The Return of the King (movie)

This article is about the 2003 live action film. For the 1980 animated film, see The Return of the King (1980 movie).

Template:Infobox Movie

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the third part of a film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The film premiered in Wellington, New Zealand, on December 1 2003, attended by the director and many of the stars. Further premieres took place in major cities around the world in the days leading up to the film's worldwide theatrical release on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 with a runtime of 200 minutes (that is, 3 hours and 20 minutes).

The first two films were The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, although the film's story includes later events in the section of the book The Two Towers as well as most of The Return of the King.


The cast

Role Actor/Actress
Frodo Baggins Elijah Wood
Gandalf the White Ian McKellen
Aragorn (Strider) Viggo Mortensen
Samwise Gamgee Sean Astin
Galadriel Cate Blanchett
Thoden Bernard Hill
owyn Miranda Otto
omer Karl Urban
Gimli son of Glin John Rhys-Davies
Treebeard John Rhys-Davies (voice)
Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) Dominic Monaghan
Peregrin Took (Pippin) Billy Boyd
Legolas Orlando Bloom
Elrond Hugo Weaving
Arwen Evenstar Liv Tyler
Bilbo Baggins Ian Holm
Gollum Andy Serkis (voice and motion capture)
Denethor John Noble
Faramir David Wenham
Rose "Rosie" Cotton Sarah McLeod
The Witch-king of Angmar (Lord of the Nazgûl) Lawrence Makoare
Saruman the White (Extended version only) Christopher Lee
The Mouth of Sauron (Extended version only) Bruce Spence
Gríma Wormtongue (Extended version only) Brad Dourif


On January 27, 2004, the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score (Howard Shore), and Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Music (Song), Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects; however, none of the ensemble cast received any acting nominations. On February 29, the film won 11 Academy Awards, winning in every category for which it was nominated. It tied with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscars ever won by a single film, and broke the previous record for a sweep set by Gigi and The Last Emperor (See Movies with eight or more Oscars).

The film won also four Golden Globes, two MTV Movie Awards, two Grammy Awards, and nine Saturn Awards.


As confirmed in the feature on Gollum in the Extended DVD Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Andy Serkis appears in person in a flashback scene playing Sméagol before his degradation into Gollum. This scene was actually held over from the previous film because it was felt that it would have a greater emotional impact if audiences had already seen what the Ring's influence had done to Sméagol. In his degraded state Gollum is "played" in the movies by a CGI character whose movements are sometimes derived from a motion-capture suit worn by Serkis, and sometimes from footage of Serkis interacting with the other actors and then digitally replaced by Gollum.

The city of Minas Tirith, glimpsed briefly in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen in all its glory. The filmmakers have taken great care to base the city closely upon Tolkien's description in The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 1. Close-ups of the city are represented by sets and long shots by a large and highly-detailed model, often populated by CGI characters.

This film contains key scenes that occurred in the middle portion of the novel The Lord of the Rings but were not included in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. These include the scene in which the monstrous Shelob attacks Frodo and is wounded by Sam.

Other key events include the Siege of Gondor; the re-forging of the shards of Narsil into Aragorn's new sword Andúril; Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas' journey through the Paths of the Dead; the epic Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and the charge of the mmakil (everything being carefully choreographed in advance, a process Jackson describes as like planning a real battle); Merry and Éowyn's role in the defeat of the Lord of the Nazgûl; the destruction of the One Ring and the final fall of Sauron; Aragorn's assumption of the throne; and the departure of several of the heroes to the Undying Lands.

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is highly unusual in that it is to date the only movie series whose separate installments were written simultaneously and shot all at once, so that it could be considered three parts of a single very long film. This ensured that all three movies were consistent in terms of story, acting, effects, and direction.



The Lord of the Rings; The Return of the King picks up the story from the end of The Two Towers. The film begins with a flashback sequence, wherein we discover how the character Gollum first came across the One Ring. As this sequence ends, we find Frodo, Sam and Gollum approaching the mountains of Mordor, Mount Doom's eruptions disturbingly close.

The plot then switches back to Isengard. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Theoden, the victors of the Battle of the Hornburg, there confront the traitorous wizard, Saruman. They are informed by Saruman that Sauron the trilogy's main antagonist, is readying his forces for a final strike. Before he can give them more information, he is attacked by his servant Wormtongue. He is stabbed in the back, and plummets from Orthanc's top to be impaled on one of his machines, dropping from his sleeve a palantir, which Gandalf takes.

That night, after a post-battle party in Edoras, Pippin, fascinated by the seeing stone, takes it from Gandalf, ignoring Merry's urgings to leave it alone. Whilst gazing into the crystal ball, Pippin is spied by Sauron and through a psychic link, the dark lord attempts to interrogate the hobbit. Barely able to resist the Eye's power, Pippin is nearly broken into submission, but Gandalf and Aragorn wrest it from his tortured fingers. Pippin is left deeply shaken, but lives.

Gandalf is now certain that Sauron will come after Pippin, thinking he has the ring.

Cuts and alterations

According to British newspaper reports appearing on November 13, 2003, Christopher Lee was unhappy to learn that a seven-minute scene featuring a confrontation at Isengard in which Gandalf casts Saruman out of the order of Wizards, would not be appearing in the finished film, and he decided to boycott the premiere as a result. Peter Jackson confirmed that this scene, although not in the theatrical release, would be included in the extended VHS and DVD editions. These were released on December 10 2004 in the UK and December 14 in the U.S., with an expanded length of 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) (slightly shorter in PAL versions). The final ten minutes of the extended DVD comprises a listing of the names of the charter members of the official fan club.

Christopher Lee apparently reconciled his differences with Peter Jackson because he appears on the behind-the-scenes documentaries and Cast Commentary on the extended DVDs.

The release of the theatrical edition had originally been scheduled for worldwide release in late August but actually appeared on May 25. The early release of the standard edition had led some fans to hope that the extended edition might be released as early as August, but the release was actually put back from mid-November, presumably because of the amount of work involved in preparing the extra footage and bonus material.

Other rumours suggested that the extended DVD might be a five or six-disc set, with the movie occupying three discs rather than two, and that the extended cut might be as long as six hours. In January 2004, Peter Jackson indicated that the then recently completed extended edition is actually four hours and ten minutes long. He mentioned the inclusion of the "Mouth of Sauron" scene, as well as Frodo and Sam running with the Mordor orcs. He also stated that not all of the unused footage shot for the movie would necessarily appear in the extended cut. (In the Director and Writers' Commentary on the extended DVD edition he jokes about including some scenes in a 25th Anniversary edition, provided he is not too senile to remember by then.)

The extended DVD is actually a 4-disc set like its predecessors, with the movie and commentaries occupying Discs 1 and 2 and the behind-the-scenes material on discs 3 and 4. A Collectors' Box Set was also released, which also included a sculpture of Minas Tirith and a bonus 50-minute music documentary DVD, Howard Shore: Creating The Lord of the Rings Symphony: A Composer's Journey Through Middle-earth.

Fans also hoped that the extended discs would feature deleted scenes and outtakes, but none are included except for a few in the behind-the-scenes documentaries. There are further rumours of an even more spectacular Lord of the Rings Trilogy box set in the future, and Jackson has half-seriously mentioned the possibility of re-editing the trilogy into a TV miniseries, along the lines of the Godfather movies.

A sequence that did not make it from the book into the film at all despite the hopes of many fans, was the "Scouring of the Shire", in which the Hobbits return home at the end of their quest to find they have some fighting to do, owing to Saruman's takeover of the Shire. Jackson felt that it would tax the audience's patience to mount another battle scene after the critical conflict, the defeat of Sauron, had already been resolved.

In the book, the fall of Saruman takes place at the end of the scouring, but in the film's theatrical release Saruman is left trapped in the tower of Orthanc by the Ents. In the extended edition Saruman appears on the roof of Orthanc bearing a Palantr and taunts Gandalf and his company with hints of a darkness in the heart of Middle-earth which will destroy them. (This is apparently a reference to Denethor's madness.) Saruman is finally stabbed by Grma Wormtongue (which in the book occurs at the end of the Scouring of the Shire) and Grma is shot by Legolas (in the book he is shot by a Hobbit). Saruman falls from the tower and is impaled on a wooden stake projecting from a mill-wheel. (This is an homage to Lee's Dracula movies; Peter Jackson wanted to be the last director to drive a stake through his heart.) The Palantr then falls into the water where it is found by Pippin. In the theatrical version there is no explanation as to how the Palantr fell into the water. In the book Grma simply throws the Palantr at the company, not realising its value.

Fans hoped that several other key scenes from the book would be included in the extended cut, although inevitably not all of them were:

  • Book: Thoden meets Merry and Pippin and calls them holbytlan, suggesting that the word hobbit is derived from Rohirric; Pippin comments that the King of Rohan is "A fine old fellow. Very polite." Merry promises to tell him more about pipe-weed; the relationships of Merry and Pippin with Thoden and Denethor are more significant in the books.
    Movie: Just adds a scene where Merry pledges his allegiance to Thoden.
  • Book: On the way to the Morgul Vale, Frodo, Sam and Gollum pass through the Crossroads, where there is a giant statue of a seated king with his head laying on the ground nearby, "crowned" anew with flowers that have grown there, an image of hope amidst destruction.
    Movie: Included without alteration.
  • Book: The Witch-king enters Minas Tirith when its gate is breached and challenges Gandalf to fight, but as a cock crows the horns of the Rohirrim announce their arrival and the Witch-king is forced to return to meet their assault. In the book this takes place at the gate of Minas Tirith.
    Movie: When the gate is breached trolls and orcs enter the city. Shortly afterward, the Witch-king, riding his Fell Beast, intercepts Gandalf and Pippin, on Shadowfax, who are racing from the gate to the Citadel (at the summit of the city) to save Faramir from being burned alive by Denethor. The arrival of the Rohirrim is announced by their horns, but there is no sound of a cock crowing first (despite the fact that Tolkien described this as one of his favourite images).
  • Book: The Rohirrim bypass the main road to Gondor by negotiating with the Wild Men of Dradan Forest for passage through their woods.
    Movie: There is no mention of the Wild Men or of Dradan Forest; the Rohirrim just ride all night.
  • Book: In the Pyre of Denthor scene it is revealed that Denethor has a palantr, usually kept in a secret room at the top of the White Tower of Ecthelion, which he has been using to obtain strategic information for the defence of Gondor. But Sauron has infiltrated the palantr and used it to show Denethor a vision of the Black Ships. The vision is true as far as it goes, but Denethor does not realise the ships have been taken over by Aragorn's army.
    Movie: Not included, but there is a scene after the Battle of Pelennor Fields, where Aragorn finds a Palantir in Denethor's cloak in the throne room and reveals himself to Sauron (see below). The implication that this is the cause of Denethor's madness is left to viewers with knowledge of the book. Denethor, in the theatrical cut, does cryptically say that "the eyes of the White Tower are not blind", and he implies that he has a Seeing-stone, which someone that read the book might understand but would be lost on a movie-only audience. It is also possible, however, that the Palantir Aragorn used was the stone of Orthanc, and Denethor's seeing-stone was completely cut out of the films.
  • Book: Aragorn reveals himself and his reforged sword to Sauron using the palantr recovered at Isengard.
    Movie: Included with alteration. Takes place following the Last Debate; Sauron retaliates by showing Aragorn a vision of Arwen apparently dying, which is not in the book.
  • Book: Incognito in Orc armor, Sam and Frodo are forced to march with a band of Orcs who are heading for the Black Gate.
    Movie: Included. The scene ends with Frodo and Sam pretending to fight, causing the other orcs to join in, and slipping away while they are distracted - a simplification of the original scene.
  • Book: The Mouth of Sauron taunts Gandalf at the Black Gate and presents evidence that Frodo had been captured (which was true, although Frodo was rescued by Sam before he could be interrogated).
    Movie: Included with alterations. The Mouth torments the Fellowship by claiming that Frodo has been horribly tortured and killed. He then taunts Aragorn over his broken sword and Aragorn decapitates him with the reforged Andril. In the book he is allowed to live until the battle.
  • Book: The spirit of Sauron rises like a black cloud from the ruin of Barad-dr before being blown away by the West wind.
    Movie: Not included. In both versions of the film the destruction of the Ring causes the Eye of Sauron to erupt in flame and then explode as Barad-dr collapses.
  • Book: After the coronation, Gandalf counsels King Elessar and shows him where to find a seedling of the White Tree.
    Movie: Not included. In the extended cut Gandalf tells Pippin that the dead White Tree remains in the courtyard in the apparently forlorn hope that it will blossom again; in a later scene the tree is seen bearing a single white flower.

Other alterations to the story include:

  • In the film, shards of Narsil are re-forged by Elrond at Arwen's urging, and Elrond travels to Rohan where he presents the reforged sword to Aragorn and orders him to take the Paths of the Dead. In the book, Narsil was reforged when Aragorn first brought the hobbits to Rivendell (following a prophecy that the reforging could only take place after "Isildur's Bane", the Ring, was found).
  • The company of Rangers of the North, who along with the two sons of Elrond join Aragorn after Saruman is defeated, do not appear at all in the film, in which Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli take the Paths of the Dead alone. Elrond's appearance partially substitutes.
  • In the book, the rangers, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn ride through the mountain path to summon the dead, than ride through the Morthond valley to the stone of Erech, where the dead agree to serve. Aragorn than leads the dead and members of his group to Pelargir to attack the corsairs. After the Dead defeat the corsairs, they disappear, and the ships carry Aragorn, the rangers, Legolas, Gimli, and some forces from southern Gondor to the battle of Pelennor fields. In the movie, Aragorn gets the dead to serve in an underground cave, exits the underground path at Pelagir to see the corsairs. The dead than sail on the ships to Pelennor fields. No rangers or southern gondorians are in the movie. The book version makes more sense when considering the maps, as Pelargir is a long way from Edoras or Minas Tirith, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli run for a short time considering the distance.
  • In the book, the beacons of Gondor are lit before Gandalf and Pippin arrive, as a part of Denethor's careful mustering of Minas Tirith's defenses. In the film, Denethor refuses to light the beacon of Minas Tirith, or indeed to organize any defense of the city, so Gandalf persuades Pippin to sneak past the guards and light it, causing the rest of the beacons to be lit in response.
  • In the book, Gondor's formal request for aid is sent to Rohan by a courier carrying the Red Arrow (although Rohan was already mustering to Gondor's defense, in part at Gandalf's urging). In the film, there is no courier, and the Riders are spurred to help Gondor by the beacons (above).
  • In the film, Gollum tricks Frodo into mistrusting Sam and sending him away, so that Frodo enters Shelob's Lair alone. In the book, Frodo and Sam have no break in their trust, except for a brief instant upon Frodo's rescue from the orc tower where he demands that Sam return the Ring.
  • In the film, the burning Denethor runs along the "prow" of Minas Tirith and falls like a meteor. In the book, Denethor lights his pyre and lies down upon it to burn, clasping the palantr. (In fact the "prow" of Minas Tirith, located on the Seventh Level, is on the opposite side of the city from the burial chambers where the pyre is, located on the fifth level. While on fire, Denethor would have had to run across the entire city to fall like that. In his commentary on the extended DVD Peter Jackson admits that he was aware of the distance issue but included the scene for dramatic effect.)
  • Unlike the book, Merry is not taken to the Houses of Healing to recuperate from his encounter with the Witch-king (with the aid of Aragorn's knowledge of the healing herb athelas, which he also uses to heal Faramir and owyn), but instead rides out to the Last Battle alongside Aragorn and Gandalf.
  • In the book, Gollum slips accidentally into the Crack of Doom while dancing in triumph after wresting the Ring from Frodo. In the film, Frodo jumps on him one last time and causes them both to fall; it is subsequently revealed that he was able to catch himself on the rock below the precipice, from which Sam pulls him back (after a brief hesitation by an apparently suicidal Frodo).
  • In the film, it is not revealed that Frodo is to sail to the west with Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Celeborn until after most of them have boarded the ship. In the book, Frodo and Sam join with Bilbo and the elves in the woods while traveling to the harbor. In the books Celeborn also takes a later ship, as do Legolas and Gimli.

Following the destruction of the One Ring, most of the second book of The Return of the King involves tying up loose ends (although Tolkien considered the "Scouring of the Shire" to be one of the most important chapters of the trilogy, it is completely omitted from the film). These denouments are only briefly summarized in the films, where we get a hint of Frodo's periodic bouts of illness following his return to the Shire, we see Sam getting married to Rosie, and we follow Gandalf's and the Ring-bearers' departure from the Grey Havens. The film's closing scene shows Sam returning from saying farewell at the Grey Havens and coming back to the Shire and his home and family (returning at night in the book, during the day in the film).

The film remains faithful to the book in quoting the last lines spoken by Gandalf ("I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil", although Gandalf has some minor dialogue following this in the movie) and by Sam ("Well, I'm back.").

Box office records

Note: because the box-office receipts below are not adjusted for Inflation, they have little objective meaning—thanks to increasing ticket prices, new films will inevitably break such "records" continually, although low inflation between 2001 and 2003 means that US domestic figures are roughly comparable (world-wide income comparisons, translated into US dollars, are more problematical because of a substantial decline in the dollar's value in 2003).

After two years of attention and acclaim since the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, audience anticipation for the final installment of the trilogy had reached a fever pitch when the movie was finally released to theaters on December 17, 2003. New Line Cinema reported that the film's first day of release (a Wednesday) saw a box office total of $34.5 million—an all-time single-day record for a motion picture released on a Wednesday (until Spider-Man_2 came along and grossed $40.4 million). This was nearly twice the first-day total of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (which earned $18.2 million on its first day of release in 2001), and a significant increase over The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as well (which earned $26.1 million on its first day in December of 2002).

The substantial increase in initial box office totals caused optimistic studio executives to forecast that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would surpass The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in total earnings. If this proved to be true, then this would be the first blockbuster movie trilogy for each successive film to earn more at the box office than its predecessor, when all three films were blockbuster successes. (The general opinion in movie circles in 2003 was that a movie had to earn more than $150 million to be considered a "blockbuster").

Missing image
Poster of The Return of the King in Tokyo

These forecasts proved accurate. According to Box Office Mojo (, between the time of the film's release, its winning the Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday, February 29, 2004, and Thursday, March 11, 2004, Return of the King had earned approximately $1,052,547,293 in worldwide box office revenue—$368,875,000 in North America, and $683,649,123 in sixty countries worldwide. The final North American box office stands at $377,027,325, and the worldwide take is $1,118,888,979 (about $741 million overseas). The worldwide revenue is slightly enhanced compared to the earlier movies when converted to US Dollars because of the decline in the dollar's exchange rate in 2003. It was the second film in history to earn over $1 billion in box office revenue in its initial release (the first being Titanic in 1997). This compares favorably to the first two films of the trilogy: in their first 35 weeks of theatrical release in North America, the gross income of the first two movies was $313,364,114 and $339,789,881.

These figures do not include income from DVD sales, TV rights, etc. It has been estimated that the gross income from non-box office sales and merchandise has been at least equal to the box office for all three films; if this is so, the total gross income for the trilogy would be in the region of $6 billion, a very respectable return for a $300 million investment (although not by any means the best profit ratio ever seen in Hollywood - that prize belongs to The Blair Witch Project).

External links


The Lord of the Rings

Volumes of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings book
The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King

Movies in Peter Jackson's LotR movie trilogy
The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King

Animated movies
The Hobbit animated movie | Lord of the Rings animated movie | Return of the King animated movie

The History of The Lord of the Rings | Lord of the Rings radio series

bs:Gospodar prstenova: Povratak kralja (2003) de:Der Herr der Ringe: Die Rckkehr des Knigs (Film) fr:Le Seigneur des Anneaux : Le Retour du Roi (film) es:El Seor de los Anillos: El Retorno del Rey hr:Gospodar prstenova: Povratak kralja (2003) it:Il Signore degli Anelli (film)/Il Ritorno del Re nl:The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ja:ロード・オブ・ザ・リング/王の帰還 fi:Taru sormusten herrasta: Kuninkaan paluu (elokuva) sl:Gospodar prstanov: Kraljeva vrnitev sv:Sagan om konungens terkomst (film, 2003) zh:指环王:王者归来


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