The Return of the King, the final part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, hit theaters in December 2003. By that point, there was little doubt that the movie was likely to be an enormous commercial success. What’s more, unless Jackson had really dropped the ball, audiences were set to love it. The previous two movies, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, had set a new standard for fantasy moviemaking, vividly bringing JRR Tolkien’s classic novels to life on the big screen.
Thankfully, The Return of the King was no disappointment. This was the biggest film of the trilogy, both in terms of the scale of the action, the drama of the story, and the $1.14 billion box office gross. The fight for the very existence of Middle-earth was realized via some incredible battle scenes, but also in the deeply emotional final journey of Frodo and Sam, as they worked their way through Mordor to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
However, the success of The Return of the King didn’t stop with a huge box office take and critical and audience acclaim. The film also swept the 2004 Academy Awards–it took home all 11 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The previous two movies had only won awards in the technical categories, and many saw the third film’s Oscar victory as a reward for the entire trilogy. But either way, it was an amazing result for any movie, let alone a fantasy film, and sealed the trilogy’s status as one of the greatest achievements in cinema.
As with The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, an extended version of The Return of the King was released on DVD a year after its theatrical run. This cut took the running time to over four hours, and as before, the discs were packed with commentaries, interviews, and behind-the-scenes documentaries. We’ve been back over this material, in particular the must-listen audio commentary with Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, and rounded up some of the most fascinating facts, references, and Easter eggs in this classic fantasy adventure. And once you’ve read this, check out our guide to all the things you missed in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.