The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)



Critic Consensus: Visually breathtaking and emotionally powerful, The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King is a moving and satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Videos

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Photos

Movie Info

The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring.

Watch it now


Elijah Wood
as Frodo Baggins
Sean Astin
as Samwise Gamgee
Ian McKellen
as Gandalf
Andy Serkis
as Gollum/Sméagol
Billy Boyd
as Peregrin `Pippin' Took
Dominic Monaghan
as Meriadoc `Merry' Brandybuck
John Rhys-Davies
as Gimli/Voice of Treebeard
Liv Tyler
as Arwen
Bernard Hill
as King Théoden
Miranda Otto
as Eowyn of Rohan
David Wenham
as Faramir
Karl Urban
as Éomer
Cate Blanchett
as Galadriel
Ian Holm
as Bilbo Baggins
Joel Tolbeck
as Orc Lieutenant No.1
Sean Bean
as Boromir
John Noble
as Denethor
Noel Appleby
as Everard Proudfoot
John Bach
as Madril
Richard Edge
as Gondorian Soldier No.1
David Aston
as Gondorian Soldier No.3
Lawrence Makoare
as Witchking/Gothmorg
Bret McKenzie
as Elf Escort
Paul Norell
as King of the Dead
Alexandra Astin
as Eleanor Gamgee
Sadwyn Brophy
as Eldarion
Marton Csokas
as Celeborn
Jason Fitch
as Uruk No.2
Ian Hughes
as Irolas
Sarah McLeod
as Rosie Cotton
Shane Rangi
as Harad Leader No.1
Todd Rippon
as Harad Leader No.2
Peter Tait
as Shagrat
Alan Howard
as Voice of the Ring
View All

News & Interviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Critic Reviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

All Critics (275) | Top Critics (65)

This atavistic Christians-vs-Moors narrative doesn't belong in the present day, and that's no doubt why so many people are addicted to it: it's so ideologically overstated that it can easily be brushed off as harmlessly quaint escapism.

February 28, 2018

The sense of closure is exquisite, but I'm not sure I'm able to forgive Peter Jackson for the three years that he has taken to put it on the screen. The wait has been excruciating.

February 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn is the good king of the title, and while the actor may look fetching in a crown and cloak, he doesn't have half of the gravitas of Sean Bean's Boromir in the first film.

December 13, 2017 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

The third part of Peter Jackson's monumental Lord Of The Rings trilogy fully lives up to its predecessors.

December 8, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

With The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peter Jackson delivers a decent ending to his fantasy trilogy -- actually, about 12 endings.

November 19, 2013

The Return Of The King ultimately proves up to the series' increasingly difficult task: making movies that echo legends, making legends that reflect life, and reconciling it all with the fact that both legends and lives all eventually meet their ends.

November 19, 2013 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

There are so few third instalments of trilogies which genuinely work. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is an enjoyable disappointment, with good action sequences but a cliché-ridden plot ripped off from Peter Pan. Return of the Jedi failed to completely capitalise on the darkness of The Empire Strikes Back, being enjoyable but also chaotically structured. And Army of Darkness is plain and simple pants. But with The Return of the King, Peter Jackson has done it: he has crafted a trilogy of masterpieces which also get progressively better. The Return of the King is the darkest and scariest of the trilogy, building on both the creepy supernatural elements of The Fellowship of the Ring and the frighteningly real battle scenes of The Two Towers. But it is not just a case of bigger or darker being better, for the film is also the most absorbing of the three when taken as a work of fantasy. Without wishing to insult the brilliance of the first two films, this climactic instalment is the one which most immerses you in Middle Earth. You stop using the brief lulls to process the mythology and instead use those moment as breathing points as the darkness threatens to engulf everything. As with Two Towers, part of the film's success lies in raising the stakes faced by both the hobbits and the world of men. At the end of the previous film, Gandalf remarks that "the Battle for Helm's Deep is over... the Battle for Middle Earth is about to begin." The intensity and scale of the film, with many different races coming together and clashing, makes even the most elaborate and thrilling elements of Two Towers feel like an opening skirmish. You really get the sense of a world not only the brink of collapse, but teetering over the edge of a swirling abyss, like a spinning sword that must eventually topple one way or the other. Return of the King achieves this through a number of openly scary scenes as Frodo and Sam inch further towards Mordor. Seeing Minas Morgul lit up in green light is creepy, and as the column of energy rises shrieking from the tower, you can feel the shivers running down your spine. Shelob the spider is terrifying, and the quieter moments with her on screen are proof that this trilogy does not rely solely on its score to create tension. There is genuine, petrifying fear as she stalks Frodo on the narrow road to Cirith Ungol, even for the lucky ones among us who aren't arachnophobic. But the most chilling moment of the film comes, ironically, in the hottest place on Middle Earth. In the centre of Mount Doom, at the end of their quest, Frodo stands holding the ring over the lava, ready to destroy it. As the lightning flashes all around him, his face is lit up like a skull as pure evil dangles right in front of him. When he turns to face Sam, he has the look somewhere between a possessed man and a frightened child - and then he takes the ring, smiles and disappears. Just when we have been convinced that our hero will do the right thing, evil rushes up in one last subtle push, and delivers a blow every bit as shattering as the ending of Chinatown. So much of Return of the King explores the theme of temptation, broadening it out beyond Frodo, Sam, Gollum and the ring. Early on in the film Pippin looks into the palantir and almost loses his mind as he comes into contact with Sauron. This is on the one hand a dark foreshadowing of what will happen to Frodo, and on the other hand a reflection of the curiosity of Smeagol, a curiosity which eventually turned him into Gollum. But in the eventual fate of the latter, the film puts a clever twist on its running theme, portraying Gollum's temptation or desire for the ring as the ultimate cause of its defeat. Gollum gives into his own temptation and inadvertently redeems the world in the process. The film also gives us a rich character study in the form of Denethor. The character is Lear-like in his rejection of one of his offspring at the expense of another, and both Boromir and Faramir have elements of Cordelia about them. His descent into madness, whether out of grief, despair or paranoia, is a truly Shakespearian descent, and there is a rich counterpoint between Denethor and Theoden. The former clings to authority for its own sake, believing himself to be more worthy than any heir and disregarding the well-being of his people. The latter doubts his worth as King of Rohan, marching to his own death if it will defend those he seeks to love and honour. In the midst of these two kings, we have the man who would be king (apologies to Sean Connery). Return of the King finds Aragorn wrestling with his own demons and identity, having to finally decide whether to accept his fate at all costs (as has Theoden) or to remain alive at the expense of his people (Denethor). The scene of Aragorn calling on the army of the dead is more than simply a test of physical courage. In summoning this army he is forcing himself to confront and accept the responsibilities and pressures that would come from being king; it is as much a rite of passage as the trial run for the final battle. These rich characters both old and new quickly find themselves in a series of brilliant battles. You quickly stop trying to spot which shots are with effects and which aren't because you're so caught up in the action, thanks to the flawless design of the creatures and the internal logic and spontaneity of the battles. But as before, in the midst of this darker, more serious tone, there is still so much of Jackson's humour in the film which means it doesn't have to be watched with a stony face. The on-going rivalry between Gimli and Legolas is great fun, particularly when the latter brings down an entire Oliphant. There are also further hints of Jackson's horror past: the club-handed orc captain resembles the aliens out of Bad Taste, and there are hints of Brain Dead in the dead army's design (but sadly, no kung fu-fighting priests). There has been much debate over the ending of the film, with even its biggest fans complaining that it is too long and baggy. When Jackson's The Lovely Bones came out, critics pointed to this section as the birth of an indulgent streak which had carried through into King Kong and finally caught up with him. But in fact, all things considered, it is the only reasonable way that it could have ended, for two reasons. Firstly, the goal of the trilogy was to faithfully represent the book, taking creative decisions where necessary which retained the themes and spirit of Tolkien's leviathan. The decisions to leave out the scourging of the Shire, or the epilogue involving the deaths of all the fellowship, are as much about judging tone as judging an audience's patience. Jackson gets the balance perfect, with all the important stories being rounded off and all the other ones hinted at in a way which explains everything. It is important to see the reunion of Aragorn and Arwen, but the blossoming love between Eowyn and Faramir is less significant. Secondly, the slower, more dreamlike execution is these scenes is appropriate. After all the rapidly cut battle scenes, with every story intertwining from multiple camera angles, having scenes which are longer and more languid might seem anticlimactic. But the purpose of these scenes is to adjust us sufficiently to make Frodo's farewell all the more heart-breaking. At the heart of these scenes is Frodo's struggle to readjust not just to life in the Shire, but to life itself. The quest did claim his life as Galadriel predicted: not by physically killing him, but by eroding his very self until he can no longer function or belong in the real world. The elves become like the angels in Wings of Desire, observing Man's woes and preparing Frodo for heaven, that he need no longer suffer the pain of his wounds or the torment of his memories. The Return of the King is a magnificent climax to a wonderful series of films. There is not a single scene or shot which feels badly assembled or out of place, and as always the impeccable design will leaveave you wide-eyed with wonder. But like its predecessors, the film offers so much more than dazzling visuals. From its first to last frame it holds your heart in the palm of its hand, its ability to scare equalled by its subtlety with themes, characters and story. It is, quite simply, a true triumph.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer


The final chapter in this epic story and its an all out conquest that most probably gave all Games Workshoppers a joygasm. The last film was for battle whores where as this film is most surely for the complete war sluts. There isn't really all that much story left in this final segment, the way Jackson has arranged it. Its merely about the last struggle up to Mount Doom for Frodo and Sam and lots of battles for everyone else. I have watched the extended cut so this way you get to see what happens to Saruman and Wormtongue which is rather stupidly left out of the theatrical version. Without this sequence you basically have no idea where these two guys go. The only main thing that happens to Frodo and Sam until their important final act is the scuffle against Shelob the spider. Now the CGI has improved somewhat over the course of these three films and finally its looking pretty nice times. The whole battle against this massive spider is really well done and creepy enough to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end. I liked the corpses entwined in cobweb and dangling from the cave ceiling and Shelob moves perfectly which is pretty terrifying for any arachnophobics. Lets not beat around the bush here, this film is about war, full on axe swinging, sword wielding, arrow in the gut wrenching waaaaar!. This is enforced by the fact that half the film centres around the battle at Minas Tirith. Pretty much the same deal as the battle at Helm's Deep but this time its in daylight and with a few more baddies to content with. Personally I actually preferred the Helm's Deep battle with its dark rain swept visuals and the fact the good guys are really pushed right back to the limit. That's not to say the Minas Tirith battle is no good, far from it, its very good. The design of Tirith is also really nice and unique, dare I say slightly Star Wars-like with that landing platform type section. Its the siege to top all sieges as orcs, trolls, deformed cross breeds and Nazgûl atop their flying steeds led by the Witch King hit the walls of Tirith. Its balls to wall as thousands of orcs slam every side of the mighty Tirith walls with battering rams, catapults and mobile turrets. Can't fail to be impressed by the shear scale of this battle and the wonderful imagination involved, the sight of masses of orcs scaling ramparts whilst huge trolls use the wolf's head to batter down the main gates is pretty darn epic, without trying to sound too cliched. At the same time you have the smaller battle at Osgiliath where Faramir is getting whipped pretty good but looking heroic in the process (shame he's played by Wenham who always comes across a bit wet if you ask me). Cut back to Tirith and like the previous big battles Jackson likes to swing the odds as the good guys appear to be winning only to be knocked back time and time again. Lucas must have been kicking himself. Just as you're pausing for breath the next stage of the battle kicks into gear with the Haradrim (who look suspiciously like ancient Persians) on their massive elephant-like war machines. This sequence did feel very much like a rip from 'The Empire Strikes Back' and the Battle of Hoth. Éowyn and Merry charge around on their horse through the legs of these massive beasts of burden just like Luke in his snowspeeder. The whole sequence is highly imaginative yet possibly one of the worst looking sequences in the film. This is where the dreaded bluescreen issue raises its head again folks. It doesn't really look much better than the quality of the speederbike sequence on Endor in ROTJ, its very obvious. All the CGI horses look a bit jerky, especially when they are tossed in the air and the fact that Éowyn is able to simple take down one these ginormous creatures merely by slashing its tree trunk like legs with a puny sword is stretching it. The sequence where Legolas jumps onto one elephant (I'll call it that for now) via its tusk then proceeds to leap around its body like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cutting all the straps and harnesses whilst killing every Haradrim warrior on board, then killing the elephant, then calmly sliding down the tusk to safety was completely not needed and horrible to watch. Both in terms of the awful CGI and the over the top, glossy action movie conception of it. Things like that can spoil a perfectly good sequence. The only other sequence I must moan about is the army of Dead. Now this has had some complaints and rightly so to be frank. You have this massive scale war where the good guys are on the brink of defeat, its top notch entertainment and keeping you poised on the edge of your seat. Then up pops Aragorn and his new army of ghostly mates who promptly wipe out every bad guy within minutes, that's it, done, game over, finito and the good guys win. This kinda ruins the climax of this grand war to beat all wars. It also leads you to think, why the hell didn't they just do this in the first place? Elrond could have given Aragorn the sword Andúril right from day one and they could have gotten the help of the ghost army to wipe out all the bad guys. This would have spared all this heartache and death surely, ah what do I know. To be fair apart from that most of the effects are much better in this film, well gotta over look the dodgy CGI horses. The Witch King looked nicely evil and his flying steed always did look good, Shame he had such a weak ass death. The final part of the film on Mount Doom is a excellent visual feast and is a much better looking volcano/lava sequence than Lucas offered in Episode III. Boy does it look really hot in Mount Doom! really impressed with the visuals for this part of the film. The design work on such simple things such as the jagged knife like rocks that project from the ground around the base of Mount Doom look awesome, almost Giger-esq. Gollum looks much tighter and sharper in the whole film, the fire in his eyes throughout this emotionally draining finale is near pixel perfect. Finally the scrawny creature actually looks right against his live action companions. I must admit despite the fact I was sick to death of seeing Wood's huge teary puppy dog eyes in this film he and Astin do deliver the pain and anguish of this scene to the viewer in a first class parcel performance. Of course having lots of war also means some magical moments of dialog delivery from the cast, there are some good emotional hooks here. The sequence where Pippin sings to Denethor as his last son Faramir surges towards certain death in a last ditch cavalry charge of Osgiliath is haunting and reminds me of some proper historical epics. Théoden's rousing final speech as his Rohirrim army sits perched on the brow of a hill ready to tear down towards the massive waiting orc horde (William Wallace eat your heart out. I actually believe riding down the front line and tapping every mans spear before a cavalry charge is accurate, I think). Of course this could only be topped by the speech from Aragorn to his last remaining men at the Black Gate. Then with the knowledge that Frodo appears to be dead and facing the end he turns and sprints towards his unknown fate only to be followed by his friends, one last glorious push. 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends once more!' is what came to mind at this point. The film is a bum number can't deny that, it feels like an age for the film to finally wrap up!. I don't think I've ever seen so much fighting in one film either, its none stop virtually. Admittedly it lacks the in-depth character building and dark intensity of the first film or the story development of the second, its more of an all out free fall Dungeons & Dragons style. Would Tolkien be happy with this trilogy? I'm sure he would have been despite much alterations and bits cut out. The story is so deep it may be impossible to film it completely. The first film is probably the best for story, atmosphere and lore, whilst the second is rather dull apart from Helm's Deep at the end. Overall I liked this third film even if it did feel a bit like a toy merchandise dream and almost TOO big at times if that makes any sense. I think I was battle weary at the end of it all. The end?

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

A thrilling final chapter to the Lord of the Rings trilogy concerning the epic conclusion to Peter Jackson's enthralling look at temptation, greed, power, and good vs. evil. This is a glorious final chapter. From Gollum's dance of glee at the foot of Mount Doom, to the final battle sequence against the orcs, Peter Jackson stuffs this film with memorable scenes and unforgettable landscapes that fit his epic scope. Although not the best in the trilogy (that belongs to 'Two Towers'), definitely a fitting conclusion to a decorated series.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Quotes

News & Features