Where You Can Stream Or Rent Every 'Lord Of The Rings' And 'Hobbit' Movie

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(Welcome to Where to Watch, which provides a clear and simple answer to the question, "Hey, where can I watch this thing?" In this edition: the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies.)

Grab your glowing sword and pack your Lembas bread, we're headed to Middle-earth! There are new Lord of the Rings adventures on the way: an Amazon series and a new animated film The War of the Rohirrim. But you don't have to wait around for those — you can rent or stream a bunch of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies right now, and I'll tell you where below.

The Hobbit 

Where to rent: Amazon ($2.70), YouTube ($2.99)

Hold your horses there, folks! You thought I was going to jump right into the live-action Peter Jackson flicks, didn't you? Well, first, we must acknowledge our forefathers, the not-very-good animated Middle-earth movies. This 1977 animated take on The Hobbit from Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, the team that brought us stop-motion holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, first aired on NBC and is technically a musical. That makes sense, because J. R. R. Tolkien's book is actually loaded with songs, and Tolkien's lyrics were adapted with music for this film. I'm sure people grew up with this one so I won't say anything too bad about it, but it hasn't aged well. Fun bit of trivia: the animation for this film was handled by a studio called Topcraft. In 1985, Topcraft went bankrupt and dissolved, and three of its members — Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, and Isao Takahata — went on to form Studio Ghibli in the aftermath.

The Lord of the Rings

Where to rent: Amazon, YouTube ($3.99)

After The Hobbit came the animated Lord of the Rings in 1978, directed by Ralph Bakshi. While this still isn't great, it does benefit from its interesting rotoscoping animation where animators traced over live-action footage. That makes for a visual style that can be both compelling and kind of distracting. Peter Jackson was a fan of this adaptation and lifted entire shots for his live-action trilogy. There's also another animated film, a 1980 adaptation of The Return of the King from Hobbit filmmakers Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. However, as far as I can tell, it isn't available to rent or stream anywhere. You can buy a used DVD on Amazon for $31, though, if the mood strikes you.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Vinyl Soundtrack

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring & The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition)

Where to stream: HBO MaxLord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first entry in Peter Jackson's groundbreaking trilogy, is so damn good that it feels like a minor miracle. Very few filmmakers have figured out how to adapt big, sprawling tales like this successfully, but Jackson and company nail it right out of the gate. I had never cared about the Lord of the Rings books, but these movies — and this entry in particular — made me an acolyte (of the stories themselves, I still don't care much about the books, honestly). Both the theatrical cut and extended edition are on HBO Max.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)

Where to stream: HBO Max

The saga continues with the action-packed The Two Towers. I know everyone has their own personal favorite in the trilogy, and I tend to see this film mentioned a lot under that classification. To me, this is probably the weakest of the three films, but that's not such a bad thing because it still absolutely rocks. Both the theatrical cut and extended edition are on HBO Max.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King & The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition)

Where to stream: HBO Max

A big, swooning, sweeping emotional climax that won Best Picture, The Return of the King brings the journey to a satisfying conclusion. Some folks have a problem with the way the film keeps throwing one ending after another after another, but as someone who was in no rush to leave this world, I had no complaints on that front. Both the theatrical cut and extended edition are on HBO Max.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Where to stream: HBO Max

What should've been a joyous return to Middle-earth turned out to be a major misfire. Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro originally teamed up to turn The Hobbit into two movies, with del Toro directing. But del Toro eventually pulled out and Jackson got back in the director's chair. Then, just to make things messier, the two movies were stretched to three, even though The Hobbit is a relatively short book. The first entry in the series, An Unexpected Journey, is probably the best, but that's not saying much. Everything that felt real and lived-in in the Lord of the Rings films feels fake and digital here. A shame. Note: there are extended versions of all the Hobbit films, too, believe it or not. But none of them are available to rent or stream at the moment.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Where to stream: HBO Max

The bad decisions keep on coming with The Desolation of Smaug, the movie that turned Benedict Cumberbatch into a gold-loving cartoon dragon. When this film opened I remember several critics called it an improvement on An Unexpected Journey, but I respectfully disagree! Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Where to stream: HBO Max

The worst entry in The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of Five Armies feels like it just goes on, and on, and on, and on. The titular battle occupies approximately seventeen hours of the movie, and that could be interesting if it didn't all look like a big blob of digital goo. Maybe just skip The Hobbit trilogy entirely?