: I’m re-watching the entire (extended) trilogy of Lord of the Rings at the moment, and I can’t chose the second favorite.

    Obviously FOTR is the best of the trio, but which is the second best, ROTK of TTT? Everyone says as it goes along, the movies get less and less subtle (as Peter Jackson gets more confident in his filmmaking and the studios offer him a lot more money), and that I must agree with, ROTK has some of the most character defining moments I have ever seen or expected from the fantasy genre, and for that I must give it credit, subtle or no. (Well, in scattered moments AFTER the first 30 minutes I felt it was subtle, and then after the Paths of the Dead it sort of went back into that state for a little bit). I loved the second half of the movie (remember the very ending the first half? so awesome) and didn’t have many huge complaints.

    Yesterday after Two Towers, I found to like it much better than the theatrical cut, it made the silly subplots like Aragorn falling off the cliff feel more relevant, it filled gaps that were noticeably missing, it revealed the true motivations of characters, and most importantly, it made the movie more than just a bridge between the 1st and 3rd films.

    Yet for Return of the King, as much as I love to tell myself that it’s perfect, (and it is :))the film can be very exhausting at times, leaving me with no time to sit back and breathe. Giml in the second film was there for comic relief, but just enough for me not get upset, however too much in the 3rd movie, far too much, for me at least. Anyways enough of me rambling. One day, after the Ultimate Edition, I’ll go back to the Hobbit and LOTR and cut out all the fat and make a movie I can’t complain about WHATSOEVER.

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