How to watch the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies in order

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings is a staple of childhood for many people, particularly those who were in their pre-teen to teenaged years between 2001 and 2003. The original trilogy created fantasy fans out of a generation of youths and prompted a wave of fantasy releases that mostly paled in comparison.

Despite their age — even Return of the King is inching toward 20 years old — these films remain enduringly popular, as do their follow-up Hobbit prequels, which were released between 2012 and 2014. The way the films were released does spark some confusion, however, particularly for new fans who may not know which order to watch them in.

What order to watch the Lord of the Rings movies in

The Hobbit films, which were released around a decade after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, actually take place before the Lord of the Rings storyline. This is a bit bemusing, given the films’ release order, and has caused some people to watch the films out of order, generating even more confusion. Add to this the impending release of HBO Max’s The Rings of Power ⏤ a spin-off of the popular franchise ⏤ and there are too many separate stories and timelines for anyone but die-hard fans to keep track of.

How to watch the films chronologically

Thankfully, it’s not hard at all to determine the correct viewing order for the Lord of the Rings films. If you’re looking to enjoy them chronologically, you’ll want to start with the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey. None of the Hobbit films deviate from a linear order, which means that you’ll then simply progress to Desolation of Smaug and polish off the series with Battle of the Five Armies.

Once you’ve finished with Bilbo’s journey, you can safely begin the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with quite a bit of extra backstory to bolster your experience. Like the Hobbit series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is told on a linear, straightforward timeline, which means you’ll simply start with Fellowship of the Ring, move on to Two Towers, and polish the whole franchise off with Return of the King.

By the time you’ve finished all six films — in their extended form, assuming you’ve got the time — any Lord of the Rings cravings should be well and truly satiated. But this timeline only works until the Rings of Power comes out. Once the series is released — it’s expected to debut on Sept. 2, 2022 — the watch order will get a bit more confusing.

That’s because Rings of Power takes place in the Second Age, long before the events of either Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit take place. So, if you’re looking to fully enjoy the franchise following Rings of Power‘s debut, you’ll want to start with the latest series, which aims to massively expand on Middle-earth’s backstory, before launching into The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogies.

Watching the films in order of release

If you’re looking to enjoy the Lord of the Rings franchise by order of release, rather than chronologically, you can certainly do so. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was released first, does a great job of explaining its backstory, which means that very few viewers should end up lost, even if they’ve never seen the films — or the Hobbit trilogy — before.

If you aim to enjoy the movies this way, you can start where it all began with The Fellowship of the Ring. The next two films in the series will follow in natural course, and then you can launch straight into the Hobbit series — again, in classic order. The Rings of Power isn’t out yet, but when it is released, it will perfectly bookend your viewing experience as the latest addition to the Lord of the Rings world.