The 20 best Lord of the Rings characters

From hobbits to kings, here are the best characters from Peter Jackson’s hit fantasy trilogy

Louis Chilton
Thursday 22 September 2022 07:01 BST
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power trailer

One does not simply walk into Prime Video’s new Lord of the Rings adaptation – not without a little refresher course, at least.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is set to debut on the streaming service in September, and is widely reported to be the most expensive TV series ever made.

You can read The Independent’s review here.

Rings of Power is set during the Second Age, many centuries before the events of JRR Tolkien’s main Lord of the Rings story, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film trilogy by Peter Jackson in the early 2000s.

The series introduces a whole host of new characters into the mix, as well as a few familiar ones, such as Elrond (played in the series by Robert Aramayo) and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark).

To mark the arrival of Prime Video’s new series, here is a ranking of the best 20 characters from the Lord of the Rings.

While some of the characters featured did also appear in Jackson’s subsequent adaptation of The Hobbit, this ranking is principally judging them based on their characterisation within the original Lord of the Rings films.

See below for our top 20…

20. Sauron

He’s the Big Bad of Middle Earth; to diehard fans of Lord of the Rings, his black mask is as instantly recognisable as that of Darth Vader. Why is Sauron so far down this list then? Well, his characterisation doesn’t extend beyond a pretty one-note thirst for power – the most nuance he ever shows is probably when he exists as a giant burning eye.

19. Treebeard

He’s a big talking tree. Need I say more?

18. Arwen

Played by Liv Tyler, the half-elf royalty Arwen is hamstrung throughout much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy playing love interest to Aragorn. The sequence in which she delivers Frodo to Rivendell is a real standout, however.

Liv Tyler as Arwen in ‘Fellowship of the Ring'
Liv Tyler as Arwen in ‘Fellowship of the Ring' (New Line Cinema)

17. Galadriel

It’s a testament to the overall male skew of Tolkien’s world that pretty much all of the biggest characters are men; The Rings of Power takes a rather more egalitarian approach towards gender dynamics. The Galadriel of The Lord of the Rings, played by Cate Blanchett, is old and world-weary. In Rings of Power, played by Morfydd Clark, she’s an entirely different proposition.

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16. Elrond

There’s something about The Matrix’s Hugo Weaving that makes him weirdly perfect as an elf. Of all The Lord of the Rings’ myriad statespeople, his noble ruler Elrond is one of the most consistently engrossing.

15. Merry Brandybuck

Along with his close friend Pippin, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck provides much of the comic relief of the series. As the trilogy goes on, his character gets more fleshed out, eventually fighting alongside the army of Rohan in Return of the King.

14. Gimli

How highly you rank Gimli will likely depend on your appetite for height-based jokes and mead-hall rowdiness. But the Dwarven axe-wielder is an integral part of the Fellowship, and his interplay with Legolas provides some solid inter-species banter.

John Rhys Davies as Gimli in ‘The Two Towers'
John Rhys Davies as Gimli in ‘The Two Towers' (New Line Cinema)

13. Pippin Took

The other half of the mischievous Hobbit duo known as Merry and Pippin, Peregrin Took is played with affable impishness by Scottish actor Billy Boyd.

12. Gríma Wormtongue

The inimitable Brad Dourif has never looked oilier than as Gríma Wormtongue, Theoden’s poisonous right-hand man. It’s a shame his dramatic death scene was omitted from the theatrical cut of Return of the King – this loathsome villain deserved a proper send-off.

11. Theoden

Of all the stately human leaders featured across the three films, Theoden may be the most compelling: a once-great king, driven mad before being restored to glory.

Bernard Hill as Theoden in ‘The Two Towers'
Bernard Hill as Theoden in ‘The Two Towers' (New Line Cinema)

10. Éowyn

Miranda Otto’s horse-riding warrior was a standout addition to the cast in The Two Towers; “I am no man” may just be the biggest mic drop in all nine-odd hours of these films.

9. Frodo

Elijah Wood’s beleaguered hobbit has to carry the weight of Middle Earth on his shoulders – surely it’s unfair to make him carry the film trilogy too. As far as protagonists go, Frodo is a little bit vanilla (hence why he doesn’t feature higher on this list), but he nonetheless does an ample job of providing a lynchpin for the series’ main story.

8. Legolas

True, Orlando Bloom’s performance as the fair-haired archer Legolas could charitably be described as “wooden”. But isn’t that just what elves are like? Actions ultimately speak louder than words, and Legolas’s skills with a bow made for some of the best action flourishes of the entire series.

Orlando Bloom as Legolas
Orlando Bloom as Legolas (New Line Cinema)

7. Bilbo Baggins

Whether we’re talking Martin Freeman’s perfectly cast iteration in The Hobbit, or Ian Holm’s weary, occasionally sinister older version in the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is one of Middle Earth’s most endearing players.

6. Boromir

All the best characters in Lord of the Rings tended to have compelling arcs. Though Boromir’s (Sean Bean) played out over the course of just a single film, it remains one of the narrative high points of the story. A fallible man who falls prey to the allure of the one ring, Boromir turns on Frodo before redeeming himself in the last, sacrificing himself in battle as only Sean Bean can.

5. Samwise Gangee

A bastion of unfettered loyalty and perseverance, Sean Astin’s trusty hobbit Sam Gangee is arguably the moral centre of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This may be Frodo’s story, but Sam is the one who makes you care about it.

Elijah Wood and Sean Astin as Frodo and Sam
Elijah Wood and Sean Astin as Frodo and Sam (New Line Cinema)

4. Saruman

With Ian McKellen in the role of Gandalf, Lord of the Rings needed an equally formidable thespian in the role of his nemesis, Saruman. Enter horror maven Christopher Lee, who delivers one of his most memorable performances as the grandiose, venal wizard.

3. Gollum

A quietly tragic figure at the heart of The Lord of the Rings – and a small chance encounter in The Hobbit – Gollum (or Smeagal, as he was once known) was the perfect mascot for Middle Earth, brought to life dexterously by Andy Serkis with the aid of extensive motion-capture technology. Ignore the countless parodies you’ve seen: Gollum’s desperate, noxious obsession with his “precious” is crucial to understanding the ring’s corruptive power, and the story as a whole.

2. Aragorn

Casting Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn was a stroke of genius. Before Fellowship, Mortensen was known as an arthouse darling; here, he is every bit the Hollywood leading man. Sort of like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker rolled into one, Aragorn manages to embody both regal valiance and roguish individualism; it’s quite something watching his transformation over the course of the trilogy from prickly loner to king of Gondor.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in ‘The Lord of the Rings'
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in ‘The Lord of the Rings' (New Line Cinema)

1. Gandalf

With all due respect to his Shakespearean past, Gandalf always felt like the role that Ian McKellen was born to play. Whether it’s as the craggy-edged, hermit-like Gandalf the Grey in Fellowship of the Ring and the Hobbit trilogy, or as the scrubbed-up, dignified Gandalf the White in Two Towers and Return of the King, McKellen’s character was an unforgettable figure, lending Lord of the Rings the gravitas it needed to really sell Tolkien’s magical lore to viewers.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now available on Prime Video.

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