Every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Movie, Ranked by Box Office Results
The Lord of the Rings is one of the most successful and beloved franchises in modern history. The trilogy of films in the early 2000s, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary work, were landmark releases of their time. They are collectively considered one of the best film trilogies of all time, and to this day people still return to them and fall in love with the world of Middle-Earth all over again. Even the trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit, despite not being as universally adored as The Lord of the Rings, managed to make enormous waves at the box office. Across both trilogies, The Lord of the Rings franchise has averaged just $12 million short of a billion dollars per film. It’s no wonder why Warner Bros. is hoping to revive the series into a franchise reminiscent of Star Wars. Here’s how each film in the Lord of the Rings franchise ranks in terms of the box office:
7 The Lord of the Rings (1978) – $30 million
This film is included on this list solely for the completionists out there. The only Lord of the Rings film to be released theatrically and not be directed by Peter Jackson is the 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings directed by Ralph Bakshi. With a budget of only $4 million, the film managed to pull in around $30 million at the North American box office. While that was enough to turn a profit and be considered a success, it wasn’t enough to warrant a sequel. The film, which only covered the first half of the Lord of the Rings story, was poorly received by both fans and critics at the time, and it failed to become the breakout hit that it was meant to be. In the half-century since its release, Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings has become a cult classic of sorts, with its rotoscope animation doing a lot of work to separate the film from other animated fantasy films of its time.
6 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – $898 million
The first entry in Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the first modern adaptation of Tolkien’s work to be released, was 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring. There was a lot of pressure on this first film. Jackson and New Line Cinema were attempting the massive undertaking of shooting all three films back to back, which was a practice that was essentially unheard of at the time. If The Fellowship of the Ring failed, then the studio and the director would have been in hot water, as they had two sequels nearly completed already. Thankfully, when the film was released in December 2001, it was a smash hit. The Fellowship of the Ring was the second highest-grossing film of 2001 both domestically and internationally, having only been beaten out by the first Harry Potter film in both markets. In its original theatrical release, the movie grossed just over $880 million. Through various re-releases in the two decades since that number has now grown to $898 million.
5 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – $947 million
Thanks to the immense success of The Fellowship of the Ring – a success that blossomed further with the film’s home video release in 2002 – the anticipation for The Two Towers in December 2002 was sky-high. The movie opened to $62 million domestically, which was a 31% increase over the $47 million that The Fellowship of the Ring opened to. With the reaction to The Two Towers being just as strong, if not stronger, than its predecessor, the film also showed incredible legs at the box office. It went on to gross $936 million in its original theatrical release, a number that has since expanded to $947 million. It was the #1 film of the year worldwide, having surpassed the second Harry Potter to earn that spot. But, it once again came in second place in the domestic market, where Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man outperformed it by $65 million.
4 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – $959 million
Up next on the list is the second film in the Hobbit prequel trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Despite being arguably the best film in the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is the lowest-grossing of the bunch, even if it’s only by a little bit. Ten years after the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, the second Hobbit film opened to $73 million domestically, about $11 million less than the first entry, An Unexpected Journey. The promise of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug drove a lot of audience interest in the film, which ultimately grossed $959 million worldwide. It was the eighth highest-grossing movie of 2013 in North America and the fourth highest-grossing worldwide, surpassed by the likes of Despicable Me 2, Iron Man 3 and Frozen. Don’t let all of that paint a negative picture though, The Desolation of Smaug was still a monstrous success. It grossed not too far under $1 billion on a budget of $225 million, which was more than enough to make the effort worthwhile.
3 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – $962 million
Coming in just $3 million above The Desolation of Smaug is the final chapter of the Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies. This film was billed as the grand finale to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves of Erebor, as well as the last journey into Middle-Earth on-screen. While we now know the latter was an untrue marketing gimmick, the promise of the movie was still enough to drive a lot of Lord of the Rings fans to come out to cinemas. While The Battle of the Five Armies was a box office success no matter which way you look at it, it also happened to post the smallest opening weekend of the entire Hobbit trilogy. It grossed just $54 million domestically in its debut weekend, a nearly $20 million drop from The Desolation of Smaug.
However, once again, The Lord of the Rings franchise demonstrated outstanding legs at the box office. It ultimately grossed $255 million domestically, just a smidge under the previous film’s $258 million, and it reached $962 million worldwide, which was inversely just over The Desolation of Smaug‘s $959 million. It was the sixth highest-grossing film of the year in the United States, and internationally it took the #2 spot, as it was beaten out by Transformers: Age of Extinctionfor the top spot. It cemented the Hobbit trilogy as an overall box office smash, as all three films grossed more than $950 million and altogether they pulled in $2.93 billion.
2 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) $1.017 billion
Although all three of the Hobbit films were incredible successes (at the box office, at least), only one of them managed to join the billion-dollar club. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released in 2012 as the first film in the Lord of the Rings franchise since The Return of the King in 2003. The concept of journeying back into Middle-Earth, with Jackson returning to the director’s chair and actors such as Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving reprising their roles from The Lord of the Rings, had audiences immensely excited for An Unexpected Journey. The film opened to $84 million domestically, which remains the largest opening for any Lord of the Rings film. It went on to earn a total of $303 million in North America and $1.017 billion worldwide. Domestically, it was the fifth highest-grossing movie of the year, while globally it came in third, behind Skyfall and The Avengers.
1 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – $1.146 billion
It makes sense that the highest-grossing film in the Lord of the Rings franchise was the film series’ creative peak as well. The Return of the King was building off the sensational hits that The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers were, and it promised to deliver a finale that would surpass both of them. Upon its release, The Return of the King opened to $72 million in the US, where it went on to gross $377 million and claim the title as the highest-grossing movie of 2003. It was also the highest-grossing movie of the year globally, as it brought in a total of $1.14 billion. The Return of the King was only the second film in history to make more than a billion dollars at the box office, with the first being Titanic six years earlier in 1997. Even more impressively, the final Lord of the Rings film was the second highest-grossing film of its decade, beaten once again by a James Cameron film, 2009’s Avatar. The Return of the King is one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time. It famously swept the 2004 Academy Awards, as it won all 11 of the Oscars that it was nominated for. It is frequently given new theatrical runs, with the latest set for April 13th, which has grown its overall total to $1.146 billion. It currently sits at #27 on the list of all-time highest-grossing films.