The best movie trilogies of all time
The issue with the movie trilogy is that it only really takes one sub-standard movie to ensure that the three-part work isn’t remembered well by cinema-goers. Therefore the art of making a good trilogy isn’t just one great film and a couple of average sequels, it’s about three fine films, all of which build upon the original story and take the viewer on a journey that is concluded in a satisfying way at the end of the story arc.
Different forms of cinematic trilogies exist. There are the seminal blockbusters that helped shape cinematic history, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. There are also trilogies when the films have a similar concept or idea and hence are “spiritually” related. Each film in a series, for whatever reason it was made, should enhance the preceding and succeeding entries.
Some of the film trilogies we have included below did eventually go on to become collections of more than three films, but for the purposes of this list we are only including the original trilogies.
Here are our picks for the top 10 cinematic trilogies of all time.
If you are ready, we will begin…
Indiana Jones trilogy
When it comes to action-adventure films, the original Indiana Jones trilogy set a new standard as Harrison Ford brought alive the role of the adventuring archaeologist. After 40 years, Indy’s exploits are still as much fun to watch as they were when he first appeared on film. The trilogy consists of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984) and The Last Crusade in 1989.
From the classic boulder dash to the revolting monkey brains dinner, the movies are full of unforgettable scenes that stick with you long after you’ve seen them. The cinematography in Steven Spielberg’s films produced by George Lucas is superb, perfectly portraying the atmosphere of mystery and tension set up by the tales.
Three Colours trilogy
In terms of cinematic trilogies, the Three Colours trilogy stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. These three films provide some of the most moving and insightful depictions of – and insights into- the human condition ever captured on film.
Featuring the work of prominent Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kielowski and co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the Three Colours trilogy consists of two French films and one Polish film (in French, the trilogy is known as Trois couleurs; nonetheless, we shall keep to English titles for consistency). Each film represents a different hue from the French flag: blue (freedom), white (equality), and red (fraternity).
It’s not easy watching – but these intellectually challenging and deeply emotional films together will deliver the viewer a fantastic reward.
Ridley Scott’s masterwork Alien in 1979 starring Sigourney Weaver kicked off a film franchise that would actually go way beyond the three films and would also spawn a successful video game franchise – however, for many the original three movies are at the heart of this story.
Following the fortunes of Ripley as she battle against enemies in space where famously no one can hear you scream, this series which consists of the pluralised sequel Aliens in 1986 directed by James Cameron and Alien 3 in 1992 directed by David Fincher is a compelling piece of cinema that will forever be remembered as one of the best pieces of science fiction on screen.
Matt Damon brings alive Robert Ludlum’s character Jason Bourne in these fantastic action packed movies that in the early 2000s rivalled James Bond for spy-action thrill on the big screen. Consisting of The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) the trilogy tells the compelling story of a CIA agent who has selective amnesia who finds himself on the run. He must now fight his way to safety through a maze of secrets and homicidal conspiracies, lead by Carlos, the world’s deadliest assassin.
Die Hard trilogy
Is Die Hard a Christmas film, I hear you ask? Well, it doesn’t matter because we’re talking about three Die Hard films here – but the answer is of course yes, it is a Christmas film!
Starring Bruce Willis as New York cop John McClane who gets caught up in terrorist plots, the Die Hard trilogy is close to being one of the perfect action series ever to have been made. A cop in a tower v terrorists, a cop in a crowded airport v terrorists and finally a copy playing Simon Says with terrorists, this is a movie series that continues to wow audiences still today.
Consisting of Die Hard (1988), Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard with A Vengeance (1995) this is a film series that all trilogy fans must watch.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
For many years it was considered a near impossible task to bring Tolkien’s Middle Earth to life on the cinema screens beyond animation, but Peter Jackson was equal to this task with his breathtaking trilogy that wowed cinema audiences for three consecutive Christmases in the early Noughties. Consisting of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) the series is so good because of its incredible ambition, fantastic attention to detail, exceptional storytelling – and of course who could forget the stunning backdrop of Jackson’s native New Zealand that formed a beautiful realisation of Middle Earth on our screens.
Star Wars trilogy
George Lucas’s original space opera trilogy changed the face of filmmaking forever and delivered a story that captured the imagination of audiences all over the world. And although now the story has been sequelled, prequelled and spun off in every direction on television and in animated adventures, it is very hard to argue that the original three films will ever be beaten in terms of Star Wars, or in terms of trilogies in cinema.
Consisting of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), these are movies that have stood the test of time and will continue to delight audiences with adventure in a galaxy far, far away for many more generations.
Back to the Future trilogy
Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s adventures take them on many adventures in time and have often been regarded as one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic terms by fans of the science fiction community. It all began with Back to the Future (1985), with Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990) bringing to a close an almost perfect journey.
Filled with wit, action, adventure and a cracking soundtrack, this is a trilogy that never seems to lose its magic, and despite taking viewers on a journey to the past, the future and the wild west – it always takes the audience with them through the excellent characterisation of the leads.
Toy Story trilogy
When Toy Story first arrived from Pixar in 1995, it was hailed as a huge move forward in CGI technology and in many ways it set the gold standard for this sort of family entertainment for many decades to come. However, far more than that, the story of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang changed the way family films were made for another reason, it brought alive a story and a world for both children and adults in storytelling that was so compelling that everyone couldn’t wait for more.
Therefore when Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010) took audiences on a journey that would have them laugh and cry (and in many cases literally grow up with the franchise) it is no wonder the original trilogy is still seen as such a classic.
Although Toy Story 4 in 2019 was good, it felt like an epilogue more than a part of the original coming of age story of Andy, and so the trilogy remains unchallenged in those terms.
The Godfather trilogy
Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant and epic adaptations of the equally fantastic books by Mario Puzo continue to be regarded as some of the most brilliant films ever made, and with it the best film trilogies. It remains a series that has the oddity of many believing the sequel is better than the original film – but wherever you stand on that you cannot take your eyes off this incredible story of immigration, the American dream and dysfunctional families and loyalty.
Beginning with The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) there was a long gap before The Godfather: Part III in 1990s, which many still say is the weakest link in the chain – however, even if this is the case, the weakest link is still much stronger than many of the best films from this genre made elsewhere. A masterpiece that throughout the trilogy gives us epic performances from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and James Caan to name but a few.
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