One does not simply watch Lord of the Rings. One must experience the timeless tale of Middle-earth’s greatest triumph in the most modern way possible, and that is to binge them all at once. So, sound the Horn of Gondor, prepare a hearty second breakfast, and gather your fellowship — including your kids — for a marathon of truly epic proportions. The Lord of the Rings trilogy just hit Netflix.
Highly influential and innovative in so many ways, these cinematic masterpieces based on the books by J. R. R. Tolkien were record-breaking at the box office, and equally powerful during awards season. Few genre films have achieved such heights, let alone ones from the world of sword and sorcery. Before 2001, fans of LOTR were lumped in the same category as D&D enthusiasts, Trekkies, and comic fanboys. Star Wars was still king, and superhero movies were trying to find their footing. Somehow, Lord of the Rings captured the average moviegoer and kept their butts in a theater seat for nearly three hours each time to watch fantastic armies battle orcs in a quest to melt some evil jewelry.
But will your kids love them as much as you did twenty years ago? The answer is yes.
At the time, these movies did everything right. That’s not to say everything about them is flawless, and to this day hardcore fans will lament some of the choices made or downplayed storylines. But for the mainstream viewer who could barely tell the difference between a Vulcan and an Elf, these movies made sure you didn’t really need to worry about it. Never before had high-fantasy been so immersive and easy to watch, while also being family-friendly. Conan the Barbarian is a great entry in the fantasy genre, but maybe not be the best way to introduce your kids to swords and sorcery.
The sweeping scenery of New Zealand transformed into a foreign world of forgotten lore, thrilling kids and adults alike. The visual effects remain mind-blowing, and it’s astounding to see just how well they’ve aged. Sure, there was plenty of CGI, but practical effects were used like forced perspective to make the actors portraying the Hobbits look smaller, while still physically acting in the same space as taller characters.
Weta Workshop manifested into one of the greatest special effects companies of all time thanks to this series, pushing the boundaries of makeup, character design, and how realistic a computer could make a 3-D model look. Even the behind-the-scenes documentaries about special effects are captivating.
LOTR was meme-worthy before there were memes, too. Who hasn’t laughed at Gimli commanding Legolas to toss him? And The Summer of Gollum after The Two Towers was released was a magical time when every TV show and movie began inserting “Precious” references.
But what cemented this trilogy as being amazing was something more down to earth – the actors. Ian McKellen illuminated the screen, as did Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, and so many others. Viggo Mortensen was our reluctant and relatable hero. Most importantly, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were the two best and most wholesome friends on-screen and truly lived their parts. Frodo and Sam’s solidarity grounded the film, making it relatable and all the more real. Oh, and Sean Bean did what he did best. He died!
Each entry in the trilogy was an instant classic, elevating the source material in a way it was always meant to. The success of these films shattered the stereotype of “geek movies,” by making the world of Middle-earth for everyone. And, two decades later, everything about these three films holds up and makes you wonder if there will ever be movies quite like this again.
The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King are all streaming on Netflix as of February 1, 2023.