Happy Memorial Day everybody! This month I decided to do something unique and look at one of my favorite clichés in movie, the trilogy. Over the last few weeks I have revealed my picks for the best trilogies of all time splitting them into classics, modern classics, trilogies of 2010s so far, and thematic trilogies. With sixteen qualifying for my best of all time list I took on the daunting and difficult task of narrowing them down to the very best. So as promised to close out my first ever Cinema Spotlight Series let’s get to it. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Trilogies of All Time. And, before I continue, a special thank you to all veterans who have served the great nation of the United States.
For this ultimate list of the best three-part movie series of all time the qualifications were simple, make the top four in any of my previous four lists in this series. From those lists I picked the most iconic, memorable, influential, and all around great quality three-part series of all time and put them in a top ten. It should be noted that just because a movie made it high on one list doesn’t mean it will be ahead of any of the trilogies from another list. While these trilogies may have shined over their initial competition, they had to compete with the best of the rest for supremacy here.
To keep things fair I also made sure at least TWO trilogies from each countdown were represented on this list.
Alright enough chitchat! The moment I’ve all been waiting for, and hopefully you too. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Trilogies of All Time!
10. The “Captain America” Trilogy
Over the decades superhero franchises have become prime examples of trilogies done right. The Marvel Cinematic Universe alone contains a few great ones and this trilogy is its best to date. Captain America has one of the most memorable story arcs in the entire MCU which is fully fleshed out in 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 chosen for a super soldier serum that turns him into Captain America. Throughout his films he faces off against Hydra and the Red Skull, his old friend Bucky as The Winter Soldier, and even his fellow Avengers spanning different genres from war movie, to Bourne-style thriller and finally one of the greatest superhero films ever made. All three entries are spectacularly written, shot and acted and touch on relevant themes while also providing grade-A superhero action. Whether you’re looking for great genre thrills or a prime example of 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.
9. The New “Planet of the Apes” Saga
Despite my early reservations with this series, the new saga of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise proved to be more than worth the wait. This trilogy introduces us to Caesar, brought to life through motion capture by Andy Serkis, in a series of stories themed on “Rise”, “Dawn” and “War” where the ape goes from humble pet to noble leader and finally loving father and aged warrior. The reboot trilogy is a very different animal, no pun intended, from the original science fiction classics and watching Caesar’s journey filled with pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally, is just as powerful as watching human characters undergo similar struggles. These films are 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 decade. Caesar 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 in the 2010s.
8. The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy
Also known as the Three Flavours Trilogy, the Cornetto Trilogy, or the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, this series of three thematically connected films were all directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and perpetual star Simon Pegg. This series consists of “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” all paying tribute to different genres of film: “Shaun of the Dead” focuses on horror, “Hot Fuzz” references buddy cop and action films and “The World’s End” is a send-up to science fiction classics. The name of the trilogy comes from one connecting detail, the appearance of Cornetto ice cream. They also all star Pegg and Nick Frost as a duo. Often compared to the Three Colours Trilogy, another great thematic series, each film in this trio of comedy classics tackles specific themes connecting all the characters including perpetual adolescence, maturity, and the benefits, and dangers, of people serving as a group. All three movies are delightfully entertaining on their own and work well as a disconnected trio that pays tribute to three of the most prominent genres in all of film. Separately their awesome but together they are legendary.
7. The “Dollars” Trilogy
One of the most legendary Western series ever, the “Dollars” trilogy movies are all part of the same character’s story and made Clint Eastwood a certified legend in the industry. This trilogy contains three of the most iconic and memorable western films ever made, “A Fistful of Dollars”, “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, and feature one of Eastwood’s most famous roles, if not his most famous, the Man with No Name. These three films collectively debuted many of the genre clichés we have come to know and love from westerns today and the introduction of one of cinema’s most iconic characters and antiheroes alone has made all three movies consistent fan favorites and must see projects for any movie buff even though they were produced in the 60s. The direction of Sergio Leone in all three films has also made them among the most artistically respected movies of the era as well with impeccable writing and character development, well designed and detailed sets, a now iconic shooting style, and a soundtrack that is forever tied to the clichés of the Wild West. No list of trilogies of any kind would be complete without this collection and it’s the first of several classics to appear on this cumulative list.
6. The “Dark Knight” Trilogy
The second and final superhero trilogy on this list, Christopher Nolan took Batman from the brink of irrelevance in cinema and rebooted the franchise to create his own trilogy of superhero films with well-developed villains, a darker tone, and a grittier presentation in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Composed of “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises”, this trilogy not only breathed new life into Batman as a big screen star, but also provided something new for the superhero genre by feeling more grounded and injecting a heart and soul into its dark and damaged hero. The second film alone is considered one of the greatest superhero movies ever and all three sport some of the greatest villain performances in any comic book film. Unlike other superhero franchises, this was a trilogy built to remain a trilogy and starts, progresses and ends with Bruce Wayne evolving from a vengeful billionaire to a self-sacrificing knight of his kingdom. It’s one of the most engaging, fun, and realistic superhero series you’ll ever see that proves these kinds of films don’t have to be all color and laughs. It outshined all that came before it and continues to be a series most superhero films emulate today, especially ones from DC.
5. The Trilogy of the Dead
George A. Romero was a master of horror and originated the concept of the movie zombie we know today. He did this through a legendary trilogy that came to be known as the Trilogy of the Dead. The original series of “Living Dead” films, “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, and “Day of the Dead”, are memorable on their own, but together they make up one of the most iconic horror franchises ever. Each film tells its own self-contained story of the zombie apocalypse and they’re all famous for adapting social issues into their stories including racism, consumerism and isolation. While each movie is independent of the others the state of the world gets worse and worse with each film making them a perfect trilogy depicting the deterioration of society as a result of the zombie infestation. Since the first series concluded remakes and unofficial sequels have come about, some better than others, but the original trilogy, which all but founded the idea of a thematic film series, is still the best of the bunch. These iconic horror flicks were all trend setters and today are often imitated but seldom matched in their originality, social commentary and impact.
4. The “Back to the Future” Trilogy
One of the most enduring and beloved classic trilogies of all time is this Robert Zemeckis led science fiction trio, “Back to the Future”. Comprised of three parts, one taking place in 1955 another predominantly in 2015 and the final in the old west of 1885 the three films follow Marty McFly and Doctor Emmitt Brown as they explore time travel using Brown’s DeLorean car converted into a futuristic time travel machine. All three films are known as master works of consistency, especially since the latter two utilized scenes and characters from the first film to tell an overlapping story. This is partially because the sequel films were produced at the same time in one of the first notably successful attempts of taking such a risk. The many time travel rules and themes of the film would permeate through pop culture and filmmaking for generations setting the standard for how a science fiction franchise should work. It’s hard to deny “Back to the Future’s” cultural impact even today as the three films together stand as one of the most iconic genre stories ever. You could watch all three films one right after another and never miss a beat. Flowing seamlessly from one time-traveling mishap to the next, this series kept viewers on the edge of their seat in the 80s waiting to see how it would all unravel.
3. The “Godfather” Trilogy”
One of the most legendary films of all time, and a contender for many as the best ever, spawned a three-part franchise that today remains one of the most celebrated trios of films ever conceived. Despite an imperfect third entry there’s no getting around the fact that the “Godfather” movies have quite the legacy. Chronicling the Corleone crime family “The Godfather” trilogy sports some of the medium’s most legendary performances including a Best Actor winning role for Marlon Brando and a Best Supporting Actor winning performance by Robert De Niro while the first two movies achieved extremely rare success by both winning Best Picture, one in 1973 and the other in 1975. Highly quotable, impeccably written and acted, and recognized as some of the most beloved and legendary movies in cinematic history the trio of “Godfather” movies reinvented and popularized the gangster trope in film and showcased a complete and engaging story that delved into the depth of the criminal underworld like never before. Maybe this is why the first movie is still considered one of the best and the sequel is highly praised as one of the most perfectly conceived cinematic follow-ups of all time.
2. The Original “Star Wars” Trilogy
There are few, if any, trilogies more iconic than this. Well one more, but I’ll get to that in a minute. A self-contained trilogy of space operas, the “Star Wars” trilogy that started it all exploded into a massive phenomenon still going strong today and even spawning a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy currently in progress. Together “A Hew Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” are a near perfect series of films that tell the tale of Luke Skywalker’s evolution from whiny orphan to heroic Jedi master and introduced some of the most memorable characters in all of film like Yoda, Han Solo and Darth Vader. Fans live and die by this series and its subtle but symbolic takes on religion and fate with merchandise, literature, and even side-story films all making up the empire that is the “Star Wars” franchise. And it all started with one epic trilogy that contains some of the best one-liners, classic special effects, memorable characters and an iconic twist to create a fully realized experience few trilogies have ever managed to replicate. When a trilogy is so cherished and beloved that it spawns not one but TWO additional standalone trilogy stories there’s no way it could be anywhere else but near the top.
1. The “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy
There are few, if any, film trilogies in cinema more beloved and respect than Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Composed of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers” and the Best Picture winning “Return of the King”, this franchise was previously considered unfilmable but is now among the most legendary movie series ever created. The story follows a hobbit and others as they try to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron who seeks to conquer Middle-Earth. The characters of this film need no introduction with household names like Gollum, Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, Legolas and others making up the cast. The lore of the series has captured the imaginations of fans worldwide even years after the final film was released and even led to a prequel trilogy. The “Lord of the Rings” movies have also included extreme merchandising and to top it off “Return of the King” is a rare film that swept every category it was nominated for at the 76th Academy Awards, earning 11 and claiming a record for highest Oscar sweep ever while also becoming the first, and so far only, third film in a series to win Best Picture. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy managed to never feel tired or lose itself in its extensive story which makes it a near-perfect trilogy of films that all feel warranted and like one part of a whole. It truly is the best movie trilogy of all time.