Peter Jackson’s 10 Longest Movies, Ranked


Born on the 31st of October 1961, in Pukerua Bay, a small seaside suburb in the North Island of New Zealand, Sir Peter Jackson became a film lover during his early childhood. Overwhelmed by the striking black-and-white imagery of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s original 1933 creature feature, King Kong, an impressionable nine-year-old Jackson made it his life’s goal to create movie magic. Kicking off what would become a world-renowned career in film-making, a small cult following would amass around Jackson’s earliest works, a bizarre series of grotesque and often visually repulsive horror/comedies in the form of Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead.

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However, Jackson would eventually impress critics with his dreamlike retelling of the 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case titled Heavenly Creatures, earning the bearded and bespectacled young director his first serious bump in notoriety. As his portfolio grew, so too did Jackson’s ambitious visions for his films, and as run times grew beyond the three-hour mark, viewing Jackson’s flicks became synonymous with needing multiple bathroom breaks. In celebration of this, here are Sir Peter Jackson’s ten longest films.

10 ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994)

Runtime: 109 Minutes

Image via Miramax

While most movie-goers would have been first introduced to the talent of Kate Winslet by James Cameron’s box office titan Titanic, some would already be familiar with the actress thanks to her first major film role starring alongside Melanie Linskey (The Last of Us) in Heavenly Creatures, Jackson’s disturbing dive into the minds of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme.

Only eighteen and seventeen at the time of shooting, Winslet and Linskey both offer captivating performances as the teenage girls, demonstrating a convincing onscreen bond that only makes the characters’ eventual murder of Parker’s mother even more disturbing. A sharp turn away from Jackson’s usual grotesque style, Heavenly Creatures proves that Jackson was never going to be a one-trick pony.

Heavenly Creatures
Release Date
September 12, 1994
Cast
Melanie Lynskey , Kate Winslet , Sarah Peirse , Diana Kent , Clive Merrison , Simon O’Connor

Main Genre
Biography

Tagline
The true story of a crime that shocked a nation.

Runtime
108

9 ‘The Frighteners’ (1996)

Runtime: 110 Minutes

Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners
Image by Annamaria Ward

Following the exploits of Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), an ex-architect who becomes an exorcist-for-hire following the revelation that he can see the spirits of the dead, The Frighteners marks Jackson’s first plunge into the mainstream.

Premiering only six short years after Fox’s last performance as Marty McFly in the final installment of the iconic Back to the Future trilogy, the actor has said he was attracted to the project by Jackson’s unique vision for the film. Stating in a 1996 interview with Bobbie Wygant: « He’s just not a regular human being, that was the allure to me, the fascination ». Tonally in tune with Jackson’s previous flicks, The Frighteners contains all the over-the-top comedy of Brain Dead while containing only a fraction of the gore.

The Frighteners
Release Date
July 18, 1996

Director
Peter Jackson
Cast
Michael J. Fox , Trini Alvarado , Peter Dobson , John Astin , Jeffrey Combs , Dee Wallace

Main Genre
Comedy

Writers
Fran Walsh , Peter Jackson

Tagline
Dead Yet?

8 ‘The Lovely Bones’ (2009)

Runtime: 136 Minutes

Saoirse Ronan as Susie Salmon standing outside in The Lovely Bones
Image via Paramount Pictures

Unlike anything Jackson has made before or since, The Lovely Bones is the black sheep of the directors’ filmography. An unsettling visual marvel, The Lovely Bones is a creative left turn from Jackson, who was originally poised to direct a Halo film following the massive success of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong remake. Opting to work on a smaller-scale project once negotiations around Halo fell through, Jackson once again found himself adapting a beloved book.

An adaptation of the 2002 best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is a supernatural drama centered around Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl who awakens in Purgatory shortly after being lured into an underground clubhouse by her neighbor. In its darkest scenes, the film is as disturbing and horrifying as its subject implies, but at its core, there is an uplifting sense of hope to be found. These conflicting tonal shifts, although expertly executed by Jackson, make for an unusual mainstream film that would feel more at home sitting between Hereditary and Lady Bird on the shelves at the A24 archive.

The Lovely Bones Poster

The Lovely Bones
Release Date
January 15, 2010

Main Genre
Drama
Writers
Fran Walsh , Philippa Boyens , Peter Jackson , Alice Sebold

Tagline
The story of a life and everything that came after…

Runtime
135 minutes

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7 ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (2014)

Runtime: 144 Minutes

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Image via Warner Bros.

Picking up where The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left off, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Jackson’s infamous Hobbit trilogy to a chaotic end. Discarding Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous Dragon, Smaug, before the title card even appears, the film rushes past the dragon’s demise to focus on the company of Thorin Oakenshield as they prepare to defend the treasure hordes of Erebor from the amassing forces of Laketown, Mirkwood and Dol Guldur.

Despite being the shortest of Jackson’s J.R.RTolkien adaptations, at 144 minutes, BOTFA contains the most back-to-back action in the saga. Overstuffed with scenes that do too little to serve the overall story, the ceaseless spectacle overload unfortunately only works to negatively impact the film, resulting in a lackluster trilogy-closer that sorely fails to live up to the films it attempts to set up. Missing the mark with audiences, BOTFA is an ambitious cluster of ideas that, like Merry and Pippin, unfortunately, bites off more Lembas bread than it can chew.

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6 ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ (2013)

Runtime: 161 Minutes

Gandalf and Radagast approach the ancient ruins of Dol Guldur
Image via Warner Bros. 

Only slightly shorter than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the middle chapter of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has a lot more ground to cover within its 161-minute runtime than its predecessor. Picking up as Bilbo and his companions etch ever closer to the Lonely Mountain, in its first hour alone, The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug finds its heroes outrunning a vicious group of orcs, lodging with a towering bear-man, and doing battle against a horrifying scatter of hissing arachnids.

While it might be true that none of The Hobbit films live up to the high standard set by TheLord of the Rings trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug does come the closest to it. With a more concise plot, dramatic tone and refreshing sense of urgency, the Hobbit’s darkest entry excels in core areas where the other two films stumble. Ramping up in tension until reaching Bilbo and the dwarves’ fiery encounter with the dragon Smaug, the film even earns its nail-biting cliffhanger.

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5 ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012)

Runtime: 169 Minutes

Martin Freeman surrounded by several individuals in The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
Image via Warner Bros.

In 2012, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought Tolkien’s fabled world back to the big screen for the first time in almost a decade. The first entry into Jackson’s epic adaptation of the author’s 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey begins as the gruff dwarven prince, Thorin Oakenshield, arrives at Bilbo Baggins’ doorstep with hopes to enlist the hobbit as a burglar for his ragtag company set to liberate the Lonely Mountain from the iron grip of the benevolent dragon, Smaug.

The longest of Jackson’s prequels, An Unexpected Journey, faces a constant uphill battle with setup. Often cutting to flashback sequences or side plots that don’t fully come into play until the trilogy’s final film, the pacing is rocky at best. Thankfully, where the film excels, is focusing on Bilbo Baggins, who is charmingly brought to life by Martin Freeman. Containing many of the character’s best scenes, An Unexpected Journey gives audiences the best demonstration of Bilbo actually being the main character in his own story, an impression lost in the subsequent films.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Release Date
December 14, 2012
Cast
Martin Freeman , Ian McKellen , Richard Armitage , Ken Stott , Cate Blanchett , Ian Holm , Christopher Lee , Hugo Weaving , James Nesbitt , Elijah Wood , Andy Serkis

Tagline
From the director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Runtime
169 minutes

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4 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)

Runtime: 179 Minutes

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) in The Fellowship of the Ring
Image via New Line Cinema

After Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) discovers that his uncle Bilbo’s magic ring holds the key to the return of an ancient evil, the curious hobbit embarks on an epic journey that will decide the fate of Middle-earth. Often referred to as Jackson’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings took the world by storm in 2001. Breaking generations of doubt that Tolkien’s fantasy epic would ever be successfully brought to film, the first installment, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, was released to critical acclaim.

Not put off by its three-hour-long runtime, global audiences would spend $880 million at the box office escaping to Middle-earth, making Fellowship of the Rings the fifth highest-grossing film of all time at the time of its release. Taking home the Oscars for Best Original Musical Score (Howard Shore), Best Effects and Makeup (Richard Taylor) and Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie), Fellowship proved to be an unlikely mega-hit that revitalized the fantasy genre and introduced an entire generation to the work of Tolkien.

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3 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ (2002)

Runtime: 179 Minutes

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) holding a sword and looking determined at the Battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Image via New Line Cinema

Fantasy fans only needed to wait one year to witness the second installment of the ‘Rings’ trilogy. Moving from the ethereal north of Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers sees the story move southward toward the world of men, where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John-Rhys Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) traverse the war-torn lands of Rohan. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam, unable to find safe passage into Mordor, enlist the help of the villainous creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Darker and more politically complex than its predecessor, Towers is a fantasy war epic, rivaled only by its sequel. Boasting one of the most visceral and universally loved action sequences of all time, the Battle of Helms Deep, a dedicated cast and crew, led by Jackson, pushed themselves through countless night shoots in Wellington to create the film’s climactic battle. Also pushing the boundaries of what computer graphics could achieve at the time, visual effects artists working on the film brought the digital character Gollum to life, achieving a level of photo realism never seen before, earning the film the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-movie-poster-1

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Release Date
December 18, 2002

Main Genre
Fantasy

Tagline
The journey continues.

Runtime
179 minutes

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2 ‘King Kong’ (2005)

Runtime: 187 Minutes

King Kong - 2005
Image via Universal Pictures

Having already achieved worldwide renown as a multi-Academy Award-winning filmmaker by 2005, Jackson faced the challenge of following up on the immense success of TheLord of the Rings trilogy. Setting his eyes on another childhood love, Jackson got straight to work on a remake of one of the most beloved monster films of all time: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong. Recapturing the spectacle of Kong using modern CGI, a massive improvement compared to the original films’ stop-motion puppets, Jackson’s version stays true to the heart of the original while delivering an onscreen presence that is far more terrifying.

Unlike his Tolkien adaptations, the main cast of King Kong is packed with famous faces, including Jack Black, Naomi Watts and Adrian Brody, who were unanimously drawn to work in New Zealand with the Kiwi director following his famous 2004 Oscar sweep. An epic adventure with a runtime that exceeds three hours, Jackson’s King Kong offers visceral visuals, complex effects sequences and gigantically satisfying monster skirmishes.

King Kong Film Poster

King Kong
Release Date
December 14, 2005
Writers
Fran Walsh , Philippa Boyens , Peter Jackson , Merian C. Cooper , Edgar Wallace

Tagline
The eighth wonder of the world.

Runtime
187 minutes

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1 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)

Runtime: 201 minutes

Frodo holds the ring on a chain in Lord of the Rings Return of the King
Image via New Line Cinema

The epic conclusion, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, follows Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) as they embark on the harrowing final stretch of their journey into Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Meanwhile, the fractured members of the fellowship prepare for a decisive battle against Sauron’s forces in Gondor.

At 201 minutes, The Return of the King remains one of the longest modern blockbusters ever made, holding the number one slot for nearly two decades, only losing it to Martin Scorsese’s 209-minute gangster flick, The Irishman, in 2019. While it may have lost its claim to being the longest modern film, Jackson’s fantasy epic remains the most celebrated. Earning $1 billion in box office receipts globally and taking home a record-breaking 11 Oscar wins, this trilogy closer is a masterpiece. A visual spectacle of incredible effects and breathtaking vistas, complemented by a sweeping score and rich emotional storytelling, The Return of the King is the perfect end to a near-perfect trilogy of films.

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