The 20 Greatest Middle-earth Movie Moments from 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit'

The 20 Greatest Middle-earth Movie Moments from 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit'

Dec 18, 2014

In their extended (and superior) cuts, the three films of the Lord of the Rings trilogy run 680 minutes. That's just over 11-and-a-half hours. Add in the six or so hours from the first two Hobbit movies and you have a lot of movie. Now, picking the 20 best single moments from these five movies doesn't seem so foolhardy. If anything, it seems too difficult! How do you narrow that much content down?

After revisiting The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we managed to select 20 scenes that stand out above the rest. Consider this a brief primer on just how great these can be before you return to Peter Jackson's Middle-earth with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

 

20. Barrels Out of Bond (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

Tolkien purists may turn their noses up at Peter Jackson transforming a very simple scene into a bombastic action sequence, but Bilbo and the dwarves' clever escape (which involves barrels, a river and a lot of guts) is one the most energetic moments in the Hobbit movies. The action may veer toward the cartoonish, but it sure is a lot of fun.

 

19. Arwen Rescues Frodo (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Speaking of departures from the text, Jackson and his writers beefed up Arwen's role in the original film trilogy and it works wonders. She rescues a dying Frodo after he's wounded by the Black Riders and takes him to Rivendell, eluding enemies and dispatching a handful of Wringwraiths with some well-timed magic. It's an early sign that the filmmakers aren't afraid to give Tolkien's female characters a heroic makeover.

 

18. Sam Takes on Shelob (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Sam's transformation from lovable sidekick into brave and noble hero has several climaxes, but the most viscerally exciting of them is his battle with Shelob, the giant spider who plans to make a meal out of a paralyzed Frodo. The tiny Hobbit is outmatched from the start, but he makes up for his lack of skill in battle with pluck, determination and loyalty. It's a classic underdog sequence and one of the most exciting showdowns in all of the films.

 

17. The Siege of Helm's Deep (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is packed with epic battles, but the lengthy, brutal siege of Helm's Deep is the best. It may be topped in scale by the warfare in the third movie, but this claustrophobic and often terrifying battle is far more coherent... and a little less prone to the excess that weights down the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

 

16. Gandalf vs. Saruman (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Two elderly British actors playing wizards engaged in a duel that involves them flinging each other around a room sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. And yet Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee sell the hell out of this potentially ridiculous scene, delivering a wizard-vs.-wizard battle that feels like the culmination of decades worth of D&D fantasies.

 

15. "Well, I'm Back" (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Yes, The Return of the King ends a few too many times. But can you blame it? The film has many, many hours worth of storylines and characters to wrap up! Anyway, the slow march to the end credits is made worthwhile by the final moments of the movie, which gives closure to Sam while eloquently summing up the theme of the entire trilogy: friends, family and home are always worth fighting for.

 

14. Bilbo Meets Smaug (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

Characters talk about Smaug for a movie and a half before we actually meet him and, somehow, it's not a letdown. Wonderfully voiced by the icy Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is a deadly, but somehow charming, dragon who isn't too happy that a band of invaders have come to take his gold. The ensuing action scene is entertaining enough, but the real joy is his interaction with Martin Freeman's Bilbo, who tries every trick in the book to avoid the dragon's wrath.

 

13. First Encounter with the Ringwraiths (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

It's one of those scenes that was all over the marketing of the first movie for a good reason. Early on, Bilbo, Sam, Merry and Pippin have their first encounter with a Ringwraith and it's as tense as anything from a horror movie. It not only sets up these memorable villains, it serves as a warning to these characters and to the audience that the easy days are over. Everything is going to get a whole lot scarier and a whole lot more difficult from this point onward.

 

12. Eowyn Duels the Witch King (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Remember when we were talking about how Arwen had her role beefed up from the book to make her into more of an active character? Well, Jackson didn't have to change too much about Eowyn, who disguises herself as a warrior, rides into the battle, fights alongside her fellow soldiers and ultimately takes down the biggest, most evil thing on the battlefield. It's rare for old-school fantasy stories to display this kind of feminist badassery and the film embraces every awesome moment of it.

 

11. Boromir's Sacrifice (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Of course Sean Bean's character dies. That was assured the moment he walked on-screen. However, his Boromir has one of the best deaths in the entire trilogy (and probably one of the best deaths in Bean's long list of on-screen deaths). After letting the One Ring overpower his mind, Boromir rushes into battle to save Merry and Pippin and redeem himself for his recent actions. He slays his fair share of orcs, saves his friends... and gets shot full of huge arrows until he slowly dies. Just listen to the sound effects in the clip below, which seem to have been created to signify maximum pain.

 

10. The Ents Invade Isengard (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Not many movies feature a scene where an army of sentient trees invade a wizarding compound and flood his orc hatchery. Just typing that gives you a giddy feeling. These movies really are a miracle, huh?

 

9. Theoden Rallies His Troops (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

How do you convince an army to follow you into the Biggest Battle of All Time where most of them are sure to meet gruesome deaths? By giving them the best damn prebattle speech ever! As Theoden, Bernard Hill chews into his battle cry with toughness and bombast -- he's ready to die to save Middle-earth, so you'd better be ready too. It's hard to not feel pumped when a leader this brave charges down the front lines, hitting your weapons with his own to get your blood rushing.

 

8. The Beacons of Gondor (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Look, we know that a montage of signal beacons being lit shouldn't make for particularly compelling movie watching. However, when Pippin and Gandalf scheme to trick Gondor into calling for aid from Rohan, movie magic happens. The implications of the action, combined with Howard Shore's impeccable musical score, create a sequence that carries more weight and emotion than even the most complicated battle.

 

7. The Ring Moves South (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

The Lord of the Rings films are filled with montages of people walking. Hell, these movies practically invented the "helicopter circles band of heroes as they cross a mountain" shot that is present in every fantasy movie produced in the past decade. However, it never got better than the halfway point of the first film, where the newly formed Fellowship departs Rivendell and treks south. The combination of cinematography, score and a pure, giddy sense of genuine adventure make this a sequence that feels more Lord of the Rings-y than just about anything else in Lord of the Rings.

 

6. Riddles in the Dark (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

The first Hobbit movie has been rightfully maligned as being too long and too overblown for its own good, but when things actually ease up on the bombast, one of the best scenes in the entire Middle-earth saga is created. Yes, this is scene where Bilbo finds the One Ring and meets Gollum for the first time. Although Andy Serkis has been wrapped in pixels for his return to the series, the scene is still essentially him and Bilbo having an extended conversation. And it's so much funnier, scarier and more thrilling than the way-too-long action scene that follows. 

 

5. "The Journey Does Not End Here" (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

When these movies first came out, everyone talked about the action scenes and the groundbreaking CGI. But now, over a decade later, they still hold up thanks to scenes like the one where Gandalf comforts a terrified Pippin before what they both believe will be their final moments of life. It's a speech that could have been too sentimental, but McKellen's wizened, warm performance makes us (and Pippin) believe every word. The siege of Minas Tirith works because the battles are broken up with moments like this and this is one very special moment indeed.

 

4. The Council of Elrond (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

This is a truly wonderful scene that introduces us to the larger world and conflict of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. We meet many important characters. Tremendous actors bounce off each other. Massive revelations happen. Everything that follows in the rest of the movies is born from this key scene. And yet it's really ranked this high because it gave us the "One does not simply walk into Mordor" meme. That may sound condescending, but it's the truth. A moment that embedded into popular culture deserves your respect.

 

3. "My Friends, You Bow to No One" (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Look, there's no commentary necessary here. Just hit play on the video. Instant waterworks. If you don't cry, you're a freakin' machine.

 

2. Gollum and Smeagol (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Gollum carries more cultural cache than any other character in this entire series and it all began with this scene. Andy Serkis was already creating a tragic and hilarious character in the first half of The Two Towers, but he ensured his permanent status as a pop-culture icon with one conversation... with himself. Playing the hateful Gollum and the naive Smeagol, he pits these two dueling personalities against each other in a scene that is simultaneously funny and deeply sad. No character in this series is more complicated and Serkis and the team of visual effects artists transforming him manage to sum him up in just a few amazing minutes.

 

1. "You Shall Not Pass!" (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Gandalf's showdown with the Balrog is the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is the opening shot of Star Wars. It is the T. rex attack in Jurassic Park. It is the lobby shoot-out in The Matrix. It is a scene of such power, of such immediate iconicism that it deserves to be put alongside the greatest moments ever to come out of mainstream cinema. This, more than anything, is the scene that showcases just how much these movies had to offer and how little they were kidding around.

 

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