Jack's "Holy Trilogies" - A Top Ten Ranking of my Favorite Three-Part Film Franchises
All great things come in threes. Tripod legs, Wolverine's claws, Kylo Ren's light saber blades and even the live action Spider-Men work together to make a trio. Another highly notable thing that comes in threes is acts to a story which are always essential to story telling, and one of the best way movie directors will do that is by making a trilogy of films, each movie being one act of a larger story. The creation of "trilogies" was a genius idea and fantastic development for story telling, because emotional buildup and plot set up over the course of three movies paying off in a final chapter is a fantastic method of story telling that I really enjoy.
In this blog post, I will be going over my top ten favorite movie trilogies while explaining why they're up there by analyzing the best parts of the trilogies' character arcs, story concepts, pop cultural impact and more.
10 - The Madagascar Trilogy (2008-2012)
While Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa may be a flawed movie that doesn't really have a straight forward plot, the other two Madagascar films save the trilogy and overall make it a well put together and fantastically finished story. For starters, the characters all have a very interesting dynamic and are all well written. The chemistry between Alex, Marty, Melmin and Gloria is really funny, heartwarming and consistently the best part of the movies because the bromance and romance going on at the same time through the whole saga makes the trilogy great plus the supporting characters like King Julian and the penguins have awesome lines through the whole thing and both were worthy of their solo projects (All Hail King Julian and Penguins of Madagascar).
The first movie has some very powerful moments, like when Alex fears the harm he's capable of inflicting upon his friends while the rest of the gang begins to experience the harsh downsides of the natural world all to Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World (one of the best songs ever written) is an emotional gut punch any day of the week. I'd argue that the best movie in the trilogy is Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted because the ending where they finally make it back to the zoo, the place they've been trying to get to the entire trilogy, and their blown away by how small and boring it is compared to the outside world is great because the three movies work well together to hype up this awesome goal, only to show that the journey to it itself was what made the adventure worth having.
There's really good music in all three movies, I really dig all the incarnations of I Like to Move It through the whole thing as well as all the great songs they put in there such as Firework by Katy Perry , More Than a Feeling by Boston and What a Wonderful World for sure so the Madagascar films all work together to make my tenth favorite film trilogy.
9 - The How to Train Your Dragon Trilogy (2010-2019)
Any Dreamworks fan or lover of animation in general will tell you these movies are simply out of this world. All three of them are super emotionally powerful, funny and all around enjoyable. Toothless and Hiccup's respective character arcs through the series complement each other in an excellent way to create a terrific trilogy and I'd say its the heart of the whole franchise. The way Hiccup is ready to kill Toothless when they first meet so his viking clan will respect him, but then he notices Toothless is just as scared as he is makes a very powerful moment that I myself as a vegetarian can relate to.
The way they have each other's backs through the good times and the bad is epic and when Toothless kills Stoik in a blind rage but Hiccup manages to reach his friend is always super duper amazing to watch and let's face it, who doesn't cry at the end of The Hidden World when all the dragons have to say goodbye to Berkians and Hiccup takes off Toothless' saddle? I'm getting the chills just writing about it!
All the supporting characters as well, I can't let them be forgotten. Stoik's arc of being a better father to Hiccup while opening his mind and seeing dragons as something more than beasts makes him my favorite character, Astrid had good chemistry with Hiccup, Gobber and Fishlegs are super funny and while he may be massively simping someone new each movie, Snotlout is a playfully and well written character. I enjoy each and every How to Train Your Dragon movie a bunch and there's no way I couldn't have them on this list since they are just so, freakishly amazing good.
8 - The Bill & Ted Trilogy (1989-2020)
It's no lie that this trilogy took a long time to complete. 29 years between Bogus Journey and Face the Music is a heck of a while to leave fans and moviegoers waiting, but to say that the completion to this epic saga of bromance, time travel and epic rock music wasn't worth the wait would be complete bullcrap, because all three Bill & Ted movies kick butt. Since I'm not old enough to watch John Wick, this is what I know Keanu Reeves from and I could not ask for a better introduction since these films here are pure gold.
The bravely simple and ridiculous concept is amazing - two idiotic teenagers who don't know how to actually play guitar are destined to write the greatest song in the universe while time travelling to finish their history report and playing Twister with Death himself is fantastic as it is, and very well executed for that matter as well. Every time I watch one of these movies, I can't get all the crazy jokes out of my head for the next week and the song at the end of the final movie creating world unity and universal balance is a perfect climax to the three films.
All the other characters are hilarious as well, not just the titular roles but all the historic figures in the first and third movie are great, Death has some of the best lines ever and his chemistry built around hatred and loyalty for Bill and Ted creates a great dynamic plus his obsession over the bass guitar really reminds me of one of my friends. Bill's stepmom who's his age being married to a different either older or younger member of his or Ted's family each movie is absolutely ludicrous and the respective daughters of Bill and Ted in the third film were both interesting and well written. I just love Bill & Ted so much and there's no question that it's one of my favorite trilogies.
7 - The Toy Story Trilogy (1995-2010)
If you ignore the unnecessary fourth installment with it's god awful ending that ruins the main character's accomplishments from the first three films, you have an amazing trilogy right here. The first three Toy Story movies revolutionized animation since the first movie was the first full length computer animated movie, so if they weren't already cinema for that their concept, story and characters land them into that category with ease.
Just about every trilogy on this list involves some kind of bromance if you look at it. Marty & Alex, Hiccup & Toothless and Bill & Ted all had great friendships for sure but none of them reach the emotional extent that Buzz and Woody reach in each of these three movies. In the first movie, when they come to accept that they both make Andy happy and they should stop competing is really good, and it's topped in the second movie where Woody learns that as long as he's got friends like Buzz than he'll be happy and the third movie where they're all about to get melted makes it more powerful than ever when the greatest friendship in animation history is in the foreground of You've Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman.
The acting and jokes through these movies is really good, and I've just gotta admit there's at least one point in each of these movies that makes me cry like a baby. In the first movie it's when Buzz accepts he's a toy when I Will Go Sailing No More plays, in the second movie it's when after Buzz leaves and Woody puts on the TV where there's a Woody's Roundup episode with You've Got a Friend in Me in it, and lets be real here who doesn't cry at Toy Story 3? I could pretty much write an entire post about everything that makes Toy Story so good and it would be my longest post ever, but we ain't got that kinda time here. In conclusion, it's an amazing trilogy that I can't praise enough.
6 - The Night at the Museum Trilogy (2006-2014)
I don't care what Rotten Tomatoes says, all three of these movies are absolutely amazing. While it may be inter-changable with Toy Story because I love both trilogies a ton, I enjoy all the Night at the Museum movies a bunch and the way they manage to hit both sadness and humor along with this exciting vibe of magic, history and destiny all at once is very incredible and it's made Shawn Levy one of my favorite directors. I'm not even sure where to begin with this.
The concept alone is very creative. The way they make the expression "in the museum, history comes to life" quite literal is awesome and creative, and while the logic of what the tablet does bring to life and not may get kind of flawed here and there it's a good plot device that helps move the story along and it remains a solid macguffin through each movie.
If it wasn't for these movies, I'm not sure I would've ever gotten interested in real world history or Earth Wind & Fire, who's music I've been introduced to by these films and they've since then been one of my favorite bands. All the characters in this series are super well written and serve good purposes to every scene they're in. Larry Daley is an interesting lead who learned good messages about doing what you love and letting your kids grow up, Robin Williams' Teddy Roosevelt was perfectly cast and a fantastic mentor figure, Amy Adams had great chemistry with Ben Stiller while Rami Malek was as awesome as always and to keep up the killer bromance theme, Jed and Octavius happen to be my favorites! They're just so awesome!!
My favorite film in the trilogy has gotta be the middle chapter, The Battle of the Smithsonian. That one does the best job at tying the characters' roles in the stories to their actual impacts and accomplishments in history while having awesome dialogue, chemistry and killer battle scenes. This is also the only movie set at a museum I've been to, so that gives it some extra points on the ol' Jack-o-meter.
The emotional power in the climax of this trilogy as well is a total gut puncher. While Secret of the Tomb may remain the weakest installment, the ending is beautiful and totally tear worthy. When all the magic is about to fade away and they're about to turn to wax, it's super powerful not only when Jed and Octavius hold hands but when Larry thinks Dexter's gonna slap him one last time but he gives him a hug instead it totally rips my heart out! The very ending too, where Larry's moved on in life to become a teacher, and he takes one last look at the museum where he hears all the disco music as the memories all come back to him then the credits roll is a very powerful way to end the trilogy. In conclusion, Night at the Museum is awesome and it's definitely worthy of landing just outside my top five.
5 - The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy (2015-2019)
Yeah, I like the sequels. I think they're really freaking awesome and better than the prequels, and I'm not gonna let anyone tell me otherwise because that's my opinion and I'm entitled to it. Everybody likes to dis on these movies because of directors J. J. Abrams and Ryan Johnson having opposing views on who Rey's parents would be, who would end up with who and what big bad guy they'd be fighting in the final installment but the way Abrams is able to persevere through all of this in Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker and make the worthy climax to an epic 40+ year saga makes it even better, and when you think about the arc with Snoke's death and Palpatine's return it all works well into the ideal trilogy structure.
The sequels truly did something amazing by bringing back classic characters from a legendary franchise and adding new interesting characters to it as well if you ignore Rose and Holdo. Rey has a solid arc through the three movies, she starts out a scavenger girl from nowhere who becomes a legend and learns that the actions of your ancestors don't ruin your future since anyone can be a hero while Poe's one of my all time favorite Star Wars characters and Finn's arc of standing up for what's right and learning to stop running from his fears is fantastic.
Kylo Ren probably has the best arc of all, having the death of his father and the return of his uncle slowly turn him back to the light side and the grand finale where him and Rey take a stand against Darth Sidious is one of the most epic movie moments ever. I also like the treatment they gave to the classic characters as well. Lando, Chewie and Han's respective returns were all epic, Leia was a great mentor figure and you'll hear people complain about them turning Luke into a jerk but they had to so he could have an actual character arc and when he takes on the entire First Order it's very bad ass.
All the themes through the whole trilogy of finding family, accepting who you are, standing up for what you believe in, letting old things die and anyone being capable of amazing accomplishment are awesome and rope the whole thing together into an epic story for sure, and it features some of the coolest space battles and lightsaber duels in the entire Skywalker Saga to a killer John Williams soundtrack, so it will for sure makes it into the top five for me.
4 - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
C'mon, how could this not be in my top five? Google "best film trilogies" right now and I'd bet you all the money in the world you can't find a single one that doesn't at least list Lord of the Rings. It's just so terrific!! One of the greatest works in cinema history for sure. All three of these movies are in IMDB's top 100 and rightfully so because there are countless things that make them so freaking good on so many levels.
All the deeper themes Tolkien worked into the story truly make it a complex and multi-layered story. The war for the Ring is a vague but strong metaphor for the First World War, in which Tolkien served in and he was able to write all those experiences into such amazing characters and stories. The whole PTSD metaphor with Frodo not being able to return to a happy, normal life in the Shyer because of all the traumatizing things he's experienced is very powerful and the positive message that no matter what crazy stuff is going on, there's still good in the world makes that even better. All the deeper themes of greed and corruption with Golem and the Ring Wraith's character arcs is fantastic as well.
All the characters are absolutely incredible too. Frodo's arc as I mentioned earlier is awesome, Gandalf has some awesome lines and serves as a great mentor figure, Gimli says the funniest stuff and has great chemistry with Legolas who's an already awesome character and do I even need to talk about Aragorn? He's just great. My favorite character is probably Samwise, because he's such a loyal friend to Frodo and Sean Astin is one of my favorite actors because his characters are usually super sweet and funny (plus my mom originally wanted to name me Samwise and my dad wanted to name me Enzo before they agreed on "Jack" so that kind of gives Sam bonus points).
Every scene in each of these movies looks amazing as well. I'm not typically a nut for cinematography but here it looks amazing with all those beautiful nature shots that look absolutely fantastic and those epic battle scenes are so massively intense and awesome that they give Avengers: Endgame a run for it's money. So yeah, The Lord of the Rings movies are all absolutely amazing, every minute of them is pure gold so if you haven't seen it and you got a little over nine hours on your hands be sure to check it out!
3 - John Watts' MCU Spider-Man Trilogy (2017-2021)
While it may be the most recently finished trilogy on this list with it's final installment, Spider-Man: No Way Home only releasing around four months ago, the finished trilogy of Home titled Spidey-flicks is a total masterpiece and easily in my holy trinity of trilogies any day. Instead of doing the hero's entire origin in the first film like the past two live action iterations of Spider-Man did, this trilogy made the whole first three movies be a coming of age story transforming Tom Holland's Peter Parker from a Spider-Boy to a Spider-Man.
In the first film, he needs to learn how to be his own hero and stick up for himself. He tries stopping Vulture, but he screws up just about every time and Iron Man's always getting him out of trouble. Spider-Man needs to learn how to stop bad guys without help from adults or his fancy suit so Iron Man takes the suit away from him and Peter's able to stop the Vulture without it. This continues into the second movie where Peter has to live up to Tony's legacy, and he makes mistakes but the way he resolves it is by being Spider-Man rather than just Iron Man Junior and beats Mysterio while building up the confidence to ask out MJ. When the third movie roles around, Aunt May tells him in her dying breath that "with great power there must also come great responsibility" and the other two Spider-Men are able to help him learn this when they need to hold him back against the villains and he needs to make the ultimate sacrifice to save everyone he loves so the whole thing works together wonderfully into a fantastic superhero origin/coming of age kinda story.
The emotional extent they reach by the end of it is a super gut puncher as well. Peter has an awesome friend, Ned Leeds (who's my personal third favorite MCU character) along with his girlfriend he has good chemistry with and his Aunt who serves as a mentor that cares for him and Happy too who also kicks butt. Through the first two movies, you come to love these characters a bunch and it really makes you care for all of Peter's relationships with them, so it hurts so much in No Way Home when Aunt May dies and when Ned, MJ and Happy forget who he is. I have literally seen No Way Home three times already, and it's made me cry even more every time.
All the antagonists through this trilogy too are super interesting. Michael Keaton was amazing as the Vulture, that's the best version of the character out there because it turned some bald guy with the wings into an actual complex antagonist who behaves like an actual Vulture since he scavenges weapons from supervillains. Mysterio was done well in the films since he's already played by a good actor, the twist was well done and it's cool how they made his illusions tech based, and not to mention how every villain that returned in No Way Home was at their best in No Way Home (with the exception of Doc Ock). The first MCU Spider-Man trilogy is awesome and I cannot wait for the next.
2 - The Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983)
Star Wars is one of the biggest multi-media franchises in the world, having countless pieces of content from thousands of writers building up an entire detailed fictional universe that's been around for almost 45 years now (it will be exactly 45 on May 25th shortly before the release of Obi-Wan Kenobi) and the majority of it is incredible. However, if it wasn't for George Lucas' original trilogy being a major milestone for sci-fi fantasy and blockbuster films in general than there's no way we'd be where we are today.
Where do I even begin with Star Wars? Each of these movies is just about perfect and the character arcs and dynamics are stellar through all three. Luke's story of going from a farm boy on a backwater planet to the greatest hero in the galaxy is super inspiring and the way he needs to learn patience, integrity and control to redeem his father to the light side and save the universe is super fantastic. His arc in each of the movies is a perfect example of the hero's journey as well, him being in a new place forced to go on a new adventure against the same threat without being brought back to square one while gaining what he was searching for and learning a valuable lesson. He's not the only perfectly written character here either. Everyone else is great. Han Solo is the coolest man alive with some of the best lines and his dynamic with Leia is amazing, I'd argue Darth Vader is the greatest villain in the history of fiction, Yoda and Obi-Wan are both terrific mentors while Lando, R2, 3PO and Chewie are all fantastic in their supporting roles.
There is also amazing and bold world building here as well. George Lucas was able to create several new planets for each story, each of these planets filled with it's own unique kinds of architecture, environments and alien species all in one massive galaxy torn apart by a revolutionary war. There are also all kinds of extraordinary vehicles, weapons and character designs you won't see from any franchise before this so big hand to Ralph McQuarrie on that field!!
Pretty much every scene from each of these movies has an iconic line of some sort. All the action sequences were revolutionary for their time as well, because before that there never really were space dogfights or laser sword duels and while this trilogy's portrayals of that may not hold up compared to the rest of the franchise, you need to note that this pioneered that. Each one of these films is a perfect mix of joy, sadness, humor and action and without Star Wars, cinema would not be anywhere close to where it is today so it's just gotta be on this list and I'm honestly having a rough time putting it in second place. But of course, it would only lose to the one, the only...
1 - The Kung Fu Panda Trilogy (2008-2016)
I know, I know, I'm crazy for putting this above Lord of the Rings and original Star Wars but like I said with the sequels this is my opinion, right? Kung Fu Panda has just meant so much to me and re-watching any of these films is a magical experience that never gets old. While it may be the fourth animated trilogy on this list, it works better together as a trilogy than any of the other three since you can tell that it was their plan from the beginning to make three movies since there's stuff set up in the first and second film that pays off in the third. It all works together to make one amazing, epic and fantastic story that's one of the greatest animated works in film history.
In general, the Kung Fu Panda trilogy's story is a solid mixture of sadness and joy that teaches a perfect message of being yourself and accepting who that person is. It has a very happy beginning, in a village of Pandas where a baby Po, the main protagonist lives with his mom and dad. However, a prophecy fortells that an evil peacock named Lord Chen will be defeated by a warrior of black and white so he commits genocide on the entire Panda village. It's Po's mother's dying action to hide Po in a radish crate and abandon him so he can escape from Chen's forces, and seeing the baby get separated from his mama in flashback is always the saddest part of the trilogy and it makes me cry every time.
A lonely goose named Mr. Ping finds Po and raises him as his own. Po doesn't know he's adopted, and he grows up to idolize the kung fu warriors in the Furious Five but he feels uncomfortable being who he is. When Oogway chooses him to be the Dragon Warrior, everyone is confused but when he beats villains like General Kai, Tai Lung and Lord Chen all of China recognizes Po as a hero and when he reconnects with his long lost f