30th Dec2013

Ten Best: Movie Trilogies

by Dan Clark

With the release of The Dark Knight Rises and the completion of the Dark Knight Trilogy it had me thinking of where it falls when compared to other classic trilogies. Trilogies used to be reserved for a select few, but now everything has a trilogy. I mean Step Up had a trilogy…until they made another movie and now it’s a quadrilogy. To be fair there is a lot of plot in that series so four movies were absolutely necessary. In fact I’m quite surprised Step Up Revolutions wasn’t split up into two parts. That’s not to say that there aren’t any great ones out there, because there are quite a few and I hope to point out some of those today. I created a list of what I think are the best trilogies ever made. I considered a few things when making this list. First and foremost it must be a trilogy. Meaning franchises like Indiana Jones and Die Hard didn’t make the cut because they now have four films. (No matter how much many of us may want to forget about the fourth installments) I also considered how tightly the trilogy holds together. For me there are trilogies and then there are franchises that just happen to have three movies. Having connecting themes and ideas makes a trilogy more cohesive. Plus having a director with a vision really takes you over the top. I’m sure many of my choices may surprise and anger some so feel free to sound off in the comment sections below.

10. The Man with No Name Trilogy (Dollars Trilogy)

Films: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Written By: Sergio Leone , Fulvio Montella, Fulvio Montella, Víctor Andrés Catena, and A. Bonzzoni
Starring: Clint Eastwood , Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté, and Eli Wallach

Synopsis: The “Man with No Name” trilogy is unique in its design. They are the films that helped establish Clint Eastwood as the gruff tough man that was silent but deadly. Though is character does not have an official name he is granted a different nickname in all three films. The popularity and critical appeal help establish the genre of Spaghetti Westerns. Though the stories in each film aren’t necessary concurrent they placed together due to their thematic nature.

Review: There are a few names that are legends in the Western genre. Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood are two of the biggest. This trilogy is part of what got them there. Its influence has been felt all over including other films on this list. Leone creates this dry rustic ambiance that lays on you like the afternoon sun on a hot summer day. When you add in the iconic score you have some of the best westerns ever made.

9. The Vengeance Trilogy

Films: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Directed By: Park Chan-wook
Written By: Park Chan-wook, Hwang Jo-yun, and Lim Chun-hyeong.
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Choi Min-sik, Lee Young Ae, Kim Shi-hu

Synopsis: Directed by South Korean film director Park Chan-wook, the Vengeance trilogy deals with the themes of revenge, violence and salvation. Though not technically conceived as a trilogy the connecting tissues have caused these films to be thematically linked. Each touches on the idea of revenge and the path of darkness it can take you down. Each film follows separate characters in their own unique story.

Review: Vengeance has become a staple Korean cinema. Once of the biggest reasons was the overwhelming success of this trilogy. As deranged as it sounds director Park Chan-wook can make the most decrypted moments look supremely stunning. As the imagery absorbs you in the storyline overwhelms you with emotion. While Old Boy is the crown jewel of the trilogy the other two installments are also no slouches. If you are looking to get into some Korean cinema, and I advise you that you do, this is a perfect place to start.

8. The Pusher Trilogy

Films: Pusher, Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands, Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written By: Jens Dahl, Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen, Jesper Salomonsen, and Zlatko Buric

Synopsis: Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher Trilogy explores the criminal underworld of Copehagen. Each film follows a different person that is caught up in this world. While the characters aren’t exactly the same they all exist in the same universe and show up throughout the trilogy. The first film follows Frank, a mid-level drug dealer. The second film follows Frank’s low-level criminal sidekick, Tonny and his relationship towards his notorious, cynical father and how he adapts to the consequence of being a father himself. The third film depicts a day in the life of Serbian drug lord Milo. Milo, who was a feared and respected man in the first two movies, is shown in a different light.

Review: This is one of the lesser known trilogies on this list. Though its popularity may be low its quality is high. After watching all of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films its clear he enjoys delving into the brutality of man. What makes that mission even more effective with this trilogy is the vicious nature in which the films were shot. The simplistic direction wasn’t done through laziest but rather in an attempt to allow us to see what occurs in a more realistic fashion. It is an uncomfortable watch for sure, but it’s one you appreciate once it’s over. The criminal underworld is often glorified in pop culture but not here. The glitz and glamour are gone and you are left with a foreboding atmosphere of dread and misery.

7. Back to the Future

Films: Back to the Future I-III
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Written By: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd , Lea Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson

Synopsis: Back to the Future covers the exploits of Marty McFly and Doc Brown as they make time their plaything. With the help of their infamous DeLorean , flux capacitor, and 1.21 gigawatts Marty and Doc brown travel through time to have a number of different adventures. In attempt to save their pasts and their futures they form a bond that is timeless.

Review: Some may argue this should be highly and some may argue it should be lower, which leads me to believe it’s right about where it should be. Many trilogies didn’t make this list due to the failure of the third installment. (X-Men and Spider-Man I’m looking at you) Sure Back to the Future III isn’t on par with the first two films, but even when it’s not fantastic it’s still fun. For my money no film series better exemplifies the importance of being fun more than Back to the Future. That core spirit is evident nearly 30 years later. Though we are still waiting on those hoverboards it promised us we can thank it for the endless joy it has given. Back to the Future is simply the franchise for everyone.

6. The Bourne Trilogy

Films: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum
Directed By: Doug Liman(The Bourne Identity),and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum)
Written By: Tony Gilroy and Robert Lundlum
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Styles, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, and David Strathaim,

Synopsis: The Bourne films are a series of action/thriller spy films based on the character Jason Bourne, a former CIA assassin suffering from extreme memory loss, created by author Robert Ludlum. In the series as Bourne attempts to discover who he is he becomes a target of some of the most powerful people inside the US Government.

Review: (I know The Bourne: Legacy is coming out in a few weeks so I had to include this while I can, though that may be considered a separate entity similar to the Star Wars prequels. ) The Bourne Trilogy is one of the few that get better as the trilogy progresses. For me this was just a quality action franchise until The Bourne Ultimatum came out. Then it became something more. It fit so tightly together in ways I was not expecting. In addition its one of the few trilogies that works both separately as well as together. You continuously see the effects it has had on the action genre. Before this the genre was very derivative of the Matrix franchise. After the success of the Bourne films action began to focus a lot more on practical effects. Though shaky cam has it detractors it can work in the right situations. This is the right situation. Paul Greengrass knows for the technique to enhance your movie going experience it has to add tension without taking away understanding. The fight scenes are kinetic with forceful choreography that doesn’t let up. The car chases are well staged with endless high energy. Plainly speaking it has everything you need for an action film. You then give this world to quality actors like Matt Damon, Brian Cox, and Joan Allen and you have one of the greatest action trilogies ever created.

5. The Toy Story Trilogy

Films: Toy Story 1-3
Directed By: John Lasseter (Toy Story 1 & 2), Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3)
Written By: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickels, Wall

Synopsis: The franchise focuses on a group of toys that secretly come to life and end up unexpectedly embarking on life-changing adventures. Toy Story was the first feature-length film created entirely by CGI and revolutionized animation. The plot revolves around bonds children mold with their toys as well as the friendships between the toys themselves.

Review: I have to admit when I first got the idea to make this list the Toy Story Trilogy didn’t even cross my mind. For some reason I just never considered it a trilogy. Perhaps it was the long distance between each installment, but as I looked back upon each film I realized it had to be on here. For one Toy Story is more than just a film it’s a pioneer that forever changed the movie industry. It made Pixar a formidable movie studio and showed what CGI animation was capable of. Some argue this franchise celebrates materialism, but I feel it celebrates the power of imagination. There is nothing quite like the joy of playing with toys as a kid. That wonderment and discovery is something we are never quite able to capture again as we grow older. Luckily for us we have this trilogy to look back on to relive that time.

4. Dark Knight Trilogy

Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Liam Niam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and Tom Hardy

Synopsis: The film reboots the Batman film series, telling the origin story of the character from Bruce Wayne’s initial fear of bats, the death of his parents, his journey to become Batman, and his fight against an endless onslaught of villains are wish to destroy the city he loves. Bruce Wayne must become more than just a man and more than just a hero to become the symbol his city needs.

Review: The trilogy that inspired this list shows up at number four. I’m a big believer in the idea that the closer you are to something the harder it is to review it objectively. I attempted to be objective as possible and think it’s placed in its rightful location. The Dark Knight Trilogy belongs on this list based on how fulfilled the Batman story. It showed ultimate progression of how an idea can become a legend. When you give a property of such high value to talented people who hold it up with such regard you know they will treat the project with a sense of pride and respect. So many other comic book franchises had the setup but were unable to fulfill their vision and faltered in the final installment. Nolan and his crew held true and made a legitimate masterpiece.

3. The Three Colors Trilogy

Films: Blue, White, and Red
Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written By: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, and Irène Jacob

Synopsis: Blue, white, and red are the three colors of the French flag in left-to-right order, and the story of each film is loosely based on one of the three political ideals in the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity. The trilogy is also interpreted respectively as an anti-tragedy, an anti-comedy, and an anti-romance. Each part of the trilogy focuses on a different set of characters with different stories. The use of color is seen throughout each film with each corresponding color overtaking the films color pallet.

Review: Trilogies are made for a number of different reasons. Sometimes each installment is just the continuing tale of the same saga. Other times each film serves a purpose beyond simple story telling like. Krzysztof Kiezlowski’s Colors Trilogy is an example of that. It’s so thick in metaphorical meaning it will leave you in awe with what he is able to achieve. Kiezlowski gives each chapter its own strong individuality through tonal shifts and well-built story arcs. Strangely that individuality preserves unity in his thesis as he shows the importance of each motto. Easily the most impressive aspect of Kiezlowski’s work are the incredible visuals he creates through his color motif. They are stunning in every sense of the word. The subtle nature he uses to accentuate certain plot points shows how impactful his fine touch can be. If you are looking for a trilogy that was made by a director with a vision this is it in every way.

2. The Original Star Wars Trilogy

Films: Star Wars: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi
Directed By: George Lucas (Star Wars), Irvin Kershner (Empire Strikes Back), Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi)
Written By: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Leigh Brackett
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones, and Peter Cushing

Synopsis: Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. The film told the story of a band of outgunned rebels trying to overthrow the powerful Empire. This rag tag group of nerf herders tries to take out the likes of Dark Vader and his master The Emperor. Luckily for the Rebellion they have help of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Chewbecca in their corner.

Review: You cannot talk about trilogies without talking about Star Wars. This list may not even exist if it wasn’t for this franchise. There’s not much to say about Star Wars that hasn’t already been said countless times. Looking at it as a trilogy you can see how these films captured the attention of the world in such a surreal way. We live in the age of geeks and a big reason why is this franchise. Yes as time has passed and certain directors are unable to let go the mystique has been lifted by a certain compactly. Nothing however can take aware from the sheer delight we get from revisiting these films. Star Wars has gone beyond being a movie and well beyond being a franchise to become a movement and a way of life.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Films: Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Robert Tolkien, and Stephen Sinclair
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, and John Rhys-Davies

Synopsis: Set in the fictional world of Middle-earth, the three films follow the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he and a Fellowship embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and thus ensure the destruction of its maker, the Dark Lord Sauron. The Fellowship becomes divided and Frodo continues the quest together with his loyal companion Sam (Sean Astin) and the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) unite and rally the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, who are ultimately victorious in the War of the Ring.

Review: I knew going in this list would come down to Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings. There are many people on each side of the fence with each having their own rightful reasons why one is better then the other. For me the reason why Lord of the Rings wins out is the magnitude of what it accomplished. The amount of time the cast and crew had to devote to this project speaks volumes to their dedication. What they did was unheard of and still hard to comprehend. Peter Jackson made a group of films that are fantastically entertaining and everlastingly charming. Every facet of this film was handled with care to make a true spectacle. With that type of commitment it’s no wonder the final installment won a record tying eleven Oscars. For me this is the quintessential trilogy as it has everything I look for in a franchise. The stories fit perfectly together, the director at the helm had a clear united vision, and it consisted of topnotch filmmaking. Its as close to flawless as anything I can think of.

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