After 3 days, 21 hours, 8 bags of popcorn, a dozen or more pee breaks, a walk in the park, and a short 8-hour nap (what, that’s a nap), I finally finished all 9 of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films, back to back, Extended Editions, in glorious HD.
And what do I get out of it, other than fulfilling my obsession with all things Tolkien? Well, I got to fulfill my obsession with all things Tolkien! AND a great idea for an article!
You see, after watching all 6 movies back to back to back to back, I’ve realized something: much like the Star Wars franchise, the LOTR/Hobbit franchise could do with a little re-ordering in terms of viewing.
Of course, it’s not a novel idea: like I said, Star Wars fans are doing it, and even popular sites like Medium and Vice all gave their version of their preferred LOTR viewing orders. The viewing orders, created by hardcore fans like myself, were ordered in different ways other than chronology, which gave each order a unique experience for the viewers.
So here is my take on the LOTR Machete viewing order. I’ve compiled the list as a way to address certain problems I had with Jackson’s Hobbit series, speaking of which…
Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Films Were Pretty Bad
To say that the Hobbit series was problematic would be putting it lightly: there were a ton of issues that made the film almost unwatchable, not the least of which is a bloated storyline that tried its darndest to extend the 310-page source material over 3 films. I mean, I get it, you’re trying to make money for the studios, but at some point, it becomes less about telling Tolkien’s story and more just about making as much cash as possible.
My biggest problem, however, with the Hobbit trilogy is its use of spoilers and foreshadowing. Yes, the LOTR trilogy came out a decade before the Hobbit films, but I wish they had respected the order in which the books came out: Hobbit first, the Lord of the Rings second.
This is problematic for people who have never seen any of the LOTR movies (yes, they exist!): because it treated all of its viewers as life-long fans of the series, The Hobbit, if it wasn’t trying to overly stretch out its story, it sort of felt like fan service.
Which, in itself, isn’t the most terrible thing, but it can alienate new fans to the franchise, not to mention confusing. What’s more the Hobbit trilogy, in its attempt to stretch out its source, had to include certain material that wasn’t in the original book, but rather, were referenced or written about in the Lord of the Rings books, various LOTR appendices, and the short story/essay collection Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
And finally, my biggest peeve with the Hobbit trilogy is its last film, the Battle of the Five Armies, possibly one of the most contrived films in the entire Tolkien filmography. It’s not that it’s terrible, it’s just that it tries way too hard to top the Battle of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields when the source material itself was only 20 pages. It was too over-the-top, too forced, too much, and in trying to top two of the most iconic battles in movie history, it did the exact opposite.
However, it wasn’t all bad.
Some of the added material, like the ones that gave a clear connection between the Necromancer and Sauron, to me gives the original trilogy a certain gravitas, a weight that might have been missed in first viewing of the LOTR series. The connection makes the quest for the Ring all the heavier and provides a little more context as to why the power players of Middle-Earth sprung into action at the Council of Elrond.
Extending the backstory, while bloating and at times over-explaining the entire Tolkien universe, does provide other LOTR characters context: Legolas, the Baggins family, and Middle-Earth in general. And the visuals! Praise Ilúvatar for the jaw-dropping visuals of the Hobbits series, which, to me, were a huge upgrade from the original trilogy, which was in itself was a stunning visual masterpiece.
So, yes, there’s a lot to hate about the Hobbit films, but there’s a lot to love too, and including them in a Tolkien marathon is essential, provided, I think, that they’re watched in a certain order. So here’s my take on a Machete-style Hobbit/LOTR Viewing order:
The Hobbit/LOTR Movie Viewing Order
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
This order is designed to address one of the major flaws of a chronological viewing order of the Hobbit and LOTR movies: if one were to watch the movies in order of their in-universe time, you’d watch Hobbit 1, 2, and 3, then LOTR 1, 2, and 3. However, because the Hobbit contains information/story elements that only make sense if the viewer has seen LOTR, the chronological order won’t work.
However, watching LOTR first before the Hobbit can take away the gravitas of certain scenes, like the Necromancer storyline and why it affects the major movers and shakers of Middle-earth, or even the source of Gollum’s madness as a result of his exposure to the Ring and why this effect took longer and was less pronounced on, say, Bilbo or Frodo.
Photo credits from: Weta Workshop
Another reason for this order: if one were to watch it in release order (i.e. LOTR, then Hobbit), you end your marathon with Battle of the Five Armies, arguably the weakest and most contrived film in the entire Tolkien franchise. Alternatively, with this order, you end with Return of the King, which serves not only as the end of LOTR, but of the entire Ring saga, of which the Hobbit is the start of. Return of the King is also a good way to end Bilbo’s story arc, highlight his redemption, and end his story in such a way that we see it from beginning, middle, and end.
In this order, the Fellowship of the Ring serves as a sort of prologue to the entire series, setting up key plot points in a more streamlined way, all the while retaining the Rings of Power as the central element of the entire franchise.
This is then followed up by the entire Hobbit trilogy. Here, we see Bilbo’s backstory, a larger context of Middle-earth, its socio-political and religio-mythological structures, and how/why certain characters/races react the way they did to certain events. For example, Saruman’s character is given more depth if we see his fall from benevolent wizard to evil conspirator. This order shows the context of his corruption as well as a bit of backstory.
Next, this order also sets up the epic battle scenes in a more balanced way, starting with the Battle of the Five Armies, which, while the weakest of the three, is still an important plot point, not to mention a visual treat if you haven’t seen Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields. In this order, the battles are set up to increase in scale, magnitude, and importance.
With this order, we also see more of the Dwarves and their culture. The Fellowship of the Ring, and indeed the entire original LOTR trilogy, had a total of 5 seconds of Dwarves outside of Gimli which, while remaining true to the source material, was an omission that begged more questions about the Mines of Moria, the Balrog, among others.
Is It the Right Order
Obviously not! There is no right or wrong order; however, I believe that there are more enjoyable orders to watch the Lord of the Rings movies and a way to watch them that it gives it more weight, more magnitude, more epicness, and more enjoyability.
So, there. I hope you try bingeing on the LOTR/Hobbit franchise in this order! Let me know if it changed the way you see the Tolkien mythos, or if you have a viewing order of your own!