I have always loved the idea of a movie trilogy (probably because I was such a Star Wars kid), they always seemed like complete works of art. This is part of the reason why I am so fine with the Hobbit becoming a trilogy. I decided to compile this list of some great movie trilogies that might not jump to your mind when talking about trilogies. So I didn’t include stuff like the Godfather, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, or Back to the Future etc, because those are pretty obvious. The first three are unofficial trilogies, they have the same director and thematic material, but they don’t share characters (If only At World’s End was out, I would definitely have added The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy). One thing that most trilogies share is that the third entry is usually the weakest (Godfather, Spider Man, X-men etc). I have been thinking about this phenomenon for a while. It could be that filmmakers get lazy when they get to the third entry, they ran out of story to tell, or any other number of things. While movies fail for myriad reasons, if there is actually a statistical difference with the reception of the third entries, I believe I’ve figured out a big reason for this. Imagine a theoretically successful movie that has the potential to be a franchise. The sequel is made. This sequel can either be successful or not. If it is not successful, then it is less likely that a third film will be made. Therefore, when you think about trilogies that have weak third films, that isn’t that surprising when you factor in the potential trilogies that had weak second films and thus weren’t able to complete the trilogy (think Conan, Ghostbusters etc). Regardless, on to the trilogies.
The Three Mothers
Films: Suspiria, Inferno, The Mother of Tears
Dario Argento’s first non-Giallo film (Giallo is a genre of Italian horror film that are usually violent stylized mysteries that were a big influence on the slasher genre) was the amazing Suspiria. Argento brought in supernatural elements, witches, that help give the film its dreamlike and almost fairytalesque quality. Many consider it to be Argento’s masterpiece. Inferno doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Suspiria but it has beautiful visuals and a similar dream logic (some believe to a fault). The Mother of Tears was made much later (2007 versus 1977 and 1980) and doesn’t have the visual wonder that the other films have. Besides sharing Argento as the director, the movies belong to a shared universe in which three ancient witches cause bloodshed. Each film deals with a different witch:
Suspira – Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs,
Inferno – Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness
The Mother of Tears – Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears
Does the third movie suck: Unfortunately, it is pretty bad, the acting and story are weak.
The Gates of Hell
Films: City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery
Lucio Fulci, one of my favorite directors, made some of the best zombie movies ever. All three movie share a similar aesthetic and are very brutal and gory. They share a similar conceit–a gate to hell has been open and insanity spill forth. These should only be viewed by those with a strong stomach.
Does the third movie suck: Nope, though it is the most different of the entries. It isn’t as apocalyptic or brutal, and it is slower paced, but it it filled with tension and very well made.
Films: Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance
Oh man these movies are so good. I bought an import Video CD of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance when it first came out in Korea and was blow away. The other two films in this unofficial trilogy are as good if not better (in the case of Oldboy) than the first. Oldboy is one of the best movies to come out of the 2000s and contains one of my favorite (possibly favorite) fight scenes of all time–the hammer fight. Brutal and visually stunning, these films all explore the tragic nature of the quest for revenge.
Does the third movie suck: Not at all.
Films: Ginger Snaps, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
I love the first Ginger Snaps movie, it has a brilliant concept–making werewolfism an allegory for puberty. I really like the sequel. I was planning on writing an article about great sequels to movies that don’t lend themselves to be sequelized, but I could only think of two movies: Before Sunset and Ginger Snaps: Unleashed. So yeah, the second film is pretty great. The third movie is a prequel and it just isn’t as strong as the first two.
Does the third movie suck: There is some good stuff in it, but it isn’t as good as the first two.
Films: Pusher, With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II, I’m the Angel of Death: Pusher III
Nicolas Winding Refn started his directorial career with Pusher, a solid 90s gritty gangster flick. The main character, Frank, is a drug dealer who ends up owing a lot of money to an unsavory character and we follow him on his quest to raise the money. The movie is elevated by two (IMHO) superior sequels. Pusher II follows the exploits of the Frank’s friend who is played by the great Mads Mikkelson. Pusher III focuses on the gangster villain of the first two films. By having the sequels focus on ancillary characters, none of the films feel like retreads of earlier installments, instead they serve to make the universe feel more real and deepen the themes and characters from earlier movies. With Drive and Bronson Nicolas Winding Refn has proved himself to be an important filmmaker and it is more than worth your time to dive into his back catalog.
Does the third movie suck: No, it’s actually my favorite
Films: Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980, Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983
If you like crime movies and mysteries you should really watch this trilogy. Make sure you watch them in quick succession though. The films are very tightly interconnected and share many of the same characters so you will get lost very quickly if you don’t have the previous installments fresh in your mind. I watched them all in a row, and even then got a little lost during the third movie. But don’t let that dissuade you, the films are a rewarding and unique experience-a character from the second movie might be investigating events that we saw play out in the first, we discover character motivation in the third film that shed light on actions we saw in the first two etc. It is amazing to watch this mystery unfold over such a long time and interact with so many different characters.
Does the third movie suck: No, they are all great.