This weekend sees the release of Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Amazon’s mega-sized series is one of The Big TV Events of the Year, and it’s also a great reason to revisit earlier entries in J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe.
Believe it or not, it’s been nearly a decade since Peter Jackson’s third and final Hobbit movie, The Battle of the Five Armies, was released in theaters. It’s been a long wait for more entertainment set in that world, and it’s exciting just to be able to return (and Rings of Power is not all; an anime is on the way).
There’s also a lot to catch up on! While Rings of Power may take place thousands of years before the movies, it’s natural to want to revisit the earlier editions of the franchise and brush up on some of your Middle-earth knowledge. So here’s a guide to watching the movies, or a cheat sheet of key clips to watch before the new show.
Lord of the Rings watch order
If you’re looking to watch just the Peter Jackson saga, you have two options. You can watch them in chronological order, narratively:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (watch on Prime Video and HBO Max)
Alternatively, you could watch them in release order:
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
If you’re a completionist, you can also throw in the animated movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s. It doesn’t make much sense to put these in the chronological order, but they would go first in release order (obviously), starting with 1977’s The Hobbit (available for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms), moving on to 1978’s The Lord of the Rings, and then going to 1980’s The Return of the King (not available online; you’ll have to buy a physical copy).
But hey, that’s more than 17 hours before watching the show (or 22, if you’re including the animated movies). Not everyone has that amount of time! Here are some alternatives if you don’t want to go that route.
If you want a quick catch-up without watching anything
The Rings of Power is not based on any specific book, instead building out Tolkien’s post-script Appendices.
The show is set in the Second Age (here’s a map of what Middle-earth looks like), following the war against Morgoth. That’s long, long before the events of the movies, but there are still plenty of memorable characters and places that pop up in both.
Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett in the movies, is an important character in the series. Polygon’s Susana Polo spoke to actor Morfydd Clark about the elven queen and went deep on the lore of the character.
Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Isildur (Maxim Baldry), and Sauron (we literally do not know) are the other characters from the movies that we know will be in the show, and fans of the books (or the video games Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War) will surely recognize Celebrimbor.
If you want to watch the most relevant stuff
We’ve collected some relevant clips for you! Some have to do with returning characters, some with returning settings, some with similar ~vibes~.
The Moria sequence
When Galadriel banished Sauron (and called him a servant of Morgoth)
The Siege of Barad-dûr
Saruman tells the story of the orcs to a newly born Uruk-hai
That time Legolas mentioned Morgoth