37. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Quite possibly one of the greatest franchises of all-time and certainly one of the best of the last decade, Peter Jackson's faithful adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and orcs captivated audiences and critics alike. In 2000, Peter Jackson gathered a cast and crew in his native New Zealand to film all three of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels simultaneously. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in 2001 and was an immediate success. It garnered so much praise and several prestigious award nominations. The following year came the second film, The Two Towers, and audiences definitely wanted more. In 2003, came this stunning and riveting conclusion to the series and it was the best one of the trio. The story focuses on Frodo and Sam's journey into the ominous Mount Doom to destroy the Ring of Power (all while the wicked Gollum is plotting to take the Ring from Frodo's posession). In the meantime, the rest of Middle Earth, led by Gandalf and Aragorn, are fighting off the armies gathered by the servants of the evil Sauron. The film series features a phenomenal cast that includes Sir Ian McKellen (as Gandalf), Elijah Wood (as Frodo), Sean Astin (as Sam), Orlando Bloom (as Legolas the Elf) and Viggo Mortensen (as Aragorn). Mortensen, for me, gives the best performance in this final film. With each passing moment, Mortensen gives the character a regal quality that is necessary as he is the titular King that returns (SPOILER!). While several people love the first film because of its introductory quality, it is this film's final battle and brilliant definition of its characters that make it a cinematic wonder. The only qualm I have about this film comes at the end, or as I like to call it, "The Never-Ending Movie." This conclusive movie seems to have like five different endings (literally, it fades to black four different times and begins another character's final chapter). It is no wonder this film is three hours and then some! But despite this minor difficulty, the film is a monumental experience (concluding a thrilling franchise) that won 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director - finally breaking down the "Oscar Curse" fantasy films (like Star Wars) had experienced in the past.
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