J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is one of the most beloved fantasy novels of all time. Even displaced from the legacy of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a great adventure story that appeals to readers of all ages. Of course, the context of The Hobbit is strengthened as a result of The Lord of the Rings and its colossal impact on popular culture. It’s somewhat strange that film fans go to see the ending of the journey first due to Peter Jackson’s work on the cinematic adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. It was only after Jackson completed his work on the trilogy of films that New Line Cinema took an interest in adapting The Hobbit into a feature film.
To say that the expectations for a film based on The Hobbit were gigantic would be an understatement. The Lord of the Rings trilogy amassed such incredible critical acclaim that it was instantly hailed as one of the greatest achievements in motion picture history; all three entries in the trilogy were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King became the first fantasy film to ever take home the trophy.
Although Jackson had initially planned a two-part adaptation of Tolkien’s novel, he ended up stretching out the source material into 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In addition to the original source material, Jackson drew from Tolkien’s appendices, which prominently featured characters like Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Gollum (Andy Serkis). However, some fans may not be aware that the trilogy was preceded by a 1977 animated film that managed to tell the entire story in less than 90 minutes. Here is every movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, ranked from worst to best.
4 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
A two-part adaptation of The Hobbit may have given Jackson more room to expand on the material included in Tolkien’s appendices and incorporate characters from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, choosing to make the children’s novel into an entire trilogy ended up stretching the material too thinly and resulted in a bloated, ridiculous final entry. Of all the films impacted by The Hobbit’s notoriously chaotic production, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies suffered the most.
The third installment in the trilogy is basically nonstop action and barely features the titular “hobbit” at all; Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is sidelined in a film that focuses more on Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his struggles with a “dragon sickness” that infects him after the defeat of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). However, the R-Rated extended cut is actually an improvement, as it at least allowed Jackson to give into his horror impulses.
3 The Hobbit (1977)
Comparing Jackson’s films (each of which span well over two hours long in their theatrical editions alone) to Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment’s animated film, The Hobbit is almost surreal. While Jackson’s films treated the novel like a massive epic in the vein of The Lord of the Rings, the 1977 film seemed to understand that the book was always a children’s story. It’s also a bit simplistic; Rankin/Bass’ 1978 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings felt like a more complete adaptation of Tolkien’s novel.
2 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug picks up directly after the conclusion of the Dwarves’ journey in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and wastes no time padding out the running time with nonstop action. While this certainly created an entertaining adventure film, the overuse of computer generated imagery made the film look more fake than the practical effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The use of CGI was obviously necessary in order to create Smaug, but the trolls, orcs, and other magical creatures just looked strange in comparison to the hand-crafted beauty of The Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, the film also sidelines Bilbo in order to focus on Thorin’s growth as a leader and Gandalf’s quest to discover the Necromancer; at times, The Desolation of Smaug felt less like an adaptation of The Hobbit, and more like a disconnected prequel to The Lord of the Rings. However, the flaws of the convoluted first half are largely redeemed due to the great sequence involving Smaug at the very end.
1 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is easily the best installment in the trilogy because it’s the only film that manages to combine the simplicity of Tolkien’s novels with the context of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Freeman gives his best performance of the trilogy, as the film shows how Bilbo is affected by the knowledge he gains in his adventure and falls under the corrupting spell of the One Ring.
While some may claim that it tries too hard to emulate the formula of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, “ripping off” one of the greatest movies ever made isn’t necessarily a bad thing!