How to watch 'The Lord of the Rings' in story order

From 'The Hobbit' to 'The Return of the King', here's our guide to what to watch once you've finished 'The Rings of Power'

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Since The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power gave Amazon Prime its most-watched premiere, Middle Earth has been back in the public eye with a profile not seen since Peter Jackson was at the height of his powers with his first The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at the turn of the century.

Jackson’s trilogy amassed 30 Oscar nominations between 2001 and 2003, and the director has made six Middle Earth films in total, returning to the fantasy world in 2012 for The Hobbit Trilogy. With the first season of The Rings of Power wrapping up on Thursday, there's no better time to watch these 21st-century takes on JRR Tolkien’s classic books in chronological order.

'The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power' (Season one, 2022)

Amazon’s newest on-screen version is by far the oldest in Middle Earth lore.

Set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit, the show lays the foundations for everything that’s to come: the forging of the Rings of Power, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron and the last alliance between elves and men — it’s all here in a near-10-hour format that makes Jackson’s films seem like they should have competed for the Best Short Film category, aside from the 17 Oscars they won.

Rating: 3/5

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (2012)

Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy opener introduces us to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the titular character, who is convinced by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) to join a group of dwarves on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug.

What Gandalf doesn’t reveal is that Sauron is rising again, and could use Smaug as a scaly weapon of mass destruction. It’s solid fun, along with the requisite battles, treasure, and audience favourite Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Audiences were split on Jackson filming at 48 frames-per-second, rather than the standard 24, with critics saying it looked like a computer game.

Rating: 3/5

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' (2013)

It's the second Hobbit film, and we’re still questing — largely thanks to Jackson’s decision to stretch the events of a 300-page novel over three films, which clock in at a total of eight hours.

Our heroes finally reach the Lonely Mountain after a battle with orcs and giant spiders en route. On arrival, Smaug the dragon is in no mood to have either the mountain or his vast trove of treasure liberated.

Rating: 3.5/5

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' (2014)

Smaug is in a beastly mood following the home invasion and, as one would expect of a dragon, launches a visual effects-filled opening as he lays waste to people and property alike in a fiery apocalypse.

It’s the first of many spectacular, CGI-filled scenes over the next two and a half hours, as Sauron makes a cameo and a host of fantastical creatures slug it out across several massive set pieces.

Despite being the shortest in the trilogy at "only" 144 minutes, Five Armies feels like it contains the most padding, with everything in between the set pieces coming across as a filler — perhaps because the plot was long exhausted in the previous two films’ near six hours.

Spoiler alert: Bilbo reveals at the end that he still has the magical ring he stole from Gollum seven hours ago. You’ll need this information later.

Rating: 2/5

'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' (2001)

The film that made the fantasy genre acceptable again, and a cinematic epic in every sense, Fellowship was, and remains, one of the grandest productions ever to hit the screen.

Sauron is back, 60 years after the events of Five Armies, and he’s looking for the ring he forged back in Power. It has now passed down to Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) and chaos has already engulfed Middle Earth even before Sauron finds it.

Men, elves and dwarves set their differences aside and agree that the ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Hence, it’s time for another quest as Frodo and his friends set off for the storied mountain.

Rating: 4/5

'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' (2002)

We’re en route to Mount Doom, deep in the heart of Sauron’s realm of Mordor. Frodo and his fellowship of hobbits, elves, men and dwarves are joined by peripheral allies such as rohirrim (horse/men) and ents (animated trees).

With occasional help from Gandalf, the fellowship must battle with orcs, wraiths, dark wizards and the pervading all-round evil that is Sauron to get there. Gollum’s back too, and was widely praised at the time as a rare example of a believable CGI character. He also hasn’t forgotten about Bilbo stealing his precious ring all those years ago.

Rating: 4/5

'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)

The Return of the King closes the story, and Jackson pulls out all the stops. With war raging across Middle Earth, Frodo and his hobbit friend Sam (Sean Astin) must continue their quest alone as their larger friends fight Sauron and his allies.

Gollum is serving as their guide, but his only ambition is to steal back the ring. This finale has everything we loved about the previous films and more — magic, epic battles, ghosts, heart-rending departures, brave heroes, evil villains, and, thankfully, closure.

The first fantasy film to win the Best Picture Oscar, the title went on to pick up 10 Academy Awards. Winning every category it was nominated in, it clearly did something right.

Rating: 5/5

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Updated: October 14, 2022, 8:59 AM