More than fifteen years have passed since Peter Jackson reintroduced the world to Middle Earth in the first Lord of the Rings movie, and in that time, few films have challenged his trilogy as the quintessential fantasy experience. Through the three ages in which J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium takes place, there has been a surplus of characters which have shown a considerable amount of power. Involving issues of cosmology, theology, and philology, his mythos soon grew into a world all its own, and its inhabitants became their own storytellers, spilling from the pages of the novels and eventually starring in the blockbuster movies we know today.
With such an expansive universe, it’s nearly impossible to filter through all the supporting characters in search of the most powerful beings. Instead, we’ve decided to focus on those names from Jackson’s movies who impressed the most. Characters of significant power from the novels who had little screen time were left off the list, which means names like Tom Bombadil and Celeborn did not make the final cut. Every name listed is in order of strength as depicted in the movies, not by the novels. So without further ado, these are the 15 Most Powerful Characters of the Middle Earth Franchise.
15. The Ents
Created at the behest of Yavanna, the goddess responsible for all fruits and growing things of Arda, the Ents came into being as a way to protect dwarves from cutting down trees. Taking on the appearance of trees, the creatures are as old as Elves, appearing in Middle Earth at roughly the same time. As guardians over the forests, they slowly begin to look more like the specific trees they watch over, and in time, they plant their roots into the soil, becoming trees themselves without ever losing their awareness of the world around them.
As the eldest Ent, Treebeard is not only a wise and capable leader, but also the oldest living creature in Middle Earth. Angered by Saruman, whose armies have wreaked havoc on the Fangorn Forest, the Ents convene to discuss joining the War of the Ring. Led by Treebeard, they march to Isengard, where they carry out an assault which leads to Saruman being trapped inside the tower of Orthanc. Thanks to their large stature and unity as the protectors of nature, they become a crucial part of Tolkien’s story and exhibit their strong will and strength by unleashing their might on Saruman’s armies.
A skin-changer, Beorn was a tall man with a long, unruly beard in his human form, but his greatest strength came when he transformed his body into a large black bear. For a man of his size, he was passionate about animals. He resided with an animal retinue of horses, dogs, sheep, and cows, and could communicate with many of them. He lived north of the Anduin valley between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood where many of the skin-changers dwelled, and it was from there that he would protect the Ford of Carrock from Goblins and Wargs.
In Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit, Beorn’s role would be limited. He receives Gandalf and the Dwarves and gives them horses to reach Mirkwood. During the Battle of the Five Armies, he changes into his bear form alongside the Great Eagles, but it is Legolas who ultimately fights and slays the Orc warrior Bolg, unlike the novel in which Beorn delivers the decisive blow. Sometime before the War of the Ring, he would rise from his reclusion to become a great leader of his people. After his death, he would be succeeded by his son Grimbeorn the Old.
A Prince of the Woodland Realm, Legolas was the son of Thranduil, the Elven king who ruled over Mirkwood during the Second and Third Ages. A member of the Fellowship of the Ring, the Silvan Elf volunteered to represent the his people after attending Elrond’s council as a messenger for his father. Although the character never appeared in the novel, he would show up in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy to rescue the Dwarves from spiders. During the Battle of the Five Armies, he would directly confront the mighty Orc leader Bolg in a hard fought battle, eventually walking away victorious.
Lethal with a bow and arrow and equally gifted with daggers, Legolas prefers to take down his enemies from afar with extreme precision, reportedly being able to kill an enemy from as far away as four hundred yards. In the Battle of the Hornburg, he would engage the Dwarf Gimli in an Orc slaying contest, showing his competitive relationship with the Fellowship member in a losing contest. He would also fight in the Battle of Pelennor Fields alongside Gimli and the Sons of Elrond, turning the tide of the battle which helped end the War of the Ring.
The son of Arathorn and the sixteenth Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North, Aragorn was fostered by Elrond, the Lord of Rivendell, following his father’s death when he was only two years old. Going to live among his people in the wild, he came to protect the Shire and its inhabitants, where he was known by the name Strider. He would gain experience with a sword while later fighting for the armies of Rohan and Gondor, skills which he would use during the War of the Ring.
Aragorn first met Frodo Baggins at the Inn of the Prancing Pony, where he helped him escape the Ringwraiths. Said to possess great wisdom thanks to his childhood spent in Rivendell, Aragorn was a man of great pride, although he expressed doubt at times about his role as the destined King of Gondor and Arnor. Arriving at the Battle of Pelennor Fields with a fleet of Gondorian soldiers, he reinforced the Gondorian and Rohirrim garrisons and was able to defeat Sauron’s army. After the victory, he was crowned King Elessar and became the twenty-sixth King of Arnor and thirty-fifth King of Gondor, as well as the First High King of the Reunited Kingdom.
The last great fire-drake of Middle Earth, Smaug laid waste to the Lonely Mountain and destroyed the neighboring city of Dale, taking the great treasures mined from the mountain as his own. It was there that Smaug stayed for nearly two hundred years. In the year 2941 in the Third Age, he would finally be contested. The heir of the mountain, Thorin Oakenshield, would lead twelve Dwarves and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to the dragon’s lair, where the beast would be awakened by Bilbo’s noisy attempt to steal a cup. Rising from his home, Smaug devastated the nearby Lake-town, setting it ablaze before finally falling after a fatal blow to the belly.
Signifying the end of the age of dragons, Smaug was said to have been about twenty meters in length. His scaled exterior was as durable as ten warriors’ shields, and his teeth were as sharp as swords, capable of piercing through even the most protected fighters. He was also shown to have an encyclopedic mind capable of remembering every jewel stored in the mountain. He was deftly confident and arrogant, and his psychopathic tendencies were only surpassed by his excessive greed, which inevitably led to his downfall.
10. Stone Giants
Unlike other creatures of Middle Earth, stone giants are a mystery to all who’ve heard of them. Rarely has anyone been lucky enough to have spotted them and few have claimed to have done so. Gandalf used to tell Bilbo tales of giants, though the origins of his stories are also unknown. According to J.R.R. Tolkien’s accounts, Gandalf, Bilbo, and the thirteen Dwarves of The Hobbit were the only ones to have seen the stone giants, although the encounter can only be read in The Red Book of Westmarch.
Living in the Misty Mountains during the Third Age, the stone giants are shown practicing a sport in which they throw rocks at one another. In The Hobbit, they appear as grand in size as a mountainside. When standing still, their appearance is indistinguishable from a cliff-face. At first, the giants go unrecognized by Bilbo until the rock beneath him begins to shift. Although the movies are the only source which includes the giants as part of the Middle Earth mythos, they are depicted as an immovable force which can shake the earth when in motion, making them an intimidating sight for all to behold.
9. The Witch-King of Angmar
A feared sorcerer with powers over the physical world, the Witch-King was once a king of the Men of Númenor. Corrupted by one of the nine Rings of Power, he became an undead wraith working underneath Sauron as a leader of the Nazgûl. Disappearing from Middle Earth after Sauron’s defeat in the war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the Witch-King would resurface near the lost realm of Arnor, where he founded the kingdom of Angmar.
Rallying behind the king in search of the One Ring, the Nazgul would return to Mordor, where they would encounter Frodo, Aragorn, and the other hobbits at Weathertop. The Witch-King wounded Frodo with a Morgul Blade before being driven back by Aragorn.
Last seen in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the Witch-King’s final confrontation came after leading a charge against the attacking Rohirrim. Capitalizing on his opportunity to kill King Theoden, he would be met by his niece Éowyn, who would fatally stab him through the head. Said to be a superior sorcerer to Gandalf, the Witch-King’s abilities would fluctuate wildly throughout Peter Jackson’s films, though it was known that he was at his strongest at night.
The father of Arwen and a mighty Elf-ruler, Elrond lived in Middle Earth from the First Age to the beginning of the Fourth. Given the choice between Men or Elves, he chose the Fate of Elves as his own. In the year 1695 of the Second Age, he would be sent to Eregion to protect the Ñoldorin city from the forces of Sauron. Elrond would survive the Dark Lord’s siege of the city and later establish the town of Rivendell, where he would serve as lord for thousands of years.
After combining the Elves’ forces to defeat Sauron in SA 1701, he would host the first White Council at his newly established refuge. As a member of the council, he aided Thorin Oakenshield in his expedition to retake the Lonely Mountain by translating the moon writing on his map. On October 25, 3018 of the Third Age, he hosted the council which would choose the members of the Fellowship who would follow Frodo and Sam to Mordor. One of the few incorruptible leaders of Middle Earth, Elrond rejected Sauron’s temptations and used his medical knowledge to heal Frodo after he was stabbed by the Witch-King of Angmar.
7. Radagast the Brown
One of the five emissaries sent to Middle Earth to prevent the corrupt Sauron from seizing control, Radagast the Brown was a wizard who spent his time in the forests, concerned with the well-being of the plants and animals. Originally given the name Aiwendil, which meant “bird-friend,” he was deemed foolish by Saruman for appearing unconcerned with the affairs of men and elves.
Living out his days at Rhosgobel in the Vales of Anduin, tucked between Carrock and the Old Forest Road, Radagast is shown in The Hobbit to be quite eccentric, often speaking to animals and at one point reviving a dead hedgehog. During this time, he guarded the forest from the looming Shadow of Dol Guldur which slowly grew in strength and began to consume the wooded region. Noticing the decay of the plants, he traveled to Dol Guldur, where he was attacked by the Witch-king of Angmar. Able to ward off the sorcerer, he noticed the shadowy figure of the Necromancer and warned Gandalf of the impending threat. In the Battle of the Five Armies, he led a charge of Great Eagles, helping to defeat the Orcs and recapture the Lonely Mountain.
6. The Balrog (Durin’s Bane)
Balrogs were once Maiar before being corrupted by Melkor, the first Dark Lord and the primordial deity of evil in Eä. Their existence dates back to the Years of the Trees in which Melkor destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, which brought light into the Land of the Valar. Although the last of the Balrogs were thought to have fought during the War of Wrath, one would be awoken in the Third Age in Moria by dwarves mining for mithril. The dwarves would be driven out of their homes by the beast, which would slay the Dwarf-King Durin VI, giving it the nickname Durin’s Bane.
In the year 3019, the Fellowship would travel through Moria on their way to Mordor, where Gandalf would encounter the Balrog in the Chamber of Mazarbul. As the sorcerer attempted a shutting spell on the door of the chamber, he was met with opposition by the ancient creature. In a standoff at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Gandalf would refuse passage to Durin’s Bane, and the two would tumble into the abyss below. Gandalf would slay the Balrog many days later, dying shortly afterward, only to be revived as Gandalf the White.
The Lady of Lothlórien, Galadriel was one of the greatest of the Eldar in Middle Earth. She was the bearer of Nenya, one of the three Elven rings of power said to preserve, protect and conceal evil. During the War of the Ring, she would host the Fellowship after their escape from Moria. Warning Frodo and Sam about the effects of the One Ring, she allowed them to glimpse the future through her mirror, showing them a timeline where even she would be corrupted by its powers.
Once a pupil of Yavanna and Aulë and later a friend of Melian, Galadriel was said to have learned her magic from the three mighty personages. With the power of Nenya, she could communicate over long distances and cloak her mind from the temptations of Sauron. During the Second Age, she used her wisdom to suggest hiding the three rings of the Elves, and she refrained from using the powers of Nenya while Sauron was in control. During the Battle of the Five Armies, when Sauron was not at full power, Galadriel was shown to be the most powerful being on Middle Earth, bringing back Gandalf from the brink of death with her kiss.
4. Gandalf the Grey
First given the name Olórin, Gandalf once described himself as too weak and too afraid of the Dark Lord Sauron to be sent to Middle Earth as one of the five wizards to protect the world. Upon his arrival, he walked the earth cloaked in all grey, learning the ways of the Elves. He soon became known as the wisest of the Istari and would join the White Council as one of its members. Despite Galadriel’s insistence that he lead the council, he would give up the position to Saruman.
After receiving a map to the Lonely Mountain from Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf the Grey concocted a plan to lure the dragon Smaug from his home and restore the heir of the kingdom to his rightful place. During this time, he tried convincing the White Council to oust Sauron from Dol Guldur before he became too powerful. When Sauron began seeking the One Ring, he summoned the Fellowship together. Leading the group south of Rivendell, Gandalf faced a Bolrog in the Mines of Moria. After a hard fought battle, he would die, only to be resurrected days later as the more powerful Gandalf the White.
3. Saruman the White
Given the name Curumo, meaning “the skillful one,” Saruman was considered one of the most gifted of the Istari. Like the other four wizards sent to stop Sauron’s mighty shadow from falling over the world, Saruman was forbidden from matching the Dark Lord in his power. He would ultimately fly too close to the sun, practicing the dark arts to grow closer to his opposition. Instead, he was overcome with greed, becoming enamored with the One Ring and forming an alliance with Sauron, merging his home of Isengard with that of Mordor.
Originally the leader of the White Council during its formation, Saruman was a wizard of great pride, refusing to step down from the role despite protests that Gandalf should take over the coveted spot. In a confrontation during the Battle of Isengard, Saruman was forced to confront Gandalf. Refusing the chance to redeem himself, Gandalf would break his opponent’s staff, expelling him from the council. In the books, he would live out his final days as a small-time criminal mind in Hobbiton before being exiled by Frodo after the Battle of Bywater. As he made his departure, he would be murdered by Grima Wormtongue.
2. Gandalf the White
Twenty days after his passing from a ten-day-long battle, Gandalf returned from the dead anew. Found by the windlord Gwaihir, Gandalf was carried to Caras Galadhon in Lothlórien, where he was clothed in white and healed of his wounds. Returning only until his task was complete, he was given a restored sense of power, far greater than that in his previous life. As Gandalf the White, he could tap into his full potential as a divine spirit with the order of the Maiar at his disposal. Still, despite all his newfound abilities, he believed darker, more evil powers in the world were superior to him.
Meeting up with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas following his resurrection, Gandalf later rode to Orthanc, where he asked Treebeard’s assistance to help overthrow Saruman. Going up against the sorcerer, he broke his staff and cast him from the Council of Wizards. In the events leading to the fall of Sauron, Gandalf would lead a charge alongside Aragorn against the Dark Lord’s armies at the Black Gate to Mordor. The assault would distract the forces as Frodo and Sam scaled Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, effectively ending Sauron’s reign over the land.
The eponymous Lord of the Rings, Sauron inherited the title of the second Dark Lord following the defeat of his master Melkor during the First Age. Originally a Maia of Aulë, Sauron went by the name Mairon and was considered a fine craftsman. Seeking to control the minds and wills of Arda’s creatures to achieve order and perfection, he would turn to Melkor, then known as the Dark Lord Morgoth, in order to reach his goal. It wasn’t until the Second Age, five hundred years after Morgoth’s defeat, that Sauron would begin to reappear, building the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr near Mount Doom and forging the Rings of Power with one ring to rule them all.
After losing the Ring, the Dark Lord was left in a weakened, non-corporeal state. He would reappear as the Necromancer of Dol Guldur, and the five Istari would be sent to oppose him. As he gathered his strength, the Ring would later return to the realm of men. Learning of its location, Sauron sent the Nazgul after Frodo to return his prized possession. With the destruction of the ring at Mount Doom, Sauron was finally robbed of his powers, permanently losing his physical form in his defeat.
What do you think of our rankings? Did we miss any of the major movie names that you think deserve a spot? Let us know in the comments.