December 24, 2023 | Sammy Tran

Facts About Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King


Academy Award record holder “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” took the world and box office by storm in 2003. This modern classic closes off the epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here are 51 exciting things you might not have known about The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.


1. A Box Office Success

Return of the King made a whopping 1408% profit for New Life Studios at the box office.

return of the king

2. We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Body

The oliphaunt carcass used is on record as the largest prop ever built for a movie. Apparently, Peter Jackson thought it could have been even bigger.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

3. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

The production team needed so many extras to shoot the Battle at the Black Gate (near the end of The Return of the King), they called in members of the New Zealand Armed Forces. You'd think a mock-battle might mean nothing to a group of  professional army... but you'd be wrong. The real-life army men were so excited to be there, they kept breaking the props given to them to use in-scene.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

4. Cautiously Dragged By Horse

For the scene where Faramir is dragged back to Minas Tirith by his horse, precaution was the word of the hour. The crew was so worried of the horse suddenly running and hurting David Wenham, they built a special, custom release into the saddle. Wenham had a handle in his hand so that if the horse began running, he could release himself. Luckily, they never ended up needing it.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

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5. Whose Precious?

Once filming for the trilogy was finished, Peter Jackson gave one of the rings used in the movies to Elijah Wood... and another to Andy Serkis. Both Wood and Serkis thought they had the only one. If either of you are reading this, sorry to break the bad news.

The Fellowship Of The Ring factsShutterstock

6. Arachnophobia

Peter Jack is afraid of spiders—which is an affliction which almost never comes in handy. But when it came to producing the design for Shelob... Jackson's phobia was his Sting. The director claims that Shelob's look was heavily influenced by all the spiders he finds most terrifying. Which apparently means 15-foot tall nightmare monsters, with poisonous fangs and a taste for people.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

7. Christmas Came Early!

After the last day of filming, each of the cast members were given a gift. Most of which were props that were significant to the characters they played.

Miranda Otto (Eowyn) was gifted one of Eowyn's dresses and her sword. The gift Liv Tyler (Arwen) received was Arwen’s “dying dress”. The gift Orlando Bloom (Legolas) received was one of Legolas' bows.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

8. You all look like dwarfs from up here...

John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, is the tallest of any of the actors in the fellowship.

That makes this photo incredibly interesting...

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

9. Burn It! Burn It With Fire!

His height wasn't the only thing production had to change: Rhys-Davies also spent hours in the makeup chair each day, getting Gimli's mountain-man look just right. He often suffered from rashes from the irritation. Finally, after filming his final scene, the makeup department gave him permission to throw the Gimli mask into the fire. And he did.

Gimli The Dwarf FactsShutterstock

10. Bad Kitty

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum using motion capture, said he based the wretched creature's coughing on sounds his cat made... when coughing up a hairball.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

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11. Case Of The Missing Horses

The production of all three movies in the trilogy used over 200 horses... and because most scenes involving them were action-packed battle scenes, the horses were in danger of being hurt. To mitigate the risk, both horses and riders were fitted with motion capture suits and were filmed in studio doing actions like galloping and rearing. They were then digitally inserted into battle scenes so no horses (or riders) were hurt.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

12. Going Once, Going Twice, Gone Like The Wind!

The horses that the production company owned were put up for auction after filming was completed. Viggo Mortensen bought two of them: the one he rode for most of filming and the one used by Arwen’s riding double.

Lord Of The Rings factsLOTR: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

13. And The Oscar Goes To…

This trilogy shares the record for the most nominated film series in Academy Award history. The LOTR films have received 30 nominations, surpassing The Godfather trilogy (28) and sharing the record with the Star Wars franchise.

Fellowship Of The Ring FactsGetty Images

14. Mines of Mordor

The scene where Aragorn’s army attacks the Black Gate was shot in a desert that the New Zealand army trains in. The field was still littered with mines and other explosives that hadn’t been detonated, so the army had to do a sweep with metal detectors to make sure everyone was safe to film. If they left the mines, they probably would have defeated the orcs a lot faster.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

15. Extra Serial Offender

In an estimation, Viggo Mortensen says he has “ended” every stuntman on the production team at least fifty times over the filming of the trilogy.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

16. Seven Times as Good as a Normal Movie

At the time, an average major motion picture will contain about 200 shots containing special effects. This film alone had 1,488.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

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17. Laughing All The Way To The Academy

The last day of filming of the trilogy happened over a month after the film was released in theatres and three weeks after the 2004 academy awards. Peter Jackson wanted to film a final shot of skulls on the floor in the Paths of the Ended, which is used in the extended edition. Jackson found it funny to be filming a movie he'd already won the “Best Picture” Oscar for. Those that lost probably didn’t find it quite as funny.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

18. Scaredy Horse

When Denethor tries to burn Faramir on the pyre, they were unable to actually light a fire because Gandalf’s horse wouldn’t go near it. In order to solve the problem, the crew used a pane of glass placed in front of the camera lens to reflect a real fire and project it into the camera so that it looks as though the pyre burns.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

19. New High Score Achieved!

The Return of the King has the highest "perfect score" at the Academy Awards. This means they won every award they were nominated for. They won 11 awards out of the 11 nominations. Additionally, The Lord of the Rings trilogy won in every single category it was nominated for throughout the trilogy except for Best Supporting Actor (Smeagol was robbed).

Best Picture factsGetty Images

20. Pippin the Musical

The scene which Billy Boyd (Pippin) sings in happened mostly because screenwriter Philippa Boyens went to a karaoke bar with some of the cast and was particularly impressed by the quality of Boyd’s voice. She remembered that Denethor asks Pippin to sing him a song in the books and gave Boyd the lyrics from the novel, leaving him the task to come up with a melody.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

21. The Winner of Every Staring Contest

Elijah Wood has a special talent for being able to fixedly stare in front of him without blinking for long periods of time. This skill came in handy for scenes in which Frodo was wrapped up in Shelob’s web in a comatose state.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

22. Cleaning Up The MTV Movie Awards

In 2003 Andy Serkis (Gollum) won two MTV Movie Awards for “Best Virtual Performance” and “Best On-Screen Team” (which he won with Elijah Wood and Sean Astin).

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

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23. Design Defect

Gollum’s left ear lobe is missing. This is because, in the casting of a mold made for Peter Jackson’s approval, an air trap was caught where the lobe should be. When looking at the finished casting, the design team decided it should remain that way.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

24. The Titular Line

Watching Peter Jackson's three films in a row takes about 9-10 hours (as if you didn't do that last year.) It's a serious undertaking—not for the faint of heart. But if you're courage is failing you, and you need another reason to carefully re-watch, here it is: Each movie features its respective subtitle as a spoken line. In Fellowship, it's during the council scene when Elrond refers to the nine adventurers as a “Fellowship of the Ring”; in the second film, Saruman says “The Two Towers” in a voiceover; and finally during the last installment Gandalf says to Denethor that he cannot deny the “Return of the King".

Now pick up half a day's worth of popcorn, and check to see if I'm right. I'll wait until you get back.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

25. Peter Jackson: Hater of the Passed

Peter Jackson reportedly hated the Army of the Gone. He thought them to be too unbelievable. However, he kept them in the movie because he didn’t want to disappoint diehard fans of the novels.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

26. Rearranged Scenes

The opening scene of the movie that shows Smeagols fall from grace was directed by Fran Walsh. It was originally supposed to be in The Two Towers immediately after Gollum’s name was revealed.

Gollum FactsThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

27. The Luckiest Rider

One of the shots filming the charge of the Rohirrim (riders of Rohan) includes a horse rider who falls off the back of his horse. Miraculously, every horse that came behind him managed to either miss or avoid him, and he was left uninjured.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

28. Return of the Renovations

WETA digital effects company had to add an additional room to its effects facility to store all the computer equipment it needed to render the battle scenes for this movie.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

29. Leave It To Peter

Peter Jackson didn’t spend all his time behind the camera. In The Fellowship of the Ring, he strolls past the camera munching on a carrot in the town of Bree. In The Two Towers, he defends Helm’s Deep—we even see him throw a spear at the Uruk-hai. And finally, when Sam returns to save Frodo from Shelob, it's actually the director’s arm that first comes into frame holding Sting.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

30. Wet Off The Presses

Peter Jackson first saw the completed film, start to finish, at the premiere.

The Duke Of Cambridge Attends 'They Shall Not Grow Old' World Premiere.Getty Images

31. A Spear Fanatic

It was Bernard Hill’s (Theoden) idea to touch the spears of all his army man before riding into battle.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

32. How To Sound Like A Fake Spider

The shriek of Shelob is made up of several different sounds, including a plastic alien toy, steam hissing, and the shriek of a Tasmanian Devil. Spider noises are intense!

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

33. History Made

Return of the King marks the second time in history that the third movie in a franchise was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, right after The Godfather Part III, and it is the only time a third movie has won the Best Picture Oscar.

Diane Keaton FactsThe Godfather Part III (1990), Paramount Pictures

34. The Best Party in Wellington

When the The Return of the King premiered, the City of Wellington held an all-night party... funded by City Council for an estimated $400,000. On the downside, there were almost zero 111-year-old hobbits, but the party wasn't a complete wash: among the festivities were street performers, outdoor screenings and a giant mock-up Nazgul that flew over the Embassy Theatre.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsWikimedia Commons

35. This Helmet’s Just Right.

Miranda Otto (Eowyn) had to go through many fittings before production settled on a helmet that disguised her face, yet also revealed who she was to the audience.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

36. Go Against Your Instincts

Peter Jackson gave Howard Shore the difficult task of writing music for Shelob’s Lair. He told Howard to “Go off and pretend you're making another movie for David Cronenberg. This should sound like The Fly!"

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsGetty Images

37. Can I Have One Too?

Denethor (John Noble) had a sword attached to his belt even though he never uses it. The prop department gave it to him so that he could feel as important as the rest of the cast who had swords.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

38. 100,000 Fans

The streets of Wellington were lined with 100,000 people for the world premiere. That is approximately a quarter of the city's population.

Legolas factsGetty Images

39. Poor Rabbits

The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed on a large field that was the home to many rabbits resulting in rabbit holes covering the whole terrain. In order to keep horses safe, the entire field was searched and the rabbit holes were filled in.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

40. Eowyn’s Revolution

The Rohanese (Rohanian? Rohwegian?) army is made up of hundreds of extras from New Zealand, who responded to an open casting call. The stipulation? Anyone who wanted a place had to know how to ride a horse. Many of the successful candidates were women, who were obliged to dress as men for their moment in the sun. The only woman in the Rohirrim is Eowyn... couldn't have the extras stealing her spotlight!

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

41.Smoke Intolerant

When Merry and Pippin are having pipes at Isengard, Dominic Monaghan (Merry) had to drink milk before filming to keep from throwing up while having a smoke. Drinking milk as an antacid must be the opposite of lactose intolerance.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

42. Already Cast The Best

Andy Serkis wasn’t the first choice to play the real Smeagol in the opening scene. But once people started auditioning, they quickly realized that Serkis was the only man for the job.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

43. Where Gollum Came From

Tolkien reportedly based aspects of Gollum's character on that of Grendel from Beowulf. Grendel is another figure who lives in a world called "Middle Earth." While Grendel is a direct descendant of Cain, the biblical figure who ended his brother, Smeagol ended his cousin to acquire the ring. Like Smeagol, Grendel's body became monstrous over time, while also granting him a lengthened lifespan and increased strength. Tolkien also wrote a translation of Beowulf (from Old English) that was published in May 2014.

Middle Earth FactsFlickr, Pete D

44. Don’t Blink

The opening scene of Smeagol’s fall from grace had to be touched up. Thomas Robins (Deagol) blinked after his passing by accident, but Peter Jackson loved that take so much that he had the WETA Digital crew “freeze” the eyes.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

45. Too Athletic For Your Own Good

The opening scene of Smeagol also had to be touched up in the shot where Smeagol falls upon the rocks before Gollum begins to narrate because Andy Serkis’ legs seemed too muscular and athletic.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

46. Before and After

One scene cut from the movie entirely (including extended edition) was a scene where Eowyn (Miranda Otto) was stripping off her regular clothes and redressing herself in the armor of a Rohan warrior.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

47. Long Road Out Of Mordor

Fans often wonder why the characters didn’t fly to Mordor on the backs of the giant eagles and drop the ring into Mount Doom, but most don't realize that this actually is explained in the book. The filmmakers didn’t get into an explanation because they thought it was obvious. The eye of Sauron was the biggest obstacle, as it would have seen them coming the whole time. J.R.R. Tolkien vetoed the use of the eagles as they are proud creatures that did not take sides in the Battle of the Ring until the end. They are basically the Switzerland of Middle Earth. Oh, and there's also Gandalf the Grey's famous last words, "fly you fools."

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

48. Almost Didn't Happen

Return of the King may be the most successful film in the franchise, but Viggo Mortensen revealed that the film would never even have been released in theatres if it wasn't for the success of The Fellowship of the Ring. Mortensen said, “Officially, [Jackson] could say that he was finished in December 2000—he’d shot all three films in the trilogy—but really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy—it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video". Maybe they should have done the same thing for The Hobbit?

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

49. Gandalf the Thief.

Sir Ian McKellen was praised for his portrayal of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, but most fans don’t know just how much of Middle Earth he took with him. Ian confessed that he actually take Gandalf’s staff, and he proudly displays it at his pub, “The Grapes".

Harry Potter Actors FactsFlickr, Gage Skidmore

50. Method Acting

During the shot that Frodo was hurt by Shelob’s stinger, Elijah Wood actually got hurt by a prop stinger. Wood mentioned that not only was it extremely painful, but it actually did enough damage to land him in the hospital for a few days.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

51. Always Wear Protection

Elijah Wood had to be wrapped in a latex-esque material when he was in Shelob’s webbing. On the DVD extras Wood jokes that it was like being in “the world’s largest protector”.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King factsThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003), New Line Cinema

Sources: 1234