- This article is about the 2003 live action film. For the 1980 animated film, see The Return of the King (1980 film).
Globally, the film is one of the highest grossing films in cinema history. The film won 11 awards at the 2004 Oscar ceremony including Best Picture, equalling the record shared by Ben-Hur and Titanic, and also was the first fantasy film to win Best Picture.
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.
Awards and Nominations
- Academy Award for Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Original Score (Howard Shore)
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Art Direction
- Best Costume Design
- Best Film Editing
- Best Make-up
- Best Music (song)
- Best Sound Mixing
- Best Visual Effects
However, none of the ensemble cast received any acting nominations. On February 29, the film won all eleven 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.
The film was the first of the fantasy genre to win the Best Picture award. The film's win was also only the second time a sequel had won the Best Picture category (the first being The Godfather Part II).
In the opinion of some critics, however, this accolade was not just for the merits of the individual film, but more a reward for the trilogy as a whole, given that the first two films had not won the major awards of Best Picture or Best Director.
Andy Serkis appears as 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 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 book. Close-ups of the city are represented by sets and long shots by a large and highly-detailed model, often populated by CGI characters.
The 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 where the monstrous Shelob attacks Frodo and is wounded by Sam, who comes to his aid.
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, the charge of the Mûmakil; Merry and Éowyn's role in the defeat of the Lord of the Nazgûl; the destruction of the One Ring; the final fall of Sauron; Aragorn's assumption of the throne and the departure of several heroes to the Undying Lands.
The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is highly unusual, being 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 where we discover how the character Gollum first came across the One Ring.Before becoming Gollum he was a hobbit-like creature known as Sméagol. Sméagol was out fishing with his cousin Déagol who, after being pulled in to the water, discovers the One Ring In the river Anduin. Sméagol demands that Déagol gives him the Ring for his birthday but Déagol refuses which leads to Sméagol strangling him to death and stealing the One Ring. After killing his cousin Sméagol escapes to the Misty Mountains and slowly mutates into the creature we know as Gollum. As this sequence ends, we see Frodo, Sam and Gollum approaching the mountains of Mordor, with Mount Doom's eruptions disturbingly close.
Gollum is still leading them and Sam continues to have bad feelings on where Gollum will lead them to, however, Frodo has full trust in the creature. The plot then switches back to the flooded and ruined Isengard. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, King Théoden, Gamling and Eomer, arrive at Isengard where they meet with the Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, who are busy eating salted pork and blowing pipe weed. On entering Isengard, they are informed by the Ent Treebeard that Isengard has been taken over by the Ents and that Saruman is imprisoned inside Orthanc.
Then, they confront the traitorous Wizard, Saruman, standing atop of his tower. Saruman says to King Théoden that they could be allies once more, but Théoden explains that they shall both have peace when Rohan avenges all the people killed at Helm's Deep by executing Saruman on a gibbet. Also, Saruman says to Gandalf about Frodo going to his immediate doom and that Aragorn will never be crowned King of Gondor. He reveals to the others the Palantír which he kept in secret, and knows all the ways of the enemy. Then, they are informed by Saruman that Sauron is readying his forces for a final strike.
Gandalf makes an offer with Saruman to come down from his tower and be spared, however, Saruman sends a fireball down from his staff at Gandalf. Luckily, the Wizard survives and he shatters Saruman's staff, thus casting him out of the order of Wizards. Before Saruman can give them more information, Gríma Wormtongue arrives and Théoden says that Gríma is freed of Saruman and that he can come down and be a Man of Rohan as he once was. Gríma happily bows to Théoden; however, Saruman insults the Men of Rohan, and says that Gríma will never be free.
In his anger, Wormtongue attacks Saruman, fatally stabbing him in the back. Legolas quickly fires an arrow into Gríma, killing him, but he is too late to save Saruman, who plummets from Orthanc's top, to be impaled on one of his machines, dropping from his sleeve the Palantír. Then, the machine begins to turn, sliding the body of Saruman down into the watery depths.
Treebeard tells the others that trees shall return to fill up Isengard as they once did. Pippin then sights the Palantír in the water and jumps down from Aragorn's horse to get it. Upon finding the Palantír beneath the water, Pippin is told to give it to Gandalf, and he does, but Gandalf is unsure in the Hobbit, and knows that he may be up to something.
The group then ride for Edoras, where they will celebrate their victory at Helm's Deep. That night, there is a post-battle party in the Golden hall at Edoras, where King Théoden is given the cup of Kings by his niece, Éowyn, and addresses the people of Rohan, including Aragorn, of the men who died defending the gates of Helm’s Deep and saving their country.
Then, there is a huge feast where Éomer volunteers Gimli and Legolas into a drinking competition, and eventually, Legolas wins after Gimli gets over drunk and faints. Éowyn gives Aragorn the cup of Kings and then Théoden joins her, who says that he is happy for her, Aragorn is an honorable man. Théoden then says that it was not him who led their people to victory, but soon gets off the subject with Éowyn.
Elsewhere in the hall, Pippin and Merry are drunk and dancing a Hobbit’s jig and singing about the Green Dragon Inn on one of the tables in front of a large crowd of Rohan Men, who are enjoying drunkenly. However, Pippin pauses for a moment to find Gandalf watching him but is quickly pulled back into the dance by Merry and the two Hobbits enjoy themselves with a quick drink of their ale. Then, in secret, Aragorn has a talk with Gandalf of the progress with Frodo and Sam on the Quest to destroy the One Ring of power. Gandalf says that he has received no news of Frodo and Aragorn says that every day Frodo moves closer to Mordor, and Gandalf says that his heart confirms that Frodo is alive.
Elsewhere, near the Mountain of Shadow, Frodo and Sam are asleep whilst Gollum secretly sneaks away and confronts himself at a pool. Gollum/Sméagol argue with themselves on if they will kill the Hobbits and take the Ring, but Gollum says that they shall lead Frodo and Sam up some steps where “She” will kill them. Then, from the Hobbit’s remains, Gollum/Sméagol shall take the Ring. However, Sam suddenly attacks Gollum; having heard his plans, but is dragged away from him by Frodo, who does not believe that Gollum is a villain.
Frodo leads Gollum away, who looks back at Sam, giving an evil grin. At Edoras, everyone is sleeping. Aragorn goes into the main hall where Éowyn lies sleeping. As Aragorn approaches to pull the quilt upon to her, Éowyn awakens briefly to tell Aragorn of a “Great Wave” flooding a great city, destruction and darkness. Aragorn listens and then watches as she falls back asleep.
Walking outside, Aragorn goes to Legolas, who is viewing the land, knowing that the Eye of Sauron is moving to his next target. Inside the hall, Pippin, fascinated by the seeing stone, takes it from Gandalf, who is sleeping, and, ignoring Merry’s urgings to leave it alone, he moves to touch the Palantír. Whilst gazing into the crystal ball, Pippin is suddenly spied by the Eye of 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 quickly rushes to him and panicky asks Pippin to reveal everything he said about Frodo and the Ring and Pippin says that he saw a White Tree, in a courtyard of stone, and it was dead, the whole place burning.
The next morning, Gandalf, Aragorn, Théoden, Legolas, Gimli and the Hobbits Merry and Pippin meet in the great hall to decide on what is to be done on Pippin seeing Sauron’s plans. Gandalf is now certain that Sauron will come after Pippin, thinking he has the Ring. Pippin's vision, however, has revealed that Sauron's plan is to attack Minas Tirith, the capital city of Gondor. Upon his defeat at Helm's Deep, he realized men just might pose a threat to him.
Sauron was not willing to let middle earth get organized against him. Gandalf says that Sauron will raze the White City to the ground before there is a King to return to the throne of Men. He says to Théoden that if the beacons of Gondor are lit, then Rohan must be ready for war, but Théoden says that, because Gondor never went to aid them during the Battle of Hornburg, what do we owe Gondor. When Aragorn says that he shall go, Gandalf instead enigmatically urges Aragorn to use the "Black Ships" to come to the aid of Minas Tirith, and he then says to them all that things have been set in motion that cannot be undone — he rides for Minas Tirith, and he won’t be going alone because Pippin will be traveling with him.
Leaving the Golden Hall, Gandalf says that of all corruptive Hobbits, Pippin is the worst. Merry is furious with Pippin, saying that it is always him who causes trouble and this time, the enemy believes Pippin has the Ring, and because they will be looking for him, they must get Pippin out of Rohan. When Pippin asks if Merry is coming with him, Merry says nothing. In the stables, Pippin asks Gandalf on how far Minas Tirith, and Gandalf says that it would be three days 'as the Nazgûl flies'. Gandalf then makes a speedy depart for Gondor with Pippin on Shadowfax, leaving a heartbroken Merry behind.
Merry then goes onto view Gandalf and Pippin going away from Edoras, and Merry says to Aragorn that he has always been there for Pippin, and now he’s gone. Aragorn then says to Merry that there is one thing he learnt from Hobbits – they are very stout folk.
Meanwhile, Arwen is traveling with a company of Elves (including Figwit) toward the Grey Havens. On the journey, she has a vision of Eldarion, her future son by Aragorn, which convinces her to turn back to Rivendell. There, she urges her father Elrond to reforge Narsil, the sword of Elendil, so that it may be given to Aragorn. Elrond is resistant, until he realizes that Arwen is becoming mortal. He is told by Arwen that this is her choice, and that there is no ship that can take her away now.
Later, Elrond sadly watches as Narsil is reforged by Elvish smiths.
Gandalf and Pippin, meanwhile, ride into the Kingdom of Gondor where they ride up a hill bank to view the huge and mighty White City of Minas Tirith – City of Kings. They ride up on Shadowfax up every level of the city, from the First up to the Seventh, until they reach the citadel of the city thousands of feet above the ground, right at the tip of a huge rock prow. On entering the Throne Room hall, Pippin notices the White Tree (From his vision) guarded by the Fountain Guards and Gandalf explains that the Gondorians believe that one day the White Tree will flower again, once a King returns to the throne of men. Also, Gandalf warns Pippin not to say anything to the current Steward of Gondor, Denethor, about the apparent death of his son, Boromir, and the fact of Aragorn returning to the throne of men.
Gandalf and Pippin go to confront Lord Denethor, seated on the Steward’s throne, at the end of the great hall, where they discover that Denethor has nearly been driven mad by grief and is unwilling to ask for help in the defence of Gondor from Théoden and the Riders of Rohan. Pippin, nonetheless, pledges his service to Denethor in gratitude for Boromir's heroic efforts to save Merry and him. Gandalf is furious that Denethor won’t call or send for Rohan’s aid but will just grieve whilst Mordor prepares their armies to crush Minas Tirith.
He leaves with Pippin following him, furious with the Steward’s actions and walks across the citadel, telling Pippin about the line of Kings failing in Gondor, and about the White Tree withering because of this. The rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men. He also says that Sauron’s forces will use a large block of fumes to cover Gondor’s sky and allow the Orcs to pass onto the fields and conquer the city. Meanwhile, Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue their journey through woods near Gondor. Sam notices that the sky is growing darker every day, foreshadowing the foreboding events about to occur.
Then, Frodo notices a statue of a Gondorian King, but his head has been toppled, and another head, carved by Orcs, has been put in its place, mocking it. Then, a bright light from the Sun reveals the King’s original head, with a crown of flowers around its top. Sam then says to Frodo "Look, the King’s got a crown again!" But then the light goes behind the trees, and the original head of the statue goes dark once more. Frodo and Sam, with Gollum leading them, continue their journey.
The Lighting of the Beacons
That night, at Minas Tirith, Pippin prepares his Gondorian armour whilst Gandalf overlooks Mordor in the distance from a balcony. Gandalf explains that the time has come, and that Sauron will send not just Orcs, but great beasts and monsters from the south – and even mercenaries (men) from the sea. One way or another this will be the end of Gondor as they know it.
He also explains about Sauron sending his most deadly and greatest servant, the one who will lead the forces of Mordor into war, the one they say no living man can kill – the Witch-king of Angmar – who was also the Nazgûl who struck Frodo down on Weathertop. He is the leader of the Ringwraiths and the most powerful of the nine, and Minas Morgul is his lair.
Meanwhile, as Gandalf says this, Frodo, Sam and Gollum move toward the evil city of Minas Morgul on their journey. Gollum then leads them to some stairs spanning up a huge cliff face in the Mountains of Shadow. Suddenly, the power of Minas Morgul draws the Ring close to it and Frodo goes with it. Gollum and Sam quickly move to pull him away, but as they do, a huge signal blasts out of Minas Morgul and zooms up into the night sky.
At Minas Tirith, Gandalf, Pippin and the Gondorians witness the signal in the distance. At Minas Morgul, Frodo collapses and the city goes silent. Suddenly, the Witch-king swoops out of Minas Morgul on his fell beast, and yells out his huge Nazgûl screech. This stuns Frodo, causing him to feel the wraiths blade. Then, the Witch-king’s fell beast makes the call, and the huge army of Sauron marches out of Minas Morgul toward Gondor, led by the Witch-king, who swoops out in front of them.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum begin to climb toward the high pass of Cirith Ungol. As they do this, Sam suddenly grabs Gollum, warning him not to do anything to Frodo, and if he does, Gollum will be gone. Sam then continues to climb with Frodo, and Gollum looks up at him with an evil grin. At Minas Tirith, Gandalf realizes that the Mordor army is on the move. He quickly has Pippin climb up to the signal beacon located high above Minas Tirith.
The Battle of Osgiliath
At the ruined city of Osgiliath, the Rangers here, led by the young captain of Gondor, Faramir, prepare their weaponry. Faramir is told that the Orcs are lying low across the river, the garrison may have moved out, and that they have sent scouts to Cair Andros - if the Orcs attack from the north, they will have some warning. Secretly, on the river, the Orcs are making their move on large rafts. Amongst them, one hideously deformed Orc, Gothmog, is in immediate command of them. Gothmog orders his Orc troops to be quiet whilst they approach Osgiliath, in a surprise attack on the rangers.
As the Orcs draw closer towards the city, one soldier notices them approaching, and Gothmog quickly orders his demise. Then, an Orc archer kills the soldier and Faramir is called to the scene, where he instantly realizes that they are about to be attacked and Orcs are not attacking from the north. Then, Faramir quickly leads a heroic defence of the city, having all his men guard each side of the river bank, but the Orcs draw closer and Gothmog orders his troops to draw their swords and prepare to invade the city.
Faramir waits for the attack, his sword drawn, as the Orc rafts hit the city and the Orcs inside them run into Osgiliath. Faramir then nods to his men that the time is right, and he charges into the invading Orcs, his Rangers following. The Orcs start attacking the rangers, and, as more rafts hit the bank, a huge battle ensues. Soon, the Orcs lower a ramp on the bridge and swarm into the city.
Meanwhile, Pippin climbs up to the Minas Tirith signal beacon high above the city and quietly sets it alight and sneaks away, as the Gondorian soldiers there stand up in confusion as the beacon light in a large ball of flames. On one of the city walls, Gandalf goes to view the other beacons lighting up along the White Mountains. However, Denethor looks unhappily at the events through the throne room window. Gandalf knows that hope has come to Gondor.
The signal passes along Gondor's chain of beacons in the White Mountains, swiftly reaching Edoras. There, Aragorn quickly runs to tell Théoden that "Gondor calls for aid!" After a brief moment of thought, Théoden orders the Rohirrim to muster at Dunharrow – they will ride for Gondor and to war. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli prepare themselves and Aragorn notices that Éowyn will be riding with them. She says that the men have found Aragorn as their captain; they will follow him to battle and even to death. He has given them hope.
Gimli says to Legolas that horsemen are not as good in battle than an army of dwarves - fully armed and filthy. Legolas, however, says that his king’s men have no need to ride to war, for he fears war is already marching upon their own lands. Merry, meanwhile, pledges himself to Théoden, and the King of Rohan proudly accepts, saying that Merry shall be – Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan. Now in the King’s service, Merry happily puts on Rohan armour and prepares to ride with the Rohirrim to Dunharrow.
As the Rohhirim gather, Théoden takes one last look up at the banner of Rohan, knowing that this will be the last battle he shall ride to. Gathering up, Éomer states to the men of Rohan that this is the hour that they ride for Lord and land. It is then that, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Théoden, Éowyn, Éomer and even Merry leave Edoras for Dunharrow. At Osgiliath, the Orcs overtake the city and slaughter everything in their path. As his Rangers die around him, Faramir barely escapes an attack by Orc archers and realizes that all hope for the city is lost, the Orcs have won.
He calls for a retreat - they ride for Minas Tirith. The men quickly flee onto their horses and race out of the city. During the attack, Faramir’s lieutenant, Madril, was attacked by an Orc and left wounded. He is quickly finished off by Gothmog, who cruelly kills him with a spear. Gothmog then states to his troops that the Age of Men is over and that the time of the Orc has come.
As Faramir and his men retreat to Minas Tirith, they are attacked by Nazgûl on winged fell beasts and many die across the field. As the retreating Rangers are attacked, Gandalf and Pippin ride out of Minas Tirith towards them on Shadowfax. The men of Minas Tirith watch as the Rangers are all saved by Gandalf, who drives the Nazgûl back with a beam of white light from his staff. Inside the city, Faramir tells Gandalf of the Orcs overtaking the city and now crossing the river.
Faramir then comes into sight of Pippin, and his reaction to seeing Pippin reveals that he has recently seen two other Hobbits: Frodo and Sam. Gandalf is alarmed to hear that they are heading toward Cirith Ungol, but is worried and asks Faramir to tell him all he knows. However, Denethor hears this too, and confronts his younger son in the throne room. He is ashamed of Faramir's loss of Osgiliath and the fact that he gave the One Ring to a Hobbit and let him carry it to Mordor. Denethor says that the Ring should have been brought back to the Citadel, to be kept safe, hidden and secret in the dark vaults, not to be used until the time was right.
He then says that Boromir would have brought him the Ring but Faramir says that Boromir would not have done this; he would have taken the Ring and fallen. As Denethor rises from his throne in anger, Faramir says that Boromir would have kept the Ring for his own, and when he returned, Denethor would never again know him as a son. Denethor then leaps up in anger, saying that Boromir was loyal to him, and not a "Wizard's Pupil" like Faramir. Denethor then collapses in grief and it is revealed that he misses Boromir so much, that he no longer sees Faramir as a trustworthy son.
In his grief, he asks Faramir to leave his sight, which he sadly does. At the steps leading up to the Pass of Cirith Ungol, Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue to climb. On climbing, Gollum is the first to climb upon a ledge and urges Frodo to continue climbing, but as he does so, he notices the Ring dangling from the chain on his neck. Gollum reaches for it and Sam draws his sword, but Gollum then seemingly goes to grab Frodo’s hand and pull him up. Then, as Sam climbs up after them, Gollum starts to pour false accusations into Frodo’s ear about Sam, saying that soon, Sam will ask him for the Ring and take it for his own.
At Osgiliath, as the forces of Mordor prepare their army, the Witch-king orders Gothmog to send forth all legions and not halt the attack until Minas Tirith is taken. Gothmog asks of Gandalf's fate, and the Witch-king says that he shall break him. At Minas Tirith, the soldiers are worried and they ask Gandalf if Rohan will come to aid them. Gandalf says that courage is their best defense. In the Great hall, Pippin now wears Faramir’s armour he wore as a child, and is told by Faramir himself that he never used to do his studying when he was younger; instead he used to waste time slaying Dragons.
He also says that Denethor made the armour for him, who has always seen Boromir as the stronger child. However, Pippin reminds him that Faramir has strength, but of a different kind, and one day, Denethor shall see that in him too and actually love Faramir as a son. Afterwards, Pippin enters Lord Denethor's service and puts his service and loyalty to him. However, Pippin is soon after shocked when he hears that Denethor wishes for Faramir to retake the city. On hearing this, Faramir realizes that his own father wants him to die for Boromir, who died in his place. Obeying this order, Faramir says that he shall do this command in Boromir's stead, but when he returns, he wants Denethor to think better of him. Denethor, however, says that would depend upon the manner of his return. Faramir sadly leaves to go and retake Osgiliath, knowing that this act will claim his own life.
Meanwhile, at the pass of Cirith Ungol, the Hobbits sleep on a ledge suspended hundreds of feet above Minas Morgul. In secret, Gollum gets up to his tricks and drops the Hobbit's Elven bread down the cliff. Awakening, Sam discovers what has happened and instantly blames Gollum. Once Frodo awakens, Gollum goes to try and stir the events. He continues to play with Frodo's mind until it is too late, and when Sam suddenly asks Frodo if he can carry the Ring, Frodo’s mind goes against him.
He suddenly pushes Sam away in anger and Gollum grins, his plan is working. After trying to convince Frodo that it is Gollum's fault, Sam is horrified when Frodo falls for the ploy and tells Sam to leave. Sam does so, saddened and reluctant. Frodo continues to climb with Gollum behind him. Meanwhile, Faramir's cavalry marches proudly out of Minas Tirith as Gandalf tries to convince Faramir that his father is quite mad, but still loves him. Faramir sadly explains that he would do anything to defend Minas Tirith but knows that he will die at his father's will.
Faramir's detachment charges out onto the open plains, heading towards Osgiliath as the thousand of Orcs which have overtaken the city watch, preparing their black bows. In Minas Tirith, Denethor has Pippin sing as his son and all his men ride to a doomed fate, not realizing that it is actually happening.
"Home is behind, the world ahead and there are many paths to tread, through shadow to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight..."
On approaching Osgiliath, Faramir holds his sword out to the enemy, but the Orcs there draw their bows and prepare to fire.
In Minas Tirith, as Denethor eats, Pippin continues to sing -
"... Mist and shadow cloud and shade, all shall fade, all shall fade."
At Osgilliath, the Orcs are commanded by Gothmog to fire upon the advancing Horsemen. Letting their bows lose, the Orcs rein arrows upon Faramir's cavalry, massacring them.
At Dunharrow, the Rohirrim gather outside a huge cliff face, preparing their men and weaponry for war. King Théoden asks his men on the reinforcements, but is told that several alliances have not yet come. Soon after, now on top of a large camp site on the side of a huge cliff, King Théoden and Aragorn go to view the army, and Théoden says that there are six thousand men ready, but Aragorn says that is not enough to break the lines of Mordor. Théoden says that more men will come, but Aragorn explains to him that every hour lost hastens Gondor's defeat - they have until dawn before they must ride.
Also, the men here, along with the horses, are terrified of a road that leads to the mountains behind Dunharrow. Legolas and Gimli are looking around, viewing the road, when Éomer explains that the men grow nervous at the shadow of the mountain. He tells them that anyone who journeyed that road never returned and that the mountain is evil. Aragorn then goes to view the road and is especially frightened.
That night, Éowyn prepares Merry for battle, which has a blunt blade. Éowyn says to the Hobbit that he won't kill many Orcs with a blunt blade and then goes to take him go the smithy, but, as Merry goes, Éowyn is told by Éomer that Merry is not ready for war. Éowyn asks why Merry cannot fight for those he loves but Éomer then goes to tell her that Merry will fall to the fear of battle and that he will flee when he comes face-to-face with the enemy.
Meanwhile, in his tent, Aragorn has a nightmare about Arwen dying at Sauron's power and the Evenstar shattering. Upon awakening in sudden anger, Aragorn is called to Théoden’s tent, where he meets Elrond, who says of Arwen dying - as Sauron's power grows, her lifespan degenerates. Elrond explains to Aragorn about Minas Tirith being lost, because to the river, a fleet of Corsair ships sail from the south. They are outnumbered, as Elrond explains, and he tells Aragorn that they need more men if they are to win this fight.
Aragorn says that there are none, but Elrond then explains that there is an alliance that dwells in the mountain. However, Aragorn only states that those in the mountain are murderers and traitors. They don't believe in anything, and answer to no one. However, Elrond then says that they will answer to the King of Gondor; Elrond then presents Aragorn with Andúril, the reforged shards of Narsil.
With this blade, Aragorn can summon up an army that even Sauron cannot withstand. Elrond states to Aragorn that it is time to put aside the Ranger, and that it is time to become who he was born to be. Aragorn finally accepts his destiny to be the King of Men. Upon preparing to leave Dunharrow, Aragorn is confronted by Éowyn, who begs Aragorn not to go and that the men need him. She confirms her love to Aragorn, but, Aragorn, instead, tells Éowyn that he does not love her but still wishes her happiness.
Accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, he takes the Path of the Dead in the mountains behind Dunharrow. The soldiers of Rohan watch as Aragorn departs and one of the soldiers, Gamling, says that he leaves because there is no hope. However, Théoden tells his men that Aragorn leaves because he must, and even though their numbers are too few against the Armies of Mordor, they shall still meet them in battle. Later that evening, Éowyn sadly vies the mountains ahead, and she is accompanied by Théoden, who says that he has left the request for Éowyn to lead the people of Rohan if anything happens to him. Éowyn asks if he wants to give her another order, but Théoden says that he doesn’t, but he says that he would have his niece smiling in the future times.
The Paths of the Dead
Meanwhile, the three companions, Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli move slowly down the silent road that leads to the Paths of the dead. Legolas tells them of the curse Isildur laid upon them for not arriving at the battle of the Last Alliance - never to rest until they has fulfilled their pledge to allegiance to Gondor. After a brief ride through the passes, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli approach the way into the dead mountain where a burst of evil sends the companion’s horses away.
Aragorn, however, says that he does not fear death and he enters the Dead Mountain, Legolas behind him and Gimli soon to follow. At Dunharrow, the Rohirrim climb up onto their horses and prepare to ride for Minas Tirith. King Théoden and Éomer prepare the army and Théoden says that it is a long road ahead and both man and beast must reach the end with the strength to fight.
Meanwhile, Merry is preparing a horse to ride to Gondor but is told by Théoden that his journey here has come to an end, and that it is a three day ride to Minas Tirith, and none of his riders can have the Hobbit as a burden. Despite Merry’s urging to ride to war, Théoden dismisses him. Then, as all hope of riding with the Rohirrim seems lost, Merry is suddenly lifted up by an unknown rider and scooped away by him. But this is no man rider – but Eowyn – who says that Merry will ride with her. Merry gladly accepts this.
Éomer and Théoden muster the men and the Rohan army of six thousand horsemen all gallop out of Dunharrow and away to war with Mordor. Meanwhile, the even-more massive army of Mordor marches upon Minas Tirith, trolls and Orcs alike. Inside the Dead Mountain, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli move through the tunnels and caverns of the dead, where Legolas tells them of him seeing many images of dead men and of hoses.
Avoiding the ghostly mists that lurk the paths, Aragorn and his companions find themselves walking upon the skulls of many dead souls.
Finally, the companions enter the lair of the King of the Dead and find the legendary ghost army that dwells in the immense caves. Aragorn, unafraid, confronts them directly, saying that he can fulfill their oath, but the King of the Dead says none but the King of Gondor may command him. Aragorn the shows him Andúril, and as the King of the Dead attacks, Aragorn parries his strike, saying to him that the blade has been remade, and then pushes him back. Now with the ghost army's attention, Aragorn orders them as their master, to join him on the battlefield at Minas Tirith and there, once they have destroyed the enemy, he will fulfill them of their oath.
He asks them for their say, but Gimli warns him that he is wasting his time, they have no honor in life and none now in death. Aragorn says that he is Isildur's heir and that he will fulfill their oath. However, the ghosts refuse and slowly disappear. Aragorn calls out to them one last time but they go, and Gimli furiously says that they are all traitors. Then, the walls begin to shake, and moments later, the entire cave collapses, and thousands of skulls avalanche upon them.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are driven from the caves by the cascade of skulls and barely escape. As they exit the caves, they arrive at the Anduin River and see an armada of Black Ships, piloted by the Corsair army. As they watch the ships leave a burning village, Aragorn falls to his knees, believing all hope for Gondor to be lost and that they have failed. Then, the King of the Dead suddenly appears from inside the mountain and agrees to join Aragorn in battle.
The Siege of Minas Tirith
At Gondor, the siege of Minas Tirith begins when the massive Orc army of two hundred thousand troops launches its assault using troll-driven siege towers and huge catapults. The Orcs have Faramir's lifeless form dragged back-first into Minas Tirith by his horse. The guards of the city quickly take hold of Faramir's body and take it up to the Citadel. Down on the fields, the Orcs prepare their catapults, while Gothmog observes the army by riding through their lines on a Warg. Inside Minas Tirith, upon bringing Faramir to his father, Denethor is heart-broken to find his only surviving son seemingly killed, while a soldier tells him that they were outnumbered: none survived.
Outside the city, Gothmog, who is in full-command of the Mordor army, says that the city is ranked with fear, and sarcastically tells his Orcs to ease their pain. He commands the Orcs to send the heads of dead soldiers at the walls and they do, releasing a strain of terror upon the city.
The Pyre of Denethor
Up in the Citadel, Denethor says that his sons are spent, and his line has ended. Pippin quickly goes to check Faramir's wound - he is still alive. Ignoring Pippin’s shouts that his son is still alive, Denethor says that the Stewardship of the city has ended. Denethor then goes to view the huge army of Mordor outside the city, as they commence the assault upon his walls. Down on the field, Gothmog evilly laughs as troops unleash numerous boulders upon Minas Tirith, shattering many of its building whilst the Gondorian soldiers just stand and watch.
Now in a panic, Denethor talks to himself of all hope being lost, and that Rohan has deserted him and King Théoden having betrayed him. As more boulders hit his walls, Denethor cowardly tells the city to flee from the mounting onslaught. Denethor is then suddenly rendered unconscious by Gandalf, who hits him several times with his staff. Gandalf tells the city to prepare for battle.
The Wizard then quickly gets up onto his horse and rides out into the city, calling for the retreating soldiers to return to their posts. Then, the army of Gondor quickly stands upon the city walls as Gandalf goes to view the Orc army. He calls for the Gondorians to send these foul creatures to the abyss.
At Gandalf’s orders, the Gondorians respond by launching their own catapult attack, using the smashed walls of towers demolished by the Orcs. The rocks fall down amongst the Orcs, who look at them in fear, but Gothmog orders them to stay where they are. The Orcs counter attack with their catapults and many troops from both sides are crushed to death. Gandalf keeps watch on the Orc attacks outside as more Gondorian catapults are let lose upon the Orcs.
Then, one catapult, fired by the Gondorians, sends a boulder hurling towards Gothmog, but he quickly steps away from it. He spits at the boulder in disgust. Suddenly, high above the siege, the Witch-king and the Nazgûl attack the city upon their fell beast’s killing many men and inflicting heavy damage. Their screeches send the Gondorians into madness and Pippin is one of many caught in the fear. As the Nazgûl swoop overhead, Gandalf orders the men not to give into fear, and has then stand to their posts nevertheless the danger.
The Nazgûl's fell beasts smash many buildings, and as the Pippin runs through the city, he is knocked down by many terrified people trying to run away from the chaos. During these events, the trolls start bringing forth the huge siege towers, filled with many war-hungry Orcs. Gandalf orders the men on the walls to aim for the trolls and not the towers themselves, and the soldiers do, shooting their arrows down upon the trolls. Soon, one siege tower hits the wall and Orcs pile out, attacking the Gondorians, and after that, many more towers land, unleashing more Orcs.
Then, the Orcs, determined to break through the gates of the city, charge a battering ram at the gates. As this happens, Pippin runs onto the walls, where Gandalf is busy fighting off the invading Orcs. Gandalf shouts for Pippin to return to the citadel, but Pippin says that he was called out to fight. However, as more Orcs attack, Gandalf quickly tells him that this in no place for a Hobbit. As more siege towers hit the walls and Orcs are let loose, one of them charges towards Gandalf, but Pippin quickly stabs the creature with his sword, killing it instantly.
Gandalf turns to Pippin, saying that the Hobbit is Guard of the Citadel indeed, but then quickly hurries him back up the stairs to the top of the city where he can be safe. At the gates, the Orcs continue to slam their battering ram at the gates, but the Gondorian archers from up above fire arrows down upon the Orcs, killing many and slowing down the ram.
The gate is completely impregnable. Gothmog angrily tells his troops to return to the battering ram and smash the gate down, but he is told by one of his Orc captains that the gate is too strong and nothing can breach it. Seeing his troops die one by one, Gothmog orders the Orcs to use advance on the gates with Grond, a giant, wolf-shaped battering ram. Soon after, Grond, driven by huge beasts, advances upon the gates.
Gandalf looks out over the walls to see Grond approaching, and as it draws closer, the Orcs all chant its name as it prepares to breach the gates. It is chaos, and elsewhere, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas confront the Black Ships and the Corsairs of Umbar. Aragorn warns the Corsairs not to enter Gondor, but the Corsair captain says that he cannot deny that passage.
Aragorn has Legolas fire a warning shot past one of the Corsair’s ears, but as he does so, Gimli deliberately knocks his bow, causing the arrow to hit the Corsair in the chest, killing him. Gimli says that the Corsairs should surrender immediately, but when the pirates refuse, Aragorn has the Army of the Dead obliterate them.
Meanwhile, Gollum leads Frodo towards Shelob's lair in the catacombs near Cirith Ungol. Gollum says that Frodo must enter the tunnel, and that there is no other way, either he goes in, or goes back. Frodo says that he can't go back. Then, Frodo cautiously enters the caves, which are filled with sticky webs and the remains of dead Orcs and other creatures. In the darkness, Frodo is abandoned by Gollum and left stranded in the dark, gloomy caves. Meanwhile, Sam is climbing back down the passes, saddened, and suddenly slips, falling to a ledge near the bottom of the steps.
There, he finds the Elven bread which Gollum cast down into the ravine. Now angered by the way Gollum fooled Frodo into thinking that he wants to steal the Ring, Sam realizes that he must go and find Frodo. In the caves, Frodo is in a panic. After running nervously through the caves, Frodo suddenly encounters the great spider - Shelob. Frodo luckily manages to keep Shelob at bay with the vial of Elendil given to him by Galadriel. He flees from her down the tunnels.
Suddenly, Frodo is caught in one of her webs, and realizes that since Gollum won't save him, it is a deliberate trap. In his anger, Frodo cuts himself lose of the web as Shelob draws closer to him and he flees the cave. Frodo is then attacked by Gollum, but he angrily pushes Gollum away and prepares to strangle him, when Gollum says that the Ring is the reason why he tried to kill him. Frodo says that he must destroy it for both their sakes.
Walking away from Gollum, Frodo doesn't realize Gollum about to attack him, and as he does, Frodo pushes Gollum down a cliff. Now alone, Frodo continues to move through the passes. At one point Frodo faints and gives up saying sorry to Sam, but Galadriel appears and encourages him to go on and continue the quest, Frodo gets up and reassumes the road. Near Gondor, the Rohirrim have made camp where Éomer arrives to tell Théoden of the Mordor army attacking the walls of Minas Tirith, the first level already in flames. Amongst the soldiers, Merry says that he could be a knight of Rohan, capable of great deeds, but he is not - he's just a Hobbit. He tells Éowyn that he just wants to save his friends, Frodo, Sam and Pippin.
Now ready, the Rohirrim sound the war horns and prepare to ride for Minas Tirith. Éowyn and Merry place their Rohan helmets on. To battle. It is night, and at Minas Tirith, the Orcs are assaulting the walls with molten boulders, their entire army marching up towards the gates.
Inside the city, Gandalf charges the men of Gondor down to the first level of the city as Grond thunders onto the main gates. As this happens, high above the events, Denethor, in his most extreme moment of madness, retreats to the Tomb of the Stewards, intending to burn himself to death along with the still-living body of Faramir. They move out the Tower of Ecthelion and past the White Tree of Gondor, where one flower seemingly blooms. Pippin, suspecting something disastrous going to happen, secretly follows the funeral parlor to the Tomb in the hallows of the city where Denethor requests for his men to build a pyre.
Down at the gates, Grond prepares to break them open as fireballs fall upon the city's buildings. Gandalf, in front of the frightened men of Gondor, says that no matter what comes through those gates, they must stand their ground.
It is then, that Grond breaks the gates apart and trolls suddenly enter the city first, and then followed by hundreds of Orcs and the Easterlings of Rhun, who charge into the city, viciously attacking Gandalf and the soldiers. The forces of Mordor pour into the city, burning the first level, as Gandalf continues to lead the Gondor forces against them.
The Choices of Master Samwise
Meanwhile, as Frodo makes his way towards the stairs to Cirith Ungol, he is attacked by Shelob again, this time stinging Frodo and wrapping him in webbing.
At that moment, Sam arrives, holding the vial of Elendil at Shelob, telling her to back away from Frodo. He retrieves Frodo's sword, Sting, and fights Shelob with great courage as the huge spider attacks him with her claws and fangs. Eventually, after a brief fight, Sam severely wounds Shelob, leaving her blind and bleeding. She crawls away from Sam and back into her cave.
Sam quickly rushes to Frodo's side, only to find him still and lifeless, believing his master to be dead. Sam cries, thinking that the Quest is now over, and he holds Frodo’s lifeless body in his arms. While Sam mourns over Frodo's body, a small company of Orcs approach.
Hiding nearby, Sam overhears one of them, Gorbag; say that Frodo is still alive. Sam overhears the Orcs saying that Shelob only stings her victims to knock them out and Sam realizes that he has made a big mistake. The Orcs take Frodo to the tower of Cirith Ungol, imprisoning him in the highest room. Sam must rescue him. At Minas Tirith, in the hallows of the city, Pippin quietly approaches the Tomb of the Stewards where he realizes what is about to happen.
He quickly runs through the burning city to tell Gandalf, but there is too much carnage as injured Gondorians pour past him. Fire boulders are hitting the city, and the people run for their lives, screaming, as thousands of Orcs run through it. Out on the field, the Orc forces receive orders from Gothmog to enter the city and kill all in their path. Inside the first level, Gandalf fights long and hard to keep the Orcs, wargs and trolls back but the people of the city are being slaughtered as the Soldiers fight off many more invading enemies.
Amidst the fighting, Pippin finds Gandalf and tells him of Denethor's madness. Gandalf quickly pulls Pippin up onto his horse and quickly races towards the tomb to stop the obscene funeral pyre.
Along the way, Gandalf confronts the Witch-king. Gandalf warns the Witch-king to return to the abyss that awaits him and his master, but the evil wraith snarls at the wizard and uses his dark powers to shatter Gandalf's staff, blowing the wizard from Shadowfax.
Pippin lunges at the Witch-king, but is frozen in fear by his fell beast. Gandalf is half beaten and is about to be killed by the Witch-king, who says that the Wizard has failed and the world of men will fall, when war horns sound outside the city.
The Battle of Pelennor Fields
The Witch-king retreats to the threat.
On the field, Gothmog prepares his Orcs for a second assault when he notices an army arriving in the distance. It is the Rohirrim, led by King Théoden, arriving at Pelennor Fields. The Rohirrim look onwards at the huge Orc army massing outside the city. Éowyn and Merry look at the enemy, and she tells the Hobbit that courage is needed if they are to save their friends. In the Orc lines, Gothmog realizes the risks to his army and has the pikemen go to the Front lines.
As this happens, King Théoden doesn't take the Orcs as a threat and rides past his huge army of Men of Rohan, giving his final commands. He says that spears shall be shaken, shields splintered, for this is a sword day and a red day - "Ere the Sun Rises!". As both armies prepare for the conflict, Théoden rides past the front lines of his men, tapping their spears with his sword. He says gloriously that they ride now - to ruin and the world's ending! The men all yell their war cry and Théoden leads the charge.
The six thousand Rohirrim all charge down the field towards their opponents. Then, the Orcs, at Gothmog's command, fire their black arrows upon the horsemen, but it is no use. The Orcs all panic as the Rohirrim draw closer and Gothmog realizes that it is too late. The Rohirrim crash into the Orcs and charge through their lines. The Orcs cannot fight back, as they are all crushed beneath the trampling hooves. In the Tomb of the Stewards, Denethor prepares to burn himself and Faramir alive; however, it is quickly stopped as Gandalf speeds into the room, urging him to stop this madness.
However, Denethor refuses, he would much rather die than see a victory, and he sets the pyre alight. As Gandalf fights off Denethor's guards, Pippin jumps onto the pyre and manages to push Faramir out of the flames where he regains consciousness. Denethor realizes at that moment that his son is still alive, but by then he is too late to stop himself from burning. He runs out from the tomb, consumed in flames, and Gandalf says that "So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion". Denethor runs across the Citadel and falls from the prow of the city, plummeting down Minas Tirith to his death.
Down on the field, the Rohirrim inflict heavy damage on the Orcs. After vicious fighting, the Orcs turn to flee and Éomer commands the Rohhirim to drive the Orcs towards the river. As victory comes and the Orcs flee, Théoden states in glee that the city is safe, but, he is wrong, as to the east, a much greater threat has arrived. The Rohirrim are horrified when they see a large row of Oliphaunts – Mûmakil - marching towards them.
Undeterred, King Théoden rally’s up his army again and charges them gloriously at the Oliphaunts. It is a huge charge, but many Rohirrim are quickly trampled by the Oliphaunts. Above them, thousands of Haradrim archers fire down on the horses. Rohirrim charge in huge groups at the Mûmakil, but many are killed in the chaos. As the Rohirrim fire arrows up into the Oliphaunt’s stomach’s, including Gamling, Éomer rides out in front of one of the Mûmakil and manages to kill its captain with a spear.
This causes the Oliphaunt which the captain was driving to go un-controlled and crash into another Oliphaunt and both fall to the ground on top of each other. Meanwhile, Éowyn and Merry ride through the battle. Éowyn and Merry manage to bring one of the massive elephant-like beasts down by cutting at its legs. The Rohhirim, meanwhile, focus on one of the large Oliphaunt’s and King Théoden orders several of his archers to take it down quickly.
Éowyn quickly goes to aid them and sends one spear into the creature's legs, bringing it down, but both Merry and Éowyn are thrown from their horse as the dead Mûmakil collapses. The two are left stranded amidst the huge battle. As King Théoden fights off numerous Orcs, Éowyn joins the fray, cutting down several Orcs with her blade. She also engages Gothmog in combat and ends up punching his face and wounding him. Elsewhere, Merry emerges from beneath one of the fallen Mûmakil and fends himself off from several Orcs and Haradrim warriors.
High up in Minas Tirith, the Orcs have overrun all the levels of the city up to half of the fourth level, where Gandalf, Pippin and the remaining Gondorian army prepare for another attack as fearsome Mountain Trolls hammer at the gates. Gandalf says to Pippin that this is not yet the end, that death is just one path that they must all one day take. He tells Pippin of the old grey curtain of this world sliding back and a bright sunlight and white shores filling the land. Pippin happily listens and decides that dying is not so bad, and Gandalf agrees. The troll continues to hammer at the gate and all that Gandalf and Pippin can do is wait for the assault.
Down of the field, more Rohirrim are being torn apart by the huge Mûmakil beasts. Théoden goes to rally up his men, but is suddenly thrown violently from his horse and severely injured by the Witch-king of Angmar's fell beast. Théoden's slain horse falls upon the King, pinning him down to the ground.
Éowyn suddenly comes face-to-face with the Witch-king, who is poised to finish off Théoden. He turns his attention to her and she stands her ground, slaying his fell beast by beheading the creature, but then confronts the wraith himself. The Witch-king attacks her with a huge, deadly Morgul flail, and, after a brief duel, Éowyn's shield takes a direct hit from the Witch-king's flail, shattering it immediately, throwing Éowyn to the ground, injured.
In the South of Minas Tirith, the Black Fleet arrives up the river. The Orcs gather outside the ships, expecting a welcome. However, instead, Aragorn leaps off the ships, followed by Legolas and Gimli. Gimli says that there is plenty for the both of them and let the best Dwarf win. Then, the huge Army of the Dead charges out onto the battlefield, slaying the Orcs, Aragorn leading the charge with Legolas and Gimli behind him.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, as the Witch-king moves in to kill Éowyn, arrogantly telling her that his power prevents any man from killing him, Merry suddenly stabs the wraith in the leg with his sword from Rohan, wounding himself in the process. As the Witch-king shrinks from the blow, Éowyn approaches with her sword drawn. Removing her helmet, Éowyn defiantly counters that she is no man and stabs him through his face. The Witch-king implodes and is destroyed.
Meanwhile, Aragorn charges through the Orcs, killing many. Also, Gimli and Legolas continue their competition in battle and engage the Orcs, cutting them down one by one. During the battle, Gothmog gets up, furious for revenge and limps towards Eowyn with an axe for support. Eowyn sees him and tries to crawl away and also tries to lift the sword of the unconscious Merry but it slips from her grip. Gothmog picks up a mace and prepares to finish off Eowyn. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were running through the crowd and see Gothmog. Aragorn didn't know that he is saving some one's life and chops the right arm of Gothmog off while Gimli slices his stomach with his axe and Aragorn stabs him in the back which kills him. As the remaining Orcs are slaughtered by the ghosts, Legolas tries to show Gimli that he can gain a higher score with the killing and he skillfully manages to kill one of the crazed Mûmakil and its riders. As the beast collapses, Gimli says that it still counts as one. Aragorn and his companions then take out the remaining Orcs as the Dead Army begins to swarm Minas Tirith, destroying all the enemies inside. Then, the battle ends when the remnants of the Orc army is completely annihilated by the Ghost army.
Wounded, Éowyn crawls over to her dying uncle and Théoden quietly tells her how proud he is of her effort. He says that there is nothing else she can do, for his body is broken, but Éowyn says that she will save him. After several moments, Théoden dies in Éowyn's arms. The battlefield falls silent. As the sun rises over the aftermath, the survivors of the battle survey the carnage. Gathering outside Minas Tirith, the Army of the Dead confronts Aragorn and his companions, urging for him to release them. After several seconds of thought, Aragorn releases the Dead Army from their bondage, despite urgings from Gimli to keep them.
Gandalf bows to Aragorn and Aragorn smiles with their success. Pippin goes to search for Merry as Éomer discovers Éowyn, screaming in horror, believing her to be dead. Aragorn and Éomer take her to Minas Tirith. In Minas Tirith, the injured are tended to in the Houses of Healing. Amongst them, Éowyn is treated to her Morgul wound by Aragorn, with Éomer nervously watching.
Later, Éowyn awakens in a bed, where she sights Faramir, who is too healing. Out on the battle field, amongst the thousands of dead bodies, Pippin searches the battlefield frantically for Merry. Luckily, Pippin finds his cousin near the corpse of a dead Oliphaunt. Merry is wounded, but says that he knew Pippin would find him and asks if Pippin is going to leave him.
However, Pippin says that he won’t leave him; instead, he will look after him. The two are joyfully reunited. In Minas Tirith, the forces of Gondor and the remnants of the Rohirrim gather in the throne room to decide how to finish the war against Mordor. Meanwhile, at the tower of Cirith Ungol, Frodo is still in the hands of the Orcs, who are searching through his belongings.
Two of the Orcs, an Uruk called Shagrat and the Orc Gorbag, begin fighting over his Mithril vest. After a brief brawl, Shagrat forces Gorbag down through a trapdoor, and into a large group of Uruk-hai.
Shagrat commands them to kill Gorbag, and a huge fight ensues between the Orcs and the Uruks. In the fight, most of the Orcs in the tower and Uruks are killed in the huge orc-to-orc fight. Outside the tower, Sam arrives and finds the whole place filled with dead bodies of the slain Orcs and Uruk-hai. Sam then goes to search for Frodo, and kills the surviving Orcs in a moment of intense courage. However, unknown to Sam, Shagrat makes his escape with the Mithril vest. At the top of the tower, Frodo tries to pull himself free from his bonds, but is suddenly confronted by Gorbag, who says that he is going to kill Frodo. However, before he does, Sam arrives, who kills Gorbag in anger.
Letting the dead Orc fall to the floor, Sam then greets Frodo, who apologizes for sending Sam away, but is distressed because he has lost the Ring. Sam than says that he hasn't, and produces it from his pocket, saying that he'd taken it from Frodo's unconscious body so the Orcs wouldn't find it. Sam begins to hand it back to Frodo and momentarily pauses, having been mesmerized by the Ring's power. Frodo brings him back from the Ring's spell and explains that the power of the Ring would destroy Sam’s soul. Sam returns it to Frodo, saying that they must leave and finish the Quest.
It is time to enter Mordor. Inside Minas Tirith, Aragorn and his allies decide that the time has come. If Frodo is to succeed with his Quest, he must cross the Plains of Gorgoth, however, Ten thousand Orcs are on those plains. Gandalf believes that he has sent Frodo to his death, but Aragorn says that there is still hope for him - they could draw Sauron's armies out of Mordor through the Black Gate of Morannon. This will empty the plains of Gorgoroth of Sauron's army and allow Sam and Frodo the chance to reach Mount Doom. Gandalf says that Sauron will suspect a trap; he will not take the bait. Aragorn, however, says that he will.
At night, Aragorn uses the Palantír to tempt Sauron, saying that long has the Dark Lord haunted him, and long has he eluded him, but no more. Aragorn then goes to reveal to Sauron the blade of Elendil - Anduril. However, Sauron shows Aragorn a vision of Arwen dead and Aragorn, in his grief, drops the seeing stone, smashing the Evenstar. However, luckily, the ploy works and the fields of Mordor empty.
Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Éomer and the Hobbits Merry and Pippin, make their way towards Mordor, accompanied by the remaining armies of Gondor and Rohan, and they head to confront Sauron's army. In Minas Tirith, Éowyn believes that all hope is lost, but she is comforted by Faramir, who says that it is just the damp of the first spring rain. He tells her that no darkness will endure. The two happily embrace.
Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo, disguised as Orcs, make their way into the land of shadow: Mordor. Finally, the hobbits have made it into Mordor. Moving into the land, they are found by a large detachment of Orcs, and are forced by their captain to march with the Orcs as towards the Black Gates. Then, an inspection of the Mordor army is called and a large, bulgy Orc with no nose inspects the Orcs. Realizing that they might be found, Sam starts a fight with Frodo and, in the ensuing chaos, they escape onto the Plains of Gorgoth as the Orcs continue their march to the Black Gates.
They continue their grueling trek to Mount Doom. Losing their Orc armour, the hobbits climb up the ashen slopes, the Eye of Sauron looming behind them. They go to rest behind a rock where Sam notices a light in the ashen skies. He goes to remind Frodo, but the Hobbit falls asleep beside him. Meanwhile, Aragorn's army marches to Morannon.
Once at the Black Gates, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Éomer, Merry and Pippin all ride forward in front of their army and up to the Black Gates. There, a corrupted and Dark Numeron known as the Mouth of Sauron rides to them and says that his master bids them welcome. Gandalf tells him that the time of Sauron has come. It angers him but he smiles again and throws Frodo's mithril vest in front of them and says how Frodo suffered before dying. It lets a tear out of Gandalf's eye and the Dark Numenor smiles but Aragorn rides towards him. He says that it takes more than a broken Elvish blade to be a king. Aragorn suddenly summons the Anduril and beheads him to everyone's disgust. Gimli says that it concludes negotiations. Aragorn says that he will never believe that Frodo is dead. In Mordor, Frodo and Sam walk across the hot, ashen slopes near Mount Doom. Eventually, as they draw closer to their goal, the Eye of Sauron continues to search the plains, until he is within sight of the two Hobbits. Sam quickly ducks down; avoiding Sauron's gaze, but Frodo is caught and collapses the power of the One Ring beating on his chest.
In Mordor, the Eye of Sauron turns away from the Hobbits and towards the Black Gates. Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mount Doom. At Morannon, the gates re-open and the final battle between Gondor's army and Mordor begins. The gates open all the way and the massive Orc army of ten thousand troops marches out, the Eye of Sauron watching in the background.
Aragorn rides forward in front of the forces of Rohan and Gondor and tell them to stand their ground. He says that he sees the fear in their eyes, the same fear that would take the heart of him. But not this day, as today, the age of men won't fall, as today - they fight! He bids the Men of the West stand in the final battle which they might not win, but it will give Frodo time to save Middle-Earth. Aragorn turns to face the hordes of Mordor.
The Battle at the Black Gate and The Path up Orodruin
On climbing up the slopes of the Mountain of Fire, Frodo collapses and Sam comforts him, reminding him of The Shire and the strawberry that will be growing there in the spring and the birds that nest in the trees. Frodo, however, says that he can't taste food or see the light - he is naked in the dark, no light or comfort between him and darkness. Sam, however, says that they shall be rid of it - once and for all!
Then, with a final burst of strength, Sam lifts Frodo upon his back and moves him painfully up to Mount Doom. At the black gates, as the Eye of Sauron glares at Aragorn, taunting him, the future King of men walks slowly towards him, as if in a trance. He then turns slowly around to face a worried Gandalf, and says that this is for Frodo and then charges at the Mordor army. The two Hobbits follow and soon the whole army of men charges into the Orcs, fighting them viciously.
Now on Mount Doom, the hobbits approach the door to the Crack of Doom and Gollum suddenly attacks, angrily wanting the Ring back. He grabs Frodo by the throat and begins to strangle him. Luckily, before Frodo can be strangled, Sam throws a rock at Gollum's head, knocking him off. As the battle rages on at the gates, Gimli fights hard against the forces of Sauron and Legolas too fights off many attackers.
High above, the Winged Nazgûl descend upon the battle. At Mount Doom, while Sam struggles with Gollum, Frodo slips away and runs inside the chamber to the Cracks of Doom. Sam throws Gollum down the mountainside and slices his torso with his sword. He then quickly follows Frodo. At the Black Gates, Gandalf watches as the Nazgûl prepare to attack, but then sights the small Moth from when he was imprisoned on Orthanc, and knows it shall bring hope.
Then, the Nazgûl are suddenly engaged in midair by the Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Pippin looks up and cheers as the Eagles attack the fell beats. Inside the Cracks of Doom, Frodo is standing on the edge of the bridge overlooking a huge river of lava below. Sam pleads with him to drop the Ring in the fire and destroy it; however, Frodo pauses for several seconds at the power of the Ring taunts at his heart. Turning to face Sam, Frodo declares that the Ring is his and he pulls it of its chain, taking it towards his finger. Eventually, as Sam looks on, Frodo places it upon his finger, disappearing.
Sam screams in horror as the Eye of Sauron turns its attention towards Mount Doom and the Ringwraiths swoop back toward Mordor. At the gates, Aragorn encounters a huge heavily armoured troll and duels the beast, only to be wounded and sent falling to the ground, Legolas trying to reach him, but he is stopped by the battle raging on around them. In the Cracks of Doom, Gollum attacks again, knocking Sam unconscious with a rock, and sees that Frodo has disappeared. However, this won't stop him, as Gollum quickly determines Frodo's location and leaps upon him, trying to get the Ring back with all his strength.
Sam tries to reach Frodo, but is still barely conscious, and Gollum angrily bites off Frodo's finger, causing the Hobbit to both re-appear and drop to the ground in pain as Gollum takes the Ring. Gollum is joyful that the One Ring is his at last. As he leaps about joyfully at being reunited with his prized possession, Frodo, wanting to get the Ring back, fights Gollum, resulting in, after a brief, vicious brawl, Frodo and Gollum pushing each over the edge. Gollum falls into the lava with the Ring and sinks, but the Ring stays suspended.
Frodo is left hanging by one hand onto the cliff. Sam quickly rushes to him and convinces Frodo not to let go and pulls him up over the edge. The One Ring sinks into the boiling lava and melts, destroying it forever. Aragorn, who is about to be killed by the fierce troll, is saved when the army of Mordor is distracted by the destruction of the Ring.
As chaos erupts on the forces of Mordor, Sauron's tower of Barad-dûr, built with the power of the Ring, collapses, and the Eye of Sauron starts to die out. Then, after several moments of amazement to the men at the Black Gates, the Eye of Sauron explodes and disperses, taking the tower with it. Sauron is finally destroyed forever. At the Black Gates, Merry, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf, Pippin and all the other companions all cheer in happiness. Then, the towers and gate of Morannon all collapse, and with them, the earth opens to swallow up much of Mordor's fleeing army.
Frodo's friends react with joy to his success, but their happiness turns to grief as they see Mount Doom erupting into a huge ball of fire and realize that Frodo and Sam must be doomed...The surviving Nazgûl fly toward Mount Doom, but are destroyed by lava from the volcano. In the exploding chamber of the Cracks of Doom, Sam carries his wounded master out of Mount Doom and onto the mountainside, where the two of them are surrounded by lava. Frodo, now freed from the power of the Ring, expresses his joy that the Ring is gone along with the Quest being done.
He imagines the light of the world and all is goodness whilst Sam says that Rosie Cotton would have been his wife. Frodo comforts Sam, here at the end of all things...
But, sometime later, the unconscious Frodo and Sam are then rescued by three Eagles, Gandalf riding on Gwaihir. They swoop away and Frodo just awakens to see the sight of him being taken by the large eagle. Next morning, Frodo awakens in the Houses of Healing and is overjoyed to see Gandalf, whom he had thought dead. They laugh in delight.
One by one, the other six surviving members of the Fellowship enter the room to greet and thank Frodo, Sam last. That day, the streets of Minas Tirith are filled and high up outside the Throne Hall; Aragorn is coroneted as King of Gondor by Gandalf in front of his cheering subjects. Now come the days of the King! During the ceremony, Aragorn greets Lady Éowyn and Lord Faramir, King Éomer of Rohan and a delegation of Elves, greeting Legolas with them, including Elrond... and Arwen, who emerges from behind a banner.
Aragorn moves the banner slowly and kisses her passionately. The crowds all applause in happiness as Aragorn – King Elessar – is finally reunited with his one true love. Then, Aragorn and his people pay homage to Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They all bow to the hobbits and the Third Age comes to an end. The four Hobbits return to the Shire, where they realize that no one else will ever understand what they have done.
That night, in the Green Dragon Inn, the hobbits, now all together after their great quests, all settle to a drink when Sam, however, goes to marry Rosie Cotton. It works and both Sam and Rosie have their marriage ceremony and all the hobbits applause.
Over time, Frodo begins to feel that he will be unable to continue his old life. Frodo continues Bilbo's memoir, calling his section of it The Lord of the Rings, but breaks off writing a few pages from the end of the Red Book. Sam arrives and Frodo says that it has been four years to the day when they were on Weathertop, and his wound has never fully healed.
That evening, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin and Gandalf accompany the now-frail Bilbo Baggins to the Grey Havens, where the last Elven ship is waiting to depart Middle-earth. There, they find Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn also waiting to board the ship. The Hobbits are surprised to learn that Gandalf will sail with Bilbo and the others, and even more shocked that Frodo is also sailing.
Frodo gives the Red Book to Sam and bids a sad farewell to his three friends—Sam last. Then he boards the ship to sail into the Undying Lands west of the Sea, turning back to give his friends one last smile.
He boards the ship and sails away into the sun. Later, Sam returns home to Bagshot Row, his wife, and his first two children. He say’s to himself – "Well I'm back". The story finally comes to an end...
The theatrical version does not include the following scenes:
- Smeagol strangling Deagol for longer
- Merry and Pippin talking for longer before they are encountered by the others
- Saruman talking to Theoden and Gandalf, then Wormtongue appears, stabbing Saruman in the back when he slapped him to the floor. Legolas shoots Wormtongue dead as Saruman falls off of Orthanc and his body is impaled.
- In the theatrical version, there is a scene that is not in the extended edition. The story is made different in the theatrical version, ultimately having Treebeard saying Saruman is imprisoned inside Orthanc. Wormtongue is neither seen nor mentioned.
- Éowyn giving Theoden the cup before he makes the announcement
- Legolas and Gimli have a drinking game. Gimli eventually passes out and Legolas says "Gave over".
- Pippin stares at Gandalf for a few seconds during his dance with Merry
- Aragorn goes to the main hall only to find Éowyn sleeping, and she tells him about her dream
- Merry tells Aragorn about his past life with Pippin as Gandalf rides off on Shadowfax with Pippin
- Denethor commands Pippin to tell him how Merry and Pippin survived and how Boromir didn't, and Pippin tells him that Boromir died protecting him and Merry, and how he was very mighty that he had to be pierced by "many" arrows.
- Gandalf walks away from Denethor with Pippin
- Gandalf and Pippin go to the edge of Minas Tirith, where Gandalf tells Pippin that the weather above Mount Doom was not the weather of the world.
- Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at the crossroads of the fallen king, where they see a statue that has flowers grow around it in the sun and then the flowers go as the sun goes
- Just by the stairs of Cirith Ungol, Sam warns Gollum
- Longer scenes at Osgiliath before the orcs attack it, ultimately having one of Faramir's soldiers killed by an orc archer
- Merry asks Theoden if he will accept his sword
- Denethor has a go at Faramir for not bringing the One Ring to Minas Tirith when he had the perfect opportunity
- Faramir talks to Pippin about how his gondorian clothing used to belong to him
- Aragorn's conversation with Éowyn was longer
- Legolas shows Aragorn and Gimli where the paths of the dead was
- Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli inside the paths of the dead, discovering the skulls
- Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli escape the avalanche of the Paths of the Dead, only to finding the corsair ships on their way, letting Aragorn down, until the King of the Dead tells him that they will fight
- Gothmog stops another orc from moving forward
- Gothmog tells Murgash to use Grond to open the gate
- Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli encounter the corsair ships, and the King of the Dead's soldiers attack them
- Merry and Éowyn talk about Merry's courage half way towards Minas Tirith
- Pippin watching the bottom of Minas Tirith before he sees Denethor and the guards on their way to burning the father and son
- Gandalf and Pippin encounter the Witch-King
- In the theatrical version, the horn that stops the witch king from killing Gandalf was heard earlier on. In the extended edition, Gandalf looks at Pippin before he talks to him. In the theatrical version, Gandalf is looking at something, we do not know it is Pippin and that is when the horn is heard.
- Denethor explains to Gandalf why he is burning himself before he drops the flaming wood
- Theoden seeing Éowyn fighting the orcs during the Pelennor Fields
- Merry comes out of where he just dodges being squashed by a mumakil, and kills some haradrim soldiers
- In the theatrical version, Merry also comes out of where he dodged the mumakil. In the theatrical version, it was just before the witch king picked Éowyn up by her neck, in the extended edition, it is before Gandalf talks to Pippin about a "far green country"
- Éowyn kills an orc and then fights Gothmog. Ultimately, she punches him in the face and wounds him, making him limp.
- Gothmog about to kill Éowyn in revenge but is himself killed by Gimli and Aragorn
- Pippin finds Merry's fellowship leaf†
- Éomer sees Éowyn and thinks she is dead; Aragorn then heals her at the Houses of Healings where she meets Faramir
- Pippin calling for Merry and then finds him under an orc.
- †In the theatrical version, when Pippin sees something, it is Merry himself. He finds Merry under the orc. In the extended version, when Pippin sees something, it is Merry's fellowship leaf.
- Extended fighting seen at Cirith Ungol
- Gandalf says Sauron will not take the bait, Aragorn says he thinks he will
- Aragorn finds the palantír and shows him the sword of Elendil, only to see a dead picture of Arwen in the palantír
- Frodo and Sam disguised as orcs walk with the army and escape
- Frodo and Sam remove their orc costumes and see a star in the sky
- The Mouth of Sauron coming through the black gate saying Frodo was dead, only to have Aragorn decapitate him
- Gollum strangles Frodo, where Frodo says he swore, and Gollum finally reveals he lied the entire time
- Saruman and Wormtongue are in the main cast, and then afterwards they are both casted in the entire cast
- Fan club credits
Stock footage from The Fellowship of the Ring include:
- Deagol's hand taking the ring.
- Isildur slicing Sauron's finger.
- The Witch-King stabs Frodo and Frodo screams.
- Boromir getting shot by arrows.
- "I do not fear death."
"I don't want to be in a battle, but waiting on the edge of one I can't escape is even worse."
- "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep and have taken hold."
- "Now, listen carefully. Lord Denethor is Boromir's father. To give him news of his beloved son's death would be most unwise. And do not mention Frodo, or the Ring. And say nothing of Aragorn either. In fact, it's better if you don't speak at all, Peregrin Took."
- —Gandalf to Pippin
- "Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"
- —Aragorn in the Battle of the Morannon
- "Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?" "No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food... nor the sound of water... nor the touch of grass. I'm... naked in the dark. There's... There's nothing. No veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him... with my waking eyes." "Then let us be rid of it... once and for all. Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you."
- —Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins
- "Your fool. No man can kill me. Die now!" "[Merry stabs the Witch-king on the back, falling to his knees]." "I am no man."
- —The Witch-king of Angmar and Éowyn upon killing him
- "You think you are wise, Mithrandir. Yet for all your subtleties, you have not wisdom. Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know. With your left hand you would use me as a shield against Mordor, and with your right you would seek to supplant me. I know who rides with Theoden of Rohan. Oh, yes. Word has reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I tell you now, I will not bow to this Ranger from the North, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship!" "Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, Steward!"
- —Denethor II and Gandalf
- "My dear Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on."
- —Frodo Baggins
- "They cursed us. Murderer they called us. They cursed us, and drove us away. And we wept, Precious, we wept to be so alone. And we only wish to catch fish so juicy sweet. And we forgot the taste of bread... the sound of trees... the softness of the wind. We even forgot our own name. My Precious. "
- "From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king."
- "We have time. Every day Frodo moves closer to Mordor." "Do we know that?" "What does your heart tell you?" "That Frodo is alive. Yes. Yes, he is alive."
- —Aragorn and Gandalf
- "The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the East. A sleepless malice. The Eye of the enemy is moving."
- "FRODO!" "I'm here Sam." "Destroy it! Go on! Now! Throw it in the fire! What are you waiting for? Just let it go!" "The ring is mine." "No... no... NO!"
- —Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins upon destroying the One Ring
"You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" -Gandalf to Balrog
"I never thought I would die fighting side by side with an elf."
"How about fighting side by side with a friend?"
"I ... I can live with that""
- —Gimli and Legolas before the start of the final battle
Deviations from the Book
- Main article: Cuts and alterations from the book in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (film)
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 Palantír 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 Gríma Wormtongue (which in the book occurs at the end of the Scouring of the Shire) and Gríma 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 Palantír then falls into the water where it is found by Pippin. In the theatrical version, the Palantír falls out of Saruman's voluminous sleeve into the water as the mill-wheel turns. In the book Gríma throws the Palantír 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.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is unusual in that it is, to date, the only one whose separate installments were written and then shot simultaneously (excluding pick up shoots). Jackson admitted The Return of the King was the easiest of the films to make, because it contained the climax of the story, unlike the other two films. The Return of the King was originally the second of two planned films under Miramax from January 1997 to August 1998, and more or less in its finished structure as the first film was to end with The Two Towers' Battle of Helm's Deep. Filming took place under multiple units across New Zealand, between October 11, 1999 and December 22, 2000, with pick up shoots for six weeks in 2003 before the film's release.
Middle-earth as envisioned by Jackson was primarily designed by Alan Lee and John Howe, former Tolkien illustrators, and created by Weta Workshop, who handled all the trilogy's weapons, armour, miniatures, prosthetics and creatures, as well as the Art Department which built the sets. Richard Taylor headed Weta, whilst Grant Major and Dan Hennah organized the planning and building respectively.
The city of Minas Tirith, glimpsed briefly in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen fully in this film, and with it the Gondorian civilization. The enormous soundstage was built at Dry Creek Quarry, outside Wellington, from the Helm's Deep set. That set's gate became Minas Tirith's second, whilst the Hornburg exterior became that of the Extended Edition's scene where Gandalf confronts the Witch-king. New structures included was the 8m tall Gate, with broken and unbroken versions, with a working opening and closing mechanism, with its engravings inspired by the Bapistry of San Giovanni. There were also four levels of streets with heraldic motifs for every house, as inspired by Siena.
There was also the Citadel, the exterior of which was in the Stone Street Studios backlot, utilizing forced perspective. It contains the withered White Tree, built from polystyrene by Brian Massey and the Greens Department with real branches, influenced by ancient and gnarled Lebanese olive trees. The interior was within a 3 story former factory in Wellington, with a throne for Denethor carved from stone and polystyrene statues of past Kings. The Gondorian armour is designed to represent an evolution from the Númenóreans of the first film's prologue, with a simplified sea bird motif. 16th century Italian and German armour served as inspiration, whilst civilians wear silver and blacks as designed by Ngila Dickson.
Minas Morgul, the Staircase and Tower of Cirith Ungol as well as Shelob's Lair were designed by Howe, with the Morgul road using forced perspective into a bluescreened miniature. Howe's design of Minas Morgul was inspired from the experience of having wisdom teeth pulled out: in the same way, the Orcs have put their twisted designs on to a former Gondorian city. Cirith Ungol was based on Tolkien's design, but when Richard Taylor felt it as "boring", it was redesigned with more tipping angles. The interior set, like Minas Tirith, was built as a few multiple levels that numerous camera takes would suggest a larger structure.
The third film introduces the enormous spider Shelob. Shelob was designed in 1999, with the body based on a tunnel web spider and the head with numerous growths selected by Peter Jackson's children from one of many sculpts. Jackson himself took great joy in planning the sequence, being an arachnophobe himself. Shelob's Lair was inspired by sandstone and sculpted from the existing Caverns of Isengard set.
The Return of the King also brings into focus the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the evil Haradrim from the south of Middle-earth, men who ride the Mûmakil. The Dead Men have lines and symmetry to reflect their morbid state. The Haradrim were highly influenced by African culture, until Philippa Boyens expressed concern over the possibility of offensiveness, so the finished characters instead bear influence from Kiribati, in terms of weaving armour from bamboo, and the Aztecs, in use of jewellery. Also built was a single dead Mumak. Other minor cultures include the Corsairs, with an exotic, swarthy look, and the Grey Havens, Elven structures adapted to stone, with influence from J. M. W. Turner paintings.
The Return of the King was shot during 2000, though Sean Astin's coverage from Gollum's attempt to separate Frodo and Sam was filmed on November 24, 1999, when floods in Queenstown interrupted the focus on The Fellowship of the Ring. Some of the earliest scenes shot for the film were in fact the last. Hobbiton, home of the Hobbits, was shot in January 2000 with early scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, with the exterior shot at a Matamata farm, whilst interior scenes shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington, shared with the Grey Havens sequence. Due to the high emotions of filming the scene, the cast were in despair when they were required to shoot it three times, due to a costume continuity flaw in Sean Astin's costume, and then negatives producing out-of-focus reels. Also shared with the previous films was the Rivendell interior in May.
The Battle of the Black GatewasfilmedinApril at the Rangipo Desert, a former minefield. New Zealand soldiers were hired as extras whilst guides were on the lookout for unexploded mines. Also a cause for concern were Monaghan and Boyd's scale doubles during a charge sequence. In the meantime, Wood, Astin and Serkis filmed at Mount Ruapehu for the Mount Doom exteriors. In particular, they spent two hours shooting Sam lifting Frodo on to his back with cross-camera coverage.
Scenes shot in June were the Paths of the Dead across various locations, including Pinnacles. In July the crew shot some Shelob scenes, and in August and September time was spent on the scenes in Isengard. Monaghan and Boyd tried numerous takes of their entrance, stressing the word "weed" as they smoked pipe-weed. Christopher Lee spent his part of his scene mostly alone, though McKellen and Hill arrived on the first day for a few lines to help.
Edoras exteriors were shot in October. The Ride of the Rohirrim, where Théoden leads the charge into the Orc army, was filmed in Twizel with 150 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields has more extensive use of CGI, in contrast to the more extensive use of live action in the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second film. Also filmed were the attempts by Faramir to recapture Osgiliath, as were scenes in the city itself. At this point production was very hectic, with Jackson moving around ten units per day, and production finally wrapped on the Minas Tirith sets, as well as second units shooting parts of the siege. Just as the Hobbit actors' first scene was hiding under a Ringwraith, their last scene was the bluescreened reaction shot of the inhabitants of Minas Tirith bowing to them.
The 2003 pickups were filmed in the Wellington studio car park, with many parts of sets and bluescreens used to finish off scenes, which the design team had to work 24/7 to get the right sets ready for a particular day. The shoot continued for two months, and became an emotional time of farewells for the cast and crew. The film has the most extensive list of reshoots given for the trilogy. Jackson took his time to reshoot Aragorn's coronation, rushed into a single day under second unit director Geoff Murphy on December 21, 2000. Jackson also reshot scenes in and around Mount Doom, and Théoden's death, right after Bernard Hill was meant to wrap.
There was also the new character of Gothmog. This was a major new design addition for the film, as Jackson felt the Mordor Orcs were pathetic compared to the Uruk-hai of the second film after watching assembly cuts, and thus Weta created grotesque new über Orcs, as antagonists for the audience to focus on. Christian Rivers also redesigned the Witch-king and all of his scenes were reshot, due to confusion from non-readers over whether or not Sauron was on the battlefield.
With the positive response to Orlando Bloom, Legolas was given a fight with a mûmakil, and Howard Shore also got a cameo during Legolas and Gimli's drinking game at Edoras. The final scenes shot were Aragorn escaping the Skull avalanche, and Frodo finishing off his book. The cast also received various props associated with their characters, although in the case of John Rhys-Davies, he burnt his final Gimli prosthetic. Viggo Mortensen head-butted the stunt team goodbye. Pick-ups ended on June 27, 2003.
Scenes shot afterwards included various live-action shots of Riders for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and a reaction shot of Andy Serkis as Gollum finally realizing Frodo intends to destroy the Ring, shot in Jackson's house. For the Extended DVD, Jackson shot a few shots of skulls rolling over for the avalanche scene in March 2004, the final piece of footage ever shot for the trilogy.
Post-production on The Return of the King began in November 2002, with the completion of the 4 1/2 hour assembly cut of the film that Annie Collins had been completing over 2001 and 2002, from 4 hour dailies. For example, Théoden leading the charge went from 150 minutes of takes to a finished 90 seconds. Jackson reunited with longtime collaborator Jamie Selkirk to edit the final film. Like The Two Towers, they would have to deal with multiple storylines, and Jackson paid attention to each storyline at a time before deciding where to intercut. Most importantly they spent three weeks working on the last 45 minutes of the film, for appropriate intercutting and leaving out scenes such as the Mouth of Sauron, and the fates of characters like Legolas, Gimli, Éowyn and Faramir. The film inherited scenes originally planned to go into the second film, including the reforging of Narsil, Gollum's back-story, and Saruman's exit. But the Saruman scene posed a structural problem: killing off the second film's villain when the plot was Sauron as the main villain. Despite pick-ups and dubs, the scene was cut, causing controversy with fans and Saruman actor Christopher Lee, as well as a petition to restore the scene. Lee nonetheless contributed to the DVDs and was at the Copenhagen premiere, although on the other hand he says he will never understand the reason for the cut and his relationship with Jackson is chilly. Jackson only had a lock on 5 out of 10 reels, and had to churn out 3 reels in 3 weeks to help finish the film. It was finally done on November 12. Jackson never had a chance to view the film in full during the hectic schedule, and only saw the film from beginning to end at the December 1 Wellington premiere.
The Return of the King contains 1,488 visual effect shots, nearly 3 times the amount of the first film, and almost 2 times the amount of the second film. Visual effects work began with Alan Lee and Mark Lewis compositing various photographs of New Zealand landscape to create the digital arena of the Pelennor Fields in November 2002. Gary Horsfield also created a digital version of the Barad-dûr during his Christmas break at home by himself, for the film's climax. In the meantime, Jackson and Christian Rivers used computers to plan the enormous battle up until February 2003, when the shots were shown to Weta Digital. To their astonishment, 60 planned shots had gone up to 250, and 50,000 characters were now 200,000. Nevertheless they pressed on, soon delivering 100 shots a week, 20 a day, as the deadline neared within the last two months, often working until 2a.m.
For the battle, they recorded 450 motions for the MASSIVE digital horses (though deaths were animated), and also had to deal with late additions in the film, such as Trolls bursting through Minas Tirith's gates as well as the creatures that pull Grond to the gate, and redoing a shot of two mûmakil Éomer takes down that had originally taken six months into two days. On a similar note of digital creatures, Shelob's head sculpt was scanned by a Canadian company for 10 times more detail than WETA had previously been able to capture.
Like the previous films, there are also extensive morphs between digital doubles for the actors. This time, there was Sam falling off Shelob, where the morph takes place as Astin hits the ground. Legolas attacking a Mûmakil required numerous transitions to and fro, and Gollum's shots of him having recovered the One Ring and falling into the Crack of Doom were fully animated. The King of the Dead is played by an actor in prosthetics, and his head occasionally morphs to a more skull-like digital version, depending on the character's mood. The Mouth of Sauron also had his mouth enlarged 200% for unsettling effect.
The Return of the King also has practical effects. In the Pyre of Denethor sequence, as the Steward of Gondor throws Pippin out of the Tomb, John Noble threw a dwarf named Fon onto a lying Billy Boyd, who immediately pushed his head into camera to complete the illusion. A few burning torches were also reflected onto a mirror and into the camera for when Gandalf's horse Shadowfax kicks Denethor onto the Pyre. Due to Jackson's requirement of complete realism with his fantasy world, numerous miniatures were built, such as 1:72 scale miniature of Minas Tirith, which rises 7m high and is 6.5m in diameter. 1:14 scale sections of the city were also required, and the Extended Edition scene of the collapsing City of the Dead has 80,000 small skulls, amounting in total to a single cubic meter. The miniatures team concluded in November with the Black Gate, after 1000 days of shooting, and the final digital effects shot done was the Ring's unmaking, on November 25.
- Main article: Music of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy
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 fever pitch when the movie was complete. The world premiere was held in Wellington's Embassy Theatre, on December 1, 2003, and was attended by the director and many of the stars. It was estimated that over 100,000 people lined the streets, more than a quarter of the city's population.
The film has a 94% rating of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was named best film of the year more than any other according to criticstop10.net. It was named 'Best film of 2003' by such critics as Lisa Schwarzbaum Entertainment Weekly, Richard Corliss of Time, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, and James Berardinelli of Reelviews.
An indication of the film's popularity amongst general audiences is the weighted average of 8.8/10 from 214,204 IMDb voters, placing it as the tenth best rated film. In February 2004, a few months after release, the film was voted as #8 on Empire's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, compiled from readers' top 10 lists. In 2007, Total Film named The Return of the King the third best film of the past decade (Total Film's publication time), behind The Matrix and Fight Club.
There is some extra dialogue in Merry and Pippin's first scene at Isengard reuniting them with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. There is also the final confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman, in which Saruman is killed by Wormtongue, who in turn is killed by Legolas. Saruman lands on a spike on a wheel and drops the palantír. Edoras is extended, with the party containing a drinking game between Legolas and Gimli. Right before Pippin takes the palantír, Aragorn enters the Great Hall and has a conversation with Éowyn about a dream she had, about a great wave over a green countryside, which was originally Faramir's dream in the book.
At Minas Tirith, Pippin explains to Denethor how Boromir died, and Gandalf explains to Pippin how Gondor fell into ruin. Frodo, Sam and Gollum discover a ruined and defaced statue at the Crossroads. When the Morgul signal for war begins, Sam warns Gollum about betrayal, eventually setting up the separation. When the Orcs cross the river it is shown the Gondorians were surprised, expecting an attack at Cair Andros. To further set up the battle, we also see Merry swearing loyalty to Théoden at Edoras after the lighting of the beacons. After Faramir arrives in Minas Tirith, there is a scene where Denethor confronts him for not taking the Ring, which includes his vision of Boromir. There is a friendly chat between Pippin and Faramir which sets up Pippin's later attempts to rescue him.
The Paths of the Dead sequence is heavily revised, with ghostly arms, the avalanche of skulls and Aragorn's emergence from the mountain where the King of the Dead accepts his offer. This leads onto Aragorn attacking the Corsair ships, which includes a cameo by Peter Jackson as a character killed by Legolas. During the siege of Minas Tirith, the Orcs use a small battering ram on the gates before Grond arrives, and Gandalf's confronts the Witch-king as he comes to rescue Faramir, when his staff is broken. Gothmog also fights Éowyn during the battle, and attempts to finish her off as the battle closes before he is killed by Aragorn and Gimli.
The scenes between the end of the Pelennor battle and Black Gate battle is longer. Pippin's search for Merry is digitally graded to night to give the impression he has been searching for him all day. Éomer also finds Éowyn on the field and mourns when he thinks she is dead. Aragorn heals her and she falls for Faramir. Before Aragorn sets off, he confronts Sauron in the palantír, however Sauron shows Aragorn an image of an unconscious Arwen, which frightens Aragorn into backing away. Sam and Frodo get more time in Mordor: the fight among the orcs in the tower of Cirith Ungol is longer, and after Sam rescues Frodo, we see a surviving Uruk sneaking off with Frodo's mithril shirt. Frodo and Sam are also diverted into the Orc march to the Black Gate and escape on a long journey, during which they throw away the last of their gear. Sam also sees a star through the clouds, symbolizing hope whilst Frodo merely rests with a burn on his neck. At the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Merry, and Éomer are first confronted by the Mouth of Sauron, suggesting that Frodo is dead, providing additional meaning to Aragorn's line "For Frodo". There is a final line of dialogue in which Gollum admits he lied about protecting Frodo.
Box office records
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 theatres 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 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").
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 favourably 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).
|This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (film). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with The One Wiki to Rule Them All, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.|
|Trailer for the Return of the King movie|
|A fan-made music video Raincalls|
|The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Books:||The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King|
|Movie trilogy:||The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King|
|Animated movies:||J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings | The Return of the King (TV special)|
|Miscellaneous:||The History of The Lord of the Rings | Lord of the Rings radio series|
|The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy|