If you are new to The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit movie series, based on the Middle-earth novels by author J. R. R. Tolkien, where the heck do you start? Are all of the films live-action? Are they animated? Are they both?!

In this post I will explain what films are based on The Hobbit novel, what films are based on The Lord of the Rings books, and what order you should watch them in. It gets a little confusing at times, but I will try to make this as simple as possible.

Let’s get started!

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The 1977 animated Hobbit movie

In 1977, Rankin/Bass produced an animated movie based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again. The film aired on US television screens via NBC and featured a voice cast which included John Huston as Gandalf, Orson Bean as Bilbo Baggins, and Otto Preminger as The Elvenking.

Should you want to watch this film (and this film alone) then check out:

  • The Hobbit (1977)

The Hobbit was a fairly faithful adaptation of the book and was popular enough to lead to a sequel. But the sequel didn’t arrive for two years and wasn’t a direct follow-up.

In order to explain the sequel to The Hobbit, I must first take you on an unexpected journey with another movie studio. Prepare for things to get a little confusing…

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The 1978 Lord of the Rings animated movie

Image: ©MGM

In the late 1970s, United Artists decided to adapt Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy for the big screen. The plan was to take the three books and split the story across two animated movies: The Lord of the Rings: Part 1 & The Lord of the Rings: Part 2.

The first film was to be based on Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring and some (but not all) of its sequel, The Two Towers. The second film would then pick up the story, adapting the remainder of The Two Towers, as well as the concluding novel, The Return of the King. But things didn’t go according to plan.

In 1978, United Artists released the first movie, which was titled The Lord of the Rings. The film was directed by Ralph Bakshi and as noted above, was based on one-and-a-half novels from the trilogy.

The second movie was never produced. United Artists and Bakshi had a disagreement and plans for the sequel were abandoned.

With no ‘Part 2′, United Artists’ Lord of the Rings adaptations became a single entity, with no definitive conclusion to the story. But if you want to watch what the studio delivered then you simply need to see:

  • The Lord of the Rings (1978)

While this is the end of the story for United Artists, this isn’t the end for the animated adaptations. I now need to take you onto to that Hobbit sequel I mentioned above…

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The 1979 The Return of the King animated TV movie

In 1979, Rankin/Bass released a sequel to The Hobbit. Rather confusingly (to anyone who is a fan of the novels), this sequel was an adaptation of The Return of the King – the concluding chapter to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The studio claimed it had always intended to adapt The Return of the King as a Hobbit sequel, yet many people presumed Rankin/Bass simply wanted to finish what United Artists had started with its Lord of the Rings film. Either way, by producing this film Rankin/Bass helped to conclude the animated Tolkien film series.

If you wish to watch both Rankin/Bass movies in order, then watch as follows:

  • The Hobbit (1977)
  • The Return of the King (1979)

But you could put the Rankin/Bass and United Artists films together to form one collection:

  • The Hobbit (1977)
  • The Lord of the Rings (1978)
  • The Return of the King (1979)

The two studios did not work together on these productions and they are not officially linked. However, when put together, the three films tell the story of (almost) four Tolkien novels.

Watching the three films together is not a smooth ride, as the animation styles and voice cast differ, but collectively they do provide you with animated takes on The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, The Fellowship of the Ring, (some of) The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

And now onto something completely different…

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The Russian Hobbit/Lord of the Rings movies

In 1985, Tolkien’s work was turned into live-action via an adaptation of The Hobbit (produced as a low budget Russian movie). Not familiar with it? That’s because the film was aimed at children and was aired on the Leningrad TV Channel.

Another Russian adaptation of Tolkien’s work followed in 1991, under the title of The Keepers. The film was a loose adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring.

If you wish to watch these films (and if you can find them), they are as follows:

  • The Hobbit (1985)
  • The Keepers (1991)

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Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Image: ©New Line Cinema

Now onto something far less confusing.

In 2001, New Line Cinema produced three live-action movies based on The Lord of the Rings novels. The films – directed by Peter Jackson – were lavish, sprawling, fantasy films featuring an all-star cast including Sir Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and many more.

The first of these films was The Fellowship of the Ring. The movie was released in December 2011 (just before Christmas) and was a big hit with critics and audiences alike.

The Two Towers followed in December 2002 and once again was another hit. The story concluded in 2003 with The Return of the King.

Should you wish to watch these movies in order, please use the following list:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)*
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)*
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)*

*In addition to the theatrical cuts of the movies, each entry also received an extended cut. Released on home video, these extended cuts offer additional material not seen in cinemas.

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Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy

Image: ©New Line Cinema/MGM

Due to the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson re-teamed, along with MGM, to adapt The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again. But rather than make one movie, a decision was made to create an entire trilogy.

The first entry in this series of films was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The film was released in December 2012 and saw many cast members from the previous trilogy reprise their roles for this prequel.

In December 2013, the second movie – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – hit cinema screens. This was followed in December 2014 by the concluding chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Armies.

Should you wish to watch Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films in order, then please use this list:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)*
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)*
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Armies (2014)*

*In addition to the theatrical cuts, all three Hobbit movies also received extended cuts. The extended cuts included additional material and were made available on home video.

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Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films

Image: ©New Line Cinema

As Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies were produced as prequels to his Lord of the Rings trilogy, all six films can be watched as one epic story. If you wish to watch all of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies, then follow this order:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Armies (2014)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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The Lord of the Rings production order

Image: ©New Line Cinema

And finally, should you simply want to watch all of The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies in production order, then follow this list:

  • The Hobbit (1977)
  • The Lord of the Rings (1978)
  • The Return of the King (1979)
  • The Hobbit (1985)
  • The Keepers (1991)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Armies (2014)

Watching in this order will give you a collection of movies based on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, combining both animated and live-action stories.

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I hope this information on The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings movies has proved useful (if not a little confusing). Should you wish to take a journey with another film series, then please check out one of the recommended reads below.

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