Best Movie Trilogies: Grading The Most Memorable

The other day a spirited discussion was launched at my workplace about movie trilogies. One stood firm that the “Star Wars” trilogy remains the best, whereas the other stated that the “Lord of the Rings” is a far superior trilogy as a whole.

This immediately made me think of an episode of Phineas and Ferb titled, “Nerds of a Feather." At a comic-con type of event, brothers Phineas and Ferb find themselves on opposite ends of the “sci-fi vs. fantasy” brawl which culminates in a Braveheart-ish clash of epic nerd proportion. But I digress.

Both co-workers have reasons to stand their ground. On one hand, the sci-fi community has always had an upper hand on fantasy because of their ability to bring futuristic technology and ideology to the forefront of storytelling. Light sabers, blaster weapons, cool transportation and the Force. All of which can be used to build on a story that has its roots based on a common theme of “good vs evil.” Fantasy uses none of this technology, and instead builds its foundation on the imagination and the fairy-tale type story that we grew up with as kids.

This debate started me to think about trilogies, and some of the most popular ones ever made.

Start Wars Trilogy (IV, V, VI)

For many people my age, this was the first complete movie trilogy ever made. If you don’t count the multiple James Bond movies made in the 60s and 70s, which don’t typically continue the character development or story so much in a linear fashion, Star Wars was special.

Despite the changes Lucas made to update the special affects in 2004, and the ones that are also out on DVD Blu-ray, the trilogy completed a mythology that compounded movie upon movie. The ground breaking “Star Wars: A New Hope,” was followed by the equally impressive, “The Empire Strikes Back” leaving the audience breathless to what would unfold in the “Return of the Jedi” now that the Darth Vader revealed himself as Luke’s father.

The conclusion to the trilogy was a mixture of sadness and happiness, with a solid closure to the epic struggle of good and bad.

What Didn’t Work

Ewoks seems to be the biggest gripe from Star Wars Loyalists. My co-worker refers to them as teddy bears, which in defense to George Lucas, was probably the intent and probably made a huge merchandising payday for him.

I get that the Ewoks symbolize the dominance of nature’s power over technology, as evident in how the Ewoks overpowered the Storm Troopers with rocks, ropes and slingshots. But if it J.R.R Tolkien couldn’t completely make it work in Middle Earth (see below), why would Lucas think it would work on Endor.

Grade: B+

The Lord of the Rings

One may argue that The Lord of the Rings trilogy has a definite advantage over other trilogies, mainly because the movies were an interpretation of the J.R.R Tolkien’s best-selling novels. Director Peter Jackson had a definite road map to follow, and as a fan of the novels, I was very impressed with the trilogy as a whole. All three movies followed the novels pretty well, and those story lines that were left out or changed had good reason to be. For instance, Tom Bombadil would have been pretty hard to explain, and would have taken up too much time out of and already long story.

But let’s be honest. Not everyone has read the novels. There were some elements in the movie trilogy that just wouldn’t make sense to the non-informed Tolkien follower.

What Didn’t’ Work

If Star Wars’ Achilles heel was the Ewoks, then Peter Jackson had talking trees (Ents). In Peter Jackson’s defense, it’s not like he could just uproot that part of the story since they were an integral part of the fight against Saruman the White. But talking trees?

It has been well documented of Tolkien’s pro-nature, anti-industrial stance on society. His strong views of industry polluting the world, is derived from person experience. This theme is evident in the movie, “The Two Towers” where Saruman’s factory pollutes the land through the production of war machines called Orcs.

Ok. But talking trees?

Also, many of my friends always point out the multiple endings in the “Return of the King.” Yes, there were multiple endings, but guess what? There were actually a few more that weren’t in the movie. Count your lucky stars.

If you haven’t already, read the book, you might just be surprised at how much you like it.

Grade: A

The Bourne Trilogy

The Bourne Trilogy, in my opinion is a must see. If you can get beyond Matt Damon as an action hero, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what the trilogy has to offer.

The first movie, “The Bourne Identity” is a movie that can stand on its own but works perfectly with the sequels to further the story. Sometimes it seems like the sequels are more like afterthoughts rather than part of a cohesive whole. This is not that trilogy.

The Bourne Supremacy was an excellent follow up to the original, but the third movie, “The Bourne Ultimatum” is a work of art. Director Paul Greengrass does an excellent job of tying the last two movies together almost as a cohesive movie of its own. “The Bourne Ultimatum” leads the audience to believe the movie is starting in present day after the flashback in Russia. As the movie progresses, it then becomes apparent that the ending of the second movie, “The Bourne Supremacy,” is actually an action packed starting point towards the end of the third movie. The unfolding is a surprise one step below that of learning Kevin Spacey was Keyser Soze.

What Didn’t Work

Nothing comes to mind.

Grade: A+

The Godfather Trilogy

Francis Ford Coppola’s movie, “The Godfather” is obviously a movie that has reached iconic status already. With memorable performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall, this film deserves to be the classic movie it has become.

The second film was a great effort to continue the story of the Corleone empire, while providing an excellent context into the early life of Don Vito, played by none other than a young Robert Deniro. This movie also has the potential to be a classic, but there is one thing that could keep it from reaching that status.

What Didn’t Work

The only reason why Godfather: Part II would have no chance at being a movie classic would be Godfather: Part III. When you are sandwiched between greatness, and pure badness, you tend to get overlooked or forgotten.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to has stated that Godfather:Part III should have either:

  1. Had a better story.
  2. Had a better Mary Corleone.
  3. Never had been made.

Grade: B

Honorable Mentions

The Matrix

The first movie had groundbreaking special effects and some awesome fight and gun play scenes. It is definitely a movie to have in your collection as a stand-alone movie. However, this is a trilogy where the sequels appear to be afterthoughts rather than a cohesive whole. The Matrix Reloaded seemed to exist for the additional CGI and high wire fight scenes. The Matrix Revolutions was just tiresome.

Indiana Jones

The Indiana Jones movies are technically no longer a trilogy, since the ”Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was made. Also, the movies didn’t follow a linear or continuous path, which really makes it a series of stand-alone stories with the same character. Similar to the James Bond and Jack Ryan movies.

Back to the Future

Fun movies and clever. I remember actually being in the movie theater watching Part II when it ended on a cliffhanger. They actually tossed up on the big screen the words, “To be continued” at the end of the movie. It made me mad but at the same time I had to be impressed that a movie would dare to mess with their audience in this manner.

The Mighty Ducks

This was Mike Eisner’s attempt to introduce and market Disney’s “mockey” team to generate cash into his coffers. I can’t believe they made three of these movies.

Vote For Your Favorite Movie Trilogy

What is your favorite movie trilogy?

  • Start Wars Trilogy (IV, V, VI)
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Bourne Trilogy
  • The Godfather Trilogy
  • Other
See results without voting

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