With the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s third installment in the Batman Trilogy, all I see online or hear from friends are discussions about what film trilogies are best. There are obviously multiple ways to judge ‘what’s best’ ranging from artistic talent and writing to pure entertainment value. Although I know these top ten lists have been done to death, I hope no one will mind my two cents. So, without further ado, my list of the ten most entertaining trilogies (presented in no particular order).
1. The Vengeance Trilogy
No other series of movies has had as profound effect upon me as The Vengeance Trilogy by Chan-Wook Park. The most famous movie in this series is the second installment, Oldboy, which I have already written about here. Unlike most trilogies that are sequentially related, these films are instead only linked by the theme of revenge and its consequences. All three of these films – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance – are works of pure art. Although some might find them a little slow moving, and they can be confusing on first watch – imagine an artful Korean version of Quentin Tarantino at his prime – I have never had movies draw so much out of me: laughter, tears, hope, camaraderie with those I’m watching, cringing, and then ultimately despair; because, at the end, all you will end up feeling after watching these films is soul crushing sadness and the relief that none of the characters in any of the movies was you.
2. Star Wars
This entry is almost a throwaway. I love Star Wars. I grew up watching it – and, I admit, reading fan fiction novels – and in terms of pure time spent, I do not think I have ever loved something as long as I have loved these movies. Although the acting is not the best, and the effects pale now compared to the likes of Avatar, there is something about Star Wars that cannot be beaten: maybe it is the dynamic scenes – think Mos Eisley Cantina – where the characters, even though they are obviously the focus, are still just part of a living, breathing, radiant environment; maybe it is how all the effects in the movies, made in a time before computer effects, seem almost more realistic and possible because of this; maybe it is because of Han Solo and Boba Fett; or, maybe, even though I don’t know a single person who likes Luke Skywalker, it is the plot that makes Star Wars so epic. Joseph Campbell once referred to Star Wars as the modern equivalent of Greek myths due to its mixture of grandeur and minutiae – on the one hand the galactic clash between the forces of darkness and the forces of light; on the other hand, the protagonist’s search for justice for his murdered father. Epic.
3. Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the single greatest film adaptation ever produced. Some complain of the films’ length and extreme detail – especially in the extended edition. For fans, there might never be enough LoTR. After all, this series, based on Tolkien’s work, covers one of the greatest mythic journeys in human literature – really, a modern odyssey. The films keep the epic scope of the books, while not losing any of the pure emotion and fellowship that occurs amongst the characters in the non-action scenes. Every character is also perfectly cast, and this trilogy – for better or worse – started the trend of making blockbusters over two hours long.
4. Evil Dead
So there’s this guy, Ash ( played by Bruce Campbell), who just can’t get any luck. In the first film of the franchise, The Evil Dead, Ash and four friends travel to a remote cabin which is then attacked by demons. The second film in the franchise, Evil Dead II, is essentially a remake of the film, whereas the third film, Army of Darkness, is a horror-comedy focusing on Ash being hurled back into Medieval England where he must fend off… an army of darkness. All three films were directed by Sam Rami, and inspired a radical cult following, for good reason. They are horrific, hysterical, and all together masterful.
5. The Blade Trilogy
No argument, the third film in this trilogy was awful. There, now that that is out of the way we can focus on how amazing the first two Blade films were. In terms of pure style and entertainment, you have Wesley Snipes as a half-vampire going around hunting other vampires with high-tech gadgets, a katana, and lots of martial arts. In terms of cinematography, the second Blade film was directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth; he managed to imbue this film with just as much gothic horror and otherworldliness as you would imagine. Finally, in terms of impact, Blade essentially started (roughly) the entire trend of adapting comic book heros into story arched trilogies.
6. The Spiderman Trilogy
Sam Rami agains makes this list with his Toby Maguire starring Spiderman adaptation. Again, the third film in the trilogy was a let down; however, this was really the first superhero trilogy I can think of that had actual three-dimensional characters. Sure, Blade may have started the trend – with a blood spurt, lots of cheese, and pure entertainment – but Spiderman turned the trend into a blockbuster art form. In these films you actually had characters you could care for, villains with understandable (by a comic standard) motives, and a real glance at the downsides that being a hero presented. Even the third film had a great portrayal of Venom and the legitimately touching version of Sandman – an otherwise extremely lame villain.
7. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy
Christopher Nolan essentially took everything that Blade and Spiderman was building up to and, with amazing grace and (almost) impeccable storytelling, turned superhero films into art. I don’t know if I have ever seen a film explore the psyche of a hero more than this trilogy. In the three part act, Nolan shows intimately, and believably, how it would feel to be the Batman – alienated, lonely, vulnerable yet prideful, and so very scared of both threats to Gotham and of being forgotten. Throw in amazing villains, tons of moral ambiguity throughout the entire trilogy, and a hero who occasionally stumbles, makes mistakes, and is, well, human, and you have cinema gold.
8. The Mariachi Trilogy
In terms of pure entertainment, this trilogy ranks high on my list. Although the second film in this series, Desperado, is essentially a remake of the original El Mariachi, and the finale Once Upon a Time in Mexico is really nothing more than a stylized action flick set in Mexico, there is something about these films. Robert Rodriguez imbues them with an almost mythic power following Antonio Banderas as el mariachi, a mariachi player who again and again has to fight off Mexican gangsters, drug lords, and corrupt military officials to maintain a peaceful life for himself and his family. I can’t think of a single trilogy that has more guns hidden in guitar cases – and within guitars – than this.
9. The Toy Story Trilogy
Action movies are great, and I realize this list is full of them, but the Toy Story movies will always have a soft place in my heart. Classics of Pixar, these films capture perfectly the pressing question in every child’s mind – what if my toys were actually alive? Beyond just being cutesy, these movies also cover such themes as jealousy, friendship, abandonment and the effects of coming of age remarkably well. I saw Toy Story 3 in theatres with four of five of my friends. I don’t think a single one of us left dry eyed.
10. The Godfather Trilogy
Like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, a list of must see trilogies can’t be completed without including The Godfather. Unfortunately, this series also falls flat on its third installment; however, the first two are pure art, as well as being full of cultural significance. Everything pop culture says about the mafia is garnered and inspired by this series. Horse head in a bed? The Godfather. Asking for a favor on the day of a daughter’s wedding? The Godfather. The notion of feuding Italian crime families trying to spread their influence as far as possible? Probably real life… as made famous by The Godfather. Bottom line: this series is a cultural and artistic masterpiece.
Disagree with me? Comment below! I’d love to hear your opinions about any trilogies that I missed and should be ashamed about.