Top 10 Movie Trilogies of All-Time

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These days it seems like every film that makes decent amount at the Box Office is destined for sequels, and the often dismal threequels. However, the trilogy is not dead and some of the best have been released within the past decade. This week I decided to take a look at the top 10 movie trilogies of all-time.

What Makes a Trilogy?

I chose film series that are most complete with three films. Many of the series on the list have fourth or fifth films, but the heart of it is in three essential movies. Not all of the films have the same characters, or a connected narrative, but they all are basically films that come in threes. Let’s get listing!

10) Back to the Future
Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990)

This is the only comedy trilogy that made it on this list, because it is the only comedy series that can last three films without feeling repetitive. Most comedies that get sequels or threequels recycle plots and reuse jokes. The Back to the Future series somehow manages to feel totally fresh in each installment. The characters created by Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), and Thomas Wilson (Biff Tannen) appear in all three films and have become classic characters of all-time. Despite the heavy focus on pop culture references and time periods, the films still feel fresh and hilarious many years later.

Best of the Series: Back to the Future (1985)

9) Die Hard
Die Hard (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)

Bruce Willis’s Officer John McClane is our favorite everyman hero. After taking down a corporate tower full of terrorists, he takes down an airport full of terrorists and then teams up with Samuel L. Jackson to take down a city full of terrorists. The Die Hard series is also known for some of the best villains of all-time especially the brothers Hans and Simon Gruber played by Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons respectively. The series got a little more ridiculous with each addition, as the scenarios became more and more complex for McClane to overcome. However, despite a few flaws, I still love them all.

Best of the Series: Die Hard (1988)

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8) The Bourne Trilogy
The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

This is one of those extremely rare trilogies that bests itself with each successive film. Paul Greengrass stepped in as director for the second and third film and he had a brilliant grasp on what it takes to make a great action/thriller with shaky-cam sequences, quick-cut editing, and a constant movement of the characters giving the films a heart-pumping pace. Matt Damon’s Bourne protagonist is intriguing to watch and the films have some great supporting performances from Brian Cox, Chris Cooper, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Albert Finney among others. Also, the films have become known for their remarkable editing and some of the best chase scenes in action movie history.

Best of the Series: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

7) Indiana Jones
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

This series of films about a scientist who is also an action-hero has inspired many of spinoffs including The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure, Tomb Raider, and many more. However, nobody can beat the original Dr. Jones and his relic-hunting journeys through ancient ruins as he attempts to discover history. These films are one of the best examples of “action comedy” with a great sense of humor combined with some fantastic action sequences. In each successive film the cast changed, but the one constant was Harrison Ford’s Dr. Jones and Steven Spielberg as the director. And that’s all that we fans needed.

Best of the Series: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

6) The Man With No Name
A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” series starring Clint Eastwood are definitive Western films that established a genre all of their own – “Spaghetti Western.” Clint Eastwood essentially defines the term “badass” in these movies as he plays the careless outlaw who is downright dangerous with a six-shooter. Taking their inspiration from early Kurosawa films, the Man With No Name trilogy redefined the Western giving it a minimalist perspective. The films also feature one of the most memorable scores of all-time from the great Ennio Morricone.

Best of the Series: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

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5) Trois Couleures
Trois couleures: Bleu (1993), Trzy kolory: Bialy (1994), Trois couleures: Rouge (1994)

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three film tribute to the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equity, and fraternity. The films focus on issues relevant to contemporary French society and featured brilliant performances from some of France’s finest actors: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Régent, Julie Delpy, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. The films were Kieslowski’s swan song and represent a fascinating meditation on life, human connections, and the frailty of existence. Kieslowski retired after the series and died within two years of their release, ending on a wonderfully high note.

Best of the Series: Trois couleures: Bleu (1993)

4) Bergman’s Religious Trilogy
Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962), The Silence (1963)

The Swedish film master Ingmar Bergman imitates his idol August Strindberg in this film trilogy, while in the process giving life to his own unique vision. Each film is in some way thematically connected to the search for faith that was happening in Bergman’s life and society at large in the early 60s. Each of the chamber dramas feature casts of only a handful of essential characters and establish Bergman’s style of intimate character stories in austere settings emphasizing isolation and despair. The three films feature some of the most inventive filmmaking you will ever see.

Best of the Series: Winter Light (1962)

3) Star Wars (The First Series)
Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983)

If you are a self-respecting geek, chances are you have watched, re-watched, analyzed, and obsessed over George Lucas’ original Star Wars series. The films completely changed the Science Fiction genre showing that a less is more attitude can work. Some of the most memorable movie characters including Darth Vader, Han Solo, Yoda, and Chewbacca, and some of the most memorable lines spoken on film (“I have a bad feeling about this”) come from this trilogy. The ultimate cult classic, these films continue to be celebrated and despite a poor attempt at releasing new additions, the originals will always be timeless.

Best of the Series: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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2) The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s comprehensive trilogy is made up of over 10 hours of one of the greatest novel adaptations of all-time. The only trilogy that was released in three successive years and had all three films get Best Picture nominations and make over $300 million domestically. The films were revolutionary technical achievements with one of the first instances of an animated character having a large role with live-action characters. Some of the most memorable characters of all-time have come out of this series and it’s epic scope will often be imitated, but rarely duplicated. Through its central story and many subplots the films examine the themes of fellowship, strength vs. willpower, and the inevitability of destiny.  The series will remain timeless for years to come and establish a precedent for big-budget movie.

Best of the Series: Return of the King (2003)

1) The Godfather
The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Godfather: Part III (1990)

If there is any film that defines perfect movie it is Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. If there is any series that defines perfect trilogy, it is the three Godfather films. The films represent the best of American filmmaking, examining themes that will always be appropriate in this country: family, cultural assimilation, and the frailty of power. Featuring some of the best performances of all-time from legends like Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasberg, Andy Garcia, and many more. Add in a brilliant score, fantastic cinematography, and Mario Puzo’s brilliant story and you have a series of films that can’t be beat.

Best of the Series: The Godfather (1972)

They say good things come in threes. Did I miss any? What are your favorite trilogies?

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  • G1000

    No way “Lord of the Rings” deserves to be #2. It was a solid franchise, but all the acclaim it gets is undeserved. All three films pale in comparison to Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”. The first film was decent, and the next two very good, but placing it ahead of “Star Wars” is ludicrous. Then again, what do I know? Most people would agree with you.

  • Mike

    I agree that the Lord of the Rings are better than the Star Wars. Other trilogies that are good are Shrek and Spider Man, altought the third movie for both really sucked. I have a feeling that you will be adding the Toy Story trilogy to this list come next year.

  • Mike :

    I have a feeling that you will be adding the Toy Story trilogy to this list come next year.

    I have a feeling you’re right about that.

  • George

    Mike:
    You may be interested in this webpage:
    http://www.linking.to/Cinema/Cinema_Trilogies.pdf
    Regards, george

  • Very cool, George, thanks for sharing.

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