Good things come in three packages… or small things come in threes. Something like that. Anyway. Film trilogies. The Holy Grail of cinematic achievement. Ever since the Godfather series couldn’t think of anything better to call its two sequels, and just stuck Parts II and III on the end of Godfather, like the whole thing was supposed to be a trilogy in the first place, getting that hallowed threequel has become the ultimate sign of success in Hollywood. After all, Tinsel Town is littered with the scripts of the films that tried and failed to make it to the big three. Film fans are partly to blame. We just love that whole beginning, middle, and end structure so much we can’t just have it in our individual films, we need it in an entire series. We’re so entitled, when we get wind our favourite property has just been snatched up by a big movie studio, we don’t fantasise about one movie, we fantasise about three. Why, no sooner do we find out that Chris Hemsworth has agreed to play Secret Squirrel, than we’re wondering which Oscar-bait character actor is going to play the villainous Yellow Pinkie in the third outing because you know they’re not blowing their most notorious rogue on the second movie. Here at Filmhounds, we love sequels so much, we’re dedicating a whole feature to the ones we think are the best. We voted, and we know more than you, so this list is definitive. None of your @s, thank you very much, we’re the critics, we know what’s best. Oh, and Simon Russell Beale should play him. Yellow Pinkie that is.
Introduction by Lee Hazell
10. Indiana Jones
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark continued the revolutionary trend of new Hollywood blockbusters finding the balance of spectacle and engaging and clever narratives. Spielberg’s films following the intelligent archaeologist, who turns into the whip-wielding tough guy while exploring mystical artefacts and fighting off villains like Nazi troops to save the world, had a fantastic balance of supernatural and grounded realism, despite them being a little far-fetched. This was in large part thanks to Harrison Ford’s quiet/effortless charm and charisma as ‘Indy’ that captured the hearts of fans. So every close call and giant boulder that was avoided made people breathe a sigh of relief. Also, every time the film’s classic theme kicked in, symbolising a change in Jones’ fortune, fans couldn’t help but feel the rush of adrenaline only a great blockbuster provides. Like most trilogies, there’s a clear weak link, which in this case, is the second instalment. Arguably due to it being a little more absurd and over the top, but it’s still a fun film for sure. The third instalment is more balanced and beautifully adds another layer of emotion and back-story with Indy and his father (the late great Sean Connery). It was a wonderful way to complete one of the most beloved trilogies of all time, and yes, we don’t include that fourth film in this write-up!
9. Planet of the Apes
In spite of their slightly unwieldy titles, Rise of, Dawn of, and War for The Planet of the Apes is arguably one of the most consistent trilogies ever made. Andy Serkis brought stunning life to Caesar in this motion captured performance. Caesar and his fellow apes are digitally rendered, but they are the heart of this trilogy, and the only constant characters. Caesar grows from a pet, experimented on, abandoned and abused in director Rupert Wyatt’s first film. Matt Reeves takes the helm for the remainder. In which we see Caesar develop into a leader, following the fall of human civilisation to the virus that caused apes to grow in intelligence in the second. To a king in the third, losing his family, and yet still trying to prevent the war that threatens to destroy the last of the humans. The humans go from those in control, to fighting for survival, to a resentful last few, blaming the apes for humanities’ hubris. Despite it all, Caesar is the beacon of wisdom, representing the bridge between the old ways and the new. A Shakespearean saga that turns a slave into a hero, and shows humans just how small, petty and primitive they truly are.
8. Star Wars
Not even George Lucas himself could have envisioned how far Star Wars would reach and how its mixture of nostalgia, franchise value and enduring characters would last. Three trilogies, two spin-off films, animated TV series/film, those ewok films, The Mandalorian and several computer games later and it’s all spawned from those three original films. The fact that, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi were so influential that everything that came after then was inspired by them isn’t the only reason why they are one of the best film trilogies in film history. It’s the fact that they are still screened in cinemas, still watched by lifelong fans and those who are discovering the science fiction saga for the first time. Despite the late 70s, early 80s visual effects that look dated, the universal story of a hero’s journey isn’t exactly a new concept, it really doesn’t matter. There is something about this world, this space odyssey that Lucas created that has struck a chord with everyone who watches it. These films will be screened in cinemas and homes alike for years to come as this kind of story and adventure never really dies. The force will always be with you.
7. The Godfather
The Godfather is a cultural event, it is a tour de force helmed by director Frances Ford Coppola, with its iconic hard shadow and dim light captured by cinematographer Gordon Willis. It boasts classic performances from Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, James Caan, John Cazale, Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando.
Yes, yes, I know. Sofia Coppola’s acting, the helicopter scene, shut up. We’ve heard all your complaints before. They and you are wrong. Part III is the ending we needed for The Godfather trilogy;
The Godfather is one of the perfect trilogies. The story is Shakespearian. The young prince forced to take control of his father’s kingdom while his enemies plot his downfall, only to win the war but lose the battle in himself. You could take the story and set it anywhere else, feudal Japan, Tudor England, corporate America. It would still hold the same emotional and narrative impact. It’s timeless in its themes and characters.
6. How to Train Your Dragon
Falling just outside the top five, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon series from Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders is a high-flying masterpiece in storytelling and one of the greatest animated trilogies of all time. From a hopeless dragon-slayer shunned by his father, the Chief, to a fearless dragon-rider and Chief himself, Hiccup matures and grows throughout the three films, as do the characters that surround him, who each make you laugh, smile, and cry. But it’s not because he has Toothless, the most feared dragon known, it’s because he has empathy for those who are different and vulnerable. That is what brings people back to this trilogy, not how many dragons they introduce on screen (it’s over 100 by the way). The films tell the intricate and intimate story of Hiccup and Toothless with remarkable attention to detail and a breathtakingly beautiful score. It balances a sophisticated animation style with utter charm that delights kids and adults alike, and always carrying that emotional impact. Villains come and go, in all shapes and sizes, but the HTTYD trilogy is at its core a story of love, loss, and letting go.
5. Back to the Future
What makes BTTF one of the best trilogies of all time is simple. It works. Nothing about the film feels forced or overcooked. Michael J. Fox is perfectly cast as super-cool Marty McFly who has to learn to overcome his irrational hatred of being called a coward, Christopher Lloyd is the perfect foil as Doc Emmet Brown the eccentric inventor. The core idea of the three films is great in that not only does it allow for exploring some themes about parenthood and familial legacy. It just so happens that while Back to the Future gets to be a fun throwback film that works as both adventure and comedy, Back to the Future Part II goes full science fiction with it’s frankly ridiculous estimation of what 2015 would be like, plus a fun alternative 85 before going back to the first film for a sort of behind-the-scenes exploration of those events. While some may argue that Back to the Future Part III lets the side down, it’s a slower film that instead of crazy time travel hijinks puts us with Marty in 1885 for a slower paced love story that sees Doc Brown fall in love with Mary Steenburgen, it’s a radical direction to take that allows for a different tone, and one that builds to the series most thrilling finale. No matter how open ended the series may feel, or the cries for a Part IV, Back to the Future remains that rare of things, a completed narrative. Also: hoverboards… why don’t we have them yet?
4. Three Flavours Cornetto
More of an anthology than a traditional trilogy, Edgar Wright followed his brilliant series Spaced with the Three Colours Cornetto trilogy. A collection of British horror comedies that each addressed a different genre, in the unique style of Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The beauty of these films is that they are like a series of in jokes, with visual gags and editing tricks carrying through all three. The audience is in on it, they were meta before everything was meta, with call-backs to classics of their genres. These films are a fantastic lesson in foreshadowing. Each viewing reveals new hints at what ordeals the characters will face, straight from the opening scenes. Cornetto’s appear in each film to reflect the genre. Shaun of the Dead – strawberry, the red referencing the blood of the zombie apocalypse. Hot Fuzz – Vanilla, the white and blue referring to the police force (sorry, “service”, “force” is thought to sound too threatening). Finally, The World’s End – Chocolate Mint, the green representing the “little green men” from whom they are under attack. There is a knife edge between the horror and comedy here, it is balanced perfectly, with multiple scenes both terrifying and hilarious. Drama too, as Pegg struggles in each with a transitional period in his life, and it’ll take more than jumping over a few fences to get where he’s supposed to be.
3. The Dark Knight
How do you reinvent Batman to make him credible again? Simple. Get Christopher Nolan to bring him out of dormancy and turn him into a genuine, proper character again. With the release of Batman Begins in 2005, Nolan banished memories of 1997’s horrific Batman and Robin to create a Batman that was potent, powerful and believable. Casting Christian Bale gave the character a further boost of legitimacy, the actor capturing every facet of both Bruce Wayne and his costumed alter ego. The supporting cast, including Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman brought their own significant skills to their own roles and joined Bale in staying throughout the trilogy. The film’s success gave rise to The Dark Knight, arguably the single greatest superhero movie ever made, where Heath Ledger transformed the interpretation of the Joker into one that felt frighteningly realistic. It was a movie that wasn’t afraid to take risks and felt like it was inspired not by comic books, but by real life and classic crime thrillers like Heat. The final instalment, The Dark Knight Rises, is arguably the most problematic of the three, running too long and feeling clunky and disjointed, but it nevertheless completes a trio that regenerated Batman forever. It’s by these standards that every new interpretation will surely be judged.
2. Toy Story (1-3)
When Pixar released Toy Story in 1995, they not only created the first fully computer animated film, but they also introduced themselves to the cinema world. It was a simple story of a rivalry that develops into a friendship through adversity, yet we took the characters to our hearts. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen’s vocal performances gave Woody and Buzz vibrancy and depth and Mr Potato Head, Hamm and Rex became as memorable as the leading duo. The sequel, Toy Story 2, released in 1999, expanded further, exploring themes of loneliness, isolation and loyalty while introducing new iconic characters like Jessie and Bullseye. It pushed the boundaries further for visual splendour and felt like a true companion piece. When it came to Toy Story 3 (2010), somehow Pixar struck gold again, crafting a movie of such tenderness and emotion it could reduce even the stoniest of hearts to tears. Its ending was the perfect coda to the series, allowing us to say goodbye to characters who had become friends and letting those who had grown up finally let go of their childhood. That Pixar ultimately made a redundant fourth film reflects badly on their desire to tell good stories over box-office success but it doesn’t detract from the genius that is the Toy Story film trilogy.