It’s pretty clear by now that trilogies are important in film history. From The Godfather to the “Before” trilogy, good trios have proven worthy of the love of the masses. Sometimes it’s hard to complete a story in just one film. In that case, you make three. Three great stories, all complementing each other to a degree of visual and literary perfection. Sometimes trilogies don’t work. You make one great movie and the other two just don’t live up to it. I’m looking at you, Star Wars prequels. Not you, “Revenge of the Sith,” you are amazing. Keep being you.
On the other hand, some trilogies knock it out of the park. When a trilogy works, it’s a thing of beauty. Not all of them tell a continuous story, and some of them are three-film arcs within a franchise. Three great movies make one phenomenal trilogy. This list contains 10 exquisite trios that are worth your time.
10. The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy
Shaun of the Dead; Hot Fuzz; The World’s End
Director Edgar Wright is a fan favorite by now. He is a huge cinephile and he adores music. Understandably, his movies have a big fandom. Especially The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. These films are funny, meaningful, and well-executed.
Though not a traditional trilogy, the Three Flavours Cornetto has more of a cohesive arc to its storytelling than many ongoing franchises.
Whilst not parody films, the Cornetto movies are a brilliant homage to classic genre cinema, all made funnier by the British relocation. “Shaun of the Dead” reimagines the zombie classics of George A. Romero in a London fringe district. “Hot Fuzz” takes the OTT action sensibilities and places them in a small village in Somerset. “The World’s End” places an alien invasion and the apocalypse in a sleepy English commuter town, all in a pub crawl package.
All three films are constructed with all the panache of the serious films from which they take inspiration, and connecting them all together are common themes, such as arrested development and fulfilling your potential. They also made Simon Pegg a worldwide star.
9. The Millennium Trilogy
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played With Fire; The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest
With great popularity comes great movie adaptations. Adapted by Stieg Larsson’s bestseller book series, the Millenium trilogy is extraordinary. The Swedes got a head start on this, finishing their film trilogy while the English-speaking world was still waiting for the translation of the third book. Frankly, David Fincher’s film couldn’t measure up to this trio.
The first film is the best of these, but filmed back to back and with an exceptional unity of style, they set a high bar for future adaptations. The jewel of the series is Noomi Rapace, who is an unbelievably well-cast Lisbeth Salander and a heroine for the 21st century. It’s no coincidence that she became such a huge star.
The first film was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, and the second and third were directed by Daniel Alfredson. But that doesn’t show when you watch them back to back. They are in absolute unity. The Europeans know how to make a film… or three.
8. Back to the Future Trilogy
Back to the Future; Back to the Future Part II; Back to the Future Part III
“Back to the Future” is a perfect movie, narratively speaking. Every line of dialogue and plot point matters, every conflict is resolved in a tidy way. It creates rules of time travel, yet those rules make logical sense and the film doesn’t violate them. It does a remarkable amount of world-building without putting the whole world in jeopardy. It’s a story that revolves entirely around the lives of one family.
Who didn’t love the story of Marty McFly? The wannabe rock star who goes 30 years back in time, saves his parents, and transforms his loser family into a happy, successful household. He gets the girl and saves the day. He even kind of invents rock ‘n roll. It was a box office hit.
“Back to the Future Part II” had high expectations to live up to, but its main story arc suffered from a lack of creativity. On the other hand, time and distance have bestowed Part II’s first act with rose-colored glasses, as all of its ideas about the future have put themselves permanently into our everyday lives: hoverboards, flat-screen televisions, smart homes, tablet computers, and much more.
“Part III” injected more originality into the trilogy, taking the heroes back to the Old West and relying less on repeating the same story. It resulted in a finale set aboard a runaway train that managed to be more intense than the first film’s stormy showdown, not to mention introducing a love interest for our lovely Doc Brown. There’s no denying that “Back to the Future” is one of the greatest adventures on film ever.
7. LOTR Trilogy
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
It is hard to believe that it was back in 2001 when “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” hit the big screen and we started our Middle-earth journey. Many said that J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels couldn’t be filmed, but Peter Jackson proved them wrong.
Over the next three years, Jackson delivered three movies that were out of this world (literally) and took us on an unbelievable movie experience. The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains one of the greatest ones ever produced.
“The Fellowship of the Ring” is the one where we see all of the characters in their purest form – before they are corrupted by the Ring or worn down by the journey that they are on. It is also the movie where the core relationships are formed between the central characters and before a darkness hangs over them.
There are great visual moments with Balrog, but it is “The Two Towers” that really hits it out of the park with the special effects. The darkness creeps into the film here, and it is the battle of Helm’s Deep that is the film’s unforgettable climax.
In 2003, the final installment came, and this is the movie where we see our favourite characters make dangerous choices, face up to evil, and be prepared to die for what they believe in. Heroic, no?
The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest and most successful film trilogies ever and the three movies grossed in $2.9 billion at the global box office. “The Return of the King” won all 11 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director for Jackson.
6. The Original Star Wars Trilogy
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope; Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Everyone may have their choice of a favourite movie trilogy, but the original Star Wars trilogy is the paradigm that all trilogies owe their thanks to. It’s also my favorite one. Though not as perfectly planned out as some of the other films on this list, “Star Wars” invented the modern notion of a cinematic trilogy.
Star Wars also was the forefather of original mythology in cinema. Instead of adapting novels to the medium, it took inspiration from all forms of storytelling and culture to create its own world and characters that are now popular than its influences. It relies heavily on Joseph Campbell’s work. Star Wars crafted a tremendous story and relatable archetypal characters to tell it, all set in a world now as deep as anything crafted by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Although the prequels soured the series for many, Star Wars has never ceased to be in the popular zeitgeist for long, and now with new movies being released every year, it’s probably never going to vanish.
The original Star Wars trilogy changed cinema in every way possible, and even though people may debate the topic of which film is the greatest, together they are an unmatched work of art.