Watch The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want To Know About A Great Movie
The Return of the King (2003)
Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron’s army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring.
- Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 epic fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson from a screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson, based on 1955’s The Return of the King, the third volume of the novel The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The sequel to 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the film is the final installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It features an ensemble cast including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, and Sean Bean.
Continuing the plot of the previous film, Frodo, Sam and Gollum are making their final way toward Mount Doom in Mordor in order to destroy the One Ring, unaware of Gollum’s true intentions, while Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the rest are joining forces together against Sauron and his legions in Minas Tirith.
The Return of the King was financed and distributed by American studio New Line Cinema, but filmed and edited entirely in Jackson’s native New Zealand, concurrently with the other two parts of the trilogy. It premiered on 1 December 2003 at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington and was theatrically released on 17 December 2003 in the United States, and on 18 December 2003 in New Zealand.
The film was acclaimed by both critics and audiences, who considered it to be a landmark in filmmaking and the fantasy film genre, with praise for the visual effects, performances, action sequences, direction, screenplay, musical score, costume design and emotional depth. It grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2003 and the second highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release, as well as the highest-grossing film released by New Line Cinema.
Like the other films in the trilogy, The Return of the King is widely recognized as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. The film received numerous accolades; at the 76th Academy Awards, it won all eleven awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture, tying with 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1997’s Titanic as the movie with the most Academy Award wins. It also became the second film series whose entries have all won Best Visual Effects, after the original Star Wars trilogy.
The Return of the King (2003) Trailer
The Return of the King (2003) Reviews
In a scene where Gandalf rides his horse across the drawbridge and up the ramped streets of the city, it’s remarkable how seamlessly Jackson is able to integrate computer-generated shots with actual full-scale shots, so they all seem of a piece.
I complained that the second film, “The Two Towers,” seemed to shuffle the hobbits to the sidelines — as humans, wizards, elves and Orcs saw most of the action. The hobbits are back in a big way this time, as the heroic little Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal friend Sam (Sean Astin) undertake a harrowing journey to return the Ring to Mount Doom — where, if he can cast it into the volcano’s lava, Middle Earth will be saved and the power of the enemy extinguished.
They are joined on their journey by the magnificently eerie, fish-fleshed, bug-eyed creature Gollum, who started in life as a hobbit named Smeagol, and is voiced and modeled by Andy Serkis in collaboration with CGI artists, and introduced this time around with a brilliant device to illustrate his dual nature: He talks to his reflection in a pool, and the reflection talks back.
Gollum loves Frodo but loves the Ring more, and indeed it is the Ring’s strange power to enthrall its possessors (first seen through its effect on Bilbo Baggins in “The Fellowship of the Ring”) that makes it so tricky to dispose of.
This spider traps Frodo as he traverses a labyrinthine passage on his journey, defeats him, and wraps him in webbing to keep him fresh for supper. Sam is very nearly not there to save the day (Gollum has been treacherous), but as he battles the spider we’re reminded of all the other movie battles between men and giant insects, and we concede that, yes, this time they got it right.
The final battle is kind of magnificent. I found myself thinking of the visionary films of the silent era, like Lang (“Metropolis”) and Murnau (“Faust”), with their desire to depict fantastic events of unimaginable size and power, and with their own cheerful reliance on visual trickery. Had they been able to see this scene, they would have been exhilarated.
We see men and even an army of the dead join battle against Orcs, flying dragons, and vast lumbering elephantine creatures that serve as moving platforms for machines of war. As a flaming battering-ram challenges the gates of the city, we feel the size and weight and convincing shudder of impacts that exist only in the imagination. Enormous bestial Trolls pull back the springs for catapults to hurl boulders against the walls and towers of Minas Tirith, which fall in cascades of rubble (only to seem miraculously restored in time for a final celebration).
And there is even time for a smaller-scale personal tragedy; Denethor (John Noble), steward of the city, mourns the death of his older and favored son, and a younger son named Faramir (David Wenham), determined to gain his father’s respect, rides out to certain death. The outcome is a tragic sequence in which the deranged Denethor attempts to cremate Faramir on a funeral pyre, even though he is not quite dead.
Spectacle supplants emotions
The series has never known what to do with its female characters. J.R.R. Tolkien was not much interested in them, certainly not at a psychological level, and although the half-elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) here makes a crucial decision — to renounce her elfin immortality in order to marry Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) — there is none of the weight or significance in her decision that we feel, for example, when an angel decides to become human in “Wings of Desire.”
According to the calendar, Christmas is December 25. According to the movie release schedule, it’s December 17. There can be no greater gift for a movie lover than the one bestowed upon audiences by Peter Jackson, whose The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is not only the best movie of 2003, but the crowning cinematic achievement of the past several years. In fact, labeling this as a “movie” is almost an injustice. This is an experience of epic scope and grandeur, amazing emotional power, and relentless momentum.
One could be forgiven for initially approaching The Return of the King with a little trepidation. As good as the first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, are (in either their theatrical or extended DVD versions), movie history is littered with occasions when trilogy conclusions have crashed and burned. Return of the Jedi. Godfather III. The Matrix Revolutions.
And so on? Yet, with The Return of the King, Jackson has done more than just bucked the trend. Not only is this motion picture an entirely worthy conclusion to the landmark trilogy, but it’s better than its predecessors. Somehow, Jackson has managed to synthesize what worked in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, while siphoning off the less successful elements. The result is amazing. Taken as a whole, there is nothing out there today that can come close to comparing to The Lord of the Rings.
As with The Two Towers, some form of previous knowledge of The Lord of the Rings is necessary. However, with the earlier chapters readily available on DVD, anyone with the desire can be prepared. The Return of the King opens where The Two Towers ended, with hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), and the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis) approaching the dark land of Mordor.
Meanwhile, the company of Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan), Aragorn the ranger (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), reunite with their hobbit friends Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) in the wake of the battle of Isengard. From there, the film follows two branches.
The first tracks Frodo’s progress as the increasingly haunted and weary ringbearer attempts to make his way to Mount Doom. Along the way, he is burdened by betrayal and paranoia, and must face a deadly giant spider called Shelob. Meanwhile, Gandalf and Pippin head to the city of Minas Tirith to warn them against a coming invasion, while Aragorn prepares to announce himself as Isildur’s heir, the returned king of Gondor.
The slowest portions of The Return of the King occur early in the proceedings, as Jackson re-establishes the characters. From there, it’s a slow, steady buildup to a rousing climax. The experience is so immersive that I found myself in the middle of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields along with the heroes, rooting for them – even though I knew how things were going to turn out!
Along the way, there are moments of genuine pathos that draw a tear from the eye; times of triumph that cause the heart to soar; instances of overwhelming tension that cause the adrenaline to surge; and images of spectacle that make the jaw drop. The pace is unflagging – once Jackson has us, he doesn’t let go. When the movie was over, I couldn’t believe that 3 1/4 hours had passed.
Although it’s unfair to characterize the film as a collection of great moments – the character arcs and overall narrative are too strong for that – it is nevertheless impossible to deny the power of many individual scenes. One of Jackson’s most notable contributions is that he directs the film with the intention that certain instances will raise nape hairs. It’s the “wow” factor, and it is frequently repeated. Gene Siskel once argued that a great film needs three memorable scenes to go along with no bad ones. The Return of the King exceeds that criteria by a considerable amount.
I can think of three key reasons why this film is stronger than the earlier chapters. The first is that this is the conclusion – the resolution we have eagerly awaited for what seems like more than two years. The second is that Jackson, like Tolkien, saved the best for last. As impressive as the Battle of Helms Deep was, it is dwarfed by the Siege of Minas Tirith and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. And Frodo’s struggles have become magnified.
Jackson views elements of the hobbit’s travails as operatic (witness the choral aspects of Howard Shore’s score). Finally, there’s the simple fact that we have gotten to know the characters. By now, they have been with us for two years and six hours of screen time (over seven if you count the DVD special editions).
For those who despise truncated endings, Jackson has a treat in store. The Return of the King ends with a 20 minute epilogue that chronicles events after the War of the Ring, going as much as four years into the future and tying up nearly every possible loose end. The film concludes on exactly the same note as the book (in fact, with the same line), and, while the final chapter of the trilogy is as satisfying as it could possibly be, there’s still a vague sense of melancholy when “The End” appears on the screen, because it means that these adventures are over.
Tolkien purists will be as disgruntled with The Return of the King as they were with The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, but this isn’t made for them. This is Tolkien’s saga as filtered through Jackson’s fertile imagination, not some dry, slavishly faithful adaptation (although it is probably as true to the books in both spirit and narrative as any movie version could be).
If you want rigorous adherence to the text, wait for the next Harry Potter movie. It’s hard to fault the director for many of his choices. There are some omissions in The Return of the King. A couple – Saruman’s death at the hands of Wormtongue and the Houses of Healing – were cut due to time constraints, but will appear on the DVD. Another, The Scouring of the Shire, was not filmed. While that may be a viable way to end the book, it is too anticlimactic for a movie, and, as such, is better excised.
The acting shines through more in The Return of the King than in the other films. Elijah Wood is excellent as Frodo, a shell of the cheerful hobbit he once was. Sean Astin transforms Sam into a fierce knight protector, defending his master against the treacherous Gollum, the terrifying Shelob, and the forces of Mordor. Viggo Mortensen gives Aragorn his fullest opportunity to be seen as a three-dimensional hero.
Newcomer John Noble, as Denethor, the Protector of Gondor, displays madness laced with cunning. Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies have less to do, but provide us with a little comedic banter as well as some more serious moments. Miranda Otto’s Eowen is as sharp and fierce as any man, and far better looking. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan are given a chance to flesh out Pippin and Merry. Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, and Ian Holm all make brief appearances.
But the two I must single out are Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis. For the first time, Gandalf is on screen for a significant portion of time (rather than somewhere in the distance fighting a balrog, trapped by Saruman, or rounding up the Riders of Rohan). McKellan presents the wizard as a man of great wisdom, little patience, and incomparable battle skill. Using a sword and staff instead of magic, Gandalf proceeds to kick butt big-time. In fantasy mythology, Gandalf is second only to Merlin when it comes to famous sorcerers. On screen, McKellen’s wizard is second to none.
For most of the film, Serkis is heard but only partially seen – Gollum is a computer generated creature that gets its cues from Serkis’ body movements. (Although there is one flashback in which Serkis plays the pre-corrupted Smeagol.) The subtlety of Gollum’s movements and expressions is so astonishing that it’s difficult to believe this isn’t a real creature. Serkis deserves a lion’s share of the credit, since Gollum is as much his creation as it is that of the animators. Although a long shot, Serkis is deserving of some sort of awards credit.
Expectedly, the special effects set a new standard. The CGI participants of the major battles look more like real combatants than cartoonish computer creations. The locations, set design, and costumes are without flaw. By building many of the elaborate locales, Jackson achieves a sense of verisimilitude that he might not have attained by relying more heavily on computers. And composer Howard Shore’s score is perfectly wed to the visuals, being alternately bombastic and delicate, as circumstances dictate.
Leaving Middle Earth, Jackson is now headed for Skull Island and a remake of King Kong that already has me excited. He has not ruled out a return to this fantasy world – he would like to make The Hobbit with some of the same actors, if the complicated rights issues surrounding the prequel can be straightened out. In the meantime, he has given us a trilogy of films to savor and remember.
The Lord of the Rings will go down in cinematic lore as a milestone. It has legitimatized fantasy like no other production and has shown that it is possible for studio executives to realize huge gains when taking huge risks. (Had The Lord of the Rings failed, New Line Cinema would have gone down with it.) History will show the importance of The Lord of the Rings. The present illustrates its broad appeal and undeniable critical and commercial success.
For many, the release of The Return of the King is the event of the year. And this is one time when the product is good enough to weather the storm of hype. This ring is golden.
- A movie review by James Berardinelli
The Return of the King (2003) Credits
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images
Liv Tyler as Arwen
Sean Astin as Sam
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
Elijah Wood as Frodo
Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagol
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
- Howard Shore
- Frances Walsh
- Barrie M. Osborne
- Peter Jackson
- Andrew Lesnie
Based on the novel by
- J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King (2003) Plot
The hobbit Sméagol is fishing with his cousin Déagol, who discovers the One Ring in the river. Sméagol’s mind is ensnared by the Ring, and he kills his cousin for it. Increasingly corrupted physically and mentally, he retreats into the Misty Mountains and becomes known as Gollum.
Centuries later, during the War of the Ring, Gandalf leads Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and King Théoden of Rohan to Isengard, where they reunite with Merry and Pippin. Gandalf retrieves Saruman’s palantír, and the group returns to Edoras to celebrate their victory at Helm’s Deep.[a] Pippin looks into the palantír, seeing Sauron and a burning tree.
Gandalf deduces that the enemy plans to attack Gondor’s capital Minas Tirith; he rides there to warn Gondor’s steward Denethor. Pippin, who accompanies him, swears fealty to Denethor, whose now-dead heir Boromir had saved his life; on Gandalf’s instruction, he triggers the lighting of the beacons, which call for help from Rohan.
Frodo, who carries the Ring, and Sam continue their journey towards Mordor, unaware that Gollum, now their guide, plans to betray them and take the Ring for himself. The trio witness the Witch-king of Angmar, lord of the nine Nazgûl, setting off towards Gondor with his army of Orcs. Gollum conspires to frame Sam for eating food supplies and desiring the Ring; influenced by the growing power of the Ring, Frodo is taken in by the deception, and orders Sam to go home. Gollum then tricks Frodo into venturing into the lair of the giant spider Shelob.
Frodo narrowly escapes and confronts Gollum, who falls down a chasm after a scuffle. Shelob discovers, paralyzes, and binds Frodo, but is wounded and driven away by a returning Sam, who, mourning Frodo’s apparent death, takes the Ring. Sam realizes his mistake when a group of Orcs takes Frodo captive, but manages to rescue Frodo as the Orcs fight among themselves. Now inside Mordor, the hobbits continue towards Mount Doom, their destination.
As King Théoden gathers his army, Elrond tells Aragorn that Arwen is dying, having refused to leave Middle-earth. Elrond gives Aragorn Andúril, reforged from the shards of King Elendil’s sword Narsil, and urges him to commit to claiming Gondor’s throne, to which he is heir.
Joined by Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn travels the Paths of the Dead, and pledges to release the ghosts there from their curse should they come to Gondor’s aid. Meanwhile, Faramir, who was earlier overwhelmed and driven back to Minas Tirith by the Witch-king, is gravely wounded in a suicide charge; believing his son to be dead, Denethor falls into madness. Gandalf marshals the defenders, but the huge Orc army breaks into the city.
Denethor attempts to burn himself and Faramir on a pyre, but Pippin alerts Gandalf and they rescue Faramir. Denethor, set ablaze and in agony, jumps to his death.
Théoden arrives and leads his army against the Orcs. Despite initial success against Orcs in the ensuing battle, they are decimated by the Oliphaunt-riding Haradrim and the Witch-king mortally wounds Théoden; however, his niece Éowyn slays the Witch-king with Merry’s help. Théoden dies in his niece’s arms. Aragorn then arrives with his Army of the Dead, who overcome Sauron’s forces and win the battle. Their oath fulfilled, the Dead are released from their curse.
Aragorn decides to march on Mordor to distract Sauron from Frodo, now extremely weak, and Sam; all of Sauron’s remaining forces march to meet Aragorn’s diversion, allowing the hobbits to reach Mount Doom. Gollum, who survived his earlier fall, attacks them, but Frodo still manages to enter the mountain.
There, he succumbs to the Ring’s power, putting it on his finger, but Gollum manages to bite off his finger and reclaim it. They struggle together and both fall off the ledge. Frodo manages to cling on, and is pulled up by Sam, but Gollum falls and dies; the Ring, which fell with him, disintegrates in the lava. Mount Doom erupts as Sauron meets his demise, while Aragorn’s army emerges victorious as its enemies flee.
Gandalf rescues the hobbits with the help of eagles, and the surviving Fellowship is happily reunited in Minas Tirith. Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor and marries Arwen. The Hobbits return home to the Shire, where Sam marries Rosie Cotton. A few years later, Frodo who is still traumatised, departs Middle-earth for the Undying Lands with his uncle Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Elves. He leaves Sam the Red Book of Westmarch, which details their adventures. Sam returns to the Shire, where he embraces Rosie and their children.
The Return of the King (2003) Box office
The Return of the King earned $377,027,325 in the United States and Canada and $763,654,686 in other countries for a worldwide total of $1,140,682,011.
In the weekend of February 20–22 of 2004, the film crossed the $1 billion mark, making it the second film in history to do so, after Titanic. Worldwide, it is the 24th highest-grossing film of all time when not adjusted for inflation, the highest-grossing film of 2003, the second highest-grossing film of the 2000s, the highest-grossing entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the highest-grossing film ever to be released by New Line Cinema.
It held the record as Time Warner‘s highest-grossing film worldwide for eight years until it was surpassed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in 2011. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film had sold over 61 million tickets in the US in its initial theatrical run.
In the US and Canada, it is the 27th highest-grossing film, the highest-grossing 2003 film, and the highest-grossing entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film set an opening Wednesday record with $34,450,834. This record was first surpassed by Spider-Man 2 in 2004 and ranks as the seventh largest Wednesday opening. Additionally, it was ranked as the highest December opening day, holding that record for less than a decade before getting dethroned by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012.
The film opened a day earlier for a midnight showing and accounted for about $8 million. This was nearly twice the first-day total of The Fellowship of the Ring — which earned $18.2 million on its opening day in 2001 — as well as a significant increase over The Two Towers — which earned $26.1 million on its debut in 2002. Part of the grosses came from the Trilogy Tuesday event, in which the Extended Editions of the two previous films were played on 16 December before the first midnight screening.
For two years, The Return of the King would hold the record for having the highest midnight screenings gross until 2005 when it was given to Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The film went on to make an opening weekend of $72,629,713, making it the second-highest opening weekend for a New Line Cinema film, behind Austin Powers in Goldmember.
In addition, it had the third largest opening weekend of that year, after The Matrix Reloaded and X2. With a total gross of $125.1 million, the film had the biggest five-day Wednesday opening of all time, surpassing the previous record held by Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The next year, this record would be beaten by Shrek 2. Its Friday-Sunday opening weekend was a record-high for December (first surpassed by I Am Legend). The film also set single-day records for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (both first surpassed by Meet the Fockers).
Outside the US and Canada, it is the 17th highest-grossing film, the highest-grossing 2003 film and the highest-grossing film of the series. On its first day (Wednesday, 17 December 2003), the film earned $23.5 million from 19 countries and it set an opening-weekend record outside the US and Canada with $125.9 million during the five-day weekend as a whole. The combined total gross increased to $250.1 million, making it the highest worldwide opening weekend at the time, knocking out The Matrix Revolutions.
It set opening-day records in thirteen of them, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Scandinavia (as well as separately in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark), Mexico, Chile and Puerto Rico. It set opening-weekend records in the United Kingdom ($26.5 million in five days), Germany, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. In Singapore, it surpassed Finding Nemo to become the country’s top-grossing film.
In New Zealand, where filming took place, the film set opening day, opening weekend, single-day, Friday gross, Saturday gross and Sunday gross records with $1.7 million in four days.
The substantial increase in initial box office totals caused optimistic studio executives to forecast that The Return of the King would surpass The Two Towers in total earnings. If this proved to be true, then this would be the first blockbuster trilogy for each successive film to earn more at the box office than its predecessor, when all three films were blockbuster successes.
The Return of the King has helped The Lord of the Rings franchise to become the highest-grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time with over $2.9 billion beating other notable series such as the original Star Wars Trilogy, and became New Line’s highest grossing release.
Through re-releases in 2005, 2011, 2017, 2020 and 2021, the film has grossed an additional $818,580 in the United States and Canada, and $4,530,321 overseas for a combined total of $5,348,901. This brings overall earnings to $377,845,905 domestic and $768,185,005 international for a worldwide total of $1,146,030,912.
These figures do not include income from DVD sales, TV rights, etc. It has been estimated that the gross income from non-box office sales and merchandise has been at least equal to the box office for all three films. If this is so, the total gross income for the trilogy would be in the region of $6 billion following an investment of $300 million ($426 million including marketing costs).
The Return of the King (2003) Critical Response
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Return of the King holds an approval rating of 93% based on 275 reviews, with an average rating of 8.70/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Visually breathtaking and emotionally powerful, The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King is a moving and satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.” Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, gives the film a score of 94 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating “universal acclaim”.
Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of “A+” on an A+ to F scale, the highest grade in the trilogy.
Like its two predecessors, The Return of the King was released to universal critical acclaim. Alan Morrison of Empire gave the film a perfect score of five stars. In his review, he called the film “the resounding climax to a landmark in cinema history” and praised how Peter Jackson had “kept the momentum of the series rolling on and on through the traditionally ‘difficult’ middle part and ‘weak’ finale, delivering a climax to the story that’s neater and more affecting than what Tolkien managed on the printed page.”
Morrison also mentioned how fans of the films “who have walked beside these heroes every step of the way on such a long journey deserve the emotional pay-off as well as the action peaks, and they will be genuinely touched as the final credits roll.” Elvis Mitchell for The New York Times lauded the acting, the craft of the technical crew, and Jackson’s direction, describing The Return of the King as “a meticulous and prodigious vision made by a director who was not hamstrung by heavy use of computer special-effects imagery.”
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying that it is “such a crowning achievement, such a visionary use of all the tools of special effects, such a pure spectacle, that it can be enjoyed even by those who have not seen the first two films.” Talking about the whole trilogy, Ebert said that he admired it “more as a whole than in its parts”, and that The Return of the King certified The Lord of the Rings as “a work of bold ambition in a time of cinematic timidity”.
In his review for The Times, James Christopher praised The Return of the King as “everything a Ring fan could possibly wish for, and much more”, and described The Lord of the Rings as “the greatest film trilogy ever mounted, with some of the most amazing action sequences committed to celluloid”. Nev Pierce for the BBC gave the film five stars out of five, judging it to be the best chapter of the trilogy, since it combined “the ‘ooh’ factor of Fellowship with the zippy action of Towers“.
Pierce described The Return of the King as “Majestic, moving, and immense”, and “an astonishing piece of storytelling.” Philip French, reviewing it for The Observer, lauded the narrative force, the battle scenes, the language, and the visual style of the film, which he related to “the swirling battle paintings of Albrecht Altdorfer” and “Claude Lorraine’s elegiac paintings of maritime departures inspired by classical poets.”
French wrote about the whole trilogy “Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is indeed a very fine achievement, moving, involving and, to many people, even inspiring. It redeems the debased cinematic notion of the epic.”
In her review for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum gave the film an A grade, and wrote “The conclusion of Peter Jackson’s masterwork is passionate and literate, detailed and expansive, and it’s conceived with a risk-taking flair for old-fashioned movie magic at its most precious … as he has done throughout, the director paces scenes of action, intimacy, and even panoramic, geographical grandeur … with the control of a superb choreographer.”.
Schwarzbaum also said of the whole series “I can’t think of another film trilogy that ends in such glory, or another monumental work of sustained storytelling that surges ahead with so much inventiveness and ardor.” Richard Corliss of Time named The Return of the King the best film of the year and described the whole trilogy as “The film event of the millennium”.
Joe Morgenstern, for The Wall Street Journal, wrote “Never has a filmmaker aimed higher, or achieved more. The third and last installment of the screen epic based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary classic redefines — steeply upward — the very notion of a major motion picture.” Peter Bradshaw, who had been less enthusiastic about the first two chapters of the trilogy, gave The Return of the King four stars out of five in his review for The Guardian, commenting “I started the series an atheist and finished an agnostic”.
Bradshaw wrote of the film “Technically it really is superb”, and commented “Hours after watching the film, I can close my eyes and see those incredible battle scenes pulsing and throbbing in my skull … Maybe Kurosawa’s battles will one day be described as proto-Jacksonian”.
The most common criticism of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was its running time, particularly the epilogue; even rave reviews for the film commented on its length. Joel Siegel of Good Morning America said in his review for the film (which he gave an ‘A’): “If it didn’t take forty-five minutes to end, it’d be my best picture of the year. As it is, it’s just one of the great achievements in film history.”
In February 2004, a few months following release, the film was voted eighth on Empire‘s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, compiled from readers’ top ten lists. This forced the magazine to abandon its policy of only allowing films being older than a year to be eligible. In 2007, Total Film named The Return of the King the third best film of the past decade (Total Film‘s publication time), behind The Matrix and Fight Club.
The Return of the King (2003) Accolades
The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
At the 76th Academy Awards in 2004, the film won all the categories for which it was nominated and it holds the record for highest Academy Award totals along with Titanic and Ben-Hur, and also holding the record for the highest clean sweep at the Oscars, surpassing the nine awards earned by both Gigi and The Last Emperor.
It was the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also was the last movie for 14 years to win the Academy Award for Best Picture without being chosen as one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review, until the release of The Shape of Water in 2017.
The film also won four Golden Globes (including Best Picture for Drama and Best Director), five BAFTAs, two MTV Movie Awards, two Grammy Awards, nine Saturn Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture, the Nebula Award for Best Script, and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.
The Return of the King (2003) Movie Info
Rating:PG-13 (Intense Epic Battle Sequences|Frightening Images)
Producer:Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh
Writer:Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh
Release Date (Theaters):Wide
Release Date (Streaming):
Box Office (Gross USA):$377.8M
Distributor:New Line Cinema
Sound Mix:Dolby A, Dolby Digital, Dolby Stereo, Dolby SR, Surround
Aspect Ratio:Scope (2.35:1)
View the collection:Lord of The Rings
Watch The Return of the King (2003)
The Return of the King (2003) Pictures
The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King
The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King
The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King The Return of the King