The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 epic fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson from a screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson, based on 1955’s The Return of the King, the third volume of the novel The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The sequel to 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the film is the final installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It features an ensemble cast including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, and Sean Bean.
Continuing the plot of the previous film, Frodo, Sam and Gollum are making their final way toward Mount Doom in Mordor in order to destroy the One Ring, unaware of Gollum’s true intentions, while Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the rest are joining forces together against Sauron and his legions in Minas Tirith.
The Return of the King was financed and distributed by American studio New Line Cinema, but filmed and edited entirely in Jackson’s native New Zealand, concurrently with the other two parts of the trilogy. It premiered on 1 December 2003 at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, and was then released on 17 December 2003 in the United States and on 18 December 2003 in New Zealand. The film was acclaimed by both critics and audiences, who considered it to be a landmark in filmmaking and the fantasy film genre, with praise for the visual effects, performances, action sequences, direction, screenplay, musical score, costume design and emotional depth. It grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2003 and the second highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release, as well as the highest-grossing film released by New Line Cinema.
Like the other films in the trilogy, The Return of the King is widely recognized as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. The film received numerous accolades; at the 76th Academy Awards, it won all eleven awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture, tying with 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1997’s Titanic as the movie with the most Academy Award wins. It also became the second film series whose entries have all won Best Visual Effects, after the original Star Wars trilogy.
The production of The Lord of the Rings series was the first where three separate entries were written and shot simultaneously (excluding pick up shoots). Jackson found The Return of the King the easiest of the films to make, because it contained the climax of the story. 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 Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. Filming took place under multiple units across New Zealand, between 11 October 1999 and 22 December 2000, with pick up shoots for six weeks in 2003 before the film’s release.
- Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins: A young hobbit who continues his quest to destroy the Ring, which continues to torture him.
- Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White: An Istari wizard who travels to aid the Men of Gondor, acting as a general at the Siege of Gondor.
- Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn Elessar: A Dúnedain ranger who must finally face his destiny as King of Gondor.
- Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee: Better known as Sam, Frodo’s loyal hobbit gardener and companion.
- Andy Serkis as Sméagol Trahald / Gollum: A wretched and treacherous creature who was once one of the river-folk (an extinct race of hobbits) and now guides Frodo and Sam into Mordor. The first scene in the film portrays him in his former life as Sméagol, his murder of his friend Déagol for possession of the Ring, as well as his degeneration into Gollum.
- Billy Boyd as Peregrin Took: Better known as Pippin, a hobbit who looks into the palantír and later becomes an esquire of Gondor.
- Dominic Monaghan as Meriadoc Brandybuck: Better known as Merry, a cousin of Frodo’s who becomes an esquire of Rohan.
- John Rhys-Davies as Gimli: A dwarf warrior and companion to Aragorn along with Legolas.
- Rhys-Davies also voices Treebeard: the ent leader.
- Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf: An elven prince of Mirkwood and skilled archer who aids Aragorn in his quest to reclaim the throne.
- Bernard Hill as Théoden: The King of Rohan who, after triumphing at Helm’s Deep, is preparing his troops for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
- Miranda Otto as Éowyn: Théoden’s niece, who wishes to prove herself in battle and starts to fall in love with Aragorn, who does not return her love. In the extended cut of the film, she finds love with Faramir when they are both residing in the Houses of Healing.
- David Wenham as Faramir: A son of the Stewards of Gondor and head of the Gondorian Rangers defending Osgiliath, who seeks his father’s love in vain.
- Karl Urban as Éomer: Éowyn’s brother, who serves as Chief Marshal of the Riders of Rohan and heir to his uncle’s throne.
- Hugo Weaving as Elrond: The Elven-King of Rivendell who must convince Aragorn to take up the throne.
- Liv Tyler as Arwen Undómiel: Elrond’s daughter and Aragorn’s true love, who gives up her immortal life for Aragorn.
- Cate Blanchett as Galadriel: The Elven-Queen of Lothlórien who is aware the time of the elves is at an end.
- John Noble as Denethor: The corrupt Steward of Gondor and father of Boromir and Faramir, whose grief over Boromir’s death and despair over Mordor’s superior numbers drive him into madness during the Siege of Gondor.
- Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins: Frodo’s elderly uncle, who has rapidly aged after giving away the Ring.
- Sean Bean as Boromir: Faramir’s older brother and a fallen companion of Aragorn, who appears in a flashback of his death at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and in the extended cut when his father has a hallucination.
- Marton Csokas as Celeborn the Wise: The Elven-King of Lothlórien.
- Lawrence Makoare as the Witch-king of Angmar: The lord of the Nazgûl, who leads Mordor’s assault on Minas Tirith.
- Makoare also plays Gothmog: An Orc commander, who is voiced by Craig Parker.
- Thomas Robins as Déagol Nahald: Sméagol’s cousin, who is killed by Sméagol, when the former finds the One Ring in the river they are fishing in.
December 1, 2003
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