There is only one proviso for making this list of the best trilogies ever: the franchise ended appropriately after precisely three films. These are pure trilogies without any subsequent entries, prequels, or crossovers. For instance, huge movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toy Story, Iron Man, Die Hard, Mad Max, and others were not considered pure trilogies. So with that in mind, here are the best 10 triple plays of films ranked.
10 ‘Austin Powers’ Trilogy (International Man of Mystery, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Goldmember)
Mike Myers‘ take on James Bond was a phenomenon in the late 90s and into the 21st century. His portrayal of the snaggletooth, screwball British spy took the country by storm and left us with a collection of hilarious characters that are still popular today. Who could forget Dr. Evil (Myers), Fat Bastard (also Myers), Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), Number 2 (Rob Lowe), and Alotta Fagina (Fabiana Udenio)? This trilogy gave us quotes that have become part of our cultural vernacular like “Yeah, baby!”, “One Miiiilllllion Dollars”, and “Get in my belly!” It is one of the best comedy trilogies ever and is in the same company as the next entry on this list.
9 ‘The Naked Gun’ Trilogy (The Naked Gun, Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult)
The Naked Gun is the second comedy treasure and makes the list at 9. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) stumbled and bumbled his way through three sidesplitting entries from 1988 to 1994. Created by the same creative team that brought us Airplane!, (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker) the Los Angeles detective had a knack for falling back-asswards into collaring all kinds of bad guys. The films work so well because of Nielsen’s earnestly inept portrayal of Drebin and the collection of visual gags, puns, and other comedy gold plot devices that had us all falling out of chairs with laughter. Whether it was the Queen of England or baseball slugger Reggie Jackson involved in the crime, Drebin always got his man/woman and is absolutely the best clueless/dangerous detective to ever holster a gun.
8 ‘Back to the Future’ Trilogy Parts I, II, and III
Great Scott! Of course, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) are securely within our top ten in the Back to the Future trilogy. Their journey back to 1955 to save the romance and future wedding of Marty’s parents is one of the best films of all time. The second two are solid enough, and we give the underrated third film extra points for having the courage to do a complete genre switch from science fiction to spin a western yarn. The movies are made by the chemistry between McFly and Doc Scott, a novel story, and excellent performances from supporting cast members Crispin Glover, Tom Wilson, and Lea Thompson. The trilogy was a huge part of the cultural zeitgeist of the 80s and still remains a terrific watch today.
7 ‘Three Colours’ Trilogy (Blue, White, Red)
All three of The Three Colours films were released between 1993 and 1994 and were co-produced by three separate countries: France, Poland, and Switzerland. Juliette Binoche, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, and Irene Jacob are fantastic as the lead of the films named after the colors of the French flag. The smart and often times ironic trio of films is linked by a certain item that appears throughout the film like a lamp with blue beads in Blue, and a white 2-franc French coin in White. The last of the bunch, Red, garnered three Academy Award nominations. The combination of its outstanding international cast and the top-notch writing of director, Krzysztof Kieslowski along with Krzyztof Piesiewicz propels these films into our list.
6 The ‘Before’ Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight)
Texas native, Richard Linklater directs stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they engage in an epic romance in the Before Trilogy. Hawke’s character, Jesse is an American tourist in Vienna who happens upon the beautiful and intelligent, Celine (Delpy), and the two fall into a star-crossed love affair that brings out the very best in each actor. The trilogy is also highlighted by some stunning European vistas and locations. Linklater shows once again why he is considered one of the best organic storytellers in film as he penned the screenplays for all three movies that span almost twenty years (1995-2013). He also provides some beautiful dialogue that accentuates the talents of the two leads as this trilogy is the highest-ranked (and only) romance-genre piece on our list.
5 ‘The Man with No Name’ Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
The great Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone collaborated to make three fantastic spaghetti westerns from 1964-1966. Eastwood is the quietly intense gunslinger in this series and manages to make it all the way through the trilogy without establishing any type of name, given or otherwise. These films serve as the paragon of the Italian-based, rustic shoots of outlaws, thieves, and a litany of other scoundrels. The unmistakable scowl of “The Man with No Name” and the tense standoffs and gunplay are all hallmarks of what represents the very best of the western genre and turned Eastwood into a bona fide superstar. He parlayed the success of this trilogy into subsequent big roles including Dirty Harry, the outlaw Josey Wales, and William Munny in the 1992 classic Unforgiven.
4 Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ Trilogy (Spider-Man 1,2, and 3)
With all the talk about the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and his spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, discussion about the three original films by master filmmaker, Sam Raimi, has waned a little bit. Well, we’re here to give the films the kudos they deserve. Tobey Maguire‘s Spider-Man trilogy hit theaters from 2002-2007 and is one of the finest trilogies ever made. Raimi’s films about Peter Parker and his web-slinging superhero alter ego introduced some new and spectacular visuals that were far and away some of the best special effects we have ever seen on screen up until that point. Maguire and Kirsten Dunst share terrific chemistry and the villains – especially Doc Oc (Alfred Molina) – had Spidey’s senses tingling in an era before MCU titans like Thanos and Ultron bullied their way into theaters.
3 Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)
Auteur, Christopher Nolan‘s deftly shot and briskly paced noir trilogy about our favorite anti-hero, the caped crusader, and his battle to rid the streets of Gotham of some toxic villains cracks our top three on this list. Nolan’s unmistakable direction and dizzying chase sequences make all three films great rides. Heath Ledger‘s take on Batman’s arch nemesis Joker is not only one of the best performances of a bad guy, but one of the finest turns in the history of cinema, and he was rightfully awarded a posthumous Oscar after his premature death in 2008. Christian Bale and Gary Oldman are perfect fits as Bruce Wayne and Commissioner James Gordon respectively. We’d also like to give a quick nod to Tom Hardy, who nails his performance as the ominous Bale in the final film.
2 ‘The Godfather; Trilogy I, II, and III
There’s not much left to write about this trilogy. For 10 years or so these three films based on the works of Mario Puzo were the unquestioned top trio of all time. The strength of the first two brilliant films by Francis Ford Coppola about the rise of Mafioso, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), and his well-connected, New York family that eventually moves into the Las Vegas casino racket is film perfection in its purest form. From the performances of its leads (Pacino, Brando, DeNiro, Caan, Keaton, Duvall… the list goes on and on) to a masterful musical score from Nino Rota, to the beautifully paced shooting and cinematography of Gordon Willis, it just doesn’t get any better than The Godfather and its sequel in 1974. Unfortunately, the not-so-spectacular 1990 third entry brings the overall trilogy off the top spot on this list along with the arrival of the Tolkien adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that spanned 2001-2003.
1 ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King)
“The one ring to rule them all.” Seven words that brought kingdoms together to battle the evil Sauron and his army of orcs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece that director, Peter Jackson, went to New Zealand to adapt into three films. From Frodo’s (Elijah Wood) unlikely heroic character arc to stunning, epic battle scenes involving the man who would be king, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the wise wizard Gandalf the Gray/White (Sir Ian McKellan), and the nimble, ace with a bow Elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) these three films had a little bit of everything, and it was all done to near-perfection. There are no weak links in this trilogy, which elevates it to the top spot over a Godfather trilogy that gets demoted a spot because of the underwhelming third film and the less-than-stellar acting of Sophia Coppola. And finally, this high fantasy epic trilogy curries, even more, favor as there was never any real talk of trying to make a fourth movie. They came, they shot three films in three years, and they conquered (all due respect to The Hobbit trilogy, which would make a longer list).