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Five of the Greatest Movie Trilogies

As nearly all films more-or-less follow the three-act structure (we’re looking at you, Memento), it only makes sense that filmmakers would use this practice to extend their creations and add depth to their art; it’s either that or they do it for the money… nah, we’re sure it’s always that art thing. With the release of The Dark Knight Rises this week, we thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of the best film trilogies before Christopher Nolan’s epic inevitably displaces them all.

 Dark Knight Rises


5. The Bourne Trilogy

Jason Bourne is essentially the anti-James Bond; he doesn’t wear suits, he doesn’t care how you prepare his drink, and he’s pretty awkward with women. Really, he’s an emotionless killing machine; if he could take a handoff, he’d essentially be O.J. Simpson… with amnesia. Not only did the Bourne trilogy eschew the slick, hyper-stylized world of espionage we were used to from Bond and, to a lesser extent, Mission: Impossible, its influence can be seen in fast-paced action of films like Taken, Salt, and the revitalized series of Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Aside from its impact on its genre, Bourne’s inclusion in this list is largely attributable to the fact that each subsequent film genuinely gets bigger and better; it’s like with Axl Rose, except there the better is just replaced with more bigger.


"I don't know who I am anymore, either."

“I don’t know who I am anymore, either.”


4. The Lord of the Rings

Careful; I think the collective gasps may have just extinguished the Eye of Sauron. Okay, so, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is an undeniably fantastic film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved literary work, and it stands out as a monumental achievement in filmmaking due to both its filming schedule and cost; but the pacing is just so horrible! Watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety is more tedious than Stephen Hawking doing porn. Really, that wouldn’t be so bad if not for the self-indulgence of Peter Jackson put on full display in the final film. Return of the King has more happy endings than a bag of dicks at a rub and tug massage parlor; it’s ridiculous! Even with this, it’s still at number four on our list, thanks in no small part to its introduction of the amazing Andy Serkis to the world and his work’s influence on the acceptance of CGI-assisted acting. That’s not even to mention that the Lord of the Rings’ success is likely a precursor to the existence of one of the best series on television that also happens to be based on fantasy novels, Game of Thrones.


Lord of the Rings


3. Back to the Future

Ironically, as we’re nearly thirty years removed of the first film’s release, the Back to the Future time travel triptych remains as timeless as ever–yet not nearly as much so as Michael J. Fox, but we digress. Looking beyond the fact that Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future manages to seamlessly tell a story that takes place in four eras, two timelines, and multiple genres, it gave us the iconic characters of Marty McFly and Doc Brown as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinematic history. Great Scott! This is heavy, Doc. The final scene in Back to the Future II is still one of the best-executed scenes ever, by the way. And who would have thought you could tell almost exactly the same story three times and have it be completely fresh and unique each time? Think it’s easy? Tell that to the makers of The Hangover Part II. There are three things everyone should learn from Back to the Future: we don’t need roads, we ain’t gonna be terrorized, and we don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Back to the Future.


Back to the Future


2. Toy Story

Everyone has been a kid (with the possible exception of Jon Hamm who I believe was born full-grown, drinking scotch, and wearing a suit); it’s for this reason that Toy Story is universally relatable. Pixar’s exploration of friendship wrapped in an exposition on childhood taps into every raw emotion you have; it’s like a therapy burrito stuffed with repressed memories and happy thoughts, with the perfect amount of cheese. Toy Story changed the landscape of animation. It’s not just the fact that it was the first feature-length CGI film; it’s the fact that it wasn’t a flamboyant cartoon. Toy Story didn’t need flashy, over-the-top musical numbers, or kitschy, exaggerated characters. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but Toy Story demonstrated that animated films don’t have to be a certain way. That kicked off an animation boom that gave us great films like The Iron Giant and Shrek, and it gave us not-so-great films like Shark Tale and Shreks 2-4.


Toy Story


1. The Original Star Wars Trilogy

Say what you will about the prequels, and we’re sure you will, but the original Star Wars trilogy was and is amazing. It’s a space opera that revolutionized the film business. Every film since Star Wars has been influenced by Star Wars; just think about that. Don’t think about it too hard, though, it’s a trap! The first film’s success made it plausible to spend money on special effects. Would some other film have eventually done this? Yeah, just like some other guy would have eventually started hitting home runs, but only Babe Ruth could do it when he did it. The best of the trilogy is definitely The Empire Strikes Back; not only did it introduce Yoda, but it also gave men the smoothest retort for love, ever, and it’s the only film in the history of cinema to instantaneously turn all of your smartass friends into your father. What more could you ask for? Batman? Batman’s father?


Oh, we forgot. Our bad.

Oh, we forgot. Our bad.


About John Elrod II (285 Articles)
John is currently untitled. This complete lack of definition would drive most into abject bitterness and utter despair, but not someone of John’s virility. No, John is the picture of mental stability and emotional platitude.

37 Comments on Five of the Greatest Movie Trilogies

  1. No love for American Pie?

  2. As much as I love LOTR, I agree about Peter Jackson. He needs someone to stand beside him while he’s directing and when he goes too far, they can spray him with spray bottle of water and say, “No, Peter Jackson, no!”

  3. WHAT?? No Godfather?

  4. I said this before, but I can’t make it through LOTR. I watched the first one with my dad…but the rest….probably will never happen.

    I DID have a roommate once that used to do a hilarious impression of Liv Tyler’s Elf character(?) when she is speaking in whatever she is speaking. Maybe RiffTrax did LOTR. I would watch that!!

  5. I always wondered why studios choose trilogies. Why not keep going if it’s working or stop if it’s not? Maybe there is some kind of geek law or something.

    • I think, usually, they stop at three because the third one isn’t good, or at least not as good as the first two. Plus, with the amount of time it takes to make a movie, it’s difficult to have a plot where the cast can keep making them as they age.

      Then there’s stuff like LOTR and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that are planned trilogy, going in.

  6. I was going to suggest The Godfather trilogy, but then I remembered how terrible the third one is.

    • I really wanted to include them, because the first two are great, but I just couldn’t. The third one is too horrible. I also came close to including The Matrix, but the sequels just aren’t strong enough, even though I really like them.

  7. Don’t forget about the original Girl with the Gragon Tattoo. Epic!

  8. Refreshing reviews, John. I think the much lesser-known ‘The Cube’ came in a trilogy, and it seemed to improve, and get more difficult to figure out, with each one… ending in some quantum freakin’ cube. It was original, and a bit scary (as in Extraordinary Rendition scary).

    • Yes! I love the Cube movies. They were Saw before Saw, and the Cube series actually have a mind, which I don’t feel like the Saw series does. The first Saw, kind of, but the sequels devolve into torture porn, and I hate torture porn. Cube, on the other hand, is very smart and cerebral. In my mind, Cube is always tied to Aronofsky’s Pi, which is similar in tone. Cube 2: Hypercube is a little weaker, but still solid and takes the idea to a more elaborate place. Then Cube: Zero takes you to the other side of the equation, so to speak, and it’s great. I certainly thought about putting them on this list, but I ultimately felt like these were stronger, overall. Hypercube, though good, is probably what took the series out of contention, because it is a little redundant when compared to Cube. Great suggestion.

  9. What about The Red Curtain Trilogy ?

    • I actually like all three of those movies, but it’s not really a “trilogy” in the sense that would have fit this list, similar to The Dollars Trilogy.

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