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The Best Movie Trilogies

Having only just been officially released in theaters, Matt Reeve’s War for the Planet of the Apes is already being heralded as being one of the best endings to any trilogies. With that in mind, we decided to look back at what are the best trilogies of all time. Let us know in the comments what your favorite trilogies are.

15. Spider-Man

Many people (notably younger viewers) like to unfairly dismiss Sam Raimi’s bouncy, rambunctious, deeply inspired Spider-Man trilogy as excessively corny, exceedingly goofy and overly maudlin. But we consider that to be the key to the colorful, buoyant, overwhelming success. Filled with more wit, heart, pulpiness and creative style than most superhero blockbusters could ever dream to muster, even by our modern standards, Spider-Man 1-3 — and yes, we’re including Spider-Man 3. Don’t @ us — certainly weren’t the first superhero blockbusters to swing into the Hollywood scene, but they’re undoubtedly what that made our seemingly unending superhero franchise model what it is today. Led with plucky, wide-eyed earnestness and openhearted charm by Tobey Maguire, in a lead performance that still never gets enough respect (and sadly might never will), Raimi’s passion, invigoration, inventiveness, sensationalism and unabashed sentimentality bleed onto every single splashy frame, resulting in a cinematic trilogy that’s unquestionably the very fine work of one of our recognizable, energized working filmmakers. As a result, Raimi’s lively Spider-Man film trilogy is among the few comic book franchises to truly capture the fluidity and fervor of its paneled source material. Even in today’s superhero hero-obsessed climate, Raimi’s webby cinematic trifecta remains unparalleled and undaunted in its success. No matter how fatigued we might become with this genre, Raimi’s winning high budget, high spectacle three-part extravaganza will always leave our spidey senses tingling. [Will Ashton]

14. Evil Dead

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series is the little trilogy that could. Produced under $100,000 in the early ’80s when Raimi was just 20 years old, the original Evil Dead was a simple H.P. Lovecraft-inspired cabin indie horror that inspired a depraved and riotously blood-thirsty (and catchphrase-loving) movie generation to come, later resulting in two wacky, wildly engaging follow-up installments, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, that weren’t quite as horrifying as the original but were memorable, quotable and very, very lovable in their own quirky, endearing little ways. Carried on the shoulders of his chin-heavy lead star Bruce Campbell, a lifelong friend of the filmmaker, the Evil Dead trilogy sought to combine Raimi’s love of horror with his wicked admiration for Three Stooges slapstick comedy, resulting in one of the most original and addictively entertaining horror/comedy trilogies of all-time. And the goodness continued just a few years ago when the excellent Starz original late night series Ash vs. Evil Dead took over the thrones to enjoyably zany, gory and delightfully bizarre results. There was also a surprisingly good 2013 remake which continued to showcase producers Raimi and Campbell’s appreciation for blooming young talent — something they once were themselves during Evil Dead’s looney, ultra-gory heyday. Raimi should rightfully be proud. His legacy was fermented through the rest of his extensive filmography, but Evil Dead will always reign as king, baby. [Will Ashton]

13. The Matrix

We agree that not everything about the “Matrix” series worked from start to finish. There was silly plot developments, too much reliance on religious allegory that went no where and an abundance of slow motion CGI. However, when it worked it was something refreshingly new. The Wachowski’s created a definitive benchmark in science fiction films, introducing a new format for action films and just how big and bold those stories could be. [Allyson Johnson]

12. Planet of the Apes

This trilogy may have just released its conclusionary entry, but it has already earned its place as one of the best cinematic trilogies to date. Each film offers a distinctly different tone and approach, but ultimately fit together as the films evolve with their protagonists. Rise of the Planet of the Apes brings us the much-needed and inevitable origin story. It is well-acted and provides the right amount of narrative exposition to pique our interest in exploring the world further. Things begin to get more exciting when writer/director Matt Reeves takes the helm for Dawn and War for the Planet of the Apes. Reeves begins to craft a civilization and further develop the mythos, all while creating enough conflicts and power struggles to keep the more action-minded audience entertained. Dawn made an excellent second entry because it not only exponentially built upon the basic information presented in the first, but also begins to persuade the audience to side not with the humans, but with the apes.

The biggest downfall of trilogies are the way they end. The final film is always put in the precarious position of justifying the time and commitment of the two films leading up to it. War for the Planet of the Apes not only rewards your commitment, but also makes you feel appreciated for it. War delivers a film that channels the epics of the old Hollywood golden age (like The Ten Commandments), complete with an Oscar-worthy score from Michael Giacchino to match. The homage Reeves pays to westerns, war films and even comedies is apparent, but at no point does it cheapen the film. He creates a contemporary classic with those elements (and Andy Serkis’ expert performance throughout the trilogy), while also delivering a more than satisfying, substantial story to match the emphasis on its style. The closure you receive at the end of the film makes the three film journey worth it. [Jon Espino]

11. Back to the Future

Even with one movie, time travel can be really hard to bring to the screen. Filmmakers need to be aware of plot holes that other dimensions can bring and how they can affect current timelines. Back to the Future is one of the only movies that handles the concept with ease. Director Robert Zemeckis never truly takes it seriously and doesn’t bother with much science fiction jargon to explain it. He just has fun with it and uses it merely as a backdrop for Marty Mcfly’s own story.

What makes Back to the Future so great is that it’s not a typical action-heavy franchise. It’s a very personal series and uses character development to move the story forward. Every line of dialogue matters, and every plot point is resolved in a believable way. Zemeckis created such a distinct world that never contradicted itself, even with three movies. But what really drives this trilogy are the iconic characters in the center of it. We never know how a punk like Marty Mcfly became friends with Doc Brown, and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. You’re more focusing on their exchanges and scenes that they share together. If this film were to be remade, it would be impossible to recreate the chemistry they had together. [Yasmin Kleinbart]

10. Captain America

Trilogies are not easy to make; they often suffer from uneven characterization and writing because of the constant shift of writers and directors. The Captain America trilogy is so good because writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have written all three screenplays and have kept Steve Rogers consistent. Each film may have a different tone, but they never sacrifice characterization for it. Instead, they aim to mesh the characters together so naturally. Whether it’s Black Widow, Bucky, or Falcon, they all make an impact in the trilogy and are more than just sidekicks. The writers show that these three people have helped Steve in  one way or another such as gaining courage to fight or adapting to a brand new era. While the action is some of the best in the franchise, it’s the character dynamic that keeps us coming back for more. [Yasmin Kleinbart]

9. Indiana Jones 1-3

Steven Spielberg, even with the occasional sleepers, is a master of action-adventure cinema and he’s found such success in his decades of high caliber work by honing in on what makes a protagonist compelling. Case in point? Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. A large part of the success of all three films (including a ridiculous second and kind of silly third) is Ford’s astronomical charisma that allowed Jones to be so innately likable. On top of that there’s the scale, the slow, simmer action set pieces and sense of childlike glee and sense of adventure that Spielberg brought to all three installments. [Allyson Johnson]

8. Toy Story

Every now and then, a piece of pop culture comes along and gets so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. And Pixar has become an essential part of our moviegoing experience. Imagine a world without A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and WALL-E, or Up. The company almost seemed to arrive fully formed when their first feature, Toy Story, was released in 1995. The film, which revolved around a colorful cast of anthropomorphic talking toys, was the first to be entirely computer-animated, and was deemed both revolutionary and an instant classic. It also set the tone for what we could expect not only for the next two films in the series, but for every Pixar offering that came after (for the most part anyway). Each Toy Story entry used fantastic animation and visuals, along with smart, deeply imaginative characters, and a story that cleverly explored very dark, adult themes and issues in a bright, colorful, family-friendly way that didn’t condescend to children or their parents. In its own way, each explored a search for purpose and meaning. The first was about the fear of losing it. The second was about outliving it. The third showed us how to find it afresh. Over 20 years later, Toy Story deservedly remains one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. [Andrea Thompson]

7. The Dark Knight Trilogy

Christian Bale gives one of his best performances as Bruce Wayne/Batman; the fact that Bale, a serious actor, put obvious thought and care into his leading role in a superhero movie gave comic book films going forward a legitimacy they might not otherwise have had. Heath Ledger as the Joker, obviously, is the one of the iconic film villains of all time. For Ledger’s performance alone, this trilogy would be one of the most important ever produced. And with an almost impossibly strong secondary cast including Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, and Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight series is likely the best-acted superhero series to date.
While Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were very much underserved by The Dark Knight Rises, the strength of those first two installments (and especially The Dark Knight) made Nolan’s iteration of Batman the definitive big-screen Batman of our time (sorry, Batfleck). From the carefully considered aesthetics to the strong, dynamic, occasionally poignant performances, these films, perhaps more so than any other, shaped the future of superhero cinema which we now experience every week at the box office. Come to think of it, without The Dark Knight, we may never have gotten Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad… scratch everything I just said, none of this was worth it. [Eli Fine]

6. The Cornetto Trilogy

Also known as the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy due to its at-times splatstick style of violence, the Cornetto trilogy is one of the most subversive in cinema history. I mean what other series could you compare to one whose movies are connected by three ice cream flavors, all of which are utilized as a color that symbolizes a key aspect of the respective movies. Helmed by vintage auteur Edgar Wright and the brotherly duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the trio took their love of three unique film genres and paid tribute to them by means of genius parody and inventive visual comedy. The first entry in the series, Shaun of the Dead, is a brilliant send-up of the zombie apocalypse genre popularized by George A. Romero, and 2007’s Hot Fuzz does the same for the buddy cop genre, and has arguably the best ever parody of a classic scene from the original Point Break. The trilogy ended on a perfect note with 2013’s The World’s End, which while a great dissection of classic science fiction movies, was also very poignant in the development of the friendship between Pegg and Frost’s characters. Although all three movies feature different characters and genre parodies, they are all the same thanks to the sharp writing and Wright’s trademark style for visual comedy. The fast-paced, witty transitions for either jumps between locations or mundane character actions are especially noteworthy, all of which have apt usage of the zoom and whip pan camera techniques. To sum up, watching this trilogy is a necessity because it’s an awe-inspiring learning course on how to perfectly blend acute screenwriting and whip-smart technicality into making next-level movies in the comedy genre.[Tyler Christian]

5. Star Wars

Sure, trilogies existed before Star Wars, and some great ones have come after. But this is the trilogy that took the very concept of trilogies into the stratosphere. Star Wars had a story that took a familiar hero’s journey and updated it for modern audiences by adding characters we loved, whether they were human, alien, or robotic, along with some instantly iconic villains, great effects, and a princess with an actual personality who was equal parts tough, vulnerable, snarky, and optimistic. (RIP Carrie Fisher.) She held her own alongside the male heroes and fell in love as she fought beside them. It’s also practically a masterclass in worldbuilding, as it all took place in a vast galaxy brimming with a dizzying array of planets and environments, each with their own rules and hierarchies. Of course, there was also The Force, a power so strong it would dominate nerdy fantasies ever after, spawning vast amounts of movie spin-offs, not to mention comics, books, TV shows, games, and fan fiction, which has become a universe unto itself. Star Wars became so beloved that no one, not even the franchise itself could lessen fan appreciation during the years when Lucas brought us the much-maligned prequels. And now that Disney is in the midst of a new trilogy that has been lauded by audiences and critics alike, Star Wars seems to have the attained the enviable status of an essentially unkillable franchise. [Andrea Thompson]

4. The Godfather

If it weren’t for the often derided third entry to the Godfather series, this would likely be further up on the list. Taking just in the first two entries, the films are the apex of prestige cinema. Demonstrating a distinct style while also allowing those at the top of their craft to show off just what makes them legends in film history, the series is a masterclass in great filmmaking. The first two shows the breakdown and unraveling of men’s psyche, caught up in ego, pride and the need for power and each installment brings both a sense of dread as we always have the nudge in the back of our mind saying our characters are in peril, along with the excitement of watching thrilling storytelling be executed so well. [Allyson Johnson]

3. The Three Colors Trilogy

The Krzysztof Kieślowski directed trilogy is admittedly not your by the numbers series but, there’s the denying the thematic link. A trilogy based more on moods, atmospheres and ideas than strictly storylines, the films allow us three stories to fully immerse ourselves in with different humanistic explorations. Each film is loosely based on one of the three political ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity in the French Republic motto, there’s also an ambiguity to the films and the themes their representing. What makes it such a wonderful trilogy, beyond each film being remarkable in it’s own right, is that you never doubt that they’re intrinsically linked, even if it’s never quite so obvious. [Allyson Johnson]

2. Before Sunrise Trilogy

A trilogy that defies most typical conventions, Richard Linklater’s “Before” series are masterclasses in filmmaking. Creating an atmosphere of electrifying chemistry in Before Sunrise and carrying that over into the want and fear of lost opportunities in Before Sunset to the idea of faltering dreams and diminishing returns in Before Midnight, the series moves from the soul catching to soul crushing. Shot over the course of 20 years allowed for the actors and filmmaker to mature in a manner that made each installment all the more sobering and less whimsical, as the characters become increasingly caught up in what it means to be in a long term relationship. Moving at a slow if steady clip, it’s easy to see why people might be derailed from watching the film due to it’s meditative pace but despite what it may appear to be, the series is one of the most enthralling ever. You cannot pull your eyes away while Jesse and Celine are onscreen, and if you do it’s at your own loss. [Allyson Johnson]

1. Lord of the Rings

Few films in the history of cinema have managed the sheer magic that was in the adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkein’s wildly popular series. Managing to stay true to the source material while also deviating just enough so that the films could retain it’s audiences attention, the films failed to ever really falter throughout their entire run (not counting anything to do with The Hobbit of course). From the excellent, uncanny casting where characters embodied by Viggo Mortenson and Ian McKellan seemed to simply walk off the pages, a score that told it’s own story in parallel to the linear screenplay and visuals that allowed the audience to be transported into these mythical places, allowing to feel as if we were breathing the same air as the Middle Earth inhabitants, the series always felt special. Peter Jackson understood the precious cargo he was handling and always had a keen eye for intimate moments while the bigger, more grandiose moments were taking place. There was beauty in the relationships and stunning imagery in the scale they used and all of it culminated to the greatest, most carefully detailed trilogy of all time.

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