Peter Jackson’s career, much like Guillermo del Toro’s, is a tale of two directors. On one hand, Peter Jackson movies can be seen as artistic, like the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings. And on the other hand, well, there is no other hand, because it was chopped off by a lawnmower. Yeah, Peter Jackson used to be that kind of director.
And really, depending on your taste in movies, you might think that one half of his career is better than the other. Personally, I admire both sides, which is why this list is so fun to make. The same director of the brilliant They Shall Not Grow Old also directed a film where a preacher kicks ass for the Lord. I mean, sure, Peter Jackson will never be confused for a Martin Scorsese, but Martin Scorsese never did a movie about perverse, drug-abusing puppets, either. That’s why there’s only one Peter Jackson. God bless that Kiwi.
14. The Lovely Bones (2009)
I’m pretty sure that the general consensus is that The Lovely Bones is a bad movie. But it’s not. A better word for it might be uneven. Based on the popular novel, The Lovely Bones stars Saoirse Ronan as a murdered teenager who watches over her family from “the in-between.” All the while, her family tries to figure out who murdered her. Stanley Tucci, who also stars, was even nominated for an Oscar!
But I do understand its problems. At times a beautiful film, some of the movie often falls into maudlin territory, making it feel quite uneven. It kind of reminds me of What Dreams May Come, in both the good (the visuals) and the bad (the story) ways. In the end, The Lovely Bones is fine. It’s just also forgettable.
13. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)
I go back and forth on which Hobbit movie is the worst, and today, I’m thinking The Battle of the Five Armies. The third movie in this unnecessary trilogy sees the head dwarf, Thorin II Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, going a little batty inside the Lonely Mountain while a war gets ready to rage outside his doorstep. Then, there’s this long, exhausting battle at the end, and the trilogy goes out with a whimper rather than a bang.
I know some people like this movie, but I just find it tiresome. The final battle goes on forever, and none of it works for me. Pass!
12. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
The Desolation of Smaug is also really bad, but maybe not as bad as The Battle of the Five Armies. This one sees the dwarves and Bilbo sneaking into the den of Smaug, a greedy dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Smaug stuff is good, but it’s all the other padding around it that stinks. I distinctly remember the Smaug sections in the novel, but all the other stuff not in the book is just long and tedious. Honestly, there is a good movie in The Hobbit trilogy. But it would only take one movie. Not 3!
11. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
While I don’t necessarily think An Unexpected Journey is good, I do think it’s the best in the trilogy. Maybe it’s because there was so much hope that this trilogy might be even remotely close to being as good as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This film sees Bilbo off with the dwarves on their journey to The Lonely Mountain, which houses the dragon Smaug. It’s kind of fun, and the dwarves don’t wear out their welcome as they do in the later movies.
But it takes itself far too seriously. The Hobbit novel is not The Lord of the Rings, as The Hobbit is funny and fun. So why this movie has to feel so epic is beyond me, and it definitely doesn’t work in its favor.
10. King Kong (2005)
King Kong is one of the greatest movies of all time, so does Peter Jackson’s version measure up? Well, no, but he does a damn good job trying. This version, starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrian Brody, follows the story pretty closely, but modernizes it visually, making the scenes on Skull Island especially vivid.
Overall, the story is great, and the only thing really keeping it back is the fact that you know that this is more of a passion project than anything that really needed to be made.
9. Meet The Feebles (1989)
In the intro, I mentioned that Jackson had two sides to his career, and Meet the Feebles is certainly on the other side. The best way to describe this movie is that it’s like The Muppets on LSD. It’s about some Henson-esque puppets trying to get their show on the air, but it’s full of sex, drug-use, and violence. It was The Happytime Murders before The Happytime Murders was a thing, but even better, if you ask me.
It’s all in the characters, as there are no live actors in this movie. Instead, you get a sex starved hippo, a rat in the porn industry, and a horny hedgehog. The only thing holding it back is some of the humor, which isn’t as effective as it wants to be. Still, for better or worse, there’s no other film like Meet the Feebles.
8. The Frighteners (1996)
After the critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson’s follow-up kind of went back to his horror comedy roots. The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox is about a dude who works with ghosts to con people into thinking he’s exorcising them. In a way, it’s sort of like a bizarro version of Ghostbusters, but weirder, if you can imagine that.
It’s mostly because of Michael J. Fox who plays a lovable jerk just so well. The special effects are dated, but still look great, and it’s just a really fun film, especially when the murders start getting blamed on Fox’s character. If you’re a cool kid, then you love The Frighteners.
7. Bad Taste (1987)
I’ll die on this hill, but Peter Jackson’s first movie, Bad Taste, is my favorite film of his. It’s basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers as aliens come down to earth and pose as humans. But it’s super gory, with blood splatter galore and ridiculous, over the top violence. Peter Jackson plays multiple roles, including my favorite as a nerd named Derek who only fights because Derek’s don’t run.
I know Bad Taste is a bad movie. But it’s the best kind of bad movie. It’s the kind that my good friend, Mickey, found at a video store, and just had to share with all of his friends, myself included. Screw The Lord of the Rings! Bad Taste forever!
6. Dead Alive (1992)
Dead Alive, or Braindead as it’s known around the rest of the world, is like Bad Taste squared. It It’s about a man, played by Timothy Balme, who lives with his mother. Well, one day, his mother is bitten by a rabid animal, and she starts a zombie outbreak in the town. The movie still, to this day, holds the record for the most fake blood in a movie with the infamous lawnmower scene.
Dead Alive is hilarious and bloody as all get out. It’s the kind of film that commits to being as gross and violent as possible, but it’s also super tongue-in-cheek like only a Peter Jackson movie can be. I prefer Bad Taste, but I’m well aware that Dead Alive is the better movie. It’s all killer, no filler.
5. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Based on a true story about the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder, Heavenly Creatures is a really interesting turning point for the director that still hewed close to his horror sensibilities. Starring Malanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet in their film debuts, Heavenly Creatures is about two friends who share an intense friendship that leads to murder once they get separated.
Kind of like The Lovely Bones, Heavenly Creatures has a fantasy element to it in the world the two girls create together. But it’s much more effective in this movie, and the story and acting is compelling all throughout. It’s a disturbing, yet beautiful movie, and one of the director’s best.
4. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Some consider The Two Towers to be the best in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. To me, it’s a little slow. Still, as the middle film in the series, it checks off all the qualifications for greatness. The story this time around is even more expansive as the fellowship is split up. We also get talking trees, the vile Saruman preparing the orcs, and of course the Helm’s Deep battle. It’s epic and wonderful, and you care about all of these characters deeply.
Still, The Two Towers is usually the one I find myself looking down at my phone the most with. I do love it, but Treebeard just bores me to tears. I’m sorry.
3. The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring (2001)
Peter Jackson got everything right the first time around. This film sets Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, off on his journey to dispose of the cursed ring. I mean, I don’t have to describe it any more than that since you’ve already seen. Everybody has.
The first one really works though since it’s exciting throughout and all of the characters have such excellent personalities. The fact that Peter Jackson could turn New Zealand into Middle Earth and it all works is still astounding, even to this day.
2. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
They Shall Not Grow Old is like no other film in Peter Jackson’s filmography, mostly because it’s a documentary, but also because of its subject matter. It’s about the first World War, and features 100-year-old footage, but colorized and brought to life in a way that truly does fit the title of the film. I imagine this movie being shown in History classes in school from here on out since it truly does bring the past to life.
But it’s just an overall great documentary, showing what it meant, and means, to be a soldier. The men were young, and looking at the old, grainy footage doesn’t show just how brave these people truly were. It’s a brilliant movie and I would say it is Peter Jackson’s best film, but I know I can’t call it that. I know that award has to go to…
1. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
I mean, it had to be The Return of the King, right? The only fantasy film to ever win Best Picture, The Return of the Ring gets everything right. Even with its 80 or so endings.
Usually, final films in a trilogy aren’t nearly as good as the middle movie in the trilogy. But The Return of the King defies all odds as it's actually the best of the three. Peter Jackson won Best Director for this epic finale, and it was well deserved.
Peter Jackson is a one-of-a-kind auteur who cut his teeth on splatterfest films. But you already know my picks. What are your favorite Peter Jackson movies? Let me know in the poll or in the comments section down below.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.