Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy achieved feats that no other fantasy film had ever reached before. Aside from public and critical adulation, its legacy has pushed fantasy filmmaking to new heights and resulted in higher-quality fantasy movies for mainstream viewers.
Children and adults around the world were hooked by Frodo's journey across Middle-Earth—with Sam at his side—to destroy the One Ring and bring down the armies of Mordor and the Evil that lurked there.
Playgrounds were full of kids pretending to be their favorite characters, acting out scenes from the films, all while adults were at home listening to the soundtrack and reliving the films' best moments.
With the Lord of the Rings movie franchise turning 20 years old, we wanted to revisit the theatrical masterpiece and rank all the best scenes and moments that still stick with us to this day.
9. Smeagol Finds The Ring
The opening to Return of the King is a sequence that appears calm and friendly—until the scene's intent becomes clear.
It's showing us the origin of Gollum, how he came to find the One Ring, and how he murdered his best friend to have it moments after they found it. Such is the overwhelming will of the Ring's evil.
The sequence is bold and twisted, especially as Smeagol gets banished to the rocks, cast aside from society with only his Ring still with him.
8. Sam Rescues Frodo
After Frodo dismissed Sam from his guard (so to speak) and Sam starts climbing down the black stairs, he finds the bread that Gollum used to drive a wedge between them.
So, Sam goes back—only to encounter the Shelob, fighting it, winning against it, and finding what he thinks is a dead Frodo.
Later, upon hearing Orcs say that Frodo is merely stunned, Sam risks everything by going back for Frodo again, fighting the Orcs left in the tower after they fall to infighting.
As Sam comes up the stairs and throws the Orcs around like toys, the moment is heroic and tells everybody why J. R. R. Tolkien considered Sam the real hero of the saga.
7. No Man Can Kill Me
The Witch-King of Angmar is described by Gandalf as "Sauron's deadliest servant" and "The one they say no living man can kill."
As the Battle of Minas Tirith rages on and the armies of men are facing off against the armies of Mordor, the Witch-King is slaughtering the battlefield. When his Fellbeast knocks King Theoden from his horse, the Witch-King tells it to feast upon his flesh.
However, Eowyn stands in his way, hacking the Beast's head off in the process. Then, she faces the towering Witch-King who's armed with a broad sword and a heavy mace.
Though he beats Eowyn in battle, Eowyn and Merry together defeat the Witch-King, resulting in a fist-pumping franchise marker of a scene as she defiantly reveals that she is "No man" and kills him.
6. Boromir's Heroic Death
The Ring may have corrupted the will of Boromir and led to him attempting to forcefully take the One Ring from Frodo.
But as the Uruk-Hai attack the remaining Fellowship—after Frodo and Sam have gone off alone—Boromir heroically stands his ground against the horde of brutal beasts to buy them time.
When the first arrow lands, the moment is shocking. The man of the Fellowship is wounded while defending Merry and Pippin, and Boromir grits his teeth to continue fighting.
Then the second arrow lands, driving Boromir to his knees. He musters his strength and iconically rises again to fight. But then the third arrow lands—and he can take no more. Boromir has redeemed himself in his brave and noble defense of the Hobbits, falling in the process.
As Aragorn defeats the Uruk leader who's responsible for Boromir's mortal wounds, Aragorn holds Boromir as the fallen warrior acknowledges him as "My Brother, My Captain... My King" before dying.
5. The Council of Elrond
"One does not simply walk into Mordor."Boromir
The titanic meeting between Elrond and those representing the last alliance of good in Middle-Earth is the first film's grandstand play.
The gathering is the last decision that any of the members will make together before they're either defeated or victorious—and it's when Elrond tells them they must destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
The term "Council of Elrond" is now used colloquially as an expression for "secret meeting"—it was even parodied brilliantly by Sean Bean in The Martian—showing the impact of the whole sequence.
4. Gandalf vs. Saruman
When Gandalf discovers the Ring in Bilbo's possession, he convinces Bilbo to leave it for Frodo before hastily departing to find out if it's truly the One Ring of Power. Gandalf instructs Frodo to meet him at The Prancing Pony, as he must first speak with Saruman.
But as Gandalf arrives at Isengard, he finds that Saruman has been turned by Sauron. Gandalf is blocked from leaving, so he engages Saruman in a brutal wizarding duel that leaves both injured but Gandalf defeated, and he's almost killed by the corrupt wizard.
3. Frodo Leaves, Sam Follows
As the Uruk-Hai attack the fellowship, Frodo escapes the battle and is found at the riverbank, holding the Ring in his hand and remembering the words Gandalf had said to him in Moria.
As Gandalf appears in his mind, Frodo wipes away tears for his fallen friend and clambers into a boat, determined to go to Mordor by himself. In this moment, we feel everything Frodo is going through at end.
Immediately following Frodo's departure from the Fellowship, Sam also arrives at the riverbank—but too late to stop Frodo, who has already disembarked shore on his boat.
Yet being the hero, Sam walks into the water—even knowing he can't swim—to wade after Frodo. He begins to drown, prompting Frodo to catch him and drag him into the boat.
Once safe, Sam tearfully tells him about the promise he made to Gandalf: "Don't you leave him, Samwise Gamgee." Sam's promise remains intact and they set off to Mordor together.
The seconds spent on that boat with Frodo and Sam are some of the most evocative in the film trilogy, as both share in their grief of Gandalf's loss and use it to strengthen their bond.
2. The Battle of Helm's Deep
The Battle of Helms Deep isn't just a great battle within the overall context of The Lord of the Rings films—it's a cinematic masterpiece that stands alone as the best movie battle sequence of all time.
Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Theoden, the Elves, and the hodge-podge army of a depleted Rohirrim-less Rohan all stand on the walls of Helm's Deep, waiting for the thousands of Uruk-Hai to begin their attack of the fortress when the rain starts to fall.
The battle scenes are ferocious, bloody, and full of desperation. However, despite losses and a retreat, the Rohirrim arrive with Gandalf, who quickly destroy the Uruk army in one of the franchise's best moments.
1. You Shall Not Pass!
It begins in the dark and cavernous Mines of Moria as the Fellowship stand in the tomb of Balin. Pippin gently twists an arrow that's lodged into a rotted skeleton. The skeleton's head falls into the well behind it. Then the rest of it falls in, followed by a bucket.
It awakens the Orcs and alerts them to the intruders. The Fellowship run for the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, at which point the Orcs suddenly retreat—for they know something more deadly stirs.
Upon reaching the Bridge, they all manage to cross safely—all but Gandalf, who stops halfway to face their enemy: the 25-foot-tall fire-bathed creature armed with a gigantic sword and fire whip. The Balrog.
That's when Gandalf casts his spell at the devil from the mines, shouting "You shall not pass!"
The Fellowship watches as The Balrog attempts what it shouldn't, only to fall as the Bridge collapses from the impact of Gandalf's spell. However, The Balrog's whip catches Gandalf and brings him down, too. He merely whispers one thing before falling: "Fly, you fools."
Everything about the whole sequence is inch-perfect, as the performances serve the whole and Ian McKellen's Gandalf takes the lead in the most thrilling and devastating scene in the franchise.