Third Time's the Charm: Great Trilogies in Movie History

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM
June 8th, 2012

Third Time's the Charm: Great Trilogies in Movie History

-- In Hollywood, if a movie is a big hit, you can almost always expect a sequel. If the second movie is also successful, there may be a third movie, making it a trilogy. In some cases, the trilogy is pre-planned, but the first movie or movies were not good enough to make it to three. Such was the case with the movies based on Marvel's "Fantastic Four" superheroes. Two movies were intended to be part of a franchise, but they were only modestly successful, so a third was never released.

Fortunately, not all trilogies go the way of the aborted "Fantastic Four" movies. There have been some truly great franchises in movie history. One of the most popular is the original "Star Wars" trilogy. The first was released in 1977 and introduced the audience to a young moisture farmer named Luke Skywalker, who was always looking towards the horizon instead of focusing on the present. In the film, his family is brutally murdered and he goes out on an adventure where it is revealed that he has a destiny beyond anything he could have imagined. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" were the second and third entries into the series that continue his quest to find his destiny and save the galaxy from the evil empire and Darth Vader. They were released in 1980 and 1983, respectively.

Though by today's standards the special effects seem cheap, they were groundbreaking for their time. The characters, including a set of loveable droids, were imaginative yet relatable to a lot of people. There was a rich back history to the entire Star Wars universe, which eventually led to another trilogy of prequels. The prequels were critically maligned even as they were a huge box office hits due to the fact that they were related to the hugely popular original trilogy.

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novels, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy were not only big draws at the box office, they won several awards as well. The first film, "The Fellowship of the Ring," was released in 2001and received over 150 award nominations. The firm managed to garner four Academy Awards. The second film, "The Two Towers," was released a year later to similar critical acclaim and box office receipts. The award nominations this movie received were nearly the same as the number of nominations received by the first film. This movie scored two Oscar wins. The final movie, "The Return of the King," was released in 2003 to much fanfare and anticipation, with some claiming that the first two movies in the franchise were better than the Tolkien novels they were based on. "Return of the King" was by far the biggest award winner of the trilogy. It managed 185 nominations from various awards ceremonies and won an astounding 11 Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture statue.

When Mario Puzo wrote his novel "The Godfather," he probably didn't anticipate it being adapted into one of the most iconic and well-known movies in history. Released in 1972, it was a groundbreaking look at the inner workings and turmoil of a mob family. It starred Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan in roles that would earn them Oscar nominations, though only Brando would go on to win. It spawned "The Godfather: Part II" in 1974, which many argue is better than the original. It is rare when a sequel exceeds the original, but this movie did, earning Oscars for Robert De Niro in a supporting role and the Best Picture award. "The Godfather: Part III" was released many years later, in 1990. Francis Ford Coppola directed it just like the first two films and even cast his daughter Sofia in it. Though critically maligned an overall a disappointment, it did receive seven Oscar nods.

There have been other great trilogies that would go on to make a fourth film years later, which means they can't be included on this list. An example is the Indiana Jones movies, which enjoyed great success in the 1980s with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." In 2008, nearly 20 years after the last movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was released, which means it is no longer a trilogy.

On the flip side, Christopher Nolan's Batman movies can't be on this list because they are almost a trilogy, but not quite. "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" will soon be joined by "The Dark Knight Rises." As soon as the third is released, there is no doubt that this superb series will enter the discussion as one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Until then, it can only be a footnote.