Film Trilogies


In my continued obsessing with “The Dark Knight Rises,” and what it means to the world, I’ve been thinking about film trilogies. It’s not hard, since “Star Wars” remains perpetually on my mind. I’ve been considering what constitutes an actual TRILOGY, what works and what doesn’t.

Then I started writing down those thoughts, and here we are. 

In considering trilogies, it seems there are four different categories:

A.) Some trilogies became trilogies after a stand-alone first movie. Normally (and in my opinion, more successfully) the trilogy becomes truly established with the second film.

B.) Some trilogies are just a collection of movies that share a commonality. They aren’t telling one big story. It’s just three movies.

C.) And a few others started out as trilogies from the beginning, without a stand-alone movies at any time.

It might just be “Star Wars”-based nostalgia, but the way i prefer it is option B: the stand-alone first movie followed by two supporting sequels. Part of the reason why I had problems with “The Dark Knight Rises” is that it feels pretty late in the game to trilogize everything. The first movie establishes the rules, the second movie establishes the pattern, and “Three Act Structure” wasn’t something I picked up from “The Dark Knight.” Same goes for “The Godfather” and “Terminator” trilogies.

Here now is a list of my personal “best” film trilogies:

1.) The Original Star Wars Trilogy

2.) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

3.) The Dollars Trilogy

4.) The Toy Story Trilogy

5.) The Indiana Jones Trilogy

6.) The Godfather Trilogy

7.) The Dark Knight Trilogy

8.) The Sam Rami Spider-Man Trilogy

9.) The Back to the Future Trilogy

10.) The X-Men Trilogy

11.) The Terminator Trilogy

12.) The Ocean’s Trilogy

13.) The Bourne Trilogy

14.) Austin Powers Trilogy

15.) Kevin Smith’s Jersey Trilogy

16.) The Matrix Trilogy

17.) The Prequel Trilogy

So… some more thinking:

As I look at this list, there are more 3-for-3 series than I would have thought.  There are also a few that barely qualify as 1-for-3. Going beat for beat…

-The Original “Star Wars” Trilogy is my personal introduction into the word “trilogy,” and I think it does it very well. If no other way, then from a business standpoint. It makes sense to make a great first movie to show you can follow through and build demand for other movies. One of the greatest parts about “Empire” is that it heightens the overall story, recontextualizing a few things to make the story bigger. It happens at the exact right time. Very satisfying.

-“Lord of the Rings” is (I think) the only one here that started out as a trilogy from start to finish. An argument could be made for “The Matrix” movies, but I think it’s closer to “Star Wars” than LOTR. Millions watched the original “Matrix” and may have wanted more, but were satisfied with that contained story. But nobody saw “Fellowship of the Ring” and said, “I’m done with this story.” It’s also fair to say that I’m giving it an objective boost. I appreciate the craftsmanship, though I’d rather watch the good chapters of other trilogies before these movies any day.

-Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” Trilogy is a weird one. It’s kind of sequels, but not really. Eastwood plays “different” characters, but they’re really the same person. It’s more of a trilogy that happened. It also happens to be one of the rare instances where the third installment is clearly the best of the three. The only other one like this (that I can think of) is the Prequel Trilogy. Kind of a default win, but it’s still true.

-Not that I need much excuse to send Pixar some love, but their trilogizing of the “Toy Story” movies shows that this strategy can work, if you don’t need too much late-in-the-series set-up. The third chapter isn’t the time or place for establishing things. By that point, we’ve already spent at least 4 hours in this world. Setting up new rules at the 2/3’s point feels a little lazy.

-The “Toy Story” route to trilogydome should be the gold standard that “The Dark Knight Rises” was striving for, but I would have settled for the “Indiana Jones” style. It’s in a similar genre, a serialized, durable character, who — based on the first two films — didn’t need a specific story-based resolution. He just needed a great final adventure. With that being said…

-The “Dark Knight” Trilogy is the lowest level 3-for-3. They didn’t make any bad movies. They just didn’t nail it. This falls under the “3-for-3, I guess…” category.

-I think I bumped both “Indiana Jones” and “The Godfather” above “the Dark Knight Trilogy” because of the quality of the “good” chapters. Both “Indiana” and “Godfather” are 2-for-3’s, but those 2 are complete wins. The two wins are also fairly stand-alone movies. Maybe the years have been kind, but I hold “Raiders,” “Last Crusade,” “Godfather 1” and “Godfather 2” in higher regard than the three combined “Dark Knight” movies. Furthermore…

-The only reason “Godfather” isn’t higher on the list is because of “Godfather Part 3,” a film I’ve only gotten through completely with audio commentary. Yet, it’s the #6 trilogy. So if you’re scoring at home, that means that the positives in those series outweigh the negatives.

-Same thing for the Sam Rami “Spider-mans.”

-I’m very surprised by how excited people are by the prospects of another “Bourne” movie. I mean, I enjoyed the three with Matt Damon, but I couldn’t tell you one thing that happens specifically in any of them (that’s not 100% true: I remember the girl from “Run Lola Run” was in the first one, and that she died. Outside of that, the remaining six hours are just a blur of Matt Damon kicks and Brian Cox jowls). I can tell you more about the “Scream” trilogy than these movies. I couldn’t tell you which was first: “Ultimatum” or “Supremacy.” I’m guessing “Supremacy.”*

Other Stats:

3-for-3’s: Original “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Dollars,” “Toy Story.”

2-for-3’s: “Indiana Jones,” “Godfather,” “Spider-man,” “X-Men,” “Ocean’s” “Terminator,” “Austin Powers,” Jersey Trilogy.

3-for-3’s, I Guess… : “The Dark Knight,” “Back to the Future,” “Bourne.”

1-for-3’s: “The Matrix,” The Prequel Trilogy.

Non TRILOGY Trilogies: “Indiana Jones,” “Dollars.”


*Looked it up. It was “Ultimatum.” See what I mean?


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