With the release of the highly anticipated Toy Story 3 this weekend, it's interesting to reflect on the film franchises considered "trilogies," and which are the five best. So, let's look back, in chronological order, at the five best trilogies to hit the big screen.
NOTE: Let's not get tangled up on the definition of a "trilogy." In the case of this post, a trilogy is a three movie run. In other words, if Pixar makes a Toy Story 4, the first three would still qualify as a trilogy. Also, the films must be related to one another and have similar characters and plots, etc. For example, Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy isn't included because each film has very little to do with the other two, other than Clint Eastwood and the Western genre.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="201" caption="Scene from "The Godfather" courtesy of 4-nada.com"][/caption]
The Godfather (1972, 1974, 1990)
In the only trilogy on this list where I can't say that all three films are "good," exactly, Francis Ford Coppola gives us a look inside a mafia family and what makes them tick. In a rare feat of filmmaking prowess, a near perfect first film is almost bested by a near perfect second film. The trilogy tails off a bit in an oddly lopsided and slow third film, but that certainly doesn't take away from the other two.
There are few thing you can say about Coppola's masterpiece(s) that haven't already been said. Brando is superb; Pacino has never been better; De Niro is fantastic; every supporting actor and actress is at the top of his/her game. There are more perfect moments of filmmaking in the first two films than are in most decades of film.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="206" caption="Scene from "Star Wars" courtesy of brisbanetimes.com.au"][/caption]
Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI (1977, 1980, 1983)
Forget Episodes I-III, as I'm sure we'd all like to. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi changed the way movies were made. In what can only be described as a "intergalactic Westerns," George Lucas creates a universe so intricate and beautiful that James Cameron can only wish he had his hand in it.
Seminal performances from Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamil make these films not just special effects blockbusters, but well-crafted, well-acted films that have a story to match their mind-blowing graphics. I confess that The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the three, but I can't argue that the first film of the Star Wars trilogy, in and of itself, could stand alone on its own. The same could probably not be said abut the other two.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Scene from "Evil Dead" courtesy of sfgate.com"][/caption]
Evil Dead (1981, 1987, 1992)
Laugh all you want, but before Sam Raimi was changing comic book movies with the Spiderman trilogy, he was making this ridiculous trilogy of independent horror/comedies starring the wonderfully brazen Bruce Campbell as titular hero Ash J. Williams. Surprisingly imaginative, obscenely gory, and extremely entertaining, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness made horror fun, after it had been dominated by less-than-provocative slasher films for so long.
Campbell may be playing the comic relief to Michael Westen in USA Network's Burn Notice nowadays, but he will always be remembered as the leader of those naive college kids that went camping and opened up the Book of the Dead, or Morturom Demento.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="222" caption="Scene from "Lord of the Rings" courtesy of dailymail.co.uk"][/caption]
The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)
Peter Jackson filmed all three of the entries in this trilogy back to back in New Zealand, releasing them year to year in the early 21st century. Each one was nominated for Best Picture, with the third, Return of the King, winning. But, let's be honest - that Oscar was for all three films.
In yet another special effects dominated entry into the trilogy brotherhood, Jackson didn't just create sets and creatures - Middle Earth was on screen in front of everyone. Exciting, interesting, and heartbreaking - The Lord of the Rings trilogy brought fantasy to the mainstream in a way no film had since The Wizard of Oz. Ian McKellan and Viggo Mortensen truly take the films over the top, but Elijah Wood and Sean Astin give the films the steam to make it through about ten hours of screen time, without getting the least bit boring (well, for the most part).
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="249" caption="Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) courtesy of anomalousmaterial.com"][/caption]
The Bourne Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)
Action films used to be nothing but one hero blowing things up, killing as many people as he can, and getting the girl. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy adapted the Robert Ludlum novels The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum into more than action screenplays - they are gripping mystery-action melting pots with Matt Damon showing off much more than his sensitive side.
The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman, was a wonderful way to kick off the trilogy, but when Paul Greengrass took the helm for Supremacy and Ultimatum, the films went to a completely different level. In the only trilogy I can think of where the third installment is certainly the best, Greengrass and Damon give us a wonderfully exciting trip through the life of an amnesic spy and his quest to find out what's true and what isn't.
Early reports of Toy Story 3 say it measures up to the first two - if it does, it would easily make this list in the future.