When asked what the greatest movie trilogy of all time is, many will have only one answer: The Lord of the Rings. Nominated for a whopping 30 Academy Awards, the 3-part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work forever changed the cinematic landscape.
Premiering in 2001 and directed by Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings is still one of the best fantasy franchises around today. Kickstarting the careers of actors like Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler, the trilogy also features a whole host of well-known talent from Cate Blanchett to Ian McKellen. Each movie is pretty long (all three are over three hours with one making it over the four-hour mark), but the magical cinematography and epic battles make the experience truly worthwhile.
The best part is you don’t even need a cable subscription to take in the glory of Middle-earth. Keep reading for a rundown of how to stream each part of the trilogy online whenever you feel like it.
Your guide on where to stream The Lord of the Rings movies
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It’s common for streaming services to add and remove content from their libraries without warning, and this regularly happens with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Occasionally, all three movies pop up on Netflix before disappearing again. In the past, the titles have also been seen on Hulu and Starz. Right now, though, no streaming service has The Lord of the Rings movies. But that could change in the coming weeks.
May 2020 will see the launch of HBO’s latest non-cable service, HBO Max ($14.99/mo.). The new service will offer a much larger range of content than the network’s other streaming platform, HBO Now. When the service launches, an impressive 10,000 hours of shows and movies are expected to be available, including the entire Lord of the Rings franchise.
Subscribers can also watch every episode of Game of Thrones, Watchmen and Westworld and catch up on iconic shows like Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Movies from the likes of Warner Bros., DC and New Line Cinema will also be available. So expect to see modern hits like Joker and A Star is Born alongside classics like The Matrix and Casablanca. If that isn’t enough, HBO Max is also set to deliver plenty of original shows, including a much-awaited Gossip Girl reboot.
Existing HBO Now subscribers will be able to access HBO Max for free. So can those who watch HBO through AT&T’s video platforms and premium mobile and broadband services. There’s also likely to be a deal for people who currently pay for the network via a cable or TV provider.
Renting vs. buying The Lord of the Rings
Whether you want to own all of the Lord of the Rings movies or simply want to rent one part of the trilogy, you can with the click of a button. The likes of Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Prime Video and Vudu both rent and sell all three movies in the mythical franchise. The first title, The Fellowship of the Ring, is also available to rent or buy via FandangoNOW and YouTube.
You can usually rent 1 film in standard definition (SD) for $2.99 and in high definition (HD) for $3.99. The rental process tends to work in the same way, no matter which site you rent from. You’ll be given 30 days to start watching your chosen movie. But once you’ve pressed play, you’ll only have 48 hours to finish it. Some sites operate slightly differently. For example, Vudu only gives you 24 hours to complete a movie, and Microsoft requires you to start watching your film within 14 days.
Buying comes with a higher price tag than renting, but the specific cost varies from place to place. For example, some platforms charge just $9.99 for an SD purchase, while others charge $14.99. HD prices can range from $14.99 to $17.99.
All 3 movies can be yours for less than $30. iTunes is currently selling the trilogy bundle for $29.99, while Microsoft’s price has been reduced to $24.99. An extended edition bundle is also available via Microsoft ($34.99), $44.99 iTunes ($44.99) and Vudu ($49.99).
How to stream The Lord of the Rings movies in order
Unlike other trilogies, The Lord of the Rings is one story split into three parts. So you need to watch them in release date order, starting with The Fellowship of the Ring and ending with The Return of the King. If you don’t, prepare to feel completely out of your depth.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The most powerful individuals long to get hold of the One Ring, forged by Dark Lord Sauron in a bid to rule over all of Middle-earth. Lost for thousands of years, it eventually ends up in the hands of a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). When wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) realizes the true nature of the ring, he instructs Frodo to leave his quiet home and take the ring to the fires of Mount Doom. Joined on his long and treacherous journey by an elf, a dwarf, some men and three friends from home, Frodo is forced to evade a series of terrifying enemies ranging from a strong army of Uruk-hai to the undead Nazgûl.
Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler also star in the trilogy’s introduction. Filmed in various locations across New Zealand, The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for 13 Oscars at the 2002 Academy Awards. It won the coveted statue in four categories, including Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. The remaining two awards were for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup, thanks to the movie’s incredible use of CGI.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Frodo’s quest continues with faithful friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) in tow. On their way to Mordor, they realize they have a third companion, Gollum, a strange creature with a deadly past. Only time will tell if he’ll lead Frodo and Sam to their destiny, or to their doom. Away from the two hobbits, the rest of the fellowship end up in Rohan, a land led by an unrecognizable King Théoden (Bernard Hill). As well as dealing with the spells of evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) must help evacuate the people of Rohan to Helm’s Deep. But is this ancient fortress strong enough to keep the fearsome Uruk-hai out?
Just like The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers received several awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing. The introduction of Gollum was a highlight in the special effects world, with actor Andy Serkis lending his voice and movements to the creepy character. The second part of the trilogy also won a Grammy for its dramatic musical score.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
In the final part of the trilogy, Frodo and Sam are closer than ever to Mordor while the majority of the fellowship is reunited. During the hobbits’ quest to destroy the ring, Gollum causes a potentially deadly rift between the lifelong friends. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Théoden take charge of the World of Men, receiving assistance from Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in a battle against Sauron’s forces, led by the mighty Witch-king. But will their efforts be enough to keep Sauron’s gaze away from Frodo? Or will the ring end up in evil hands at the end of it all?
The Return of the King broke Academy Awards records. Winning 11 Oscars at the 2004 ceremony, it holds the record for the biggest clean sweep for a single Oscar-nominated film and, alongside Ben-Hur and Titanic, holds the record for the most Oscars.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
While you can’t currently stream The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s likely the fantasy franchise will pop up on at least one streaming service in the near future. The likeliest contender is HBO Max, launching in May 2020. So get ready to sign up to catch the extremely long and highly dangerous journey of Frodo and company.
There’s no word on free trials just yet, but HBO Max is likely to fall in line with other streaming services by allowing users to try the service for a week. And remember: if you already pay for HBO Now or access the network via an eligible AT&T service, you won’t have to shell out an extra $14.99/mo. for HBO Max. With thousands of hours of entertainment on offer, that’s a pretty sweet deal.