The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, adapted from J.R.R Tolkien’s 1954 fantasy trilogy of the same name, premiered in 2001
Nowadays, moviegoers have a hard time imagining an era when a high-budget fantasy movie or series wouldn’t be an instant success, as production studios, TV networks, and streaming platforms are now eager to get a piece of the literary fandoms who have the ability to generate big profits (Dune, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, etc.)
However, Lord of the Rings posed a big risk for studios to accept when director Peter Jackson was pitching it during the cusp of Y2K. Conventional wisdom held that not only did fantasy movies underperform at the box office, but also that Tolkien's trilogy was unfilmable. Still, New Line Cinema agreed to take a risk. And luckily, their gambit paid off as The Fellowship earned $316 million domestically and $898 million worldwide.
The following two films in the trilogy went on to be massive hits as well. The third film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King even won all 11 Oscars it was nominated for in 2004, including Best Picture and Best Director. Now, The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned its place as a cinematic masterpiece and loved by fans of many generations.
Thus, in honor of the anniversary, have a look (in no particular order) some of our most memorable moments from The Lord of the Rings.
1. “Death Is Just Another Path.”
Gandalf’s wisdom and guidance make him such a beloved character to fans and to the other characters in the movies. In a film series with so much death and war and where heroes put so much on the line in the name of liberation, Gandalf’s words to Pippin in this (extended) scene aren’t meant to just soothe him, but the audience as well.
The entire line reads, “Death is just another path. One we all must take.” What makes this line truly special is not only that it’s spoken so eloquently amidst the assault on Minas Tirith, but that it’s also relatable to anyone. After all, death is an inherent part of the human experience.
2. The Opening Battle of The Black Gate
Aragorn’s speech to his men before battle makes this scene a triumph. As he rides on his horse, sword in hand and ready for a tough fight ahead, Aragorn encourages his men to fight creatures of the dark. However, his men are noticeably shaken.
“A day may come when the courage of men fails when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship” Aragorn tells his troops. “But it is not this day… This day we fight!” His words accompanied by the beautiful cinematography and inspirational music juxtaposed against the anxiety of the impending battle (for the soldiers and the audience) make for a scene viewers could never forget.
3. “You Shall Not Pass!”
The scene of Gandalf’s death in The Fellowship of the Ring devastates the audience, to say the least. Before his fall, Gandalf faces off with the Balrog to protect Sam and Frodo and friends so they can carry out their journey.
However, Gandalf sacrifices himself by destroying the bridge to defeat The Balrog. This births one of the most iconic lines uttered in The Lord of the Rings franchise as Gandalf brings his staff down and shouts at The Balrog, “You shall not pass!”
4. Pippin’s Song
Until this moment in Return of the Kings, Pippin often served the function of comic relief. During his pledge of allegiance to Denethor, however, the audience has never witnessed a more melancholy Pippin.
Afterward, Denethor bids Pippin sing him a song while he eats. Pippin’s song plays over a slow-motion shot of Denethor's son, Faramir, as he attempts to retake the city of Osgiliath which has been occupied by Orcs. Faramir was Pippin’s friend, making the scene even sadder.
5. Battle of Helm's Deep
Director Peter Jackson modeled this battle of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers after World War I bunkers. Author Tolkien based much of his novels on his own experiences in World War I. Critics and audiences have come to recognize the sequence as one of the great battle scenes in cinema.
The defenders of Rohirrim suffer heavy losses against the Saruman’s Uruk-hai as they hold the fort through the night. At dawn, Gandalf arrives with 2,000 riders led by Éomer, who turn the tide of the battle and rout Saruman's forces. Not to mention, Aragorn, a man, leads a unit of elves, showing his leadership transcends race and nations. This gripping battle is one no fan of Lord of the Rings could ever forget.
6. “I Am No Man.”
Another iconic line from the franchise, accompanied by a stunning shot of Eowyn shoving her sword into the Witch King of Angmar in Return of the Kings. Eowyn has some of the best character development in the series. Most of the time shows fear, though she lets her moral duty to fight lead her to battle.
In this scene, she avenges her father against the Witch King in full-bodied armor. Just when he thinks he’s bested her, the Witch King states, “You fool. No man can kill me.” That makes her “I am no man” line all the more satisfying as she removes her helmet before delivering the final blow into the Witch King’s ghostly helmet.
7. The Nazgûl’s First Onscreen Appearance
A creature of death and desire, a Nazgûl are among Tolkein’s scariest creations. While Sam, Frodo, Mary, and Pippin are journeying toward Cirith Ungol, they encounter a Dark Rider who seeks The Ring. These terrifying creatures will kill in an instant, making the gang’s encounters with them all the more frightening.
8. Aragorn Summons the Dead
In the War of the Ring, Isildur's Heir, Aragorn, summons the dead to fight to fulfill their oath and be free. The sight of an unstoppable ghost army, commanded by Aragorn, charging at mortal creatures, makes the scene unforgettable. What other fantasy film franchise had this kind of CGI in 2003?
9. Théoden’s Speech Before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields
The beautiful cinematography in Lord of the Rings are a big part of what makes the franchise so great. However, in the battle of Pelennor Fields, Théoden’s opening speech makes this particular scene memorable.
Before charging at the opposing forces (that outnumber his forces) Théoden says, “Forth, and fear no darkness. Arise riders of Théoden…Spears shall be shaken. Shields shall be splintered. A sword day. A red day. Ere the sun rises!” We have to wonder if real-life generals have used the line during actual battles. If they haven't, they should.
10. Gollum vs. Gollum
Gollum has proven one of the most popular characters in the Lord of the Rings movies, thanks, in large part, to his story of split personality. The One Ring has long since corrupted Gollum's mind, splitting it into his “good” personality Sméagol, and the wicked Gollum.
The Two Towers sees the character wrestling with himself and his affection for Frodo, along with his constant lust to regain The Ring. Thanks to an awesome performance by Andy Serkis, the scene plays as both frightening and moving.
11. Saruman's Death
When Return of the King hit cinemas back in 2003, actor Christopher Lee made no secret of his displeasure that his character, Saruman, had his death scene cut. Lucky for Lee (and everyone else), the scene does appear in the Extended Edition of the film.
And what a scene! Lee gives a chilling performance as the mad wizard, a turn matched by Ian McKellen's Gandalf. As Gandalf destroys Saruman's powers forever, the treacherous Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) takes his own revenge on Saruman. We don't want to spoil it all here, but suffice it to say, the moment plays as both terrifying and tragic.
12. The Destruction of the Ring
In saving the best for last, one simply cannot make a list of Lord of the Rings’ most memorable moments without mentioning the destruction of The Ring. In Return of the King, Sam, and Frodo’s journey comes to an end as Frodo and Gollum fight atop Mount Doom over possession of The Ring.
The destruction of The Ring means the two heroes can save the lands of middle earth from the Scourge of Sauron. Therefore, of course, the scene marks the climax of not just Return of the King, but the series as a whole. The chilling clip of Gollum’s descent off Mount Doom into a river of lava ranks among the most powerful images of the movie.