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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Movie Poster Image
Outstanding, but much violence and scariness.
  • PG-13
  • 2003
  • 200 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 47 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 154 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Powerful message of friendship among the Hobbits and the other allies (including different species). The seemingly meek Hobbits earn Middle-Earth-wide respect through battle and heroism. Theme throughout of sacrifice made in an immense struggle, including fighting against presumably impossible odds and overwhelming numbers, and trying to be brave against inevitable death. Additional themes include courage, perseverance, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Heroes are valiant types who combat evil even when everything looks hopeless. A sword-wielding princess is a strong female warrior, even though males (like her kingly father) try to discourage her from fighting. On the other hand, there's a subplot acknowledgment that not all royalty behaves royally; an aristocratic regent mistreats his younger son to the point of nearly causing the character's death. And just as in the Tolkien novels, a foreign army who are the only nonwhite, non-Celtic-type races are on the side of the bad guys.


Violence is savage and intense for a PG-13. Thousands of creatures and humans are speared, slashed, hit fatally with arrows, crushed, decapitated, impaled on large spikes, and in the opening scene, painfully strangled to death. There's a catapult-shower of severed human heads, venom-stings from a monster spider, and characters burning to death. A key character's finger is bitten off.


Mild romance.


Hard to ignore the original Tolkien books, not to mention a plethora of video games, movie tie-in action figures, role-playing games, plus the movie sequels and other existing adaptations.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Joyous drinking to the point of inebriation in a celebration. Pipe smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that violence in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King includes countless battle casualties with death by arrows, spears, swords, monster-stomping, fatal plunges, and explosions. Horses as well as elephant-like beasts are killed violently (sure, sure, they're CGI). There is quite a lot of glorification of bladed weaponry, as well as nightmarish imagery of ghoulish creatures, including a zombie-like ghost army and a hideous giant spider. Heroic characters smoke, drink, and get drunk. The story starts right where the previous Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers left off. Viewers not familiar with the first film (or J.R.R. Tolkien's novels) will be very confused. Not only is this Oscar winner a long movie, the DVD "Special edition" is even longer.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjcaron June 6, 2014

Make them read the book first

These films, although great, need more explanation for young minds. The original work by Tolkein is too immense to fully communicate on screen, and there is mo... Continue reading
Parent Written byStepMomSterToo January 11, 2011


Love this movie. It's a great tale, and I would watch it with anyone who loves fantasy. A lot of battle scenes, too violent for young kids. But very good m... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 15, 2011

Great movie

It's very good and exiting but has a lot of violance.
Teen, 13 years old Written bySpielberg00 May 29, 2011

The best of the trilogy; the last of the trilogy; the most scary, bloody, intense, and violent of the trilogy.

My rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of epic battle violence, disturbing images and a brief scene involving drinking.

What's the story?

One of the most ambitious projects in the history of filmmaking comes to a heart-poundingly thrilling conclusion with THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, the final installment of Tolkien's trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The second installment opened in the middle of the action, but this one begins with a flashback, in which we learn more about Gollum, the twisted, tortured creature who is supposed to be leading Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) to Mount Doom. We also learn more about the power of that ring to make anyone willing to give up all he has to possess it. After that very brief prologue, we are back where we left off, a literal cliffhanger. Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are crossing the stark peaks on the way to the volcano in the heart of Mount Doom. That's where the ring was forged and the only place where it can be destroyed. Meanwhile, the other remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring prepare for battle with the forces led by Sauron.

Is it any good?

As with the first two chapters, Peter Jackson's rendition of the Tolkien classic is astonishing. Every detail is just right, and from the struggles of three very small creatures to stay alive as they scale sheer rock to the huge battles with hundreds of thousands of warriors, every moment is vivid, exciting, and moving. That means not just Middle Earth citadels, a giant spider, and thousands of phantom combatants, but also smaller moments of equal power. Sam and Gollum each try to make Frodo mistrust the other. There are villains, grotesque and powerful, weak and greedy. And there are heroes, loyal, brave, devoted, honorable.

The tone of The Return of the King is epic and majestic, the battles brilliantly staged, the vistas magnificently conceived. But it's still all about the story. Characters learn and deepen. Even little Pippin and Merry go from cute comic relief to genuine heroes. There is so much going on that some characters seem like not much more than cameo guest appearances, especially Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchette). And the post-ending endings, after more than three hours, may seem a bit too much. But this is still an epic to satisfy the most devoted Tolkien fans, and viewers who are new to Middle Earth. In its own way, it is as thrilling an adventure in storytelling on film as the quest it portrays.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why they think Frodo was charged with carrying the ring in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. As the movie progresses, is he still the best person for the job?

  • You can also talk about the modern-day parallels to these stories, since Tolkien wrote the books as parables. How are Tolkien's parables different from those of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien's longtime friend and colleague?

  • How do you think the movie adaptations compare with Tolkien's books?

  • How do the characters in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King demonstrate courage, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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