Good Things Come in Threes: The Best Movie Trilogies
Twice is nice, but three is the magic number—and sometimes that saying applies to movies, too. Here’s another relevant saying: Less is more. And while sequels aren’t always quite as good as their predecessors, the best movie trilogies show that more can be better. If you think it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, these great movie trilogies prove otherwise. Here are several movie triptychs that we revisit time and time (and time) again.
Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
[Image Credit: Lucasfilm]
Okay, we’re cheating a little bit because STAR WARS is technically three trilogies, but we think you’ll let this one slide. George Lucas kicked off his original trilogy in 1977 with STAR WARS (later partially retitled A NEW HOPE), and when RETURN OF THE JEDI arrived in 1983, it closed out one of the first great blockbuster franchises of all time. STAR WARS came full circle in recent years with the conclusion of the Skywalker family saga in a new blockbuster trilogy of films: THE FORCE AWAKENS, THE LAST JEDI, and RISE OF SKYWALKER.
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Lily and Lana Wachowski’s ambitious sci-fi trilogy was a major accomplishment on multiple levels: It reminded audiences that Keanu Reeves is an amazing action star; without THE MATRIX, we might not have JOHN WICK. The trilogy was also revolutionary for its use of CGI technology and defied the boundaries of what we thought was possible in cinema, inspiring several other blockbuster films to mimic its style. A fourth movie is on the way, but for now this still counts as a three-fer.
The Lord of the Rings
[Image Credit: New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. Pictures]
Based on the classic novels by J.R.R. Tolkien and directed by the visionary Peter Jackson (who also gave us a memorable take on KING KONG), this sprawling fantasy trilogy follows a group of daring companions on a harrowing, heroic journey filled with friendship and sacrifice. The films were so remarkable and beloved that Jackson returned to direct a trilogy adaptation of Tolkien’s prequel novel, THE HOBBIT.
Back to the Future
[Image Credit: Universal Pictures]
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd made for an iconic duo in this comedic sci-fi trilogy that began with 1985’s BACK TO THE FUTURE, a simple story about a high school kid who teams up with his town’s wacky scientist to travel back in time via a souped-up DeLorean. The adventures continued and only got crazier in 1989’s BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and 1990’s BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III, each of which took the story in new directions while remaining true to the core characters.
[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]
Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola gave Mario Puzo’s bestselling mafia novel the epic treatment, elevating the most essential beach read of 1970 into a three-film drama so massive in scope that it outclassed Puzo's original story. The star-studded cast, which included Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton Robert De Niro, James Caan, and Robert Duvall, turned characters in the Corleone saga into icons. In total, the trilogy earned 28 Oscar nominations and won nine statues, including awards for Best Picture (the first and second films) and Best Director.
The Dark Knight
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy had a sizable impact on comic book movies, which prior to this series were typically more faithful to the fun and colorful aspects of their source material. With the help of acclaimed actor Christian Bale, Nolan imagined Batman as a darker, grittier vigilante hero who existed in a more realistic Gotham. BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS feature unforgettable performances from the villains as well, including Heath Ledger—whose performance as the Joker earned him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Planet of the Apes (2010s)
[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]
In 2011, Warner Bros. rebooted the seminal PLANET OF THE APES franchise with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and followed that sleeper hit with 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Motion capture performer Andy Serkis, who previously wowed audiences as Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, headlined the trilogy as Caesar, who leads a population of intelligent primates in an escalating war with mankind.
Sam Raimi's Spider-Man
[Image Credit: Sony Pictures]
Before Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, there was Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN, which brought the iconic web-slinging hero to the big screen for his first live-action film. Tobey Maguire starred as Peter Parker, a geeky high school kid bitten by a radioactive spider and transformed into an unlikely superhero. Co-starring Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Willem Dafoe, the trilogy proved that comic book stories could be adapted faithfully, and helped set the stage for comic book movie franchises to come.
The Before Trilogy
[Image Credit: Warner Independent Pictures]
When Richard Linklater released BEFORE SUNRISE in 1995, no one — not even the director — knew it would begin one of the most celebrated movie trilogies. The story of two 20-somethings, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who strike up a 24-hour after meeting on a European train, seemed like a well-made one-off. And while there were ideas for a continuation, the following two movies, BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT, both scripted with the lead actors, developed the story and characters far beyond even the solid potential of the original movie. Together, the three movies make for one of the most effective portraits of a relationship in American movies.
[Image Credit: Miramax Films]
This triptych by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski is loosely based on the three colors of the French flag and the ideals they represent: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, and Irène Jacob star in three loosely-linked tales in which drama, comedy, and romance are ironically warped and explored. The Three Colours films are gorgeous, funny and powerful — the very best of a master filmmaker's work.