Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011) -vs- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Harry Potter -vs- The Lord of the Rings

Eric Volkman - Contributing Writer

The Smackdown

One finale to rule them all! Two beloved (not to mention lucrative) film franchises come to an end with these offerings and, more momentously, face each other in a Movie Smackdown of truly epic proportions.

The stakes in the two stories are similarly high, with heroes who’ve had the odds gradually stacked against them to the point of near-impossibility for success. In The Return of the King, the spirit of the evil sorcerer Sauron — in the form of a fiery, all-seeing Eye — lives and schemes for total victory against our vulnerable protagonists. Meanwhile, in Potter-land, Team Harry has to mount a quick and effective defense against Voldemort and his army, who are on the brink of completely taking over the magic world, destroying Hogwarts and killing its good students and faculty.

The sword-wielding, ring-bearing humans, hobbits and elves of Peter Jackson’s ultimate Rings face off against the spells and talismans of Harry and his young wizard pals. Which side will prevail?

The Challenger

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 puts the good guys against the wall immediately. The film opens with Harry, Ron and Hermione in exile far from their peers and mentors at Hogwarts. They must find and destroy the horcruxes — objects in which Voldemort has left pieces of his soul in a bid for immortality. Easier said than done, as the three are wanted by the authorities for their actions in the previous films. They also have to move right away, as Voldemort has steadily gained power to the point where he and his flock are poised to attack and destroy Hogwarts. Life for wizards can be crushingly stressful in hard times. And you think your job is tough.

With the help of allies, trustworthy and otherwise, Harry and Co. manage to find their first horcrux, then discover and sneak into the location where the remaining ones are held — Hogwarts, as it turns out. But then Voldemort and his army launch their attack, and even the shield created by the school’s professors (plus a phalanx of some really cool magically-animated knight statues) can’t keep the evil horde fully at bay. So Harry, Ron and Hermione, in the midst of their quest to destroy the horcruxes, must also fight in the losing battle for their school.

Non-spoiler alert: To no one’s surprise, the confrontation we’ve waited five movies for finally occurs at the end. Voldemort and Harry go one on one — actually, more than once — but not before our boy learns the complete truth of his origins, and how to finally bring down his evil adversary.

The Defending Champion

LOTR: The Return of the King also tips the odds far in favor of the bad guys. Sauron’s malevolent spirit is as strong as ever… as is his massive army of bloodthirsty orcs. He sets this horde against Gondor, and it begins to look very possible that the kingdom and human society itself (along with its hobbit, elf and dwarf allies) will be obliterated. The one great hope of men isn’t very promising at all: the goofy hobbits Frodo and Sam, who are slowly making their way to Mount Doom in order to destroy the Ring in the volcanic fire where it was created. Further reason for pessimism is provided by Gollum, the treacherous Ring obsessive accompanying the hobbits on their quest, ostensibly as a guide. Gollum professes to be motivated only to help the hobbits and to be cured of his Ring addiction, but Sam correctly suspects otherwise. On top of that, Sauron’s spirit manifests itself in a fiery, all-seeing, giant Eye planted on top of a high tower. The hobbits will have to somehow escape its gaze on the way to Mount Doom. The bad guy wants his Ring, and he wants it badly.

So, evil armies on the march against the vastly outnumbered and out-armed (not to mention fractious and low-spirited) human/elf/dwarf/hobbit alliance, an exhausted hobbit dogged by a would-be thief and watched by an omnipotent evil eye… a wise gambler wouldn’t put even a single gold piece on the good guys winning.

The Scorecard

Both movies generally find a good balance between exposition and action in the meat of their stories. Rings tends to be heavier on the former because it’s so packed with mythology: Tolkien, after all, created an entire world for his sprawling drama to inhabit. By contrast, Rowling’s universe is tighter, smaller and more contained, and the exposition consequently lighter. Characters in Rings spend a lot of screen time explaining things, and the movie can sometimes feel sluggish as a result.

In both movies, the action sequences are fast, punchy and exciting, and directors Peter Jackson (Rings) and David Yates (Harry) are to be commended for their fine work in this area. The battle scenes in Rings are longer, the arc of those sequences is higher and the suspense is more drawn out than in the Potter extravaganza. Harry is aimed at a younger audience with a more limited attention span, so these scenes are completed more quickly in order to get to the next plot point.

In terms of tone, Harry wins by a nose (Voldemort’s truncated proboscis, at any rate). Despite plenty o’ death, destruction and overall violence, Yates’ film never loses its light touch and its sprinkling of humor. When headmistress Minerva McGonagall, for example, animates those funky knight statues she declares, “I always wanted to use that spell!” The characters in Rings are too busy questing and saving the human race to crack jokes, although cranky dwarf warrior Gimli has a few good quips from time to time.

On the other hand, Rings has the better and more consistent pacing of the two. In Harry, the action sequences peak early, with the battle for Hogwarts subsiding around two-thirds of the way through the movie. This is necessary because of the heavier amount of exposition at the end, where Harry’s story through eight movies has to be wrapped up and its numerous loose ends sealed tight. But necessity in this case isn’t the mother of good movie rhythm, and Harry starts to feel draggy toward the conclusion. Its 130 minutes end up feeling much longer than the three-plus hours of Jackson’s movie. Additionally, because it’s already taken care of much of the exposition and its pacing is more consistent and well-modulated throughout, the conclusion of Rings feels more cathartic and triumphant.

The Decision

Both movies are fine conclusions to their respective franchises, completing their stories in a satisfying way that leaves few, if any, loose ends. They are made by expert filmmakers who can tell cinematic tales well and keep audiences in suspense while navigating effectively from plot point to plot point. Also, both Jackson and Yates (plus their respective screenwriter collaborators Fran Walsh/Philippa Boyens and Steve Kloves) are to be commended for packing a large amount of mythology and back story into a relatively tight package of a two- or three-hour movie.

This is where the two films diverge, however. Rings’ mythology occasionally weighs it down in dry stretches of grim-faced dialogue and exposition, but the rousing action sequences and strong forward plot momentum keep the audience going through to the end. Harry, meanwhile, sputters a little as it reaches its conclusion, with much exposition and plot development back-loaded in the final reel. Despite a fun epilogue set nearly 20 years after the events in the movie, it can’t quite overcome this weakness to put its opponent away. So in this Smackdown, the armored, sword-gripping hand raised in victory belongs to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.


31 Comments on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011) -vs- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)


  1. OMG!!! you compare return of the king with deathly hallows???? can you compare battle of minas tirith with battle of hogwarts??.of course LOTR wins no contest. return of the king won 11 oscar including best picture. how about harry potter? that’s right nope.


  2. When I saw DH7.2 I wasn’t moved like I thought I would be. When I first saw LoTRK it was very suspenseful and I was worried about the characters even the side ones. (like Faramir) LoTRK was much better all the way through.


  3. Why does one HAVE to be better than the other? I absolutely enjoyed both of these movies and both of them have their strengths and weaknesses. I also agree with the fact that Potter felt very rushed and the makers should have definitely stretched it out a little (I would have been willing to watch an extra 30 minutes ITS THE LAST MOVIE FOR GOD’S SAKE) in the end I would re-watch either of these movies anytime.


    • The only reason one has to be better than the other is that’s what the rules are here at Movie Smackdown. No ties. Somebody always wins.


  4. Part 2 was amazing!


  5. LOL I can’t belive they found 13 short fat actors to play the dwarves LOL.


  6. Seriously! Why is this even a poll? Lord of the rings is far better on every level of filmmaking! Deathly Hallows Part 2 is rushed focusing more on the action rather then the significance of what’s taking place. All the sacrifices from the supporting charters such as fred weasley death(actually all the side characters deaths) are simply glanced over never giving the audience time to take in what had just happened. Harry Potter part 2 never sits back and lets the emotional scenes take full form instead quickly jumping to the the next action scene. In fact even the action scenes feel rushed because there is so many of them. Harry Potter part 2 is just an end to a really long franchise and people seem to shout praises simply because its the end. Lets face it Deathly Haloows part 2 isn’t even the best in the franchise. Lord of the rings is a completely different animal. The characters are all center stage in return of the king each seeming to have special significance to the story. When the actions scenes arrive they fell epic and massive in scope. However Lord of the rings truly eases of the reigns at times letting its characters develop and each scene of emotion making a real impact on its audience. There is so much more you could talk about in Lord of the Rings but I think it would be wasted space because most won’t budge on their opinion anyway. At the end of Lord of the rings, i felt i had been on an extraordinary journey one that i would love to revisit. At the end of Harry Potter I was just really tired. Harry Potter is in no way even comparable to The original Star Wars trilogy(no prequels here) or The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Return of the king ” You bow to no one” especially not Potter.


  7. Haven’t seen The Return of the King yet but I love Deathly Hallows!


    • That is rude! Why did u say that!?


  8. I personally think that since the Academy Awards voters are really old they obviously will go to see adult franchises so that is why harry potter has only got technical awards.
    I love them both franchises and love both books and love the way they ended the book and the film.
    (By the way search up on google deathly hallows part 2 rotten tomatoes which sums up all the critic reviews and gives it a percentage… It got 96%! and the return of the king rotten tomatoes got 94%! Er, they both should have got 97%!)
    Can’t decide there both brilliant


  9. put it this way… Ten years of potter and not one oscar.. 1 lotr movie and 11 oscars including best picture


  10. Mmmmm……… Well, I think they are both unique enders. They both have an emotionally powerful impact and a dramatic final chapter.
    Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had a better dramatic and exhilarating conclusion.
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows PART 2 had a better emotionally charged conclusion. It doesn’t fall short of The Return of the King’s dramatic and exciting conclusion. The Return of the King may have better acting as a whole since HP does have a younger cast but the older cast were astounding! Part 2 is visually stunning and breathtaking and so was The Return/King’s.
    As a franchise ender they are both spectacular and David Yates may have made the battle shorter than we expected but made it feel longer than it was (in the good way not that it dragged on).
    Peter Jackson made his conclusion the longest battle in cinematic history yet made it exciting all the way!
    As a whole Part 1 and Part 2 were deeply satisfying and Return/King was as well.
    Sorry can’t make up my mind!!!


  11. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my web site so i got here to go back the prefer?.I’m attempting to find issues to improve my site!I assume its good enough to use a few of your ideas!!


    • I love Deathly Hallows!! Better than The Return of the King!


  12. I watched the last Harry Potter film in 3D(BEST 3D I HAVE EVER SEEN!!) and it was twice as good as Part 1, Part 2 was trumphant, dramatic, exhilarating, powerfully emotional, magnificently acted, visually dazzling and an epic and truly jaw-dropping Final Chapter that is a worthy bloody climax to the dramatic, suspenseful, visual, tremendously emotional and spellbinding book!
    Part 1 was a slow-burning, thrilling, creepy and atmospheric drama building up to part 2(they are making the dvd longer than in cinema, so if you think it wasn’t worthy, it was too rushed, then think again, the cinema had to cut most things out, so watch it on dvd on November 19th or 20th) the battle is longer on dvd!


  13. to be honest i havent read none of da franchise books but ive seen da movies a million times. i can say dat tolkien was one hell of a creative thinker. i mean who cud cum out wid names like legolas n aragorn. also comparing deathly hallows to the return of the king, trotk is so much more thrilling n exciting. da battle of pelennor fields puts u in a complete different trance compared to da final battle of hp. also da battle of helms deep frm da two towers is another frightening battle. it jus makes u a little terrified wen ur up against 10,000 beast like soldiers n ur side is onli 600. neway da conclusion is LOTR WILL NAIL EM ALLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!


  14. When i watched the first Harry Potter film i thought it was a delightful family film! But i didn’t know that it would become the highest grossing film of 2001 with The Fellowship of the Ring second and the biggest movie franchise ever! Then i decided to read the HP books because they got a mad amout of good reviews and awards. I then became a huge fan of JK Rowling’s “creation of genius” books and the film series! With all 6 books out at the time i read them again and again so i wouldn’t lose the magical thread of the story before the highly anticipated last book came out! Then on July 2007 it did! But this time there was a different feel in the book, the kind of feel Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King gave me.
    My eyes gleamed with exhilaration as i read and read, however, in some parts i felt a sudden sadness that turned into tears of sorrow. JK Rowling truly does have spiritual depth, in the 5th and 6th books i cryed. I probably sound like a big baby to you, but it’s just her books are so moving, she can either make you frightened, tearful, trumphant or feel the emotion of her character with her deep description!
    In the last film i sheded one or two very small tears, but overall it’s an exhilarating, spellbinding and trumphant masterpiece. It’s far better than The Return Of the King!!!


  15. I love Harry Potter films! Especially this climatic, gripping, spellbinding, emotional and spectacular HP film! Anyway did you know that Breaking Dawn Part 1 is coming out on 18th November 2011 Breaking Dawn Part 2 is coming out on 18th November 2012!
    See them and tell us which is better HP’s Conclusion or Twilight’s Conclusion!


  16. Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King is i agree hugely action-packed, magnificently amazzing, satisfying and gripping!But vs Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, i think part 2 was better and with part 1 and part 2 against it. WOWWWW! Watch out Lord Of The Ring!


  17. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the best out of all the Harry Potter films and the rest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.


  18. The Return Of The King is climatic, spectacular, and nerve-wrecking!
    Deathly Hallows Part 2 is emotional, spellbinding, satisfying and climatic!
    And the winner is…….Deathly Hallows Part 2!!!!


  19. Well, excuse me but how on earth is Harry Potter aimed just for children and teenagers, seriously, HP has appealed to people of all ages around the world.
    Anyway, Lord Of The Rings film series is absolutely spectacular and epic especially The Return of The King. The books are, however, better. To have created so entralling an epic world, with its own mythology, with such diversity of scene and character, such imaginative invention and description, such supernatural meaning underlying the wealth of incident, is a most incredible and astonishing feat.It is magnificently told,with every kind of colour and movement and greatness.
    The Harry Potter film series is utterly magnificent and great especially Deathly Hallows. But, yet again the books are better. To have created a spellbinding world of such rich, powerful, vividly imaginative and complex fantasy. As the story goes on the world grows more vast, mysterious and mature it gets. The storyline like Rings is magnificently told, moving, complex and a creation of genius. Suspense, secrets and darkness Harry and Rings have it!
    The conclusions in both are equally spectacular, hugely action-packed ,satisfying and really exciting. Harry’s conclusion was suspensefully prodigiously rewarding and a dramatic epic. Rings conclusion was extroardinarily imaginative work, brilliant in both conception and suspense, astionishing climax. But Harry’s finale chapter is better and Deathly Hallows is better than The Return Of the King.


  20. No doubt about it. The Return of the King is the most amazing achievement in motion picture history!


  21. Lord of the Rings vs Harry Potter.
    Lord of the Rings wins!


  22. After viewing this last Harry Potter film, I’ve come to accept that Harry is an acquired taste that I just never fully acquired. Which is not to say I don’t understand why people love it, and respect its massive accomplishment, and stand in awe of the money it has generated (including about a thousand bucks from my family for tickets and books).

    But I agree with this decision all the way. Lord of the Rings wrapped up its conclusion in a graceful and dramatic way and I miss those characters right now.


  23. DH7.2 was quite entertaining, but the books contain too much important info that was left out in the films so as the movie felt rushed, imo the primary focus of the movie is to tell a story, and LOTR just does a better job


  24. As epic conclusions go, it was impossible to not be overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion at the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows. Fans of the film series for ten years finally saw the story come to fruition, and it was like saying goodbye to one’s own children — now grown and ready to leave the nest.

    Taken as a whole, Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2 are a better paced film than part 2 on its own. And put against Return of the King, I think Harry Potter’s conclusion is more satisfying.


    • I’m off to see DH7.2 next weekend, and if Harry vs Voldemort has the same emotional impact as Gollum sliding into lava and Gandalf crying about it all while brawlin’, I’ll eat my hat.


      • On the off chance that it does have that emotional impact, could you videotape the hat-eating for the site? We could use another great video!


  25. Good choice Eric. There’s nothing on this Earth that compared to that Mumakil charge in Return of The King – and I’m sorry to say, Harry Potter fans, that no amound of wizarding wank will ever top Tolkeins trilogy.

    Alliteration. Gotta love it.


    • Haven’t Hailed Harry yet, Rodney, but it will be a steep hill to climb to Topple Tolkein’s Trilogy.

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