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5 “Perfect” Movie Trilogies

You only need to spend half a day on twitter (or two hours on movie blogs) to realize that, well, nerds love lists. I’ll just lay it out there. Whether it’s a handy checklist of Hitchcock films or a complete guide of all of the Hammer horror flicks, there’s something comforting about simple list-making — until actual opinions get involved, that is. Check your favorite social media watering hole right after a “Year’s Best” or (dear lord) an “All Time Top 100” movie list hits the pipeline and you’re likely to hear all sorts of wild, angry, and incredulous reactions.

With all of that in mind, we introduce the “Random Top 5,” a weekly feature that will cause some people to say “Hey, good list, thanks,” and others to say “Your list didn’t have (movie X) and therefore you are a moron.” And just to start things out on a potentially controversial note, let’s kick things off with a fistful of five “perfect” trilogies. (And I put “perfect” in quotes because I’m smart. No trilogy is perfect. But these ones come pretty close in my book.)

5. The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) — Take another visit with the first three films in this (still ongoing) series and you’ll notice an admirable sense of quality control throughout. (Part 4 wasn’t exactly awful, but it sure felt a lot like a “placeholder” chapter.) Even with a switch in directors (Doug Liman on part 1; Paul Greengrass on the sequels) there remains a cohesive arc to the Bourne character, although it doesn’t get in the way of each movie’s “specific” plot. Toss in recurring characters that make sense, action sequences that (usually) occur quite naturally, and superlative work from composer John Powell and cinematographer Oliver Wood — and you have one fantastic trio of movies that works remarkably well as a whole.


4. Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983) — “The Force peters out like an overused battery,” is how People Magazine described Return of the Jedi in 1983, and ever since I read that I’ve been trying to figure out why Part 3 is so much less respected than its predecessors. Sure, the Ewoks are kinda silly (and plainly intended to help sell toys), and yeah, a lot of the plot machinations in Jedi seem more or less copy/pasted directly from the original Star Wars, but those are relatively minor complaints. Jedi might be the “least” of the original trilogy, but when your big brothers are the wonderful Star Wars and the legendary Empire Strikes Back, well, that’s a lot to live up to.

Try revisiting the original Star Wars trilogy one boring night. You’ll be surprised at how much fun these films still are. Unfortunately you’ll probably have to settle for the “Special Edition” versions, which angers me, but the movies are still there. Buried under stupid new digital effects, but still good stuff.


3. Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010) — Although my favorite Pixar films are Monsters Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and the endlessly excellent The Incredibles (2004), there’s little denying that this is a “complete” trilogy in every way. (Although, yes, pre-production on Part 4 is well under way.) What began as a very clever idea combined with the “brand new” idea of feature-length CG storytelling quickly led to a superlative sequel — and then eventually a Part 3 that “stuck the landing” so beautifully it won over even the most skeptical of cynics. (I was one of them!) Brilliant for children, teenagers, and adults young, old, and very old, the Toy Story trilogy is required viewing for anyone hoping to raise a film fanatic, or at least retain some sense of childish warmth and silliness as you grow older.


2. Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013) — Fans of the excellent filmmaker Richard Linklater may have been dazzled by his 12-year-journey in making (the really wonderful) Boyhood, but they probably weren’t all that surprised. He did something similar over the course of 18 years with three distinctly honest, poignant, funny and touching films that all have the word “Before” in their title. Part 1 gives us a brief and bittersweet romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they spend a sweet night in Vienna; Part 2 sees the former lovers reuniting after a chance encounter in Paris; and Part 3 shows us that “happily ever after” is something that all partners have to really work at. Mr. Hawke and Ms. Delpy are great throughout all three films, but the star of the series is Linklater’s sly, subtle approach, not to mention his clever screenwriting and seemingly inexhaustible admiration for human beings in general.


1. Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part 2 (1989), Back to the Future Part 3 (1990) — A small portion of this pick is, of course, based on nostalgia value — in that I loved these flicks when I was a kid, and I still love them now — but make no mistake: the Back to the Future movies are also really good films. True, the sequels strain a little bit under the weight of all the running gags and circuitous plot threads, but those are small gripes in relation to how much fun stuff is offered here. The first film has one of the cleverest concepts (and brilliant screenplays) you’d ever need, and the sequels spin off in their own distinct directions (one futuristic, the other old-fashioned) while still managing to serve a “master arc” that somehow manages to hold up under geeky scrutiny. Toss in great work from Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and a sterling back-up ensemble; a lot of laughs and even some nifty action scenes; and a tone/energy/style that simply nails the idea of “fun” — and you’ve got one of the best complete trilogies I’ve ever seen.

Which trilogies am I an idiot for “ignoring” in favor of these ones? Sound off in the comments section below or hit me up on Twitter.

(Note: I cheated. These aren’t “ranked.” Put ’em in any order you like. Ha.) 


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  1. Benji says:

    Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, original Swedish films. Bonus points because they released all the extra footage and made it into a six part mini series.

  2. No love for Lord of the Rings? WtF??

  3. Ender says:

    The Matrix

  4. Nickly Stardust says:

    Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. SO GOOD. Especially #3. Honorable mention: El Mariachi trilogy obviously. LETHAL WEAPON 1-3!!! GAAAH!

    • Jim Walsh says:

      Stop saying “LOTR”. Terrible movies, poorly executed adaptation and horrible casting. I can’t think of a more disappointing conclusion to years of hype.

  5. Jason says:

    “Raiders” is my all-time favorite movie, but “Temple of Doom” arguably takes the trilogy out of the running. I would cast a vote for the Matrix trilogy though.

  6. Joshua says:

    Personally, Lord of the Rings was a superior trilogy to Back To the Future because movies 2 and 3 stumbled even less than the last two Back to the Future films. 

    Each trilogy here deserved to be on the list, but LOTR deserved it even more than some of these. 

  7. Nate says:

    Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy would’ve been number 1 for me, but great list all the same… moron (couldn’t resist).

  8. Lord of the Rings!

  9. dubhmornie says:

    Indiana Jones, LotR and CoN

  10. KerbRider says:

    Great list, but I would have included the Indiana Jones Trilogy. Raiders speaks for itself. Doom fluffy and doesn’t hold up as well but was still a lot of fun (especially as a child)And Crusade is perfect. Better than raiders IMO.

  11. Bob says:

    Indiana Jones not on the list, how?

  12. ROTJ – Rehashed Tatooine, Degobah and the Death Star. Jabba the Hut wasn’t an interesting gangster, Luke’s bowl haircut was stupid and he shouldn’t have been wearing black, he should’ve looked like a Jedi. They should’ve gone to Coruscant. Boba Fett went out like a bitch. They even copied the Luke/Leia rope swing! And also Ewoks.

    • Keith says:

      Wearing black was to thematically suggest that he’s perilously close to the dark side, but it’s worth noting that during production his costume was referred to as “a Jedi uniform”. Despite Ghost Anakin’s carbon-copy of Obi-Wan’s Tatooine duds, something he never wore in life, the idea back then wasn’t that all Jedi should look like Tatooine extras in brown bathrobes.

      • snowlock says:

        No it wasn’t.  Wearing black was to suggest he was a gunfighter like in the old west.  

  13. Laura Hammond says:

    This is the dumbest list of trilogies I have ever seen. Did someone from Vogue write this?!

  14. Laura Hammond says:

    This is the dumbest list of trilogies I have ever seen. Did someone from Vogue write this garbage?!

  15. Lord of the Rings! Kinda missed that one…I can understand not saying The Hobbit because they weren’t technically supposed to be a Trilogy but missing LOTR??? Oh and the Dark Knight Batman Trilogy too.

  16. JG42 says:

    Terry Gilliam’s ‘Trilogy of Imagination’. Although informal, still classic.

  17. Rhyle says:

    The. Evil. Dead.

  18. Leah says:

    Lord of the Rings, Dark Knight…? Maybe even The Godfather.

    • Agirlnamedmichael says:

      I’ve never understood the love for The Godfather, even the first one as a standalone.  It was one of the most boring movies I’ve never been able to sit through, just like Citizen Kane(I’ll have to make myself someday).

  19. J. says:

    The Man With No Name Trilogy? Tisk tisk…

    • JD says:

      How is this not right after/before BTTF?! The Sergio Leone trilogy is one of the few where the last film is epic and dwarfs the first two!

  20. Finn says:

    Indiana Jones… Im just really pleased they never made that fourth one they were thinking of…

  21. Tina says:

    The Mad Max Trilogy and Stieg Larsson’s Trilogy Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the original) 😉

  22. rlrr says:

    Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy

  23. Mike Horsley says:

    Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.  Duh.

    • Agirlnamedmichael says:

      I WANT 3C’s to be here…but I was not as fond of the third, as I’ve only watched it a few times as compared to the uncounted multiples I’ve watched the first two.  It just wasn’t quite as awesome.  I know, I know- cast me out   lol

  24. Brandon Debattista says:

    Lord of the rings ????

  25. Brandon Debattista says:

    Lord of the rings ?

  26. The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy!

  27. Regiane says:

    Com’on! You seriously left “The Godfather” out? I think you should’ve done a 10 perfect movie trilogies list!

    • Shayde says:

      Part 3 sucked hard. So that’s why.

      • Adam says:

        Part 3 is an inferior stand-alone movie compared to the first two, but when you consider them as one big story, it actually wraps up the Corleone story quite nicely. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things wrong with Part 3, but as far as trilogies go, it’s up there for me.

      • Regiane says:

        Ok, I see your point. They have to be a perfect trilogy, my mistake. It’s just that I love the first two so much that I end up overlooking the suckness of the 3rd, lol 🙂

      • gerryvee says:


  28. Lord of the Rings anyone?

  29. Andrew says:

    The Linkletter “Before” series on the list but no Evil Dead or LOTR? Is this the Nerdist?