The Lord of the Rings just so happens to be one of the most beloved book and film series of all time. It's especially impressive considering that the books were written decades before Peter Jackson was able to helm the movies. Since then, everyone has known what this story is about.
However, because a book and a film are so fundamentally different with regard to pacing, structure, and flow, many things had to be changed when making the movies so that they would end up as better stories rather than a 1:1 adaptation of the book. Whether you like that or not, this turned out to benefit the films, as they were nominated for numerous Oscar awards and have become the golden standard for book adaptations and fantasy epics.
That said, there were still many great things left out of the movies that stuck out to us in the books. While we can't fault Jackson for removing some of them, it still makes us wonder how the story could've been different had they been included.
Getting that out of the way, here are 15 times the Lord of the Rings movies butchered the books.
15 Tom Bombadil
One of the biggest omissions from the movies was Tom Bombadil. For those of you who prefer to watch rather than read, Tom was an interesting character who appeared in the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. When Frodo's friends were attacked by a willow tree, Tom showed up to help them out and then took them all to his house.
But that's where things get a bit more interesting. Tom had insane power in his domain and could fight dark forces without breaking a sweat. Yet, he preferred living a peaceful life where he could sing and dance as he chose. However, there was much more to him than that. Frodo offered him the Ring, and when he put it on, nothing happened. The Ring had no power over Tom.
14 The Barrow Downs
There was a lot of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin's journey to Rivendell cut for the movie. We understand why this is the case, as it helps with the pacing and flow of the story, but there are some parts we miss. One of them is when the Hobbits were escaping the Black Riders and came across some strange fog.
One by one, they were taken and bound by mysterious creatures called Barrow Wights (they managed to get out because Frodo was resilient enough to call out to Tom Bombadil to save them again). Interestingly enough, these spirits were placed there by the Witch King of Angmar several years in the past, and they remained there still, despite the aforementioned king having no power in that realm anymore.
13 Haldir's Death
One thing that I loved about The Two Towers movie was that Peter Jackson expertly conveyed a sense of dread and doom as the Uruk-Hai were marching towards Helm's Deep. Thankfully, the people of Rohan had some backup from the Elves of Lothlorien (led by the familiar Haldir) before the siege on the keep began.
Unfortunately, most of these Elves died during the battle, including Haldir himself. However, none of these things happened in the book because the Lothlorien Elves never showed up for the battle of Helm's Deep. Instead, it was just the Rohirric people fighting for their lives against the relentless forces of Saruman (and it was just as terrifying in the books as it was in the films).
12 Saruman of Many Colors
In The Lord of the Rings, there were two primary antagonists: Sauron and Saruman. Sauron amassed his armies from Mordor and was the driving force of evil at the time, and Saruman was a less effective yet dangerous pawn in Sauron's game. He was once a great wizard who was tempted by Sauron through the use of a Palantir and decided to join the Dark Lord's cause.
In the books, though, there's one detail that's never explored in the films. Instead of being Saruman the White, the dark wizard's robe was woven of numerous colors that were beautiful to the eye. It was in that version of the story that he was known as Saruman of Many Colors and was one of the most powerful wizards to have ever lived. Yet, it was this power that allowed him to become prideful and eventually turn on the world he fought to protect.
When Frodo was stabbed by the Witch King, it was a race against the clock to get him to Rivendell. Aragorn did just about everything he could to stop the poison from spreading, but he knew he couldn't make it in time. That's when the mystifying Arwen came from nowhere to help Frodo and take him to Rivendell.
In the books, it wasn't Arwen who filled this role. Instead, it was an entirely unique character named Glorfindel. He was one of the greatest Elves in Middle-Earth and was regarded highly in Rivendell. He was even considered to a part of the Fellowship of the Ring when it was formed. Also, Arwen's horse in the movies was actually Glorfindel's horse in the books.
10 Aragorn Running from Kingship
The moment the Hobbits meet the mysterious Strider, we get the sense that there's more to him than we realize, and he's just some "Ranger from the North." As time goes on, it's revealed that this Aragorn is actually the heir to the throne of Gondor. However, he has no desire to rule over the people and ran from his legacy for many years. However, the trilogy ended with him taking his rightful place at Minas Tirith.
In the books, however, Aragorn never ran from his destiny to become king. He actually embraced it, but the oncoming war and trials prevented him from ever taking hold of it until the War of the Ring was over. This was likely changed to give Aragorn a much more interesting progression as the trilogy unfolded.
9 Legolas and Gimli's Friendship
Legolas and Gimli were the best of friends, and it was always great to see them competing during battles and cracking jokes with each other. They defended each other and came to the other's aid when necessary. Yet, Peter Jackson's depiction of their relationship in the films pales in comparison to how it progressed in the books.
At first, Legolas and Gimli despised each other to their very core. It wasn't until much tribulation hardened them and got them to realize the truth about the other that they became friends. When Legolas defended Gimli from Eomer in The Two Towers, it was a heavy moment that spoke volumes about how Elves and Dwarves could get along if they chose to. Gimli was the only Dwarf to get to Valinor.
8 The Treachery of Caradhras
After leaving Rivendell, the Fellowship had to make their way to the Gap of Rohan to figure out their next move regarding the Ring. However, some spies of Saruman motivated them to go through the Pass of Caradhras. Yet, Saruman saw them move there and cast a spell that would strike the mountain, sending treacherous avalanches to potentially kill the party.
That was the film version, though. In the books, Caradhras itself was said to have some kind of consciousness. It didn't take kindly to having visitors, so it stormed and raged as the Fellowship traveled through it. In both versions, the outcome was the same. The Fellowship chose to go through the Mines of Moria (a move that I always wish ended out differently for their sake).
7 Denethor's Palantir
When Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith in The Return of the King, it's clear that the White City is in disarray due to the leadership of Denethor, the steward of Gondor. However, he isn't just a bad leader; he's noticeably insane, directly favoring one of his sons over the other and making decisions that no sane person would.
This is because of a Palantir that he used, which was never fully explored or explained in the film. There's a shot of Aragorn using a Palantir in Minas Tirith, but it's never stated that it belonged to Denethor. No doubt, this choice made it more confusing for viewers who, all of a sudden, noticed a dark device in the halls of the White City.
6 Explanation of Valinor
In the films, many times do the Elves reference immortality, living forever, and the Grey Havens. As it's understood, the film doesn't do much more to explain how this works. We know that the Elves leave on ships to a far off land, but that's about it.
Admittedly, there isn't enough time in the movies to fully explore the concept of Valinor, but it's a bit more fleshed out than the films would have you believe. Valinor is the Undying Lands where the Elves (and anyone else invited) can go to live forever. However, if Elves choose to stay on Middle Earth, they remain mortal and can die from natural causes. The Grey Havens, on the other hand, is simply the dock where the ships can pass into Valinor (a cool concept that I can't fully discuss here).
5 The Death of Grima and Saruman
After the Ents laid waste to Isengard, Saruman and Grima were both trapped atop the Tower of Orthanc. It was there that they waited until the rest of the Fellowship (as well as the people of Rohan) came to speak with him. However, Grima tried to kill Saruman and was shot by Legolas. Saruman was then shoved off of Orthanc and pierced by a spiky wheel at its base.
In the books, Saruman and Grima didn't die until the end of The Return of the King. Saruman had spies take over the Shire, and he battled the four Hobbits when they returned home. During this fight, Grima stabbed Saruman after being treated poorly by the exiled wizard, and Grima was then shot by several Hobbit archers.
4 The Entmoot
In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin met up with Treebeard and the Ents after being captured by a party of Uruk-Hai. While with the tree-herders, they talked about attacking Isengard while all of its forces marched to Helm's Deep. This is when Treebeard called an Entmoot, or meeting, with other Ents. It was there that they took an incredibly long time to discuss what they should do, and they chose to stay out of the war (for the time being).
In the books, the Ents, after meeting for an entire month, decided that it would be best for them to attack Isengard straight on, knowing what Saruman had done to the trees. This makes a bit more sense than having an Entmoot, then giving Treebeard the later knowledge of the trees being destroyed to make him change his mind.
3 Gandalf's Absence
In the beginning of the trilogy, Gandalf discovers that Bilbo is using a mysterious Ring of Power that allows him to turn invisible. Upon further investigation, the Grey Wizard decides to go to Minas Tirith to do more research. He then returns days later with the knowledge that it's the One Ring made to rule them all.
In the books, a different span of time passed after Gandalf had left. Because of the distance between the Shire and Minas Tirith, Gandalf was gone for about a year before he returned to the Shire. That was a long time that Frodo kept the Ring hidden and before the plot started moving along nicely. However, we do appreciate the massive world building that Tolkien started from the very beginning.
2 The Encounter with Shelob
In The Return of the King, audiences got their first look at Shelob, the giant spider and spawn of Ungoliant. This scene occurs about halfway through the film when Gollum tricks Frodo into distancing himself from Sam and walking through the Pass of Cirith Ungol.
However, this moment takes place differently in the books. As opposed to appearing in The Return of the King, Frodo's run-in with Shelob happens at the end of The Two Towers. The book then closes with Frodo being stabbed by the giant spider and taken by the orcs of Cirith Ungol. Jackson stated that the reason he had changed this was that if Frodo hadn't fought Shelob in The Return of the King, then he and Sam wouldn't have had much to do in the film.
1 Faramir's Survival (and Prince Imrahil)
As Denethor lost his mind, his son Faramir came to speak with him about the Orcs of Mordor. It was then that Denethor stated he wanted to take back Osgiliath, which was overrun by Mordor at the time. Yet, Faramir obliged and took a force to ride to their deaths. However, Faramir lived and was dragged back to Minas Tirith by his horse (which seems really cheap in the movie).
In the book, this scene progresses a bit differently. As a matter of fact, when Faramir and his soldiers were fleeing Osgiliath the first (and only) time, he took a few poison arrows. Yet, it was Prince Imhrahil of DolAmroth and his riders who saved the Osgiliath party and rescued Faramir. Too bad this scene couldn't have happened in the film because there were already plenty of characters for Jackson to juggle.
Source: The Lord of the Rings