Guide to Watching LOTR Films: Chronological vs Release Order


The “Hobbit” trilogy precedes the events of “The Lord of the Rings,” offering viewers flexibility in choosing their viewing order for Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations. Adapted from the works of British author J.R.R. Tolkien, these films transport audiences to Middle-earth, where a diverse array of beings, including Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits, unite against the encroaching darkness threatening their world.

Given that Jackson’s trilogies unfold at different junctures in Middle-earth’s chronology, viewers are presented with a choice in experiencing the saga. Both chronological and release orders have their merits and drawbacks, altering the narrative revelations and the impact of plot twists. Moreover, the recent release of “The Rings of Power” on Amazon Prime Video has further complicated the cinematic timeline, introducing non-linearity to the narrative tapestry.

In total, six movies have been adapted from Tolkien’s Middle-earth books within Jackson’s modern series. This encompasses three “Lord of the Rings” films and three “Hobbit” films, with the initial cinematic adaptation being the 1978 animated “The Lord of the Rings” by Ralph Bakshi, followed by a Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of “The Return of the King” in 1980. Jackson’s acclaimed “Lord of the Rings” trilogy commenced in the early 2000s.

The One Ring from Lord of the Rings

Warner Bros. has ambitious plans for multiple new “Lord of the Rings” movies, including the upcoming “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” film and Amazon’s “Rings of Power” season 2.

For those opting for release order, the recommended sequence is as follows:

  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (December 19, 2001)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (December 18, 2002)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (December 17, 2003)

And for “The Hobbit” films:

  • “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (December 14, 2012)
  • “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (December 13, 2013)
  • “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (December 17, 2014)

Watching the films in release order offers an authentic and coherent narrative experience, aligning with the creators’ intended vision. Characters are introduced naturally, their arcs unfold seamlessly, and Jackson’s directorial prowess guides viewers through the epic without confusion.

Dwarves standing around a pile of gold in The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria.

This viewing order is particularly essential when transitioning to “The Hobbit” trilogy, which assumes familiarity with characters from the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, such as Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman. Given the complexities introduced by Jackson’s narrative expansions and the distinct differences between the films and the source material, background knowledge enhances the enjoyment of the “Hobbit” trilogy.

In terms of chronological order, the saga unfolds as follows:

  • “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)
  • “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013)
  • “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)

This sequence delves into Bilbo Baggins’ early adventures before embarking on Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring. It culminates in the triumphant resolution of the War of the Ring.

Gandalf Sam and Frodo Eagles Lord of the rings return of the king

“The Rings of Power,” a series set during the First Age of Middle-earth, serves as a companion to Jackson’s films. Although not a direct prequel, it enriches the lore established by Tolkien and Jackson, offering a deeper exploration of the mythos.

In essence, whether experiencing Middle-earth’s epic saga in release order or chronological order, viewers are invited to embark on a timeless journey through a world of wonder, heroism, and unfathomable darkness.

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Boromir, Merry, Pippin, Arwen, Elrond

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