The amazing world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium has been adapted on many occasions and in many different formats. The overall popularity of The Lord of the Rings franchise inspired other artists to create their own versions, be they radio dramas, television movies or series, feature-length movies, animated movies, video games and others. And while the two trilogies directed by Peter Jackson are known around the world, the adaptations based on the franchise don’t stop there. You’ve probably heard that there are some animated adaptations of the franchise, right? You probably know one or two movies, but is that all? How many animated The Lord of the Rings movies are there?
There are three The Lord of the Rings animated movies. The first one, The Hobbit, was released in 1977 as a musical television special; a sequel, The Return of the King, was released in 1980, again as a musical television special. The third one, The Lord of the Rings, was released in 1978 and was distributed in theatres.
In the rest of the article, you’re going to find out just how many animated The Lord of the Rings movies there are. Afterwards, we are going to give you some details on each of the movies so that you know what to expect if you want to watch them. We’ve prepared a thorough analysis for you so stick with us.
How Many Animated The Lord of the Rings Movies Are There?
There are three animated The Lord of the Rings Movies. Tolkien’s Middle-earth has been extensively featured in various adaptations, some of which were animated. It is good to know that the animated adaptations started decades before the globally popular live-action adaptations of the franchise and it is safe to say that the latter have immensely overshadowed the former, despite one of them being a true animated classic.
So, how many are there? Well, from 1977 to 1980, a total of three The Lord of the Rings animated films have been produced. Two of them were television specials, while the last one was a feature animated film that was to kickstart a series, but due to internal conflicts the plans were ultimately scrapped. Here are the animated The Lord of the Rings movies in order of release:
- The Hobbit (1977)
- The Lord of the Rings (1978)
- The Return of the King (1980)
Now that we’ve seen the titles, allow us to tell you a bit about each of them.
The Hobbit (1977)
Director(s): Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Screenplay: Romeo Muller
Composer(s): Maury Laws
Distributed By: NBC
Release Date: November 27, 1977
Running Time: 77 minutes
Voice Cast: Orson Bean (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Boone (Smaug), Hans Confried (Thorin Oakenshield), John Huston (Gandalf), Otto Preminger (The Elvenking)
Synopsis of The Hobbit (1977)
The first Lord of the Rings animated movie was The Hobbit released in 1977 and directed by Arthur Ranking Jr. and Jules Bass. The hobbit Bilbo Baggins is approached by the wizard Gandalf with a proposal to help thirteen dwarfs – Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Óin, Glóin, Ori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, Balin, Dori, and Bombur – to return the treasures of the Lonely Mountain, which were captured by the dragon Smaug; Bilbo is hired as a burglar due to his small stature.
At the beginning of the journey, they are almost eaten by trolls, but the morning light turned them to stone. Gandalf, who arrived in time, frees the dwarves. In the troll cave, they discover many stolen swords, including the lost elven swords Glamdring and Orkrist, which they decide to take with them. So Bilbo has his sword (more precisely, a dagger), which he later calls the Sting.
In the cave, Gandalf gives Thorin the map of the Lonely Mountain given to him by Thorin’s father, which contains a secret that will help him find the secret entrance to Erebor, as well as the keys to it. Later, the company falls into the possession of the elven king Elrond in Rivendell, where he helps to translate the moon runes of the map of Erebor, indicating the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain.
Then the company is captured by the goblins, from which they are again rescued by Gandalf who arrived in time. While fleeing the goblin city, Bilbo falls into Gollum’s cave, where he finds a magic ring that makes him invisible. Bilbo later finds Gollum himself, who promises to lead him to the exit if Bilbo wins the contest of riddles. Bilbo wins by asking, “What do I have in my pocket?” Later, Gollum discovers the loss of “his Precious” (as he calls his ring) and rushes to the back door, thinking that Bilbo fled with his ring there, not suspecting that Bilbo, in fact, having become invisible, is following him. Gollum, thus, unwillingly helped Bilbo find the exit.
After getting out of the cave, the team wanders into Mirkwood, where they have to fight giant spiders. However, the dwarves are taken prisoner by the Wood-elves, who think that the dwarves are going to attack them. By using the ring and becoming invisible, Bilbo escapes captivity.
Having reached the palace of King Thranduil, where they were imprisoned, Bilbo discovers that the Wood-elves are very fond of wine, and empty barrels are floated down the river to the Lake-town, in which people live and which is very close to their goal – the Lonely Mountain. Having stolen the keys from a drunken guard, Bilbo frees his friends and puts them in barrels. So they get to Esgaroth, where the guard Bard meets them and promises to give them everything they need. From Esgaroth, the heroes reach their goal – they reach the Lonely Mountain.
The dwarves find the secret entrance and decide to send the Hobbit alone to the hall where the dragon Smaug lives. Bilbo, putting on the ring, goes there. There he meets the dragon, who, however, senses him. After a short conversation, the dragon takes Bilbo for a man from Esgaroth. Bilbo flees, but he managed to see the dragon’s weak point on his belly. Smaug flies out of Erebor and, in a fit of rage, destroys Lake-town. Bilbo sends a blackbird to Bard, which brings him news of the dragon’s weak point.
Bard kills Smaug, and the dwarves regain their riches, which caused a quarrel between Men and Elves with Dwarves, who did not want to share their riches. Bilbo tries to persuade Thorin to share the treasures, which caused him to quarrel with the leader of the dwarves. And at the moment when the three armies are about to meet in battle, Gandalf stops them and informs them of the impending army of goblins.
Kings leave old grievances and unite in the face of a common enemy. The battle begins. Later, giant eagles, friends of Gandalf, arrive on the battlefield, having already once saved the company from goblins near Mirkwood, who largely determined the outcome of the battle. In the battle, 6 of the 13 dwarves who went to Erebor are killed. Thorin also dies of his wounds, having made peace with Bilbo before dying. The Hobbit returns to the Shire with two sacks of gold and his magic ring.
Reception of The Hobbit (1977)
A few days before its first airing, John J. O’Connor wrote in The New York Times that “Rankin and Bass Productions have now carefully translated ‘The Hobbit into the film. The result is curiously eclectic, but filled with nicely effective moments. […] The drawings frequently suggest strong resemblances to non-Tolkien characters… The goblins could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book. But […] the Dragon and Gollum the riddle aficionado bring some clever original touches… Whatever its flaws, this television version of The Hobbit warrants attention.”
Douglas A. Anderson, a Tolkien scholar, called the adaptation “execrable” in his own introduction to The Annotated Hobbit, but he did not elaborate further on that. On the other hand, critic Tom Keogh praised the adaptation as “excellent”, saying the work received “big points” for being “faithful to Tolkien’s story” and that the “vocal cast can’t be improved upon.” Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 67% based on reviews from 15 critics, but without a critical consensus.
In 1978, Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay for The Hobbit. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Star Wars.
The Lord of the Rings (1978)
Director(s): Ralph Bakshi
Screenplay: Peter S. Beagle, Chris Conkling
Composer(s): Leonard Rosenman, Paul Kont
Distributed By: United Artists
Release Date: November 15, 1978
Running Time: 133 minutes
Voice Cast: Christopher Guard (Frodo Baggins), William Squire (Gandalf), John Hurt (Aragorn), Anthony Daniels (Legolas), David Buck (Gimgli)
Synopsis of The Lord of the Rings (1978)
The second animated The Lord of the Rings movie is The Lord of the Rings released in 1978 and directed by Ralph Bakshi. At the start of the Second Age of Middle-earth, the Blacksmith Elves designed nineteen Rings of Power for Men, Dwarves and Elves. Eventually, Dark Lord Sauron forged the One Ring to rule them all. When the Last Alliance of Elves and Men fell before him, the Ring came into the hands of Prince Isildur, descendants of the mighty kings beyond the sea. After Isildur was slain by Orcs, the Ring rested at the bottom of the Anduin River for many years, during which Sauron seized the Nine Rings which had been given to Men and made their possessors the Wraiths of the Ring, terrifying shadows that scoured the world in search of the One Ring.
The latter was found by two hobbits. One of them, Sméagol, was so drawn to the Ring that he killed his cousin Déagol to possess it. The Ring transformed him into a twisted, spitting creature, called Gollum, until his “Precious” was accidentally discovered by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Years later, in the Shire, Bilbo celebrates his birthday. In his home, the wizard Gandalf asks him to leave the Ring to Frodo Baggins. Bilbo finally accepts and leaves the Shire.
Seventeen years go by, during which Gandalf learns that the Shire is in danger: the forces of evil have learned that the Ring is in possession of a Baggins. Gandalf finds Frodo and tells him the story of the Ring and the danger it poses to all of Middle-earth. Frodo leaves his home with the Ring. He is accompanied by three Hobbit friends: Pippin, Merry and Sam. From the start of their journey, they are hunted down by the Ringwraiths. They narrowly escape them and eventually reach the town of Bree, where they meet Aragorn, a friend of Gandalf’s, who guides them the rest of the road to Rivendell. At the top of Amon Sûl, Frodo is wounded by the ghost leader’s black magic-infused blade. A fragment of the blade gets caught in the wound, and its disease worsens as the journey progresses.
They meet the Elf Legolas. The Wraiths catch up with them but are swept away by the enchanted river at Rivendell. In Rivendell, Frodo is cared for by the lord of the place, Elrond. He finds Gandalf, who had been held prisoner by his colleague Saruman; the latter plans to ally with Sauron, but wants the Ring for himself. Bilbo, Gandalf, and others debate what should be done with the One Ring. Frodo offers to go to Mordor, where the Ring can be destroyed. He leaves Rivendell with eight companions: Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, the Elf Legolas, the Dwarf Gimli, and his three fellow hobbits.
Heavy snowfall prevents them from crossing the Misty Mountains and they are forced to pass under the mountains, through Moria, an ancient dwarf kingdom now full of Orcs and other evil creatures. There Gandalf falls into the abyss after fighting a Balrog. The eight remaining Fellowship members then spend some time in the Elven harbour of Lothlórien, which they leave by boat. Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, who puts it on his finger and runs away. He decides to continue his quest alone, but the faithful Sam insists on staying with him. Boromir is killed by Orcs while attempting to defend Merry and Pippin, who are captured by Orcs eager to bring them to Isengard by crossing Rohan.
After escaping them and fleeing into Fangorn Forest, they encounter Treebeard, a gigantic Ent. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, tracking Merry and Pippin, follow their footprints into Fangorn, where they find Gandalf, whom they believed died in Moria. The four of them ride towards the capital of Rohan, Edoras, where Gandalf convinces King Théoden that his people are in danger. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli then travel to Helm’s Deep Hold. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam discover that Gollum is tracking them, and they capture him. Frodo takes pity on him and saves his life, on condition that he guides them to the mountain of Destiny. Gollum promises to lead them to a secret entrance to Mordor. At Helm’s Deep, Théoden’s forces resist the attack of the Orcs of Saruman, and Gandalf arrives just in time the next morning with the Horsemen of Rohan: no Orcs will escape.
Reception of The Lord of the Rings (1978)
The critical reception of the movie was mixed, but it has since become a cult classic among fans. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gave the film a score of 52% based on reviews from 42 critics with the consensus: “Ralph Bakshi’s valiant attempt at rendering Tolkien’s magnum opus in rotoscope never lives up to the grandeur of its source material, with a compressed running time that flattens the sweeping story and experimental animation that is more bizarre than magical.”
Frank Barrow of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film was “daring and unusual in concept”. Joseph Gelmis of Newsday wrote that “the film’s principal reward is a visual experience, unlike anything that other animated features are doing at the moment.” Roger Ebert called Bakshi’s effort a “mixed blessing” and “an entirely respectable, occasionally impressive job … [which] still falls far short of the charm and sweep of the original story.”
Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film “both numbing and impressive”. David Denby of New York magazine felt that the film would not make sense to viewers who had not previously read the book. Denby wrote that the film was too dark and lacked humour, concluding that “The lurid, meaningless violence of this movie left me exhausted and sickened by the end.” Michael Barrier, an animation historian, described The Lord of The Rings as one of two films that demonstrated “that Bakshi was utterly lacking in the artistic self-discipline that might have permitted him to outgrow his limitations.”
Barry Langford, writing in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, noted the film’s deficiencies, including the “glaringly evident” weaknesses in the rotoscoping animation.
The Return of the King (1980)
Director(s): Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Screenplay: Romeo Muller
Composer(s): Maury Laws
Distributed By: ABC
Release Date: May 11, 1980
Running Time: 98 minutes
Voice Cast: Orson Bean (Bilbo & Frodo Baggins), John Huston (Gandalf), Roddy McDowall (Sam), Theodore Biker (Aragorn), Brother Theodore (Gollum)
Synopsis of The Return of the King (1980)
The third animated Lord of the Rings movie is The Return of the King released in 1980 and directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. The film begins with Bilbo’s 129th birthday, which is celebrated in Rivendell. During the celebration, Bilbo suddenly realizes that Frodo only has nine fingers. At this point in the film the film jumps back in the story to the point where Frodo and Sam came to Cirith Ungol, on the border to Mordor, and where the spider Shelob caught Frodo.
Sam, who saves Frodo in this situation, is tempted for a moment and the question arises whether he should not claim the One Ring. Gandalf and Pippin reach Minas Tirith and warn Denethor, the stewardess of Gondor, of the approaching war. During the events in Gondor, Frodo and Sam’s journey continues. They have now entered Mordor and have come a long way. You are standing on Mount Doom and want to destroy the ring. Suddenly Gollum intervenes in the action. He bites the ring from Frodo’s finger, is now the master of the ring, but through carelessness falls into the flames of the mountain. The ring is destroyed.
Previously, the soldiers of Gondor and their Rohan allies had won a victory on Pelennor Fields and Aragorn had led an army to the gates of Mordor, though the battle seemed hopeless just to buy Frodo time. But now the ring and the dark side are destroyed. The battle is won and Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor. At this point, the film jumps back to Bilbo’s birthday. Frodo decides to accompany Bilbo when he leaves Middle-earth and goes west.
Reception of The Return of the King (1980)
Unlike the first movie, The Return of the King got mixed reviews. Charles Cassidy of Common Sense Media gave it a score of 3/5, and said, “Cartoon tale is darker, more complex than others in series”. Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films Guide gave it a C, and said, “Works even less well than The Hobbit, which really is a children’s story… overbearing folk-ballad soundtrack doesn’t even gesture lyrically to Tolkien’s poetry”.
It currently holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, but without a critical consensus.
Director Arthur Rankin Jr. later stated, “We tried to do Return of the King… but it is an awful lot to put into it. I think [Peter] Jackson is having the same problem in his films. You can’t deviate from these books, or somebody’ll wait on the street for you! …[In] The Return of the King, we had to summarize what had happened before, and then put it all together in 2 hours. It’s not a very good film.” Asked why he chose only to make The Return of the King, instead of making the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rankin admitted, “I didn’t know that the audience would sit still for it. I was wrong.”
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading about The Lord of the Rings animated movies and hopefully you will have as much fun watching them as we did!