With the premiere of the debutant series of The Rings of Power, fans are once again treated to amazing visuals and shots for Middle-earth. New locations have been focused on, with plenty more treats to come. But let’s not forget the past.
In The Lord of the Rings movies, director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie combined their forces to create some of the most memorable and best shots in the fantasy genre. When watching the movies, there is an almost endless amount of shots one could choose as their desktop background or even hang on a wall, and they go beyond how beautiful they are. It is almost impossible to pick our ten best, and even more, it’s pretty hard not to select all of them from The Return of the King, but I’ll try my best here.
When selecting a specific shot from any movie, and The Lord of the Rings, in particular, there are two possible arguments behind it — it can be purely based on its beauty, which would make it attractive to those who aren’t familiar with the source material, and based on the context of the scene, which might make it extra appealing to those who are familiar. In the case of Lord of the Rings, there are too many shots that combine both qualities, and I’ll do my best to list them here.
While all frames selected here are both beautiful and reminiscent of a great moment in the movies, I tried to include five where the power of photography overtakes the context and five where it’s the other way around. It is almost impossible, however, to make the five from the latter category different from frames inside my absolute favorite scenes in the movies.
Before I begin with my list, I will mention a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite crack the list: the lighting of the beacons, the One Ring in the snow in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo inside Mount Doom, Théoden’s death scene, and Aragorn saying “For Frodo” (which is actually my favorite scene in cinematic history). With that in mind, here are my ten favorite shots from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.
Top 10 Best Shots in the Lord of the Rings Movies
10. The Fellowship prepares for battle inside Balin’s crypt (The Fellowship of the Ring)
There are a few shots of the Fellowship that I like a lot, and the Mines of Moria sequence is probably the highlight of The Fellowship of the Ring, in terms of writing, direction, music, editing, and cinematography. Gandalf fighting the balrog is definitely an outstanding frame, and the introduction to the dwarven architecture is just breathtaking. But The Lord of the Rings‘ true spirit is probably best captured in this shot here.
It is a story about stepping up to protect what we most value — our main heroes are at the front of the shot, ready to fight whatever may cross those doors, while the Hobbits are at the back, safely guarded by the two men, the elf, and the dwarf. It is also a story about accepting the past and building a better future from it. That is, quite literally, represented by Gimli standing over Balin’s tomb. Legolas’ fighting spirit takes over the frame as well — he’s always ready and will not hesitate to protect his friends. Aragorn may be our main hero, but Legolas is the best friend you can get.
9. Establishing shot of The Shire (The Fellowship of the Ring)
Throughout their journey, the Fellowship visited many places across Middle-earth, from Rivendel to Rohan to Gondor. And all of them included a handful of beautiful establishing, wide shots that could easily make this list. But after forcing myself to include only one, there is probably none more important (and arguably more beautiful) than The Shire.
The Shire is portrayed as Middle-earth’s bucolic place, the one land that could exist disconnected from everything else, in the best way possible. While the different races fight each other for power and ego, the hobbits practically exist outside of that reality. Not only they don’t want any part of it, they are not even aware of what’s going on beyond their border. The Shire is a sort of virgin place that hasn’t been touched by evil and corruption (part of the reason why it was key not to adapt The Scouring of the Shire at the end of The Return of the King). If Aragorn, Théoden, and their respective kingdoms are fighting for an idea, The Shire is the living representation of it.
8. Establishing shot of the Battle of Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)
Once again, there are plenty of establishing shots from the various battles that take place inside the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and for the sake of compression, I forced myself to pick only one. And if we are gonna choose one battle from the trilogy, there is no other way to go rather than Helm’s Deep. One could argue, however, that the shot from the top of Minas Tirith looking down on the entire Mordor army from The Return of the King is more impactful, and I like that frame a lot, but there is a lot more going on in Helm’s Deep.
Pulling off this particular battle (and to spectacular results) was nothing short of a miracle. Filmed during roughly 120 nights, Peter Jackson managed to (co-)write and direct the perfect battle sequence, with immaculate screen direction, camera work, and an outstanding sense of story within the story. But without Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography, the battle would not be as memorable as it is. Shooting during the night is almost a recipe for disaster for big action sequences — while it will make the job easier for the CG artists, it complicates the viewing experience for most audience members. It is almost impossible to watch any night-time sequence filmed over the past few years without being in complete darkness. But not Helm’s Deep.
Perhaps the most important job for the cinematographer is to learn how to light a scene, and the lighting in this particular sequence is just beautiful. Not once do we feel like we can’t see what’s going on, and not once do we doubt this sequence was shot during the night or it takes place during the night. And this particular shot makes us remember exactly that. Thanks to smart lighting choices and a well-positioned camera, we can see both armies, and we can see the scale of the enemy’s forces. It’s also abundantly clear for anyone who hasn’t watched the movie who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and it’s also clear that our heroes are vastly outnumbered by the orcs, without even seeing both armies in full.
7. The Gray Havens (The Return of the King)
This is one of those purely beautiful shots that The Return of the King gave us. After three movies, our heroes finally made it. The final elven ship is sailing off into the west with Bilbo, Gandalf, and Frodo on board. And Frodo has finally done it — he’s finally leaving behind the massive weight from his sacrifice and going into paradise. The best in-his-terms death scene the character could have had, and this shot represents the literal “riding off into the sunset” sensation that we get from our heroes. Their journey is complete. Bilbo started it all when he found the One Ring, and Frodo capped it off when he destroyed it. And Gandalf was there to oversee it all the way through. A poetic ending to one of the most beautiful stories ever written.
Part of me also wishes this was the final shot of The Return of the King, though I appreciate what the very next scene means — no story is ever over, and even when our loved ones are gone, it is our duty to fill in their shoes and continue their legacy. Their story is not done with them, but it is our responsibility to carry on with it. It also puts an end to Sam’s story, the true hero of the journey (of which we are silently reminded with this scene) that finally made it home. He no longer has the burden of a broken Frodo over his shoulders, and can finally enjoy a happy life with his family.
6. The Argonath (The Fellowship of the Ring)
In terms of purely beautiful shots from the movies that we should all have as desktop backgrounds on our computers, there is no one better than this one from The Fellowship of the Ring. But there is a lot of meaning behind it as well. The Fellowship has left Lórien and is now stepping into unknown territory. And these statues also remind them of the adventure they’re embarking on, something Aragorn’s ancestors already did once before.
The statues are Isildur and Anárion, two of Elendil’s sons who once ruled Gondor together. They were pretty much the Founding Fathers of the kingdom and were responsible for its inception. The true spirit of Númenor alive in Middle-earth. Their journey, back in the day, was not easier than the task the Fellowship was commended, and this shot reminds us of that. They have a huge legacy to live up to, and it will take everything they’ve got to fulfill their destiny. But Aragorn’s ancestors once did it, and there’s no reason not to think they can do it again.
5. Gandalf arrives at Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)
I mentioned earlier how Andrew Lesnie shot the Battle of Helm’s Deep under the moonlight. For several hours, there was only darkness… Until Gandalf brought the light. An absolute contrast to what the movie had presented over the previous hour, this shot of Gandalf finally arriving at Helm’s Deep is the ultimate exemplification of the tides of the battle finally turning to our heroes’ side. Théoden and Aragorn finally rode together and faced off against a horde of orcs, but as they left the fortress through the ramp, even we as audience members start to realize that their forces are still way too large numbers-wise. But then, they got aid.
The arrival of the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep is one of my favorite moments in cinematic history. Éomer showing up right behind Gandalf and summoning their forces is enough to get my blood pumping even when writing this, but then, they finally charge against the orcs to protect their people, to protect their King. While I could have picked any single frame from this sequence, none of them beat in beauty, strength, and hopefulness the moment when Gandalf arrives. It is a powerful frame that even someone who hasn’t watched the movies could pick to hang from their wall.
4. The Rohirrim arrive at Minas Tirith (Return of the King)
However, if we are to talk about powerful Rohirrim entrances in The Lord of the Rings, we cannot miss the big one. I realize this is a bit inconsistent with my previous entries when I was trying to only pick one shot from a certain category (establishing shots of places and battles, or the Fellowship assembling), and here I am, with two Rohirrim battle arrivals back-to-back. Well, this is my list, and I could not, in good conscience, leave either one behind. Because as powerful and heroic as Éomer and Gandalf’s arrival at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers is, this scene is almost unbeatable, and so is this shot.
We’ve been witnessing for over an hour now Mordor’s siege on Minas Tirith, but the tides, once again, are about to turn. After struggling with whether or not to enter the battle against Mordor, Théoden decided to lead Rohan to war and the people responded. While their forces are skimmed compared to Mordor’s, they will be the heroes of this story. And Peter Jackson, together with Howard Shore, showed us during multiple moments of this scene, right before they charge against the orcs. But it is not until Théoden is done speaking, and has rallied all of his troops, with everyone’s blood, including ours, pumping, that the camera lifts and sets up this gorgeous shot.
Our heroes, like the camera, are one step above everyone else. Their heroic story has just ascended into the heavens and will remain there for Ages. It is a literal ascension, and the camera will stay there to show us how they march against Mordor, highlighting the strength of their forces and almost neglecting the orcs’. In fact, for the next few moments, we are even inclined to believe that they alone can beat Mordor, because we are not reminded again how large their enemies’ numbers are. We are simply told that our numbers are massive, also through this shot.
Once again, there are a handful of gorgeous frames we could have picked from this scene, but not many are as beautiful, powerful, and meaningful as this one.
3. Sam carries Frodo on Mount Doom (Return of the King)
In terms of powerful shots in The Lord of the Rings, there is arguably none more than this one. This scene is definitely one of my favorites, but this shot in particular just encapsulates everything. It is the one perfect shot. It is the definition of friendship captured in a single frame, and pretty much everything that Lord of the Rings stands for. Sam, aware that his best friend cannot carry the Ring by himself, and also aware that the Ring should stay with Frodo, decides to carry Frodo up the Fire Mountain, even if that means he will die from exhaustion. It’s definitely one of my favorite scenes from the movies, and one of my favorite shots as well.
2. “You bow to no one” (Return of the King)
As much as Sam carrying Frodo is even hard to think about without getting emotional, this scene could be in the conversation for one of the best scenes in cinematic history. While it may not be much for an outsider to The Lord of the Rings, there is actually a lot going on in this particular frame. After Aragorn is crowned as King of Gondor, he goes out to meet the hobbits, and the moment they start to bow, he stops them, astounded. “My friends, you bow to no one”, he says. Then, he kneels. And the entire Middle-earth follows his example.
And so does Peter Jackson, who lowers the camera to show that even we, as the audience, are bowing to the true heroes of the story. But the story that this shot tells us doesn’t stop there. Merry and Pippin, who went through a lot, came out on top. They are smiling, because, as they look back at their adventures, they are proud of their sacrifice and are happy about where they ended up. Not Frodo and Sam, who look back at their adventure together and realize how much of themselves they lost in the journey, especially Frodo. In fact, we don’t see Frodo truly happy again until he finally leaves Middle-earth behind and sets off to Valinor with Gandalf, Bilbo, and the elves. Even with all the people from Middle-earth recognizing his endurance and sacrifice, he isn’t truly happy yet. And Sam will not reach happiness again until Frodo does and reunites with his family.
1. Aragorn arrives at Minas Tirith (Return of the King)
This is a personal favorite of mine, and I absolutely had to have it here. Aragorn is by far my favorite character in the trilogy, and in any movie, ever, and this shot represents the absolute culmination of his character arc. Going from Strider to the de facto King of Gondor is a beautiful character trajectory that culminated here, leading the Army of the Dead with his two best friends by his side. The reveal of the Army is also treated as a surprise, even for us that saw him recruit it, which I love. It’s also a very menacing shot and it’s easy to put ourselves in the position of the orcs and understand why they would run in the other direction when this happens.
Friendship, honor, and fate have always been to me the most important pillars that sustain The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and this shot captures them all. It’s also a damn cool scene that I used to rewatch over and over as a kid, so it also throws me back to those simpler times. For that reason, this is my favorite shot of all The Lord of the Rings movies.
And there we have it, our top 10 best shots from The Lord of the Rings. What would you add to the list? Comment below.
If you like this article, check out our 7 Reasons to Ignore the Negative Reviews for The Rings of Power.