Peter Jackson’s best movies, ranked

Lord of the Rings
Image via New Line Cinema

Peter Jackson, the man responsible for some of the most groundbreaking films of the past four decades, is a once-in-a-lifetime filmmaker. There’s no challenge the New Zealander has shied away from, and with his latest three-part documentary The Beatles: Get Back released on Disney Plus earlier this year, he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. 

Most notably recognized for his crowning achievement ⏤ the fantastically epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the associated Hobbit prequel trilogy ⏤ Jackson has an artistic eye built for the big screen. Whether he’s directing, producing, or both, there’s no mistaking his signature style and attention to detail. 

It’s inevitable, then, that with a career lasting as long as his, there’s bound to be both good and bad movies in the mix. With that in mind, here’s our ranking of the top 10 best Peter Jackson movies of all time.

10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle of the Five Armies is a decent movie at best. It’s not great, it’s not even necessarily good, but it’s watchable. The biggest issue with this installment of the Hobbit trilogy is that it has too little to do and far too much time to do it in. The film finds itself stretched, “like butter scraped over too much bread,” far too thin.

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The first installment in Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth was set to be an epic adventure. Instead, what we received was an overblown, visually flat romp through a version of Middle-earth that lacked the franchise’s familiar charm. This was due, in part, to Jackson’s heavy reliance on digital effects, resulting in something of a cartoonish letdown.   

8. Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures served two purposes: introducing the actress Kate Winslet to the world as a force to be reckoned with and skyrocketing Peter Jackson to mainstream fame, far past his status as a “cult” filmmaker at the time. This psychological portrait of friendship, betrayal, and the human experience explodes into a murderous coming-of-age tale. 

7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Far and away the best movie in the Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is everything its title promises. Showcasing the strongest antagonist of the series, Smaug the dragon is a truly bone-chilling creature. Masterfully performed by Benedict Cumberbatch, the entire plot of The Hobbit hinges on Smaug’s run-in with Thorin and company, so it stands to reason that the movie centered around the villain would be the best in the trilogy. 

6. The Frighteners

This supernatural gem is potentially Jackson’s most ambitious original film. Starring Michael J. Fox, the special effects in The Frighteners are top-notch. Although narratively it tends to be all over the place, if anything else the movie entertains with ease. Comedy and horror come together beautifully in this wild cinematic ride. 

5. They Shall Not Grow Old

If we don’t remember and learn from history, then it’s more than likely to repeat itself. They Shall Not Grow Old is as harrowing as it is haunting as Peter Jackson presents newly edited footage from The Great War (World War I). Colored and sounded for contemporary audiences, this film generates nothing less than raw human emotion for an unprecedented societal shift. They Shall Not Grow Old proves that there is truly no threshold to the human spirit’s ability to persevere. 

4. Bad Taste

The directorial debut of a young horror filmmaker named Peter Jackson (sound familiar?), Bad Taste is a classic through and through. Showcasing gore, comedy, and alien invaders, the film sings with its low-budget freedom. It may not be Jackson’s best film, but it is his first. His ambitious creative style, even in a rudimentary form, takes shape throughout this funky science fiction fun-fest. Without this movie, all that came later might not have ever existed.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Could the last three movies on this list be anything other than the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Arguably the greatest cohesive series put to film, the final installment of the saga ⏤ The Return of the King ⏤ is a fitting end to a larger-than-life adventure. Every storyline is wrapped up beautifully and audiences are left to do nothing but shed poetic tears as we say goodbye to our favorite characters. The Return of the King could easily be number one on this list, but it gets beaten out by the next two films for a few minor reasons.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Two Towers is where the rubber really meets the road. The Fellowship is broken, new beloved characters are introduced, and the fate of the One Ring is never more uncertain. The film’s dark, mature nature, coupled with special effects even more ambitious than The Fellowship of the Ring, creates an unforgettable installment in the trilogy. It bridges the gap between the beginning and end of this complicated story while also standing alone as a cinematic triumph.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Here’s where it all began. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a perfect movie. Without this film, the entire tone and shape of the LOTR trilogy (and franchise) would cease to exist. Peter Jackson pulls this inaugural live-action adaptation off so well that it’s almost unbelievable the film came out more than 20 years ago. So present are its messages and masterful are its visuals that the movie could release tomorrow and would still feel modern. There’s quite simply nothing like The Fellowship of the Ring. Where many movies touch your heart, Fellowship penetrates your soul. 

Fun fact: Although Fellowship of the Ring is the most well-known live-action adaptation of Tolkien’s novel (and many also mistakenly believe it to be the first), there was another made-for-television version produced nearly 10 years before Jackson’s by the former Soviet Union. It’s definitely an experience, part one of which can be watched on YouTube.

There you have it, a definitive ranking of Peter Jackson’s best movies. In the end, he proves that storytelling isn’t about the destination ⏤ it’s about the journey.

Honorable mentions

Some of Jackson’s best work hasn’t been done in the director’s chair, but rather after he puts on his producer’s hat. Here are a couple standout bonus features that were produced by New Zealand’s finest filmmaker.  

District 9

District 9 is fantastic. This Neill Blomkamp/Weta-backed science fiction juggernaut is storytelling at its finest. Gritty, dark, and impactful, District 9 is a perfect parable for race relations across the world and showcases some of the finest visual effects ever seen on the silver screen. It’s a film that demands to be seen and heard. Jackson picked a good one here, and as always his taste continues to reveal the true genius within.

The Adventures of Tintin

Although it received mixed critical reception, The Adventures of Tintin is nothing if not action-packed. Merging the creative minds of director Steven Spielberg and producer Jackson, Tintin is a retelling of one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. With Jackson set to return for the announced film The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure, who knows where the spritely hero will go next.