Lord of the Rings is now more popular than Star Wars, but why is that the case? Between them, the two film franchises have spawned 16 movies and over $15 billion at the box-office, as well as garnering critical success and developing rabid fanbases. But while Star Wars has been around longer in a cinematic sense, it's Lord of the Rings that is enjoying greater popularity right now.
The insight into this comes from a poll by Twitter account @NXOnNetflix, with over 38,000 voters and an overwhelming victory for Lord of the Rings, which beat Star Wars by 61%-39%. That's not a full picture, of course, but it is indicative of the place both franchises exist in the cultural conversation right now: Lord of the Rings is widely revered, while Star Wars has taken a downward turn in recent years.
Whether you think Lord of the Rings is better than Star Wars is very much a matter of opinion, and there are likely differences if you were to compare individual movies rather than whole franchises. But LOTR proving more popular than Star Wars in 2019 isn't that much of a surprise, given the direction both sagas have moved in over the last 20 years.
Lord Of The Rings' Release Date Gives It An Advantage
Although Star Wars first hit the big screen in 1977, and Lord of the Rings was published way back in 1954, it's around the turn of the century that these two franchises started to collide in the hearts and minds of moviegoers. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, with Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring coming along in 2001. With both trilogies releasing in full over the next few years, it wasn't a direct box-office battle, but is a big reason why fans now prefer Lord of the Rings.
If looking at the likely audience for the aforementioned poll, then we can assume many of them will have seen both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in cinemas, but only the latter would've been the original. Since Lord of the Rings is better than the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, then people who grew up with or around both are much more likely to have a greater reverence for the Middle-earth saga. Although not an exact science, it's a reasonable conclusion that millennials and perhaps even members of Generation Z are going to prefer Lord of the Rings to Star Wars.
At the time they were taking an interest in movies, then the original Star Wars trilogy was much older, and the new Star Wars movies weren't great, whereas Lord of the Rings was both zeitgeist-capturing, dominating at the box-office, having success at the Oscars, and just generally being great movies. Since they're the people then leading the online conversation, it fits Lord of the Rings would be seen in a better light.
Prequels Hurt Star Wars More Than Lord Of The Rings
Star Wars and Lord of the Rings make for an interesting comparison, because both franchises have two completed trilogies at the time of writing: an original that is very highly regarded, and then a prequel trilogy that is treated with more derision. But while neither the Star Wars Prequels nor The Hobbit movies were as popular as what came before, there's a significant difference in the impact both had on their respective franchises.
The Star Wars Prequels were fairly successful at the time in a commercial sense, but with mixed-to-poor reviews that gradually worsened over time thanks to things like Red Letter Media's reviews. These films became targets of anger from longtime Star Wars fans, and some elements even laughing stocks, which was damaging to the Star Wars brand. The movies came to a close with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and although another animated TV series followed, the franchise lay dormant on the big screen until Disney released Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, which was seen by many as it being brought back from the dead and taken back to its roots after the many failures of the prequels. While opinion is changing on the Star Wars Prequels, they're still not generally considered good movies in a broad sense.
The Hobbit hasn't faced this problem, or at least not to the same degree. The movies are nowhere near as beloved as Lord of the Rings, but the movies weren't slammed by critics upon released, and performed extremely well at the box-office, making either just over or under $1 billion. Over the course of the series it became increasingly clear that expanding the story to a three-movie epic wasn't a great idea, with reviews for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies the worst of the bunch, but it still never seemed to damage the Lord of the Rings brand in the same way the Prequels did to Star Wars, and the same goes for the respective filmmakers behind them: George Lucas took a lot of heat for the Star Wars Prequels, and still hasn't been forgiven in some quarters, while Peter Jackson remains a highly-respected director.
Star Wars Has Been Damaged By The Sequel Trilogy
Complicating matters for the Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings debate is that the former has now outgrown the latter in a cinematic sense, with Disney reviving the franchise and releasing a further two mainline movies (with Star Wars 9 still to come) and two spin-offs, alongside more animated TV shows and a plethora of tie-in novels, comics, video games, and merchandise. Star Wars is ubiquitous not just in popular culture but everyday life, but that now works against it, in part because of the reception to Disney's Sequel Trilogy.
While things got off to a good start with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it then soured after the extremely divisive response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The muted reaction to Solo didn't help either, with the film becoming the first Star Wars movie to bomb at the box-office. Star Wars 9 might turn things around, but right now there's a definite sense of franchise fatigue with Star Wars, while no matter which side of the debate you're on it's clear that the discourse has soured. That's especially the case online, which means the Star Wars brand has been further tainted.
Lord of the Rings hasn't had this problem. The Hobbit trilogy, for whatever reason, avoided the same sort of scathing critiques that met the Star Wars Prequels, and the franchise has been quiet ever since. It's just starting to come back in the form of an impending Amazon TV series, but since that's based on the Second Age, giving it a great distance from the movies, then even that is being greeted with more enthusiasm right now. There's still time for the tide to turn, either through Star Wars 9 or perhaps a grander re-assessment of The Hobbit, but right now it's clear that Lord of the Rings is more popular than Star Wars, and it's something that's developed over the course of 20 years' worth of movies.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019