With the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, fans of Middle-earth had plenty to be excited about already, but this December brings one more major occasion to celebrate. 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the award-winning finale to director Peter Jackson’s original trilogy. Earning near-unanimous critical acclaim and grossing a large sum at the box office, the adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novels became a part of the zeitgeist in the early 2000s and have been a staple of pop-culture ever since.
As a franchise that has had a tremendous impact on society and the film industry, there are plenty of reasons to commemorate LotR as we reflect on the adventures of Frodo, Aragorn, and the Fellowship. Here are our ten favorite things about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in no particular order.
It’s no secret that Hollywood likes to play things safe most of the time. The release schedule is always full of sequels, reboots, and reinterpretations as studios look to cash in on the popularity of existing brands. Even when something original like Inception comes along, the marketing team never wastes an opportunity to use The Dark Knight as a selling point.
So the fact that the Rings trilogy was filmed the way it was came as a surprise. Shot back-to-back-to-back, New Line Cinema took a huge gamble when they funded the project. Jackson himself was an unproven commodity, famous for directing low-budget B-movies such as Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, and the cast did not contain a reliable box office draw. Even though the books were popular, there was no guarantee that the films would become smash hits and if the first one failed to connect, the studio could have gone under. In retrospect, it seems silly to worry about the movies bombing, but at the time, the ambitious undertaking was a massive risk for all parties involved. In fact, we would like to see more studios roll the dice and take a chance – instead of rehashing things we’ve already seen.
In his 2004 book Blockbuster, film critic Tom Shone expressed concern about the state of the film industry during the 1990s, claiming that the blockbuster system (which had once spawned commercial and critical hits like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark) had spiraled out of control. He concludes by saying the Lord of the Rings trilogy restored credibility to the blockbuster, showing that they could provide both aesthetically and artistically rewarding experiences.
The three films found tremendous success at the Academy Awards (an institution that typically ignores these types of films), earning 17 wins from 30 nominations. Not only were they obvious choices for the technical awards, they also contended in the major categories such as Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay. It all culminated with Return of the King tying an Academy record by winning 11 trophies, including Best Picture and Best Director.
It was a big moment for moviegoers who champion the blockbuster and the trilogy helped similar genre films be taken seriously as an art form. In the years since, the Academy and the American Film Institute have honored blockbusters such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Inception.