This Is the Correct Order to Watch the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Movies Before the Prequel & It’s Not by Release Date

·6 min read

With a new TV series on Amazon Prime Video, six (very long) movies, and of course the 12 original books set within J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, you’re probably wondering in what order to watch Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Rings of Power. If you want to watch the Lord of the Rings franchise in narrative and chronological order rather than the release order, consider this your beginner’s guide to Middle Earth.

Author J. R. R. Tolkien is singlehandedly responsible for how many of us understand fantasy today. A specialist in classic literature and languages, he invented many of the creatures and tropes now ubiquitous in the genre. He actually invented Elves. The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of The Rings trilogy (1937 to 1949) remain one of his most prominent and influential works, serving as the basis for several Hollywood blockbusters and a new Amazon Prime Video series that will break budget records, coming in at around $715 million for the first, eight-episode season and the rights to Tolkien’s intellectual property.

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What happened before The Rings of Power?

A bit of background first. The history of Middle Earth is broken up into Ages—each lasting several hundred to a few thousand years, and every new Age is triggered by a significant historical event. The First Age begins with the elves awakening on Arda, the planet on which the continent of Middle Earth exists. There’s not much else you need to know about this time period apart from the fact that the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, emerges for world domination and the elves overthrow him in a great battle. That punctuates the end of the First Age. Read on for the Lord of the Rings order to watch all six movies and Amazon Prime Video’s new TV show.

1. The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power (2022)

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Image: Amazon Prime Video/Everett Collection
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Image: Amazon Prime Video/Everett Collection

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Amazon’s The Rings of Power picks up in the aftermath of the war against Morgoth and the dawn of the Second Age. It doesn’t draw from a book but several texts that make up Middle Earth lore: The Silmarillion, a collection of the continent’s histories written, in part, posthumously by Tolkien’s son Christopher in 1977. Human and dwarf kingdoms are at the height of their splendor, while the elves grow suspicious of how easily humans are corrupted. Sauron, Morgoth’s lieutenant, will arise to seduce the elves into creating the Rings of Power; 19 rings gifted to the leaders of Men, Elves and Dwarves, bound with the strength and will to govern each race. But in secret, Sauron forged another ring more powerful than all others combined. “One ring to rule them all,” as the phrase famously goes. The great thing about Amazon’s upcoming series is that you don’t need to have seen any of Peter Jackson’s six films because the story told in The Rings of Power predates everything by about 3,000 years. There will be a few familiar characters, though, namely the elven warrior Galadriel (Elves are immortal and therefore don’t age) and Isildur, King of Gondor, whose story will be fleshed out compared to the prologue to Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring.



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2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Image: Everett Collection
Image: Everett Collection

Today, Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a single book, but director Peter Jackson stretched the story out to three films per the novel’s original three volumes. This is the first. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is comfortable with his life in The Shire. Reluctantly, though, he’s recruited by the wizard Gandalf the Grey on a journey to help a troupe of dwarves reclaim their homeland and stolen treasures from the fierce dragon, Smaug. While traversing the Misty Mountains, the group is ambushed and flees. Bilbo stumbles upon Sauron’s One Ring in a cave where it had been kept safe by the creature Gollum for 500 years.



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3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Image: Everett Collection.
Image: Everett Collection.

In the second Hobbit installment, Bilbo’s adventure with the dwarves continues through the Misty Mountains. At the request of the elf warrior Galadriel, Gandalf investigates a growing evil within ancient ruins, marked by script in the sinister language of Mordor which signifies Sauron’s emergence as the next Dark Lord. Accidentally, Bilbo awakens Smaug. The dragon reveals he knows of the dwarves’ plot to retake their gold and homeland, and warns of Sauron’s return.



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4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Image: Everett Collection.
Image: Everett Collection.

The final installment of The Hobbit trilogy and a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Sauron’s army of sinister allies is growing. Smaug has been defeated, the dwarves return to the Lonely Mountain, and Bilbo heads home to The Shire with Sauron’s ring despite Gandalf’s warning. There it will remain until the wizard returns to wish Bilbo a happy 111th birthday 60 years later, which is where The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins.



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5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Image: Everett Collection
Image: Everett Collection

This movie is the first in the Peter Jackson-directed LOTR trilogy (and the first in Tolkien’s three-volume saga) and where we meet Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo. As the Ring begins to call to its master, the great wizard Gandalf recruits Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to get it out of The Shire. Seeking council from wise elves in Rivendell, the Fellowship of the Ring is created to return the ring to where it was forged, in Mordor, and the only place it can be destroyed. Nine companions are entrusted to achieve this goal: The elf Legolas; Gimli the dwarf; the four hobbits; and two men: Aragon, heir to the throne of Gondor, and Boromir. The great quest begins.



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6. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Image: Everett Collection
Image: Everett Collection

By the end of the first film, the fellowship is fragmented into three parts: Frodo and Sam, guided by Gollum, continue their mission to destroy the Ring; and Aragon, Gimli and Legolas who vow not to abandon Merry and Pippin who were taken captive. A new, powerful enemy emerges; one that has pledged an alliance to Sauron and the war for Middle Earth intensifies. In this humble writer’s opinion, this is the best LOTR film, with its epic battles and some charming new characters.



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7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Image: Everett Collection
Image: Everett Collection

The last installment of the LOTR trilogy. Frodo and Sam continue to the foothills of Mount Doom. Men and elves put their differences aside once more to unite against the malevolent armies of Sauron. Gollum and the fate of the One Ring are sealed, and a new king will take his seat on the throne of Gondor as a symbol of good triumphing over evil. The hobbits return to The Shire to live out their days in their idyllic homes with rich memories of their adventures.



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"Watch This Space" - Amazon Prime Video
"Watch This Space" - Amazon Prime Video

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