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
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Outstanding, but much violence and scariness.
  • PG-13
  • 2003
  • 200 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 55 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 190 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

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 byNikeswoosh99 September 16, 2012

Classic movie should all kids should see it

Not much more violent than the other two parts of the trilogy. It has a lot of fantasy violence but it is not applicable to the real world so there's no re... Continue reading
Adult Written bydudeman123 April 9, 2008


this is almost to good to be true this is a wonderful movie the second best i have seen this was almost to good to be a movie -10 caution
Teen, 14 years old Written bySlytherin Queen September 23, 2018

Amazing movie, but could be too scary for little kids

This movie is very good. It even made me cry at the end. This LOTR is definitely the best one in the trilogy, but it also has the most violence and scary images... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byJ-Yo July 5, 2011

It deserves its Oscar.

This movie is very violent, first of all. Some of the battle sequences are long and gory, and at times they can make people cringe. Hey, its a war. This war, ho... Continue reading

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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate