The Lord of the Rings is filled with an abundance of powerful characters; opinions on which one is the most powerful vary from person to person, so it’s difficult to create a definitive list. However, in a world with magic, monsters, and battle-hungry men, power can mean many different things and the following list takes a look at more than just raw strength when ranking the most powerful characters of The Lord of the Rings. It should be noted that this list will examine characters from The Lord of the Rings, not from The Silmarillion or The Hobbit, though some of the characters may be featured in these other installments.
20. Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif)
Not all power comes from physical strength or incredible magic; it may sound cliche, but there is power in words and Grima Wormtongue is a perfect example. Advisor to King Théoden of Edoras, Grima used his way with words to manipulate and weaken the old king (as well as using a variety of poisons disguised as medicines). Grima worked as a spy for the Wizard Saruman, after being tempted by the Ainur, reporting back about the developments of the kingdom, politics, and other important happenings.
Though he eventually fell into disgrace at the hands of Saruman, being forced into a sort of wretched servitude that had him looking more like Gollum than the man he once was, Grima held power; enough so that he was able to slit Saruman’s throat, killing him and freeing himself, though he was also killed shortly thereafter.
19. The Army of the Dead
As a whole, The Army of the Dead was nothing more than an army of regular soldiers and their king, risen from the grave to fight once more; they were as powerful as any army, well trained and ready for combat, with their only difference being that they were no longer part of the world of the living.
This, however, was where their power lies; The Army of the Dead could not be killed, for obvious reasons. They felt no pain and would not fall to any weapon, making them a great addition to any party (battle party, that is). Though they may not have possessed any particularly interesting magic or strengths, their inability to die again meant that they could continue to fight beyond the limits of mortals.
18. Boromir (Sean Bean)
Known for his prowess and skill on the battlefield, as well as claim as the eldest child of the Steward of Gondor, Boromir proved himself time and time again while traveling with the Fellowship; impressive physical strength, endurance, and command makes it clear to see why he was so beloved as Captain of the White Tower and, later, Captain-General. While he had no magical powers or overly interesting bloodline, Boromir was a valiant warrior and leader (and a doting big brother) and many fans will agree that, despite falling to the temptation of the Ring for a short time, his death came too soon.
17. Eowyn (Miranda Otto)
It says something when your doorwarden points to you and says you are ‘fearless’ and loved by all. In a world where women (humans, specifically) are rarely seen as worthy for battle, Eowyn stands out. While originally being ordered by her uncle and adoptive father, King Théoden, to lead their people to safety, Eowyn eventually sneaks away after being rejected by the man she loves and disguises herself as a man in order to join her uncle in battle.
Riding as part of his escort, she eventually faced the Witch King alone when King Théoden was mortally wounded; what followed is probably one of the most well known scenes from The Lord of the Rings. After the Witch King declared that “No living man may hinder [him],” Eowyn removed her helmet, revealing her facing and declaring “No man am I! You look upon a woman!,” before proceeding to decapitate the Witch King’s Fell Beast and stab him through his head, with a little help from Merry, the hobbit. Like Boromir, Eowyn didn’t possess any special powers or magic, but her determination and impeccable timing earn her a place on this list.
Warning to those who do not like spiders: this one is very big, very bad, and also, technically, part demon. With deadly venom and the ability to paralyze her prey so that she could feast on them without trouble, Shelob was not a creature to be messed with. She even had a nasty habit of keeping her victims alive for a while, allowing them to remain in a sort of torturous limbo before finally eating them. While Samwise Gamgee was able to deal her a terrible wound, her fate remains unknown to both the people of Middle Earth and fans of the series.
15. Gimli (John Rhys-Davies)
A seasoned warrior, with the great strength and stamina known for his race, Gimli, Son of Glóin, was a member of the Fellowship of the Ring and the only dwarf willing to fight alongside elves during the war against Sauron. Handy with a battle axe and able to trek long distances with little food or water, Gimli was a force to be reckoned with. It should also be noted that he became dear friends with the elf, Legolas, which speaks not only to Legolas’ high regard of Gimli, but also of Gimli’s power to go against the hatred and distrust that has poisoned the relationships between elves and dwarves for most of time.
14. Legolas (Orlando Bloom)
Graced with the… grace of his people, as well as their enhanced eyesight, incredible stamina, and talent for working with animals, Legolas was a typical elf. His prowess with a bow was unmatched among the Fellowship and, as J.R.R. Tolkien stated himself, Legolas was “endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies,” as well as an inability to feel terrible hurts, which made it easy for him to travel long distances over rough terrain in only light shoes. Though a powerful and talented warrior, Legolas in the books was not as powerful as the Legolas portrayed in the movies.
13. Gwaihir the Windlord, Giant Eagles of Manwë
There isn’t much else that screams ‘power’ the way a giant eagle does and Gwaihir is no exception. With all the regular powers of an eagle, except about twenty times larger, Gwaihir and his Giant Eagles are swift, strong, and smart, always showing up right on time to save the day.
12. Treebeard (Voiced by John Rhys-Davies)
Treebeard, also known as Fangorn, was the oldest of the Ents, ancient tree-like creatures. Said to be “the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth” by Gandalf, Treebeard was a protector and “shepherd of trees.” Like other ents, he was extremely strong, able to “crumple iron like tin,” according to Merry and Pippin.
Having lived longer than most other things in Middle-Earth, Treebeard had witnessed multiple wars, lost loves, and the changing of times. He and his army of Ents were able to destroy Isengard’s walls and people, after three days of deliberation (tree time is quite slow), as well as break the dam walls depriving Wizards Vale of water, flooding Saruman’s mines and war efforts. Unfortunately, all of his strength was not enough to contain Saruman after the wizard was imprisoned.
11. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen)
A Ranger of the North, heir to the throne of Gondor, and lover of the immortal elf, Arwen; while the Aragorn in the film trilogies was certainly strong, in the books Aragorn has powers that the films do not quite address in full, instead making him out to be nothing more than a remarkably strong human. However, with everything from healing capabilities, the ability to read and command men’s minds, longevity, elven wisdom (from his childhood in Rivendell), and an incredible will, it’s no wonder that Sauron feared Aragorn in the books. In fact, the man was able to psychically challenge Sauron for power over the Palantir of Orthanc, and won. That’s powerful!
10. Durin’s Bane, Balrog
Once a primordial spirit, called a Maia, and now a terrible demon monster of fire and death, Durin’s Bane slept beneath the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm, before being awoken by the Fellowship of the Ring as they passed through Moria. Like most Balrogs, Durin’s Bane could not only control hellish fire and wield giant flaming weapons but could also cast spells, a remnant from its time as a Maia; it went face to face with Gandalf, also a Maia at one point, countering his spells and forcing him to stay behind while the rest of the Fellowship escaped.
It is because of Durin’s Bane that Gandalf yells the famous line, “You shall not pass!” as he confronts it before the bridge beneath it collapses, and it drags the wizard down into the depths with its fiery whip. Even then, Durin’s Bane is not destroyed; instead, though its fire is extinguished by the freezing dark waters of an underground lake, it fights Gandalf, before giving chase and finally dying at the hand of the wizard. Unfortunately, only its mortal form was killed and the fate of its spirit is unknown.
9. The Witch-King of Angmar
As the leader of the Nazgûl, The Witch-King was Sauron’s second-in-command until slain by Eowyn. Though once mortal, his corruption by the Ring of Power left him with little of his original identity remaining; instead, he became enshrouded in an aura of fear that persisted with him everywhere. No weapon could fell him and any who tried would be poisoned. Appropriate for his title as ‘The Witch-King,’ he also possessed dark magic, able to manipulate objects with just a wave of his hand, weaken strong gates, and cast spells to create explosions of lightning. Like all Nazgûl, he drew strength from the night, as well as from Sauron himself, becoming stronger as his master did.
8. Elrond (Hugo Weaving)
Elrond was the Lord of Rivendell and one of the Mighty-Elf rulers (despite being half-elf), who commanded the armies of the Free Peoples and whose long life lead to great wisdom and knowledge. While not only a skilled warrior, Elrond was also a talented healer, even able to cure a Morgul wound. There isn’t too much known about his power, but with the ability to enter another’s mind and summon a giant flood, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that Elrond is a very capable elf.
As one of the most powerful elves to ever exist, with an angelic presence, you would think that Glorfindel would be a little more well known; however, most of his scenes from the books were replaced by Arwen in the film. Regardless, Glorfindel remains one of the strongest characters in The Lord of the Rings, with powers similar to that of the Maiar after being, essentially, brought back from the dead to aid in the Third Age and the War of the Rings. These incredible powers, alongside his already considerable talent as a warrior and healer, meant that he was heralded within Rivendell as one of the greatest elves in history.
6. Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee)
Ah, yes; Saruman the White – the great wizard turned evil pawn by the powers of temptation and darkness. It’s a shame, considering that even Gandalf acknowledges his talents of persuasion and his infinite wisdom. Nonetheless, his fall from grace proves that knowledge and magic means nothing in the face of temptation.
As the Head of the White Council, prior to Gandalf, and the chief of the Wizards, Saruman was well-versed in magic, able to create his own Uruk-hai, forges, and explosives, as well as the power to bend almost any mind to his will, simply through his speech. Though it would eventually lead to his downfall, Saruman’s knowledge of the Rings of Power was also quite useful; knowledge is power, though, with it can come great destruction as well.
5. Sauron (Alan Howard)
The big bad, the dark wizard, the Lord of the Rings: Sauron’s got it all. Going into his history would spoil too much (practically everything), considering he’s the titular character, so here are the basics: once the mightiest of the Maiar, he gained incredible knowledge of the world, became the Dark Lord of Middle Earth, crafted the Rings of Power, and went on to wreak havoc.
Some of his powers include: pretty much whatever one can imagine. Most of Sauron’s powers are left to the imagination, with only a few ever being fully revealed, such as his ability to disguise himself, his mastery of deception, control over fire, and the manipulation of the physical world around him. Part of Sauron’s power comes from the mystery around him; there is so much to know and so little to find that the imagination conjures up the worst things possible. Fear becomes Sauron’s most powerful weapon.
4. Galadriel (Cate Blanchet)
As the “Lady of the Woods,” Galadriel was not only one of the oldest elves, having been born in the Years of the Trees, but was also considered one of the most beautiful and powerful. She was so powerful, in fact, that she bore one of the three elven Rings of Power, Nenya.
There are many tales regarding the powers of Galadriel, which makes it difficult to distinguish what her magic truly is. In some instances, it is said that she could communicate over vast distances, shield her mind from others, communicate through thoughts, and predict the future. She was able to destroy the foundations of Dol Godor, alone. Above all, Galadriel was quite wise, understandable after living over 8000 years. Her wisdom helped her to resist the temptation of the One Ring when offered it by Frodo, though it was a challenge.
3. Gandalf the White (Sir Ian McKellan)
While definitely powerful as Gandalf the Grey, as Gandalf the White he held considerable power, wisdom, and magic, as well as the memories of his previous life as the Maia, Olórin. Like Galadriel, much of Gandalf’s power, both as Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White, came from his extensive knowledge about almost everything; he spoke many languages, was attuned with the many cultures and species of Middle Earth, and could even accurately guess others’ thoughts without having to actually read their minds. He could also see not only through the dark, but beyond the mortal dimension and into the dimension of wraiths.
A skilled fighter, his appearance as an old man did not hinder him. This, along with his considerable magic made him a terrifying opponent, enhancement of others’ spells, commanding spells, sealing spells, and control over light and fire, were all a result of his life as a Maia. These powers only grew after he became Gandalf the White and took over as the Chief of Wizards and Head of the White Council.
2. Tom Bombadill
Left out of the film trilogy for various reasons, the chief of which being ‘how do we portray a character such as this?’ Tom Bombadill was a strange and enigmatic creature, who took no sides, could defeat dark forces with little to no effort, and who had power over virtually everything within his domain. He is said to be the ‘oldest in existance,’ and impossible to imprison. He could resist the Ring, was able to see others who were wearing it (such as Frodo), and could even wear it himself without succumbing to its power. He was able to make it disappear into thin air and reappear in his hand. It is suggested within the book that Tom is a manifestation of the properties of Middle Earth itself, which would explain his lack of understanding and interest in the world of mortals.
1. Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin)
While many consider Samwise Gamgee to be an important (if not the most important) character in The Lord of the Rings, few would consider him ‘powerful’ – and for good reason. Sam does not have grand magical powers or outstanding abilities as a warrior or healer. In fact, he can’t even swim. So why place him at Number 1 for the most powerful character?
In the simplest of terms, Sam is the only mortal being who is able to resist the Ring and is even able to resist it better than some immortals. Where others fall before its powers of temptation, Sam does not falter; the only thing he craves is the wellbeing of his loved ones and the people of Middle Earth. He does not want power or magic, and he doesn’t care about the greater politics of the world.
Sam may not be the most physically powerful of the characters in The Lord of the Rings, at all really, but he doesn’t need to be; there is power in pure intentions and devotion, both of which Sam has plenty of. Temptation is a powerful thing and to overcome it with little challenge, something not even Galadriel could do, speaks to a sort of power that few otters possess. The only other being able to resist the Ring the way Sam does is Tom Bombadill, an immortal manifestation of Middle Earth.
It is no wonder that J.R.R. Tolkien himself considered Samwise Gamgee to be the ‘chief hero’ of The Lord of the Rings.