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How to watch The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies in order

The Middle Earth film franchise is much beloved, but is there one viewing order to rule them all?

Lord of the Rings
Published: Friday, 7th January 2022 at 7:50 pm

It is a good time to rewatch, or even watch for the first time, the movies set in Middle Earth.

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Both trilogies - The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - have been remastered in 4K making them look better than ever with the epic saga really benefitting from the long-awaited visual and audio upgrade.

But the debate rages on as to the best order to watch the movies with some choosing to go for The Hobbit first, while others choosing to go with the original trilogy first.

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If you are unsure which way to watch them, here are both orders you can do it to help you make up your mind - along with our pick for what we think is the best way to do it.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in release date order

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released prior to New Line Cinema decided to adapt the earlier novel The Hobbit as a cinematic prequel trilogy also directed by Peter Jackson

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

This is the way we got them originally and while we do lean towards watching them in chronological order, this remains an enjoyable way to watch them all and you will be going into it with the three best movies in the franchise first - the slower and slightly more muddled Hobbit trilogy can be more enjoyable with the knowledge of what is to come in Middle Earth.

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

lord of the rings fellowship

Where it all began cinematically, The Fellowship of the Ring remains a delightful movie and is the perfect introduction to all things Middle Earth. While the pace is slow, there is an innocence to this one as we follow the Fellowship in its early stages and watch as the journey of Frodo and co begins and they begin to realise how dangerous a situation they have found themselves in.

Read our full review

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, SEAC, SL

The Two Towers had a lot of hype to live up to after the success of Fellowship and it did not disappoint. The action in the first movie was solid, but here it is taken to another level with the battle of Helm's Deep remaining an epic thrill ride even years later. A contender for best movie of the six? Almost certainly.

Read our full review

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

Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
New Line Productions, Inc.

It's hard not to talk about The Return of the King without mentioning its multiple endings and by the time the credits roll, it does feel like a relief to have made it through it. But not knowing when to bow out aside, this is the perfect end to an epic trilogy of movies with some of the most impressive action that the films had seen.

Read our full review

You can buy the Lord of the Rings extended trilogy in 4K at Amazon, or you can pick up the standard Blu-Ray set.

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

An Unexpected Journey takes a leaf out of the Fellowship playbook and takes things slowly - perhaps too slowly. There is a great bunch of characters in the mix and the movie doesn't lose its sense of fun, but it was clear to everyone after watching it that director Peter Jackson may have made an error in choosing to adapt these into three movies instead of two.

Read our full review

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug
New Line Cinema

The second movie in the Hobbit trilogy is easily the best of the bunch and arguably one of the most fun movies in the whole franchise. The pace is picked up considerably from An Unexpected Journey and while it doesn't come close to topping any of the films in the Lord of the Rings series, it remains a great watch with the titular Smaug beautifully realised.

Read our full review

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Richard Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
SEAC

While a solid conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy, it does feel as though the series fizzles out somewhat as opposed to going out with a bang. The battle that the movie revolves around is anticlimactic at times and never reaches the epic scale that we expected it to hit, but as a finale to the two movies that proceed it, it does the job well enough and features several incredible sequences.

Read our full review

You can buy The Hobbit extended trilogy in 4K at Amazon, or you can pick up the standard Blu-Ray set.

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in chronological order

Lord of the Rings

Of course, due to the nature of The Hobbit trilogy serving as prequel films to The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, this means there is a different chronological order to view the films by.

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

If you want to watch the movies in story order, this is the way you will want to go. There are some advantages to doing it this way, such as Bilbo's role in Fellowship feeling a lot more poignant after seeing his adventures earlier on, and you get a lot more insight into the busy lore and mythology of Middle Earth which helps to make it a little easier to keep track of it all when Frodo's journey kicks off.

Not only that, but The Hobbit movies are generally thought to be not as good as the Rings trilogy and while we like them, they do feel a lot slower at times and watching it this way means you get them out of the way first. If you have all the movies to watch, this would be the way we would lean towards watching them as all you really lose is some fun easter eggs to the future films that don't really have an impact on the overall enjoyment - particularly if you have seen them all anyway.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in IMDb rating order

Generally, The Lord of the Rings films came in for more acclaim than the prequel trilogy and that is certainly reflected by the IMDb audience scores.

The multi Oscar-winning Return of the King is the highest-rating and as the epic conclusion to the trilogy, it is hardly a surprise.

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (IMDb rating 8.9)
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (IMDb rating 8.8)
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (IMDb rating 8.7)
  4. (TIE) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (IMDb rating 7.8)

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (IMDb rating 7.4)

Do you agree with how the ratings have gone? We're sure any big Tolkein fans will have their thoughts.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films in Rotten Tomatoes score order

lord of the rings

Despite the audience reaction on IMDb, the Middle-Earth film franchise has a different ranking when it comes to critics scores on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.

Of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains the more acclaimed trilogy compared to The Hobbit.

However, each trilogy ranks differently when judged by the critics, with the middle episodes of each trilogy ranking best of each set of films.

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Rotten Tomatoes score 95%)
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Rotten Tomatoes score 93%)
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Rotten Tomatoes score 92%)
  4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Rotten Tomatoes score 74%)
  5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Rotten Tomatoes score 64%)
  6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Rotten Tomatoes score 59%)

We're sure everyone has their own favourites, but we aren't displeased with this ranking!

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If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.

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