The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Peter Jackson
Barrie M. Osborne
Fran Walsh

Elijah Wood
Ian McKellen
Viggo Mortensen
Sean Astin
Cate Blanchett
John Rhys-Davies
Bernard Hill
Billy Boyd
Dominic Monaghan
Orlando Bloom
Hugo Weaving
Liv Tyler
Miranda Otto
David Wenham
Karl Urban
John Noble
Andy Serkis
Ian Holm
Sean Bean

Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Andrew Lesnie
Editing by Jamie Selkirk
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release 17 December 2003
Running time 201 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $94 million
Gross revenue $1,119,929,521
Preceded by The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 epic fantasy film directed by Peter Jackson based on the second and third volumes of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It is the third and concluding installment in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, following The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers (2002).

As Sauron launches the final stages of his conquest of Middle-earth, Gandalf the Wizard and Théoden King of Rohan rally their forces to help defend Gondor's capital Minas Tirith from the looming threat. Aragorn finally claims the throne of Gondor and, with the aid of Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf summons the army of the Dead to help him defeat Sauron. Ultimately, even with full strength of arms, they realize they cannot win; so it comes down to the Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, to bear the burden of the Ring and deal with the treachery of Gollum. After a long journey they finally arrive in the dangerous lands of Mordor, seeking to destroy the One Ring in the place it was created, the volcanic fires of Mount Doom.

Released on 17 December 2003, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received rave reviews[5] and became one of the greatest critical and box-office successes of all time, being only the second film to gross $1 billion worldwide, becoming the highest grossing film from New Line Cinema, as well as the biggest financial success for Time Warner in general, until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 surpassed The Return of the King's final gross in 2011. The film was the highest-grossing film of 2003. Notably, it won all eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including the awards for Best Picture, the first and only time a fantasy film has done so; it was also the second sequel to win a Best Picture Oscar (following The Godfather Part II) and Best Director. The film is tied for largest number of awards won with Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997).


While on a fishing trip, Sméagol's cousin Déagol finds the One Ring in a river. Sméagol kills Déagol for the Ring and flees into a cave, becoming the creature Gollum under the Ring's corruption.

Five centuries later, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Théoden, Gamling, and Éomer meet up with Merry, Pippin and Treebeard at Isengard. The group returns to Edoras, where Pippin looks into Saruman's recovered palantír, in which Sauron appears and invades his mind; Pippin tells him nothing regarding Frodo and the Ring. From this event, Gandalf deduces that Sauron is planning to attack Minas Tirith. Gandalf rides with Pippin to find Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, to whom Pippin swears his service. Gandalf urges Denethor to call Rohan for aid, but Denethor declines, fearing Aragorn and Gandalf plan to depose him. The Morgul army, led by the Nazgûl, drives the Gondorians out of Osgiliath. Denethor sends his son Faramir on a suicide mission to reclaim the city. Under instruction from Gandalf, Pippin evades city guards to light the distress beacon, signalling Théoden and Aragorn to assemble the Rohirrim for battle.

Elrond informs Aragorn that Arwen did not go to the Undying Lands, and is now dying. Believing their forces to be outnumbered by Sauron's, Elrond gives Aragorn the sword Andúril to acquire the service of the Army of the Dead, who owe allegiance to the heir of Isildur. Éowyn confesses her love for Aragorn and asks him not to go, but Aragorn reaffirms his love for Arwen and heads into battle. Accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn ventures into the Paths of the Dead and gains the loyalty of the King of the Dead and his men by brandishing Andúril, proving himself the Heir of Isildur. At Dunharrow, Théoden rides off to war, unaware that Éowyn and Merry have secretly joined his forces.

Sauron's armies lay siege to Minas Tirith, led by the Witch-king. Believing a grievously wounded Faramir to be dead, Denethor tries to burn his son and himself alive, but Gandalf intervenes; he saves Faramir, but Denethor commits suicide. Just as the Gondorians are about to be overrun, the Rohirrim army arrives and counter-attacks in a massive cavalry charge led by Théoden. This shifts the tide of the battle, and the Orcs begin to retreat. However, Haradrim warriors arrive to reinforce the Orc army with their Oliphants, turning the tide. The Witch-king kills Théoden, only to be wounded by Merry and finished off by Éowyn. On the verge of defeat, the Rohirrim are saved when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive with the Army of the Dead and overwhelm Sauron's forces, ending the battle. Aragorn frees the Army of the Dead and their souls go to the afterlife.

Meanwhile, Frodo, Sam and Gollum travel to Minas Morgul. Sam overhears Gollum's plans to murder them and take the Ring for himself but an oblivious Frodo refuses to believe him. Hoping to remove Sam as an obstacle, Gollum secretly tosses their precious food supply over a cliff and persuades Frodo that Sam wants the Ring for himself. Frodo angrily tells a heartbroken Sam to go home, who initially leaves, but discovers Gollum's treachery and follows after them. Gollum betrays Frodo and disappears, leaving him in the lair of the giant spider Shelob, who paralyses Frodo before being wounded and driven away by Sam. An Orc patrol captures Frodo and takes him to Sauron's fortress. Sam rescues Frodo from the tower, and they continue the journey to Mount Doom.

Meanwhile, Aragorn leads his remaining men to the Black Gate of Mordor, distracting Sauron and his forces and allowing Sam and Frodo to enter Mount Doom. As Sam carries the weakened Frodo up the volcano, Gollum reappears and attacks them but they manage to evade him. At the Crack of Doom, Frodo succumbs to the Ring's power, refusing to destroy it. Having followed them, Gollum attacks Frodo, biting his finger off and seizing the Ring for himself. An enraged Frodo attacks Gollum, and they both fall over the edge. At the last second, Frodo grabs onto the ledge, leaving Gollum to fall into the lava to his death, taking the Ring with him. As the Ring melts in the volcano, Sauron is destroyed and the land of Mordor collapses, taking down most of his forces.

Frodo and Sam are saved from the rising lava by Eagles, led by Gandalf. In the aftermath, Aragorn is crowned King, heralding a new age of peace, and marries Arwen while the four hobbits are bowed to by all of Gondor for their courageous efforts. The four Hobbits return home to the Shire, where Sam marries his childhood sweetheart. Four years later, Frodo leaves Middle-earth for the Undying Lands with Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel, leaving his account of their quest to Sam.


  • Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins: The Hobbit who continues his quest to destroy the Ring, which continues to torture him.
  • Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White: The Wizard who travels to aid the Men of Gondor, acting as a general at the Siege of Gondor.
  • Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn: The mortal Ranger who must finally face his destiny as King of Gondor.
  • Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee: Better known as Sam, he is Frodo's loyal Hobbit companion.
  • Cate Blanchett as Galadriel: Elven lady of Lórien. She is aware the time of the Elves is at an end.
  • John Rhys-Davies as Gimli: The warrior Dwarf who continues his friendly rivalry over Orc kills with Legolas; a companion to Aragorn along with Legolas. Rhys-Davies also voices Treebeard the Ent leader.
  • Bernard Hill as Théoden: King of Rohan. After triumphing at Helm's Deep, he is preparing his troops for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. He is the uncle of Éomer and Éowyn.
  • 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, the Hobbit who becomes an esquire of Rohan.
  • Orlando Bloom as Legolas: An Elven prince and skilled archer who aids Aragorn in his quest to reclaim the throne.
  • Hugo Weaving as Elrond: The Elven lord of Rivendell who must convince Aragorn to take up the throne.
  • Liv Tyler as Arwen: Daughter of Elrond, and Aragorn's lover. She gives up her immortal life for Aragorn.
  • Miranda Otto as Éowyn: Théoden's niece, who wishes to prove herself in battle. She also starts to fall in love with Aragorn, who does not return her love. In the extended and regular version, she finds love with Faramir when they are both residing in the Houses of Healing.
  • David Wenham as Faramir: The head of the Gondorian Rangers defending Osgiliath. Second-born son to Denethor, he seeks his father's love in vain.
  • Karl Urban as Éomer: Éowyn's brother, and Chief Marshal of the Riders of Rohan. Nephew to King Théoden.
  • John Noble as Denethor: Steward of Gondor and father to Faramir, as well as the slain Boromir. Grief over Boromir's death and despair over Mordor's superior numbers drive him into madness during the Siege of Gondor.
  • Andy Serkis voices and provides motion capture for Sméagol/Gollum: The treacherous creature, once one of the River-folk (a race akin to Hobbits), who guides Frodo and Sam into Mordor. The first scene in the film portrays him in his former life as Sméagol, his murder of his relative Déagol for possession of the Ring, as well as his degeneration into Gollum.
  • Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins: Frodo's elderly uncle, who has rapidly aged after giving away the Ring.
  • Sean Bean as Boromir: Faramir's brother, in a flashback to his death at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and in the extended cut when Denethor has a hallucination.
  • Marton Csokas as Lord Celeborn: Elven lord of Lórien.
  • Bruce Hopkins as Gamling: Right-hand man of Théoden and a skilled member of the Royal Guard of Rohan.
  • Paul Norell as The King of the Dead: The cursed leader of the Dead Men at Dunharrow, from whom Aragorn must seek help.
  • Lawrence Makoare plays the Witch-king of Angmar: The Lord of the Nazgûl. He leads Mordor's assault on Minas Tirith. He also plays Gothmog, an Orc commander, voiced by Craig Parker.
  • Sarah McLeod as Rosie Cotton: The girl of Sam's dreams. When Sam returns to The Shire, she marries him and has a family.
  • Thomas Robins as Déagol: Sméagol's cousin.

The following appear only in the Extended Edition

  • Christopher Lee as Saruman the White: A wizard, former Head of the White Council, now trapped by Treebeard. He is seen being killed by his servant, Gríma.
  • Brad Dourif as Gríma Wormtongue: Saruman's sycophantic, treacherous servant. He is shot by Legolas after stabbing Saruman.
  • Bruce Spence as The Mouth of Sauron: Sauron's ambassador at the Black Gate.

Lord of the Rings Films vte
Films The Fellowship of the RingThe Two TowersThe Return of the King
Characters Aragorn • Arwen • Bilbo • Boromir • Celeborn • Denethor • Elrond • Éomer • Éowyn • Faramir • Frodo • Galadriel • Gandalf • Gimli • Gollum • Legolas • Merry • Mouth of Sauron • Old Man Willow • Pippin • Radagast • Sam • Saruman • Sauron • Shelob • Théoden • Tom Bombadil • Treebeard • Witch-king • Wormtongue

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