Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe really changed how movies were made, and viewed by the public, the general consensus for sequels was that they’d get worse as they went along. Newer movies joke about this, like Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse who was coming out of The Return of the Jedi and said that they could all agree that the “Third one is always the worst”. Really, thanks to the MCU, people don’t even view films as sequels or trilogies, as the stories and characters (for the most part) will continue through in other films and adventures. So, it’s hard to put some of those films on this list as they’re not structured like typical trilogy films in the past, but that’s what makes this list so interesting in the first place! So, let’s take a look at the Top 10 trilogies of all-time!
10. Iron Man
While these lists are clearly (and highly) objective, you do have to assess the impact that these films had on the industry as a whole as well as the quality of the films as well. So, while there were a few other films that could’ve ended up as the tenth spot (The Matrix trilogy seemed like a good fit, for example, or the newer X-Men films), you have to give Iron Man credit as the first film in the MCU and what it accomplished by being the first film in a new cinematic universe even if the first film felt like any other superhero film in the 00’s (a very, very good film, at that). People often rip on Iron Man 2 as the worst film in the MCU’s amazing pantheon, but considering it was the first film that had to focus on not only really establishing the extended universe but also creating a plot around that idea, it’s not really that bad of a film (it’s still certified Fresh on RottenTomatoes.com). The third film is a lot like the films in the DC comics Extended Universe, as people either love it or hate it. Regardless of where you stand on that film, you have to give it credit for being fresh and different, especially at a time where the MCU was churning out some pretty formulaic material (see: Thor: The Dark World). So, because the first Iron Man is a modern day classic, the second film is the first to set up the MCU and the third film shows what a hero Tony Stark is without his suits (and really went for it), Iron Man gets the first spot on this list.
Before Iron Man came Sony’s Spider-Man, a movie that expanded upon the goodwill that Millenials who grew up watching X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons on Fox by creating an amazing first film that also made boatloads of money. Directed by Sam Raimi, the original Spider-Man trilogy had it’s first film in 2002, and was a direct response to the 9/11 attacks that actually changed some of the marketing for the film (as the first poster/teaser trailer for the film was going to show a helicopter stuck between the Twin Towers in a gigantic web). While it may seem a bit cheesy in retrospect when the citizens of New York start pelting The Green Goblin with items from their cars and talking about how New Yorkers stick up for one another, it was the perfect movie for a time in the United States when things got pretty dark. The first film did its job and showed what a Spider-Man movie could be, while the second movie is the clear best film in the trilogy and arguably one of the best films on this list. Spider-Man 2 is still mentioned alongside films like The Dark Knight when people talk about the best superhero films and that’s really saying something as it came out in 2004 and expanded upon what Raimi and company did in the first film well before Iron Man or even films like Logan or Black Panther were concepts. Because of the period, it was released, Spider-Man 2 gets so many points for how great it was considering studios were still releasing superhero films like Fantastic Four. Spider-Man 3 really hurt it’s standing on this list, and is the direct result of studio interference as Raimi wanted to solely focus on Sand-Man but was pressured into also shoe-horning Venom into the film. That much was apparent, as Venom, one of Spider-Man’s biggest enemies ended up getting about as much screen time as Bruce Campbell did in his cameos in each film. However, outside of that super cringe-worthy dancing on the street scene, the film has some great parts (like the scene where Sandman is created or when the Venom symbiote latches onto Eddie Brock) and really makes you feel like Spider-Man 4 (which would’ve had John Malkovich as the Vulture) would’ve been amazing. No pun intended.
8. Indiana Jones
Harrison Ford is heavily responsible for two entries on this list (in this entry and the number three entry, Star Wars). He’s a living legend that has returned to the roles that made him that legend, in a fourth Indiana Jones film (“The Kingdom of the Crytal Skull”) and 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of those films was an amazing conclusion to a classic characters story arc while the other was really, really bad. Luckily for this list, that other film was the Indiana Jones film, but because this film is about a trilogy and not about a … quadrilogy? Quadogy? Apparently the word is ‘Tetralogy’ and if we were focusing on that tetralogy then we’d probably have replaced this film with The Matrix, as ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ created a new phrase, “Nuked the Fridge”, that essentially is the new way to say that a movie or television show has “Jumped the Shark” (from ‘Happy Days’). The first three Indiana Jones (and hopefully the fifth film) are all classics, though. The first film was released in 1981 and was directed by Steven Spielberg and was written by Lawrence Kasden, the man responsible for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and Solo: A Star Wars Story. He’s a beast and made sense in this role as Spielberg and Lucas are/were good friends and Lucas wrote the story behind Indiana Jones before Kasdan fleshed it out into a screenplay. All three films are above 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (Temple of Doom has 85%, The Last Crusade has 88% and Raiders of the Lost Ark has 94%) and when a film becomes part of your culture, worldwide, you know you have a hit on your hands. Indiana Jones is one of the most famous fictional characters ever created and so it only makes sense that they’ll eventually release a new film titled “Young Indiana Jones” with a different character portraying the legend. Wait… They did that already! Perhaps Hollywood isn’t suddenly lazy, perhaps they’ve been lazy the entire time!
7. The Godfather
Considering the fact that Godfather part’s one and two are considered to be two of the best films of all-time, you may be surprised that they’re this low on the list in terms of best films trilogies ever, especially when they basically ended up with the same layout as the number one entry on this list (as their three films being great, perfect and meh). Godfather part three gets a lot of flack as being a disaster, but it was nominated for best film of the year at the Oscars the year it came out and it also received multiple award nominations for SOME of the people in it. The main criticism of the film is that the daughter of the director, Sofia Coppola, who played the daughter of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone. She was a terrible actress and while she (thankfully) ended up dead, the problem with having a terrible, and unqualified, actress in your film is that it really ruins the suspension of disbelief that you need to really get into the film itself. That’s really the biggest knock, that and really that this site is really more based on Millenial films, superhero films, etc. So, a saga about a family and/in the mafia just doesn’t really fit with the rest of the stuff we cover here, even if the first two films are definite classics that pair Al Pacino and Robert Deniro in their primes and Marlon Brando definitely not in his prime but still acting his gigantic ass off.
6. Back to the Future
Outside of the films that are part of a larger universe, a lot of the films on this list seem to completely blow the landing that is the final film in their trilogy. While the critics actually disliked the second film more than the other two (with the Rotten Tomatoes scores for each film being 96%, 63% and 74% respectively), it does have the most memorable scenes or really just items of any of the three films (outside of the time machine itself, which would’ve saved DeLorean as a car company had their owner not been in prison for cocaine possession and intent to distribute). Back to the Future II had the Nike shoes with automatic laces and also the pink hoverboard that every Millenial instantly fell in love with. There was a lot of drama behind the scenes between the first and second film, which took over two years to start production despite the smash hit that the first film ended up being. First there was the fact that Crispin Glover was demanding the same salary as Michael J. Fox (although he did claim that he was being offered half of what every other actor was, he then changed his story to say that he didn’t agree with the “moral” of the story), but because he refused to participate they ended up re-writing the story to really only show George McFly upside down and very old (he was portrayed by actor Jeffrey Weissman who wore a false chin, nose and cheekbones) and also by also re-using footage from the first film during the scenes where Marty returned to the “Enchantment Under the Sea Dance”. Because of that, Glover sued over the fact that they’d used his likeness in the film without his permission (or paying him) and because of that suit there are now clauses in the Screen Actors Guild collective bargaining agreement that bar such practices. Beyond that, the third film ended up in the old west based on a suggestion by Michael J. Fox and typically when anyone ends up making a movie about the Old West, it’s just a bad idea (see: A Million Ways to Die in the West, Jane Got a Gun, The Lone Ranger, The Ridiculous Six, Jonah Hex, etc.)
5. Lord of the Rings
Some of the entries on this list feel like they were meant to be just one film, but because that one film became a gigantic success, the people behind it obviously had to create more films. Back to the Future is a great example of that, especially because Marty’s girlfriend is played by two different actresses which could’ve been explained by time travel mumbo jumbo, but wasn’t (perhaps the fact that George pushed that red-headed guy away from Lorraine, he became infertile and thus Jennifer had a different father in the new 1985 Marty returned to?). However, The Lord of the Rings is obviously based on the classic books by J. R. R. Tolkien, a book that is one of the best selling of any in history, with over 150 million copies sold. These films were a massive undertaking, costing a reported $330 million to produce and filmed back-to-back-to-back, they could’ve either been a huge success or a massive disaster, especially as fantasy movies have been pretty hit-or-miss at the box office (with an emphasis on miss) really since the dawn of Hollywood. Obviously the films were massive successes, with each film opening and being larger than the one before it. The films all ended up around a billion dollars in terms of worldwide grosses, with The Fellowship of the Ring bringing in almost $870 million, The Two Towers bringing in almost $925 million and The Return of the King bringing in over $1.1 billion dollars. That makes the Lord of the Rings films one of the biggest film franchises in Hollywood history, which explains why they moved forward with the inferior Hobbit films, which did get better over time but even saying that does help support the comparison to the Star Wars prequel films.
4. Captain America
When people talk about the “Villain” problem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has they often ignore talking about Red Skull, Captain America’s biggest enemy and the character portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the first Captain America film, ‘The First Avenger’. While that film wasn’t amazing, it was still a great introduction to Captain America and what he stands for. It’s really on the level of Wonder Woman, with it being set in a different time or period and with him going against the wishes of those in charge of him by going into battle when he wasn’t supposed to. The difference is in the villains, as Red Skull is basically an evil version of Cap (Which is a huge comic book thing and a Phase 1 thing with the MCU, with Iron Monger, Loki and Abomination all being exactly that) who was played really, really well by Weaving (So much so that people are still hoping Red Skull will pop up in the next two Avengers films). While ‘The First Avenger’ was a decent-to-good movie, the second Captain America film is the film that did the impossible by making Captain America cool. The Winter Soldier felt like Marvel’s first foray into different types of films that weren’t all part of the same formula in that ‘The Winter Soldier’ was essentially a political thriller (it started a trend where Spider-Man: Homecoming was a John Hughe’s esque High School movie, Ant-Man a heist film, etc.) inside a superhero film. It is often referred to as the best film in the MCU (it has some stiff competition with Black Panther being released recently) and so the third film in this trilogy, Captain America: Civil War, had a lot to live up to. It not only did that it may have surpassed The Winter Soldier in that it managed to make an Avengers film into a Captain America movie. While basically every character in the MCU was part of Civil War, the writer/directors in the Russo Brothers still found a way to balance that, add two new characters in Black Panther and Spider-Man and also really make this film a continuation of the Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes story that began back in The First Avenger. If you’re into Marvel comics you really can’t beat these three films, even if the third feels more like an Avengers movie than a Captain America one. If not for that it’d be higher on this list, but it’s also forgiven because it gave us that airport scene. Goo.
3. Star Wars
How is the original Star Wars trilogy this low on the list? Behind a trilogy that had Bane as the antagonist in the third film? Well, these lists are all about generating clicks and so it’s time that we all, as adults, have a conversation that has needed to be discussed since the 1980’s. That’s that… Hopefully you’re sitting down… The Return of the Jedi isn’t a good movie. There, it’s in writing. It’s official. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best movies of all-time, people talk about it when they list the best sequels ever, as it was just so damn perfect. It changed the game by blowing everyone’s mind with the most famous line that’s ever been uttered in Hollywood history “[Luke], I am your father” (“Luke” is in brackets because Darth Vader actually says, “No, I am your father”, which people use as proof that we’re living in a simulation that went back and changed the code in The Empire Strikes Back). That film was so good that George Lucas and the writers and directors who deserve a lot of credit for what they did (especially Lawrence Kasdan), especially in reigning Lucas in. Empire was based on a story by Lucas, as was Jedi, however the difference is that Empire was written by Kasdan and two other writers, where as Jedi was written by Kasdan and Lucas. Because of how dark Empire was, Lucas wanted to go lighter for the final film and also sell some merchandise in terms of toys, especially. So, he created the “super cute” Ewoks, who were basically tiny Teddy Bears that somehow used sticks and massive upper body strength to beat men in armor to death? Sure, the scenes on the new Death Star were amazing, between Vader/Skywalker and the Emperor, however basically everything on Endor was just Lucas trying to sell some toys and because of that the film is just a basic letdown from the perfect that was Empire and because that movie was so amazing people extend it’s goodwill through Jedi. That’s why it’s third on this list, Empire (and A New Hope) are that good, but because of the Ewoks, who weren’t as bad as Jar Jar Binks but were close enough, it just can’t be listed above the great top two.
2. Toy Story
Toy Story, not number one?!? Blasphemy, some of you will say, but this list ended up being a lot more difficult than originally anticipated as you have to balance which fanboys/girls to offend over which fangirls/boys to offend. Sure, The Toy Story trilogy is damn near perfect, especially the first and third ones, and actually they were so perfect that people fear that they’re making a fourth film considering what has happened to other damn near perfect trilogies making new films (see: Indiana Jones and the Nuking the Fridge, The Star Wars prequels, Some people’s thoughts on the new Star Wars films, etc.). The first Toy Story was similar to Iron Man in that it changed how animated films would look, forever. It was the first full-length feature film that was entirely created on computers and it still looks amazing to this day. It blew people’s minds not solely because of the way it looked but also because it was an amazing story. The second film wasn’t as good as the first but still is a great film. On RottenTomatoes.com the three films have scores of 100%, 100% and 99%. That’s really hard to argue against, and you have to wonder who the one person was that gave the third film a negative review. Perhaps they just cried too hard when Andy gave his toys away to that new girl, which was a perfect ending to this franchise that is far too profitable to just actually give away like Andy did.
1. The Dark Knight
This may surprise some people as people look at The Dark Knight Trilogy as two great films and one mediocre one, but considering the actual story arc of Bruce Wayne and how Christopher Nolan is said to not have really wanted to do a third film but was coaxed into it, you’d think that deep down he always was planning on doing a third film he just felt bad after Heath Ledger died and didn’t know what to do. I say that because Bruce Wayne as a character really needed that third film for his story to be complete, as if the second film was the final film in the franchise he’d essentially always be Batman and there’d be no end to what he clearly didn’t want to do forever (per what he talked to Rachel about). The Dark Knight Rises was always going to be a letdown from The Dark Knight as Heath Ledger gave the performance of millions of lifetimes, and we do need to acknowledge how amazing he was in the perfect film that was The Dark Knight. It’s because of that film and that performance that this trilogy is atop this list, but instead of explaining the obvious (that The Dark Knight is the best superhero film (or perhaps film) ever), let’s talk about Rises and why it’s better than people give it credit for. Before the Joker “won” at the end of Dark Knight, Wayne was talking to Rachel about giving up the cape and cowl as he felt that Harvey Dent was going to be the “hero with a face” that Gotham needed. What’s great about Rises is that it shows just how impactful his battle with the Joker was. He was broken, physically and mentally, as he lost his only real hope for a regular life in Rachel and basically ended up as a shut-in in his rebuilt mansion. Because they couldn’t go back to The Joker in the final film, it made sense that they went back to the first film and the League of Shadows, and that was the best way for them to give Bruce Wayne his just due. As an audience, we needed to see him happy and married, as we were the Alfred’s at the end of that movie. So, Rises gave the Dark Knight something we never thought we’d see from the “Grim-dark” and “gritty” franchise, a happy ending and that’s why The Dark Knight Trilogy is the best trilogy EVER.