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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (film)




Promotional poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Peter Jackson
Barrie M. Osborne
Fran Walsh
Written by Novel:
J. R. R. Tolkien
Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood
Sean Astin
Viggo Mortensen
Ian McKellen
Andy Serkis
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Andrew Lesnie
Editing by Jamie Selkirk
Distributed by - USA -
New Line Cinema
- non-USA -
Various distributors
Release date(s) December 17, 2003
Running time Theatrical:
201 min.
Extended Edition:
252 min.
Country New Zealand
United States
Language English
Budget $94 million
Gross profits Domestic: $377,027,325
Preceded by The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an epic fantasy film directed by Peter Jackson. It is primarily based on the third volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (but also includes material from the second volume), and it is the concluding film in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. It follows The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers and was filmed simultaneously with them.

As Sauron launches the final stages of his invasion of Middle-earth, Gandalf the Wizard and Théoden King of Rohan step up their forces to help defend Gondor's capital Minas Tirith from this threat. Aragorn must finally take up the throne of Gondor and summons an army of ghosts to help him defeat Sauron. Ultimately, even with full strength of arms, they find they cannot win; it comes down to the Hobbits Frodo and Sam to destroy the One Ring in Mordor, who themselves face the burden of the Ring and the treachery of Gollum.

Released on December 17, 2003, the film became critically acclaimed and a box-office success, and went on to sweep all eleven Academy Awards it was nominated for, which ties it with only Titanic and Ben-Hur for most Academy Awards ever won, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, the only time in history a fantasy film has done so. It also became the second highest grossing movie worldwide of all time behind only Titanic, unadjusted for inflation.[1] The Special Extended Edition, containing 50 more minutes of footage, was released on DVD on December 14, 2004.





The film begins with a flashback of how Sméagol recovered the One Ring, before forwarding to him as Gollum taking Frodo and Sam to Minas Morgul. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Théoden and Éomer meet up with Merry, Pippin and Treebeard at Isengard, now under the Ents' control. They also recover the palantír. Pippin's curiosity gets the better of him at Edoras, and he looks into it: making Gandalf realize Sauron is planning to attack Minas Tirith, and he rides off there with Pippin. In Rivendell, Arwen has a vision of her son and convinces Elrond to reforge the sword, Narsil, that cut the Ring from Sauron's finger long ago. Sam also overhears Gollum's treacherous plans.

Gandalf and Pippin ride to Minas Tirith

Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith to find the steward Denethor mourning over Boromir, and Pippin swears loyalty to him. They also witness a great signal of light from Minas Morgul, where the Witch-king dispatches his immense orc army, heralding the start of the war. Frodo, Sam and Gollum begin climbing the stairs nearby. The Morgul army drives the Gondorians out of Osgiliath, and Faramir is forced to take a doomed ride to reclaim the city. Near Minas Morgul, Gollum convinces Frodo to send Sam home on the belief he wants the Ring. At the urging of Gandalf, Pippin lights the first of the beacon signals to Edoras, alerting Théoden and the rest of the Rohirrim and prompting them to ride to Dunharrow to prepare for war. While preparing for battle in Dunharrow, Aragorn meets Elrond, who presents the future King with the newly reforged sword, Andúril. Aragorn then sets off with Legolas and Gimli to brave the Paths of the Dead, to enlist the help of the cursed Army of Dead, and capture the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar. Théoden rides off to war with six thousand Riders, unaware Éowyn and Merry are part of the army too.

The Morgul forces, composed mostly of Orcs, begin the siege of Minas Tirith, and many missiles are traded, whilst the Witch-king and the other Ringwraiths on their Fell Beasts also attack. They break into the city using the enormous battering ram Grond. At the same time Gollum betrays Frodo to the large spider Shelob, but Sam returns to fight her off. Sam believes Frodo is dead, but when Orcs from the Tower of Cirith Ungol take Frodo, he overhears that he is still alive. At Minas Tirith, Denethor has gone mad and prepares a pyre for him and the unconscious Faramir. Gandalf and Pippin arrive on scene and manage to save Faramir, but despite Gandalf's best efforts, Denethor dies. The Rohirrim arrive and charge into the Orcs, but the Mûmakil and the Witch-king arrive to rout them. Aragorn finally arrives with the undead on the captured Corsair ships and proceeds to annihilate the Orcs and Mûmakil, whilst Éowyn and Merry kill the Witch-king. Théoden dies of injuries suffered during the battle, and Aragorn holds the Dead Army's oath fulfilled, releasing them from their curse at last.

Sam carries Frodo

Sam rescues Frodo from Cirith Ungol which is mostly empty following a fight between Orcs over the mithril shirt, and they begin the long trek across Mordor to Mount Doom. Gandalf realises that ten thousand Orcs stand between Frodo at Cirith Ungol and Mount Doom that he might not succeed. Aragorn leads the remaining soldiers to the Black Gate to draw the Orcs away from Frodo's path. Sam carries Frodo up to Mount Doom but Gollum attacks them, just as the Men of the West furiously battle the Orcs. At the Crack of Doom, Frodo, instead of dropping the ring into the lava, succumbs to its power and puts it on, disappearing from sight. Gollum enters the chamber, renders Sam unconscious and leaps on the invisible Frodo. He seizes Frodo's finger, biting it and the Ring off. Frodo charges at him and they both fall over the edge. Gollum falls into the lava flow while Frodo hangs onto the edge of the cliff. Sam rescues Frodo as the Ring finally sinks into the lava and is destroyed. The Barad-dûr collapses and the Orcs are killed in the ensuing shockwave and earthquakes. Frodo and Sam are stranded until Gandalf arrives with the Eagles, and they awake in Minas Tirith, reuniting with their friends.

Aragorn is crowned King, heralding the new age of peace, and is reunited with Arwen. The entire congregation bows to the Hobbits, prompted by Aragorn himself. The hobbits return to the Shire, where Sam marries Rosie Cotton. Frodo, having finished writing the story of the Lord of the Rings and still exhausted from his quest as the Ring-bearer, decides to leave Middle-earth with Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond and Galadriel at the Grey Havens, leaving his account of the story to Sam, who peacefully continues his family life.


Left to right: Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Billy Boyd as Peregrin Took, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, Dominic Monaghan as Meriadoc Brandybuck and Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee

The following only appear in the Extended Edition:

There are also cameos from Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Gino Acevedo, Rick Porras and Andrew Lesnie on the Corsair ship, although all of them but Jackson only appear in the Extended Edition.[3] Jackson also has another unofficial cameo, as Sam's hand stepping into view when he confronts Shelob.[3] Jackson's children also cameo as Gondorian extras, whilst Christian Rivers played a Gondorian soldier guarding the Beacon Pippin lights, and is later seen wounded. Royd Tolkien cameos as a Ranger in Osgiliath,[4] whilst in the Extended Edition Howard Shore appears as a celebrating soldier at Edoras. At the end of the film, each cast member gets a sketched portrait by Alan Lee, an idea suggested by Ian McKellen.[5]

 Comparison with the source material

The film contains major scenes that occurred in the middle portion of the novel The Lord of the Rings but were not included in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, such as Shelob and the palantír subplot, due to Jackson realigning the timeline as described in the book's Appendices, but not in the main prose.[6] Saruman's murder at the hands of Gríma (seen only in the Extended Edition) is moved into the Isengard visit due to the cutting of the Scouring of the Shire, with Saruman dropping the palantír, whereas in the book Gríma throws it at the Fellowship, unaware of its value. The entire Shelob sequence also takes place at the end of The Two Towers book, rather than within The Return of the King.

Denethor, the Steward of Gondor was a more tragic character in the book. The film only focuses on his overwhelming grief over the death of Boromir as to ignore Sauron's threat (in the book he already lights the beacons), and is driven over the edge by Faramir's injury. The film only hints at his use of the palantír which drives him mad, information revealed in the Pyre scene, which is more violent than the book.

Continuing a general addition in the trilogy, Arwen concludes an arc of uncertainty over leaving Middle-earth or staying with Aragorn. She also falls ill (a new subplot) which finally convinces Elrond to reforge Narsil and makes Aragorn accept his destiny as King of Gondor; the re-forging of the sword in the book occurred before the Fellowship left Rivendell. Aragorn already goes on the Paths of the Dead by the time Théoden gathers his army in the book: delayed in the film as Aragorn wishes not to be King at first. In the book Elrond's sons meet him at Dunharrow but are absent, replaced by Elrond himself to deliver the sword. The Army of the Dead are also unsure of whether or not to help Aragorn, unlike the book, and clean up Sauron's forces at Minas Tirith: in the book Aragorn uses Southern Gondorian soldiers as the undead's main weapon was fear. Jackson got rid of this subplot.

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is altered: Faramir never goes on a suicide mission, and is a simplification of the siege of Osgiliath. Generals such as Forlong and Imrahil are also absent, only leaving Gandalf in command. The Orcs also never get into the city in the book. The Witch-king enters and stands off against Gandalf before the Rohirrim arrive, but in the film Orcs invade the city after Grond breaks the Gate. The confrontation takes place whilst Gandalf journeys to save Faramir in the Extended Edition, during which Gandalf has his staff broken. A subplot in which the Rohirrim are aided by the primitive Drúedain into entering the besieged Gondor is also excised. Éowyn's presence to the reader on the battlefield is unknown until she takes off her helmet, but in the film the audience is aware, due to the difference of film and book as a medium.[7] Théoden's pre-charge speech is spoken by Éomer in the book, after he encounters his dying uncle and wounded sister on the battlefield. When hope is almost lost, Gandalf also comforts Pippin with a description of the Undying Lands, which is a descriptive passage in the book's final chapter.[6]

Sam and Frodo's major rift in their friendship, due to Gollum's machinations, never takes place in the book, but the writers added it because it added drama and more complexity to Frodo.[6] Frodo enters Shelob's lair alone in the movie, whereas in the book he and Sam entered together. This was done to make the scene more horrific with Frodo being alone, and Sam's rescue at the last minute more dramatic. Also, in the movie we don't know that Sam has the ring until he gives it back to Frodo, whereas in the book the reader knows that Sam has the ring. Gollum's fall into the lava of Mount Doom was also rewritten for the film, as the writers felt Tolkien's original idea (Gollum simply slips and falls off) was anti-climactic. Originally, an even greater deviation was planned: Frodo would heroically push Gollum over the ledge to destroy him and the Ring, but the production team eventually realized that it looked more like Frodo murdering Gollum. As a result, they had Frodo and Gollum struggle for possession of the Ring.[6] This results in them both accidentally falling over the ledge and destroying the Ring, which is more or less consistent with the theme of the scene in the book: the destruction of the Ring was ultimately due to fate, or rather, the hold of the Ring over Frodo was so great that he could no longer destroy it by the time he came to Mount Doom, but it was his pity for Gollum, deciding to let him live in The Two Towers, which ultimately resulted in the Ring being destroyed and the salvation of Middle-earth.

Animatics of Sauron in his angelic (Maia) form.

There are two changes in the Battle of the Black Gate: Merry is not present there in the book, and Pippin does not kill a troll as he does in the novel. There was an even larger change planned: Sauron himself would come out in physical form to battle Aragorn, who would only be saved by the destruction of the Ring. Jackson eventually realized it ignored the point of Aragorn's true bravery in distracting Sauron's army against overwhelming odds, and a computer generated Troll was placed over footage of Sauron in the finished film.[6] The ending is streamlined so as not to include the Scouring of the Shire, which was always seen by the writers as anti-climactic.[6] It is referenced, though, in Frodo's vision of the future in Galadriel's mirror in The Fellowship of the Ring.


The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is unusual in that it is, to date, the only one whose separate installments were written and then shot simultaneously (excluding pick up shots). Jackson admitted The Return of the King was the easiest of the films to make, because it contained the climax of the story, unlike the other two films.[8] The Return of the King was originally the second of two planned films under Miramax from January 1997 to August 1998,[9] and more or less in its finished structure as the first film was to end with The Two Towers' Battle of Helm's Deep.[10] Filming took place under multiple units across New Zealand, between October 11, 1999 and December 22, 2000, with pick up shoots for six weeks in 2003 before the film's release.



Middle-earth as envisioned by Jackson was primarily designed by Alan Lee and John Howe, former Tolkien illustrators, and created by Weta Workshop, who handled all the trilogy's weapons, armour, miniatures, prosphetics and creatures, as well as the Art Department which built the sets. Richard Taylor headed Weta, whilst Grant Major and Dan Hennah organized the planning and building respectively.

The city of Minas Tirith, glimpsed briefly in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen fully in this film, and with it the Gondorian civilization. The enormous soundstage was built at Dry Creek Quarry, outside Wellington, from the Helm's Deep set. That set's gate became Minas Tirith's second, whilst the Hornburg exterior became that of the Extended Edition's scene where Gandalf confronts the Witch-king. New structures included was the 8m tall Gate, with broken and unbroken versions, with a working opening and closing mechanism, with its engravings inspired by the Bapistry of San Giovanni. There were also four levels of streets with heraldic motifs for every house, as inspired by Siena.[11]

A fraction of Minas Tirith under construction

There was also the Citadel, the exterior of which was in the Stone Street Studios backlot, utilizing forced perspective. It contains the withered White Tree, built from polystyrene by Brian Massey and the Greens Department with real branches, influenced by ancient and gnarled Lebanese olive trees. The interior was within a 3 story former factory in Wellington, and colour wise is influenced by Charlemagne's Chapel, with a throne for Denethor carved from stone and polystyrene statues of past Kings. The Gondorian armour is designed to represent an evolution from the Númenóreans of the first film's prologue, with a simplified sea bird motif. 16th century Italian and German armour served as inspiration,[12] whilst civilians wear silver and blacks as designed by Ngila Dickson, continuing an ancient/medieval Mediterranean Basin look.[13]

Minas Morgul, the Staircase and Tower of Cirith Ungol as well as Shelob's Lair were designed by Howe, with the Morgul road using forced perspective into a bluescreened miniature. Howe's design of Minas Morgul was inspired from the experience of having wisdom teeth pulled out: in the same way, the Orcs have put their twisted designs on to a former Gondorian city.[14] Cirith Ungol was based on Tolkien's design, but when Richard Taylor felt it as "boring", it was redesigned with more tipping angles.[15] The interior set, like Minas Tirith, was built as a few multiple levels that numerous camera takes would suggest a larger structure.[11]

The third film introduces the enormous spider Shelob. Shelob was designed in 1999,[15] with the body based on a funnel web spider and the head with numerous growths selected by Peter Jackson's children from one of many sculpts. Jackson himself took great joy in planning the sequence, being an arachnophobe himself.[12] Shelob's Lair was inspired by sandstone and scuplted from the existing Caverns of Isengard set.[11]

The Return of the King also brings into focus the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the evil Haradrim from the south of Middle-earth, men who ride the Mûmakil. The Dead Men have a Celtic influence, as well as lines and symmetry to reflect their morbid state,[11] whilst their underground city is influenced by Petra.[14] The Haradrim were highly influenced by African culture, until Philippa Boyens expressed concern over the possibility of offensiveness, so the finished characters instead bear influence from Kiribati, in terms of weaving armour from bamboo, and the Aztecs, in use of jewellery. Also built was a single dead Mumak.[12] Other minor cultures include the Corsairs, with an exotic, swarthy look, and the Grey Havens, Elven structures adapted to stone, with influence from J. M. W. Turner paintings.[15]

 Principal Photography

The Return of the King was shot during 2000, though The Sean Astin's coverage from Gollum's attempt to separate Frodo and Sam was filmed on November 24, 1999, when floods in Queenstown interrupted the focus on The Fellowship of the Ring.[3] Some of the earliest scenes shot for the film were in fact the last. Hobbiton, home of the Hobbits, was shot in January 2000 with early scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, with the exterior shot at a Matamata farm, whilst interior scenes shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington,[16] shared with the Grey Havens sequence. Due to the high emotions of filming the scene, the cast were in despair when they were required to shoot it three times, due to a costume continuity flaw in Sean Astin's costume, and then negatives producing out-of-focus reels.[3] Also shared with the previous films was the Rivendell interior in May.

The Battle of the Black Gate was filmed in April[17] at the Rangipo Desert, a former minefield. New Zealand soldiers were hired as extras whilst guides were on the look out for unexploded mines. Also a cause for concern were Monaghan and Boyd's scale doubles during a charge sequence. In the meantime, Wood, Astin and Serkis filmed at Mount Ruapehu for the Mount Doom exteriors. In particular, they spent two hours shooting Sam lifting Frodo on to his back with cross-camera coverage.[3]

Jackson directs Astin

Scenes shot in June were the Paths of the Dead across various locations, including Putangariua Pinnacles.[17] Shot in July were some Shelob scenes, and in August and September time was spent on the scenes in Isengard. Monaghan and Boyd tried numerous takes of their entrance, stressing the word "weed" as they smoked pipe-weed. Lee spent his part of his scene mostly alone, though McKellen and Hill arrived on the first day for a few lines to help.[3]

Edoras exteriors were shot in October. The Ride of the Rohirrim, where Théoden leads the charge into the Orc army, was filmed in Twizel with 150 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields has more extensive use of computer-generated imagery, in contrast to the more extensive use of live action in the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second film. Also filmed were the attempts by Faramir to recapture Osgiliath,[18] as were scenes in the city itself.[19] At this point production was very hectic, with Jackson moving around ten units per day, and production finally wrapped on the Minas Tirith sets, as well as second units shooting parts of the siege. Just as the Hobbit actors' first scene was hiding under a Ringwraith, their last scene was the bluescreened reaction shot of Minas Tirith bowing to them.[3]



The 2003 pick ups were filmed in the Wellington studio car park, with many parts of sets and bluescreens used to finish off scenes, which the design team had to work 24/7 to get the right sets ready for a particular day.[11] The shoot continued for two months, and became an emotional time of farewells for the cast and crew. The film has the most extensive list of reshoots given for the trilogy. Jackson took his time to reshoot Aragorn's coronation, rushed into a single day under second unit director Geoff Murphy on December 21, 2000. Jackson also reshot scenes in and around Mount Doom,[3] and Théoden's death, right after Bernard Hill was meant to wrap.[7]

There was also the new character of Gothmog. This was a major new design addition for the film, as Jackson felt the Mordor Orcs were pathetic compared to the Uruk-hai of the second film after watching assembly cuts, and thus Weta created grotesque new über Orcs, as antagonists for the audience to focus on. Christian Rivers also redesigned the Witch-king and all of his scenes were reshot, due to confusion from non-readers over whether or not Sauron was on the battlefield.[12]

With the positive response to Orlando Bloom, Legolas was given a fight with a mûmak,[20] and Howard Shore also got a cameo during Legolas and Gimli's drinking game at Edoras.[21] The final scenes shot were Aragorn escaping the Skull avalanche, and Frodo finishing off his book. The cast also received various props associated with their characters, although in the case of John Rhys-Davies, he burnt his final Gimli prosthetic. Viggo Mortensen headbutted the stunt team goodbye.[3] Pick-ups ended on June 27, 2003.[20]

Scenes shot afterwards included various live-action shots of Riders for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and a reaction shot of Andy Serkis as Gollum finally realizing Frodo intends to destroy the Ring, shot in Jackson's house.[22] For the Extended DVD, Jackson shot a few shots of skulls rolling over for the avalanche scene in March 2004, the final piece of footage ever shot for the trilogy.[23]


Post-production on The Return of the King began in November 2002, with the completion of the 4 1/2 hour assembly cut of the film that Annie Collins had been completing over 2001 and 2002, from 4 hour dailies. For example, Théoden leading the charge went from 150 minutes of takes to a finished 90 seconds.[24] Jackson reunited with longtime collaborator Jamie Selkirk to edit the final film. Like The Two Towers, they would have to deal with multiple storylines, and Jackson paid attention to each storyline at a time before deciding where to intercut. Most importantly they spent three weeks working on the last 45 minutes of the film,[22] for appropriate intercutting and leaving out scenes such as the Mouth of Sauron, and the fates of characters like Legolas, Gimli, Éowyn and Faramir.[6]


The film inherited scenes originally planned to go into the second film, including the reforging of Narsil, the Gollum backstory, and Saruman's exit. But the Saruman scene posed a structural problem: killing off the second film's villain when the plot was Sauron as the main villain.[22] Despite pick-ups and dubs, the scene was cut, causing controversy with fans and Saruman actor Christopher Lee, as well as a petition to restore the scene.[25] Lee nonetheless contributed to the DVDs and was at the Copenhagen premiere, although on the other hand he says he will never understand the reason for the cut and his relationship with Jackson is chilly.[26]

Jackson only had a lock on 5 out of 10 reels, and had to churn out 3 reels in 3 weeks to help finish the film. It was finally done on November 12.[27] Jackson never had a chance to view the film in full during the hectic schedule, and only saw the film from beginning to end at the December 1 Wellington premiere.[23]

 Visual effects

The Return of the King contains more visual effects shots than the previous films: 1488. Visual effects work began with Alan Lee and Mark Lewis compositing various photographs of New Zealand landscape to create the digital arena of the Pelennor Fields in November 2002. Gary Horsfield also created a digital version of the Barad-dûr during his Christmas break at home by himself, for the film's climax. In the meantime, Jackson and Christian Rivers used computers to plan the enormous battle up until February 2003, when the shots were shown to Weta Digital. To their astonishment, 60 planned shots had gone up to 250, and 50,000 characters were now 200,000.[28] Nevertheless they pressed on, soon delivering 100 shots a week, 20 a day, as the deadline neared within the last two months, often working until 2a.m.[27]

For the battle, they recorded 450 motions for the MASSIVE digital horses (though deaths were animated), and also had to deal with late additions in the film, such as Trolls bursting through Minas Tirith's gates as well as the creatures that pull Grond to the gate,[12] and redoing a shot of two mûmaks Éomer takes down that had originally taken six months into two days. On a similar note of digital creatures, Shelob's head sculpt was scanned by a Canadian company for 10 times more detail than WETA had previously been able to capture.[28]


Like the previous films, there are also extensive morphs between digital doubles for the actors. This time, there was Sam falling off Shelob, where the morph takes place as Astin hits the ground. Legolas attacking a mûmak required numerous transitions to and fro, and Gollum's shots of him having recovered the One Ring and falling into the Crack of Doom were fully animated.[28] The King of the Dead is played by an actor in prosthetics, and his head occasionally morphs to a more skull-like digital version, depending on the character's mood. The Mouth of Sauron also had his mouth enlargened 200% for unsettling effect.[11]

The Return of the King also has practical effects. In the Pyre of Denethor sequence, as the Steward of Gondor throws Pippin out of the Tomb, John Noble threw a dwarf named Fon onto a lying Billy Boyd, who immediately pushed his head into camera to complete the illusion. A few burning torches were also reflected onto a mirror and into the camera for when Gandalf's horse Shadowfax kicks Denethor onto the Pyre. Due to Jackson's requirement of complete realism with his fantasy world, numerous miniatures were built, such as 1:72 scale miniature of Minas Tirith, which rises 7m high and is 6.5m in diameter. 1:14 scale sections of the city were also required, and the Extended Edition scene of the collapsing City of the Dead has 80,000 small skulls, amounting in total to a single cubic meter.[14] The miniatures team concluded in November with the Black Gate, after 1000 days of shooting, and the final digital effects shot done was the Ring's unmaking, on November 25.[27]


The music was composed by Howard Shore, who previously composed the first two parts of the trilogy. Shore watched the assembly cut of the film,[21] and had to write seven minutes of music per day to keep up with the schedule.[27] The score sees the full introduction of the Gondor theme, originally heard during Boromir's speeches at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring and at Osgiliath in The Two Towers Extended Edition. Actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler also contributed to the film's music. Boyd sings on screen as Faramir charges towards Osgiliath, Mortensen sings on screen as he is crowned King, and in the Extended Edition Tyler sings as Aragorn heals Éowyn.

Renee Fleming, Ben Del Maestro and Sir James Galway also contribute to the soundtrack. Fleming sings as Arwen has a vision of her son and when Gollum recovers the One Ring. Del Maestro sings when Gandalf lights his staff to save fleeing Gondorian soldiers from Osgiliath as the Nazgûl attack. Galway plays the flute as Frodo and Sam climb Mount Doom. The end title song, "Into the West", was composed by Shore with lyrics by Fran Walsh. Annie Lennox (formerly of Eurythmics) performed it and also received songwriting credit. The song was partially inspired by the premature death from cancer of a young New Zealand filmmaker named Cameron Duncan who'd befriended Peter Jackson.[21]

The Sound department spent the early part of the year searching for the right sounds. A tasmanian devil was Shelob's shriek, which in turn gave inspiration for Weta's animators, whilst the mûmakil is a the beginning and end of a Lion roar. Human screams and a donkey screech were mixed into Sauron's fall, and to avoid comparison with 9/11, broken glass was used for the collapsing sounds. For missile trading during Minas Tirith's siege, construction workers dropped stone blocks. Mixing began at a new studio on August 15, although unfinished building work caused some annoyances.[29] The mixers finished on November 15, after three months of non-stop work.[27]


After two years of attention and acclaim since the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, audience anticipation for the final installment of the trilogy had reached fever pitch when the movie was complete. The world première was held in Wellington's Embassy Theatre, on December 1, 2003, and was attended by the director and many of the stars. It was estimated that over 100,000 people lined the streets, more than a quarter of the city's population.[30]


The film has a 94% rating of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was named best film of the year more than any other according to criticstop10.net. It was named 'Best film of 2003' by such critics as Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Richard Corliss of Time, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, and James Berardinelli of Reelviews.

The main 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 movie (which he gave an 'A'): "If it didn't take 45 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."[31]

An indication of the film's popularity amongst general audiences is the weighted average of 8.8/10 from 181,109 IMDb voters, placing it as the fifth best rated film.[32] In February 2004, a few months after release, the film was voted as #8 on Empires 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, compiled from readers' top 10 lists. This forced the magazine to abandon its policy of films being older than 12 months to be eligible.[33] In 2007, Total Film named The Return of the King the third best film of the past decade (the magazine's lifetime), behind The Matrix and Fight Club.[34]

 Box office

New Line Cinema reported that the film's first day saw a U.S. box office total of $34.5 million — an all-time single-day record for a motion picture released on a Wednesday, until Spider-Man 2 grossed $40.4 million. Whereas The Return of the King opened around Christmas time, Spider-Man 2 opened in the middle of summer. This was nearly twice the first-day total of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (which earned $18.2 million on its opening day in 2001), and a significant increase over The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as well (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 first two films were played on December 16 before the first midnight screening.

The final North American box office stands at $377,027,325, and the worldwide take is $1,118,888,979 (about $741 million overseas). It was the second film in history to earn over $1 billion in box office revenue in its initial release (the first being Titanic in 1997). This compares favourably to the first two films of the trilogy: in their first 35 weeks of theatrical release in North America, the gross income of the first two movies was $313,364,114 and $339,789,881. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, has helped the Lord of the Rings movie franchise go on to become the highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, besting other notables such as the Star Wars trilogies.[35]

These figures do not include income from DVD sales, TV rights, etc. It has been estimated[36] 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, a very respectable return for a $300 million ($426 million including marketing costs) investment.

Compared to the profits of other films, The Return of the King is probably the most lucrative movie investment of all time. Including marketing costs, it made a 1408% profit over the original outlay from New Line Studios. Comparatively, The Blair Witch Project (including marketing costs of $25 million) made a profit of 992% and Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time, made a profit of 768% over production and marketing costs.


Peter Jackson cradles his three Oscars for Best Film, Directing and Adapted Screenplay.

On January 27, 2004, the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Song, Visual Effects, Art Direction, Costuming, Make-up, Sound Mixing and Film Editing. On February 29, the film won all the categories for which it was nominated. It tied with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscars ever won by a single film, and broke the previous record for a sweep set by Gigi and The Last Emperor (See Movies with six or more Oscars).[37]

However, none of the ensemble cast received any acting nominations, the first Best Picture since 1995's Braveheart to have not received any. The film was the first in the fantasy film genre to win the Best Picture award. It was also only the second time a sequel had won the Best Picture category; the first being The Godfather, Part II. (However, if one counts The Silence of the Lambs as the sequel to Manhunter or Red Dragon, then it is the third.) Furthermore, after winning all 11 of its nominations, the film broke a record previously set by the film Gigi which had previously set the record for winning all 9 of its nominations. It was also the first time that the third movie in a trilogy has won for Best Picture. In the opinion of some critics, however, this accolade was not just for the merits of the individual film, but more a reward for the trilogy as a whole, given that the first two films had not won the major awards of Best Picture or Best Director.

The film won also four Golden Globes, three BAFTAs, two MTV Movie Awards, two Grammy Awards, nine Saturn Awards and the Hugo Award.

Preceded by
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
Million Dollar Baby
Preceded by
The Hours
Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama
Succeeded by
The Aviator
Preceded by
The Pianist
BAFTA Award for Best Film
Succeeded by
The Aviator

 DVD releases

The theatrical edition of the movie was released on DVD on May 25, 2004. The DVD was a 2-disc set with extras on the second disc. The theatrical DVD sets for the two prequels were released eight months after the films were released, but Return of the King's set was completed in five because it did not have to market a sequel (the previous films had to wait for footage of their sequels to become available for a ten minute preview). However, it contained a 7 minute trailer of the entire trilogy.

The Return of the King did follow the precedent set by its predecessors by releasing an Extended Edition (250 minutes) with new editing, and added special effects and music, along with four commentaries and six hours of supplementary material. However, this set took longer to produce than the others because the cast and crew were spread all over the world working on other projects.[38] The set was finally released on December 10, 2004 in the UK and December 14 in the U.S.. The final ten minutes comprises a listing of the charter members of the official fan club who had paid for three-year charter membership. A collectors' box set was also released, which included the Extended Set plus a sculpture of Minas Tirith and a bonus 50-minute music documentary DVD, Howard Shore: Creating The Lord of the Rings Symphony: A Composer's Journey Through Middle-earth. The DVD also features two humorous Easter Eggs, one where Dominic Monaghan plays a German interviewer with Elijah Wood over a phone, and another where Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller attempt to convince Jackson to make a sequel (itself a sequel to one with James Cameron following Titanic), originally shown at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. Both can be accessed via a Ring icon on the last page of both Disc 1 and 2's Scene indexes respectively.

On August 29, 2006, a Limited Edition of The Return of the King was released. This Limited Edition contains two discs. The first is a two-sided DVD (also known as DVD-18) that contains both the Theatrical and Extended editions of the film. At the beginning of each side of the disc, the viewer can choose which version to watch. The second disc is a bonus disc that contains a new behind-the-scenes documentary.

 Additional scenes


There is some extra dialogue in Merry and Pippin's first scene at Isengard, making them seem a little stoned from the pipeweed. There is also the final confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman, in which Saruman is killed by Wormtongue, who in turn is killed by Legolas. Saruman lands on a pike and drops the palantír. Edoras is extended, with the party containing a drinking game between Legolas and Gimli. Right before Pippin takes the palantír, Aragorn enters the Great Hall and has a conversation with Éowyn about a dream she had, about a great wave over a green countryside.

When Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith, Pippin explains how Boromir died to Denethor. After Gandalf storms out of the White Tower, he has a long monologue explaining the history of Gondor to Pippin, how it fell into ruin, and how Sauron creates a shadow for his Orcs. There is a new scene with Frodo, Sam and Gollum centred on the discovery of a ruined and defaced statue at the Crossroads, which intercuts back into Pippin and Gandalf on the balcony, where Gandalf chokes on his pipe. When the Morgul signal for war begins, Sam warns Gollum about betrayal, eventually setting up the separation.

When the Orcs cross the river it is shown the Gondorians were surprised, expecting an attack at Cair Andros. To further set up the battle, we also see Merry swearing loyalty to Théoden at Edoras after the lighting of the beacons. After Faramir arrives in Minas Tirith, there is a scene where Denethor confronts him for not taking the Ring, which includes his vision of Boromir. We also see a friendly chat between Pippin and Faramir which sets up Pippin's later attempts to rescue him.

Restored villainy: Saruman, the Witch-king and the Mouth of Sauron.

The Dunharrow sequence is extended, with additional lines from Éomer after he tells Éowyn not to encourage Merry. There is more dialogue from Legolas when he explains the Paths of the Dead. The Paths of the Dead sequence is heavily revised, with ghostly arms, the avalanche of skulls and Aragorn's emergence from the mountain where the King of the Dead accepts his offer. This leads onto Aragorn attacking the Corsair ships, which includes a cameo by Peter Jackson as a character killed by Legolas.

The Siege of Minas Tirith is larger, including the Orcs using a small battering ram on the gates and cheering on the approach of Grond, and Gandalf's confrontation with the Witch-king as he comes to rescue Faramir. The Rohirrim get an intercut, with a scouting report is brought to Théoden on his way to Gondor about the city in flames, as well as a conversation between Merry and Éowyn. The Witch-king confrontation further sets up the eventual unhoped for arrival. Gothmog also fights Éowyn during the battle, and attempts to finish her off as the battle closes before he is killed by Aragorn and Gimli.

The scenes between the end of the Pelennor battle and Black Gate battle is longer. Pippin's search for Merry is digitally graded to night to give the impression he has been searching for him all day. Éomer also finds Éowyn on the field and mourns when he thinks she is dead. Aragorn heals her and she falls for Faramir. Before Aragorn sets off, he confronts Sauron in the palantír, however Sauron shows Aragorn an image of an unconscious Arwen; in which Aragorn drops the Evenstar which breaks.

Sam and Frodo get more time in Mordor: the fight among the orcs in the tower of Cirith Ungol is longer, and after Sam rescues Frodo, we see a surviving Uruk sneaking off with the mithril shirt. Frodo and Sam are also diverted into the Orc march to the Black Gate and escape on a long journey, during which they throw away the last of their gear. Sam also sees a star through the clouds, symbolizing hope whilst Frodo merely rests with a burn on his neck. At the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Merry, and Éomer are first confronted by the Mouth of Sauron, suggesting that Frodo is dead, providing additional depth to Aragorn's line "For Frodo". There is a final line of dialogue in which Gollum admits he lied about protecting Frodo.



  1. ^ Worldwide Grosses. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
  2. ^ Craig Parker interview by SF-Radio. Craig Parker.net. Retrieved on 2006-11-06.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i  Cameras in Middle-earth: Filming the Return of the King [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  4. ^ Dowling, Stephen. "Tolkien relative's kingly role", BBC News online, 2003-12-17. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
  5. ^ Ian McKellen. Cast Commentary [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g  Finding the Story: Forging the Final Chapter (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  7. ^ a b Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Director/Writers' Special Extended Edition commentary [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  8. ^ Lee, Alana. Peter Jackson on The Return of the King. BBC Films. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
  9. ^ Watkin, Tim (2001-08-12). The 'Rings' movies, a potted history. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
  10. ^ 20 Questions with Peter Jackson. Peter Jackson online transcript from Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved on 2006-10-24.
  11. ^ a b c d e f  Designing and Building Middle-earth (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  12. ^ a b c d e  Weta Workshop (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  13. ^ Ngila Dickson. Costume Design (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  14. ^ a b c  Big-atures (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  15. ^ a b c Russell, Gary (2004). The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Return of the King. Harpercollins. ISBN 0-00-713565-3. 
  16. ^  Cameras in Middle-earth: Filming the Fellowship of the Ring [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  17. ^ a b "Tehanu" (2000-10-11). One Year of Principal Photography. The One Ring.net. Retrieved on 2006-10-22.
  18. ^  Home of the Horse Lords [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  19. ^ Davidson, Paul. "A Slew of The Lord of the Rings news", IGN, 2000-11-14. Retrieved on 2006-10-24.
  20. ^ a b Davidson, Paul. "A new Return of the King poster", IGN, 2003-06-27. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
  21. ^ a b c  Music for Middle-earth [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  22. ^ a b c  Editorial: Completing the Trilogy (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  23. ^ a b  The Passing of an Age (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  24. ^ Sibley, Brian (2002). The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy. Harpercollins. ISBN 0-00-713567-X. 
  25. ^ "Rings director cuts wizard scenes", BBC News online, 2003-11-12. Retrieved on 2006-10-17.
  26. ^ Wooten, Dan. "I will never forgive Jackson, says LOTR actor", New Zealand Herald, 2006-04-30. Retrieved on 2006-10-17.
  27. ^ a b c d e  The End of All Things (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  28. ^ a b c  Weta Digital (Special Extended Edition documentary) [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  29. ^  The Soundscapes of Middle-earth [DVD]. New Line Cinema.
  30. ^ BBC News: How hobbits took over NZ's capital
  31. ^ Joel Siegel. "Jackson Brings Lord of the Rings to Historic Completion", ABC News, 2003-12-19. Retrieved on 2007-02-16.
  32. ^ IMDb Top 250 Films. Retrieved on 2006-10-31.
  33. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time", Empire, 2004-01-30, pp. 96.
  34. ^ "Ten Greatest Films of the Past Decade", Total Film, April 2007, pp. 98.
  35. ^ Top Box Office Earning Trilogies Worldwide at Box Office Mojo.com, last retrieved on February 10, 2007
  36. ^ Lord of the Rings revenue statistics on Time Warner
  37. ^ BBC News: Rings scores Oscars clean sweep
  38. ^ Gary Susman. "Hobbits for the Holidays", Entertainment Weekly, 2004-06-09. Retrieved on 2007-02-17.

 External links