Superheroes, warring apes, action icons, animated martial arts masters and an a capela groups were just a few of the characters that made up these modern movie trilogies. The 2010s have brought us some great film series as the search for franchise success has become the norm in the industry. Yes, we still have another year or two for numerous trilogies to close out there runs, with movies like “John Wick Chapter 3”, “Glass” and “How to Train Your Dragon 3” among several trilogy closers scheduled for release next year that MAY require a redux of this list. All the same I have a series to continue today so after examining the best classic and modern classic trilogies it’s time to look at the best three-part film series of this decade so far. These are my picks for the Top 10 Trilogies of the 2010s.
Like my other lists, this countdown focuses on trilogies that are all part of the same overlapping story. So no nontraditional trilogies related in theme only. Those trilogies will have their own list as part of this month-long celebration of the greatest trilogies of all time next week. For this list I looked at trilogies contained within the 2010s that have stood out in the industry as potential classics-to-be.
Because some trilogies didn’t begin within this decade I counted any trilogy whose first entry was placed outside of the 2010s but the second and third entries were released within the past eight years. ALSO, I will not be counting ANY series that has expanded beyond a trilogy without a reboot as of May of 2018. Series that currently remain a trilogy, even if a fourth one is rumored or truly is in the works, were considered because the fourth films don’t technically exist yet. The exception to this rule is films like the “Avengers” series which was never meant to be a trilogy in the first place.
Remember, the TOP FOUR of each of these lists will be in the running for my Top 10 Greatest Movie Trilogies of All Time on Memorial Day. Stay tuned for the penultimate list containing nontraditional trilogies next week and if you missed my first two lists you can view by picks for the best classic trilogies here and my list for the best trilogies of the 90s and 2000s here.
Feel free to tell me your favorite movie trilogy from the 2010s so far in the comments below and I hope you enjoy the list! Here we go!
10. The “Pitch Perfect” Trilogy
Concluding in 2017 (for now at least) this musical trio of films started in 2012 and became a phenomenon. With a cast of talented songstresses and female comedians driving home the story, the “Pitch Perfect” franchise gave women young and old a comedy series to call their own and capitalized on the fascination with musical covers and a capella performances previously driven by the rise of YouTube and “Glee”. By the time the third film rolled around last year it was clear this franchise had grown a bit stale, but the three films combined make for a delightful and inspiring story of growth and friendship that speaks to the dreamers in us all. The two sequel films are the first and second highest grossing musical comedies of all time which has etched “Pitch Perfect” into royalty within the comedy genre in its own special way. All told, this series is harmless fun complimented by competitive drama, fun soundtracks and memorable characters that helped launch the careers of several rising female stars. It also gave us an infectious radio hit. I still turn the radio as high as I can when “Cups” come on. I can’t be the only one, right?
9. The “Maze Runner” Series
In a decade where young adult adaptations have become a genre all their own its nice to see a series that understood that less is more. While a trend had begun where studios split the final book adaptations of series into two films, “The Maze Runner” stayed confined to three films with director Wes Ball putting his own spin on the James Dashner book trilogy consisting of “The Maze Runner”, “The Scorch Trials” and “The Death Cure”. The trilogy concluded this year and while not as celebrated as other YA adaptations the three films together make for a great dystopian story as an organization known as WCKD seeks a cure for a deadly virus at the expense of young subjects who rebel for their freedom. All three movies managed to take complicated books and make them easy to follow without losing the heart and drama contained in the original pages. While many times book adaptations are crucified for departing from the source material, “The Maze Runner” series was an odd exception where both longtime fans and new audiences embraced the trilogy and respected the creative license. The result was $945 million in box office returns and a solid three-part adventure that respected its audience and paved its own path when the Young Adult adaptation had become nothing short of a cinematic cliché.
8. The “Expendables” Trilogy
A tribute to the greatest action icons ever and the blockbuster action films of the 80s and 90s “The Expendables” has turned into a full-fledged franchise that, for now, consists of three films released in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Together the films have earned over $800 million at the box office and perfected the art of cinematic pandering by bringing more and more action icons, both new and old, to the franchise with each new addition. The series revolves around a group of mercenaries who carry out different missions with their villains also being tributes to genre villains of the past. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Mickey Rourke are just a few of the iconic actors who have been a part of this franchise and helped turn “The Expendables” into one of the most successful and shamelessly fun action series since “Die Hard”. While not critical darlings, all three films have received respect from fans of the genre and while at times the series can seem bloated with testosterone and ego, it doesn’t forsake the female ass kickers either working in appearances from the likes of Ronda Rousey, Giselle Itie and Yu Nan. Demand seems to be high for a fourth film, which is in the works, but until that day comes this trilogy remains a fun collection that gives fans exactly what they came to see.
7. The “Thor” Trilogy
By far the weakest trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s collection of standalone series, the “Thor” trilogy is still a credible start-to-finish story all its own. Consisting of 2011’s “Thor”, 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” and 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” the “Thor” series depicts the maturing of the mighty Avenger and God of thunder as he evolves from a self-centered and egotistic would-be king looking for war to a humble, comedic and confident warrior and successor to his father Oden. This franchise brought us one of the greatest and certainly most developed villains in the MCU in Thor’s adopted brother Loki and tackled many subtle themes including forgiveness, identity, and responsibility. Even with the “Avengers” films mixed in the “Thor” trilogy managed to focus squarely on Thor’s evolution into a truly capable leader and when we finally see his full potential and transformation into the man he was destined to be in the third film we look back fondly on how each of his adventures have helped shape him. While his solo story may be pretty much over with “Infinity War” starting a new chapter for the hero’s life, there’s a reason the God of Thunder earned his own series and it’s because he had a great character driven story to tell.
6. The “Hangover” Trilogy
While some might say it’s one film too many, the “Hangover” trilogy feels appropriate and complete when you watch them all in succession. Amassing $1.4 billion in revenue this trilogy tells the story of a group of friends who party during a visit to Las Vegas and wake up the next morning having to retrace their steps after one of them has gone missing. The second film follows a similar format in Bangkok while the third focuses on the aftermath of their misadventures as they must now deal with the literal “hangover” of their actions to appease a crime lord. The first movie was a massive hit, becoming one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies of all time second only to eventual successor “Deadpool”, and while the second part was considered formulaic the third brought everything full circle to offer closure to a truly memorable comedy franchise. Utilizing the talents of growing stars for the time like Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifanakis, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong, the “Hangover” trilogy is just as fun and hilarious today as it was when the first entry broke the bank and showed that not only was their room for new idea in comedy, but that the genre could still work to create a memorable series.
5. The “Kung Fu Panda” Trilogy
This is an interesting film series I’m surprised doesn’t have a fourth film yet…not even green-lit mind you. Dreamworks may have churned out a lot of film series, but few have been as consistently good as “Kung Fu Panda”. This trilogy started in 2008 and, for now, concluded in 2016 as one of studio’s best franchises. It depicts the story of Po the Panda who goes from simple orphan adopted by his noddle shop owning father to a chosen warrior of prophecy. Layered with great animation, hilarious situations, memorable villains and a character story that seems to have reached a great point of closure in the third film, the “Kung Fu Panda” series is by far one of the most enjoyable and complete animated stories ever and one of the most memorable non-Disney animated film series out there. The trilogy spawned two television series as well (although the second series is still in production) and several video games so the legend of Po and the Furious Five has stood the test of time beyond the big screen. There’s just something about Po’s adventures and his three-part coming of age and rags to riches story that’s so charming and fun even the harshest cynic should be able to find at least something worth smiling about among this trio of well-made modern classics.
4. The “Hobbit” Trilogy
While not as celebrated as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the prequel “Hobbit” trilogy has its share of fans and did something the “Star Wars” prequels were unable to do, live off the popularity of the source material while ALSO being quality films in their own rights. Composed of “An Unexpected Journey”, “The Desolation of Smaug” and “The Battle of the Five Armies”, this trilogy took the single “Hobbit” book and controversially stretched it into three films. While the series didn’t live up to the hype in every way, it still made a killing at the box office and added to the lore of the “Lord of the Rings” universe with a trio of fun and memorable adventures leading up to the events of the first three films. Familiar characters like Bilbo Baggins, Gandolf the Grey and Legolas return while new fan favorites like Taurliel, Thorin and the dragon Smaug made their first big-screen appearances for the first time. Despite dragging out the property to maybe one too many films, each “Hobbit” film remains engaging and fun to experience while the adventure as a whole packs significant social commentary and a well-balanced cast. Another worthy note it that while many see this series as inferior to its predecessor, the “Hobbit” trilogy actually made more money overall than the original trilogy probably because over the years the “Lord of the Rings” established a massive cult fan-base longing for more adventures in Middle Earth.
3. The “Iron Man” Trilogy
As I said at the beginning, superheroes played a huge part in the 2010s especially with the Marvel Cinematic Universe becoming such a powerhouse. The film that started it all in 2008, “Iron Man”, kicked of a trio of movies showcasing the evolution of the genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist Tony Stark. The first film is considered a near perfect superhero origin story while the second pitted Stark against Justin Hammer and Whiplash as he had to come to grips with his daddy issues and his own mortality. The final film explored Tony Stark’s mental state in the wake of “The Avengers” and showed what he is capable of even without his suit. What keeps this trilogy from being higher on this list is that despite every film being a quality movie and celebrated projects in their own right, the second and third movies have their detractors due to weak villains and weaker overall stories than the first. However, it says something that even with these flaws the “Iron Man” trilogy remains one of the most celebrated superhero film series of all time and, like “The Dark Knight” trilogy, set the standard for it’s company’s future. Marvel not only built its first inner-universe series around Tony Stark, they learned from it and got even better as the MCU grew. The “Iron Man” movies set the stage for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to become what it has today and that’s an accomplishment impossible to ignore.
2. The “Captain America” Trilogy
In terms of a complete character narrative, the “Captain America” trilogy is the best there is in the MCU. Captain America has one of the most memorable story arcs in the whole series which is fully fleshed out through his appearances in “The Avengers” films and his three solo movies “The First Avenger”, “The Winter Solider” and “Civil War”. As a superpowered symbol of America and its values, Steve Rogers starts off as a scrawny kid whose noble ways make him the perfect subject for a super soldier serum that turns him into Captain America. The first movie saw Cap face off against Hydra and the Red Skull during World War II while the second movie put Cap at the center of a Bourne-like spy thriller to clear his name and stop Hydra from destroying SHIELD from the inside. The third movie brought Captain America’s journey to preserve American morals and justice full circle as he faced off against his own superhero friends, including Tony Stark, after disagreeing with legislation meant to control heroes. It’s a spectacularly written, shot and acted trio of movies that touched on relevant themes while also providing grade-A superhero action rivaled by few others in the genre. Caps struggles to do what’s right, even when the odds were against him, were inspiring. Whether you’re looking for great genre thrills or a more meaningful look at what it means to be a true American patriot this trilogy satisfies in every way with each subsequent entry considered among the best sequels ever and all three among the most respected superhero movies of all time.
1. The New “Planet of the Apes” Saga
If you had told me back in 2011 that I would put this trilogy at #1 on this list I probably would have laughed. There was an attempt to reboot “Planet of the Apes” before in 2001 and many know how that turned out. So, when a new series was announced there were doubters, but we were all quickly proven wrong when “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” debuted introducing us to Caeser, brought to life through motion capture by Andy Serkis. The next two films, 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes”, completed Caeser’s story as the ape went from humble pet to noble leader and finally loving father and aged warrior as we watched him coexist and, eventually, come into conflict with humans. The reboot trilogy was a very different animal, no pun intended, from the original science fiction classics and watching Caeser’s journey filled with pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally, was just as powerful as watching human characters undergo similar struggles. All three movies are well written and tie together nicely as a full package that expose the soul within all living things without fully vilifying humanity. It’s a carefully planned trio of science fiction classics all built around the journey of one character who has become one of the most iconic cinematic figures of the 2010s. Caeser remains one of Andy Serkis’ best characters second MAYBE to Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” Even with all the trilogies still left to be completed over the next two years it’s hard to believe that any of them will live up to what the new “Planet of the Apes” saga has offered.