Both franchises have achieved historic success and popularity, earned an intensely devoted fandom, and produced divisive prequel films. Both establish a deeply rich universe that surprisingly transcends the fantasy genre, even with grandiose themes and sweeping melodrama. Boasting remarkable innovation and detail, groundbreaking effects and artistry, these beloved sagas have a lot in common.
But this can invite an alternately playful and tense rivalry. It was even debated in Kevin Smith’s witty Clerks II. It’s always appealing to compare two similar titans, of any medium, particularly with such feverish fans. So, here’s how they ranked each glorious franchise, pitted against each other by IMDb rating. Like ratings are determined by vote count, and please mind the spoilers.
10 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – 7.8
This may be the most accessible film in Star Wars, for the uninitiated. It bravely relinquishes the heavier fantasy elements, emphasizing a chessboard of politics, bureaucratic villains and heroic sabotage. Our heroes are not the core family of a spectacular space opera, but a ragtag group of everyday people.
Although, the one lightsaber that shows up is undeniably one of Darth Vader’s greatest moments. The first non-saga film features three-dimensional protagonists with flaws and tough ethical dilemmas. They don’t win a medal, ultimately dying one by one. This is an outright war film, and, while that may subvert expectations, it was still bold and refreshing for many.
9 The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – 7.8
The entirety of the Hobbit prequels is pure excess, akin to cozy special features for the original trilogy. While some may enjoy spending any additional time in Middle-earth, not all fans were convinced. But this entry managed a healthier pacing than the first outing, ultimately amounting to one long chase.
This also disappointed some, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. Romance aside, the elves are incorporated well. Thranduil’s attitude is certainly an intriguing change of pace. Every action sequence is exhilarating, albeit a tad lighthearted. Gandalf’s side quest even offers up more forthright magic than usual. Best of all is the showdown with Smaug, a gleeful exchange that’s easily up to par with the original films.
8 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 7.8
Bilbo Baggins proves himself a far more proactive, useful protagonist than Frodo in this overlong return to Middle-earth. And Martin Freeman is a superb addition to the franchise, most at home in a hobbit with great heart and a hidden fire. He particularly drives the new trilogy, unlike the ensemble of the originals.
While indulgent and even occasionally juvenile, Peter Jackson has undeniable style, playing in his old sandbox. Now, he’s traded in terrifying practicals for stunning technological innovation. Yet, many of the eccentricities and adventure for which the series is loved still show. The riddles with Gollum are a sure crowd-pleaser even for casual viewers.
7 Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 7.9
This soft reboot was met with crossed arms after the maligned prequels, which have been quite reevaluated. Largely due to Disney’s divisive, yet profitable, ownership. This tentative comeback is flush with enthusiastic fan service to the point of controversial similarity with its roots. Still, it’s a brisk, flashy entry that opens up numerous possibilities.
Harrison Ford slips back into the role of Han Solo with ease, but the new characters are more disputed. Rey is a mystery box and orphaned survivor, so combat itself is plausible enough for her, while mind tricks come too easy. Finn is an ex-Stormtrooper, a terrific idea with surface-level repercussions. Poe is the simplest of all, perhaps. But, for a new beginning, this film was promising and fun.
6 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi – 8.3
Even in its lesser final film, the first saga entry to regurgitate the Death Star, the trilogy delivers fantastic new worldbuilding, all while completing every promised arc. Luke’s new demeanor is fun, and the opening rescue of Han offers terrific action, and the Rancor and Sarlacc are very memorable.
Unfortunately, the film is also bogged down by a strangely younger-minded tone that compromises its mature, operatic themes. Ewoks, and musical numbers—either of them—are utterly silly. Where this film truly shines is the finale between Palpatine, Vader, and Luke. The battle is both emotional and literal, so the tone is uniquely on point.
5 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – 8.6
Following Jaws, this redefined the summer blockbuster as we know them today. It blended serials and fantasy into, well, an empire, expanding into enduring comics and video games. It wielded unprecedented visual effects, a brazenly unapologetic tone, and the sturdy Hero’s Journey for its bones. The nuances of the lore are its strengths, making the galaxy feel alive and tangible. It borrows love for samurai films, traditional fantasy, and western heroes all at once, with something for everyone.
The death of Luke’s uncle and aunt is surprisingly forthright, including their burned corpses. The film never shies away from the cost of Luke’s adventure. It’s a grand spectacle, with immersive mythology, a perfect cast, and an iconic story.
4 The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers – 8.7
So often, part two of any trilogy can feel like an obligated bridge, with no consequences. Thankfully, this sequel generally circumvents that notion, progressing various loose ends. Gollum’s tragic character is far more fleshed out, making it clearer just how crucial he will be.
Andy Serkis’ performance is absolutely stunning, though Gollum’s rambling might become tedious for casual viewers. Merry and Pippin’s venture with the Ents is the only storyline that truly feels laborious. Although intentional, it removes the promised urgency of their rescue. But Rohan makes for some striking worldbuilding and drama, as well as a gripping battle.
3 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – 8.7
This is often regarded as the best film of the entire saga, and for good reason. Aside from the iconic twist, the mere tone is quite unlike anything but Rogue One. It is unafraid to earn its title, daringly raining down failure and compelling gloom. Hoth is the perfect contrast from Tatooine for such a thematic turnaround.
Lando betrays Han and is captured by Boba Fett, Luke disobeys Yoda and loses to his enemy, who revealed to be his own father. It’s full of consistent defeat, which makes for intriguing melodrama and a tone that makes the galaxy even more palpable. The characters feel less like archetypes here, more relatable by their flaws and adversity.
2 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring – 8.8
Well, it seems that Lord of the Rings has taken the two highest rankings. However, both franchises still share an equal number of positions on this list at five apiece, forming a kind of draw. Anyhow, Jackson’s groundbreaking take on Middle-earth captivated an entire generation. Tolkien’s work comes alive with mesmerizing effects, an impeccable cast, and outstanding music.
The film is pure escapism, immersive with breathtaking imagery and a heightened sense of style. Adventure and emotions alike are filled with hyperbole, yet welcome for the genre and dense plotting. The indelible characters are as distinguishable and compelling as the lived-in world. And they will endure as Jackson’s unbelievably ambitious, successful interpretation.
1 The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King – 8.9
Though prodded for its multiple endings, there is no denying the film’s ability to juggle conclusion with progress. Even while busily tying up all of the storylines at once, the film still musters brand new lore and emotional range. Shelob, the Army of the Dead, and the Witch-king are genuinely iconic pieces of the franchise.
This Oscar-winning finale is undoubtedly a pinnacle of fantasy, with its brisk pacing a welcome return to form. It is a structurally robust story, pausing for character and unfolding sweeping battles in perfect rhythm. That the destruction of the One Ring is an intimate brawl, is representative of the entire series’ sophisticated adventure.
NEXT: 10 Pre-Lord Of The Rings High-Fantasy Movies That Are Still Worth Watching