Released on December 19, 2001, the film was highly acclaimed by critics and fans alike, especially as many of the latter judged it to be sufficiently faithful to the original story. It was a box office success, earning over $870 million worldwide, and the second highest grossing film of 2001 in the U.S. and worldwide (behind Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) which made it the 5th highest grossing film ever at the time. Today it is the 15th highest-grossing worldwide film of all time. It won five BAFTAs, including Best Film and Best Director. The Special Extended DVD Edition was released on November 12, 2002. In 2007, The Fellowship of the Ring was voted number 50 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest American films. The AFI also voted it the second greatest fantasy film of all time during their AFI's 10 Top 10 special.
At his 111th ("eleventy-first") birthday, Bilbo leaves the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo Baggins. The Wizard Gandalf soon learns it is the One Ring, and that Sauron seeks to retake it. Taking no chances, Gandalf tells Frodo to leave the Shire with the Ring and sends him to Bree with Sam, with plans to meet him there after Gandalf goes to Isengard to meet the head of his order, Saruman. Saruman reveals that the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, have left Mordor to capture the Ring and kill whoever carries it; having already turned to Sauron's cause, he then imprisons Gandalf atop Orthanc. Gandalf is then forced to watch as Saruman orders his orcs to build weapons of war and create an elite Orc army called the Uruk-hai.
While traveling to Bree, Frodo and Sam are soon joined by fellow hobbits Merry and Pippin. After encountering a Ringwraith on the road, they manage to reach Bree, and there they meet a Man called Strider, who agrees to lead them to Rivendell. They agree only because Strider already knows about the Nazgûl and that Gandalf isn't there to guide them. After some travelling, they spend the night on the hill of Weathertop, where they are attacked by the Nazgûl at night. Strider fights off the Ringwraiths, but Frodo is grievously wounded with a morgul blade, and they must quickly get him to Rivendell for healing. While chased by the Nazgûl, Frodo is taken by the elf Arwen to the Elven haven of Rivendell, and healed by her father, Elrond.
In Rivendell Frodo meets Gandalf, who explains why he didn't meet them at Bree as planned (he had escaped Orthanc with the help of an eagle). In the meantime, there are many meetings between various peoples, and Elrond calls a council to decide what should be done with the Ring. The Ring can only be destroyed by throwing it into the fires (that is, lava) of Mount Doom, where it was forged. Mount Doom is located in Mordor, near Sauron's fortress of Barad-dûr, and will be an incredibly dangerous journey. Frodo volunteers to take the Ring to Mount Doom as all the others argue about who should or shouldn't take it. He is accompanied by his hobbit friends and Gandalf, as well as Strider, who is revealed to be Aragorn, the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. Also travelling with them are the Elf Legolas, the Dwarf Gimli and Boromir, the son of the Steward of Gondor. Together they comprise the Fellowship of the Ring. The Fellowship set out and try to pass the mountain Caradhras, but they are stopped by Saruman's wizardry. At Gimli's insistence, they decide to seek safety and travel under the mountain through the Mines of Moria. They discover that an attempt by Gimli's cousin Balin to colonize it has failed. They are attacked by Orcs and a Troll, and encounter a Balrog, an ancient demon of fire and shadow, at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf confronts the Balrog on the bridge, allowing the others to escape the subterranean realm, while he falls with the creature into the abyss below.
The group flees to the Elven realm of Lothlórien, where they are sheltered by its rulers, Galadriel and her husband Celeborn. While resting, Boromir tells Aragorn about the troubles afflicting the land of Gondor and the people's desire to see a strong King rescue it from destruction. Frodo meets Galadriel, who tells him that it's his destiny to handle the Ring and ultimately destroy it. Before they leave, Galadriel gives Frodo the Phial of Galadriel, and the other members also receive gifts from them. Taking the straight path to Mordor, they travel on the River Anduin towards Parth Galen. After landing at Parth Galen, Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, believing that it is the only way to save his realm. Frodo manages to escape by putting the Ring on his finger and vanishing. Aragorn encounters Frodo, but unlike Boromir, Aragorn chooses not to take the Ring. Knowing that the Ring's temptation will be too strong for the Fellowship, Frodo decides to leave them and go to Mordor alone. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship are attacked by Uruk-hai, who Saruman had ordered to hunt down the Fellowship and take back the Ring. Merry and Pippin, realizing that Frodo is leaving, distract the orcs allowing Frodo to escape. Boromir rushes to the aid of the two hobbits but is mortally wounded by the orc commander Lurtz, Boromir regrets having attempted to steal the Ring and then dies. Merry and Pippin are captured prompting Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas to begin their pursuit of the orcs with the intent of rescuing the hobbits, leaving Frodo to his fate. Before Frodo departs Sam decides to join him and together they head off to Mordor.
Before filming began on October 11, 1999, the principal actors trained for six weeks in sword fighting (with Bob Anderson), riding and boating. Jackson hoped such activities would allow the cast to bond so chemistry would be evident on screen as well as getting them used to life in Wellington. They were also trained to pronounce Tolkien's verses properly. After the shoot, the nine cast members playing the Fellowship got a tattoo, the Elvish symbol for the number nine. The film is noted for having an ensemble cast, and some of the cast and their respective characters include:
Events at the beginning of the film are condensed or omitted altogether. In the book, the time between Gandalf leaving the Ring to Frodo and returning to reveal its inscription is 17 years, which is compressed for timing reasons. Frodo also spends a few months preparing for his journey to Bree which is compressed to a day, to increase dramatic tension. Also compressed is up to when Frodo and Sam leave Bag End and the meeting of Merry and Pippin. Characters such as Tom Bombadil are left out for plotting reasons as well as increasing the threat of the Ringwraiths. Such sequences are left out to make time for Saruman, who in the book only appears in flashback until The Two Towers. Gandalf's capture is also expanded with a fight sequence. Saruman's role is enhanced: he is to blame for the blizzard on Caradhras, a role taken from Sauron and Caradhras itself in the book.
A significant new addition is that Aragorn must overcome his self-doubt to claim the kingship. This element is not present in the book, where Aragorn intends to claim the throne at an appropriate time. He reforges Narsil immediately when he joins the Fellowship, but this event is held over until The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King film. All this was done because of Peter Jackson's belief in "character growth", the idea that every character must change or learn something over the course of the story. Arwen Evenstar also has a greater role in the film, replacing the book's character of Glorfindel in rescuing Frodo. Elrond is also different from his counterpart in the printed novel; in the film he doubts the strength of Men to survive without a King. Jackson also skims the Council of Elrond into establishing the Ring quest, by moving exposition from the chapter into earlier parts of the film.
The tone of the Moria sequence was altered. Although the Fellowship only realize all the Dwarves are dead once they reach Balin's tomb, the filmmakers chose to use foreshadowing devices instead. Gandalf says to Gimli he would prefer not to enter Moria, and Saruman has a telepathic communication with Gandalf, and also reveals an illustration of the Balrog in one of his books. The corpses of the dwarves are instantly shown as the Fellowship enter Moria.
The book simply stops in terms of dramatic structure, as Tolkien wrote it as a single story published as three. Jackson's finale is played as a climactic battle, to which he introduces the (unnamed) antagonist referred to as Lurtz in the script. In the book the battle leading to Boromir's death is told in flashback in the second volume, but in the film their encounter is shown in real time. Adding to the ending before the wait for the next film, Aragorn is aware of Frodo's decision to leave.
In November, Alan Lee and John Howe became the primary conceptual designers for the film trilogy, having had previous experience as illustrators for the book and various other tie-ins. Lee worked for the Art Department creating places such as Rivendell, Isengard, Moria and Lothlórien, giving art nouveau and geometry influences to the Elves and Dwarves respectively. Though Howe contributed with Bag End and the Argonath, he focused working on armour having studied it all his life. Weta and the Art Department continued to design, with Grant Major turning the Art Department's designs into architecture, and Dan Hennah scouting locations. On April 1 1999, Ngila Dickson joined the crew as costume designer. She and 40 seamstresses would create 19,000 costumes, 40 per version for the actor and their doubles, ageing and wearing them out for impression of age.
A list of filming locations, sorted by appearance order in the movie:
| Specific Location|
in New Zealand
| General Area|
in New Zealand
|Gardens of Isengard||Harcourt Park||Upper Hutt|
|The Shire woods||Otaki Gorge Road||Kapiti Coast District|
|Bucklebury Ferry||Keeling Farm, Manakau||Horowhenua|
|Forest near Bree||Takaka Hill||Nelson|
|Ford of Bruinen||Arrowtown Recreational Reserve||Queenstown|
|Rivendell||Kaitoke Regional Park||Upper Hutt|
|Dimrill Dale||Lake Alta||The Remarkables|
|Dimrill Dale||Mount Owen||Nelson|
|River Anduin||Rangitikei River||Rangitikei District|
|River Anduin||Poet's Corner||Upper Hutt|
|Amon Hen||Mavora Lakes||Milford Sound|
For the battle between the Last Alliance and the forces of Sauron that begins the film, an elaborate CGI animation system, called Massive, was developed by Stephen Regelous that would allow thousands of individual animated "characters" in the program to act independently. This helped give the illusion of realism to the battle sequences. The "Making of" of the Lord of the Rings DVD reports of some interesting initial problems: In the first execution of a battle between groups of characters, the wrong groups attacked each other. In another early demo, some of the warriors at the edge of the field could be seen running away. The reason was not that they were programmed for cowardice (or survival) and could not see the enemy so they just ran away, but that they were initially moving in the wrong direction, and had been programmed to keep running until they encountered an enemy.
The digital creatures were important due to Jackson's requirement of biological plausibility. All were scanned from large maquettes before numerous digital detail of their skeletons and muscles. In the case of the Balrog, Gary Horsfield created a system that copied recorded imagery of fire.
After the close of its theatrical run, it ranked in the top ten highest grossing movies worldwide, with takings of $871,368,364 USA dollars from world-wide theatrical box office receipts (movie ticket sales).
The movie won the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It also won Empire readers' Best Film award, as well as five BAFTAs, including Best Film, the David Lean Award for Direction, the Audience Award (voted for by the public), Best Special Effects, and Best Make-up.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was acknowledged as the second best film in the fantasy genre.
Notable among the restored scenes is a new beginning to the film (following the prologue) and many character-building elements, showing sides of various protagonists (notably Aragorn and Galadriel) that were absent from the theatrical cut, which was largely edited around the character of Frodo. Additional scenes included:
An Easter Egg is present on the first DVD of some editions of the extended edition. It does not appear in the UK version because the film was only rated a PG, however this spoof was rated a 12. It can be accessed by going to the final page of the chapter menu and then scrolling down until a golden ring appears. The Easter Egg, originally aired during the 2002 MTV Movie Awards, is a parody of the Council of Elrond scene and stars Jack Black and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Additionally, on the second disk of the extended edition, there is another Easter egg. It can be accessed by going to the final page of the chapter menu and scrolling down under the chapter numbers (like 30-33). Go to the bottom and a silhouette of two towers will appear. It is a special trailer for "The Two Towers" that was added on during the end of the theatrical run of the movie.