The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

Published 4 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 10:39 am,

Best Threequel Movies Of All Time The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

This weekend marks the release of Toy Story 3, which is already getting rave reviews as a brilliant third installment to a near-flawless franchise. But when you look back at the handful of threequels in movie history, the memories are not quite as bright.

From Batman Forever to Spider-Man 3, there are far more awful third installments of beloved movie franchises than great ones. So, in honor of the hard work from the good folks at Disney/Pixar, we are going in a different direction… Rather than relish in the horrendous examples of failed threequels, we are going to present our 10 favorite third installments of popular franchises.

Some examples are part of a grand saga, while others are the closing chapter of an unforgettable tale. Either way, they won over our hearts and left us smiling.

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10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

When Alfonso Cuarón took the reigns of the Harry Potter franchise, everything got a little brighter by getting a lot darker. The tone of the film was what many movie fans hoped for, but maybe the child stars just needed a chance to grow into the roles.

Cuarón set the tone for the rest of the franchise, which begins its final chapter this winter. The Dementors are a staple of Azkaban that remain a favorite of many. But the addition of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black was the move that assured this film a spot amongst our favorites.

9. Goldfinger

James Bond Goldfinger The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

There have been 22 James Bond films, but only one can truly call itself a threequel. It is difficult to find a favorite amongst the classic renditions of the sleek spy. Even some of the more recent films have taken spots near the top of fans’ lists. But Goldfinger became a kind of revolution. It broke boundaries and tested audiences, all the while giving them the spy they wanted.

One of the main reasons for the enduring love for Goldfinger is the henchman known as Oddjob. Featured in our Most Awesome Weapons list, the bladed hat he used to chop the head off a statue became an icon within the film.

Even more memorable is Jill Masterson’s gold-covered body. Shirley Eaton, the actress portraying Masterson, was even featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine in a photographed reprisal of the scene. And let’s not forget Ms. “Pussy Galore.”

On top of it all, Goldfinger laid the ground work for Austin Powers in Goldmember. Unfortunately, that was not as enjoyable a threequel as its the film it spoofed.

8. Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Die Hard With A Vengeance Bruce Willis Samuel L. Jackson The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

New York City has never seen an action film quite like Die Hard: With a Vengeance. It perfectly blended the comedy, thriller and action genres into one cohesive movie. Ultimately, Samuel L. Jackson’s presence alongside the always great Bruce Willis brought a dynamic duo that gave tremendous flow to the film.

While Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of cinema’s best villains, Jeremy Irons brilliantly portrays his brother, Simon. The cat-and-mouse games, Simon Says jokes and Advil gag make Vengeance one of our favorite threequels of all time.

7. Mission: Impossible III

Mission Impossible III Tom Cruise The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

Many fans consider John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II to be a minor slip-up after the intelligent and exciting first film. Others love Woo’s escapist action, which used slow motion and a lot of Doves to say that Ethan Hunt can do just about anything. All things considered, J.J. Abrams’ third installment could easily be considered the best of all three.

Abrams truly brought his creativity to the trilogy with a mysterious villain, a deadly weapon and a romantic edge that never felt hokey. On top of it all, Tom Cruise brought his believable performance from the first film back for this threequel.

6. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

First of all, Return of the Jedi is the third best of the original Star Wars trilogy – let me put that out there right now. But the least favorite of one of the most cherished trilogies of all time is not exactly the worst label. So, here we are at #5 with Return of the Jedi.

So much is resolved in the final chapter of the Star Wars saga that it becomes a legacy of its own. The epic saber-to-saber combat between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is a near-perfect finale. And just when you thought Vader’s paternal revelation in The Empire Strikes Back was the twist of all twists, Lucas gives Vader a glorious and honorable death.

Return of the Jedi struggles only because its predecessors are so great. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are a pair of films that are almost impossible to top. But the third installment was created as a closing chapter of the saga, and in doing so it was a success – even with the Ewoks.

Continue to our top 5 threequels…

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The Bourne Ultimatum The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

5. The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum has Identity and Supremacy to thank for its success. The world of espionage that Bourne struggled to expose finally paid off by the third installment. When Ultimatum came around, it was simply a matter of getting the revenge he deserved.

Fans of the franchise were so committed to the titular character that the story was mesmerizing before the third film even began. Yet, Matt Damon found a way to evolve his character throughout all three films in a way that gave his performances even more depth.

Damon started off as a badass and ended up at a level way beyond that, as he finally confronted his past and those responsible for making him a killing machine. And our own personal James Bond isn’t through yet, with a fourth film currently in development.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lord of the Rings Return of the King Gollum The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

The opinions of Return of the King are surprisingly mixed, but it is still one of those rarely enjoyable threequels. The backstory of Gollum is one of the most fascinating aspects of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and presents a mysterious and informative opening to the third film.

If there’s any reason it drops to #4 on the list, the blame falls on its multiple endings. Each ending matters in a singular way, but it becomes tiresome after the third or fourth. But I guess once you’ve watched nine hours of a trilogy, a few extra endings can’t hurt.

Still, Return of the King was only the second film ever to break the $1 billion box office mark. The last installment of one of the most important and legendary trilogies in cinema was both emotional and exciting.

3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

While the original Indiana Jones film started one of the best legacies in Hollywood, the second installment – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – was somewhat of a misfire. It became so caught up in having fun, it forgot what made the original so great – mystery.

From the opening credits, it was clear The Last Crusade would revert to the successful formula of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The addition of Sean Connery as Indy’s father was a brilliant move on Spielberg’s part, further securing legitimacy and humor for the already established franchise.

Yet, it is the briefly touched-upon origin story in the beginning of The Last Crusade that sets it apart from many other threequels. River Phoenix dashing and dodging the enemy along a circus train was as exciting as it was revealing – hell, they even gave us the origin of Harrison Ford’s chin scar.

2. Army of Darkness

Army of Darkness The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

Army of Darkness wasn’t the strongest of the Evil Dead series but it certainly was the flashiest – that’s because Sam Raimi actually got Universal to give him a decent budget for the film. By doing so, the studio was able to bring the cult-hit to a larger, more mainstream crowd.

To this day, Bruce Campbell’s name is synonymous with S-Mart, “Groovy” and chainsaws. Army of Darkness only has the beloved gas powered multi-tooth device in the film for the first 15 minutes or so, but it forever remains the weapon of choice for fanboys everywhere when having to fend off the undead.

Until Hollywood removes its head from its proverbial rear end and brings fans every the sure to be mega-cult hit “Jason vs. Freddy vs. Ash”, we have to settle on Blu-ray viewing and reruns of this classic horror action threequel.

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good the Bad and the Ugly Clint Easwood The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

Sergio Leone’s most well-known masterpiece is sometimes forgotten as being part of a trilogy. It is the final film of the Dollars trilogy, which includes A Fistful of Dollars and  A Few Dollars More. But this third installment needs no support structure of previous films to stand out as the best movie threequel ever.

Some argue the film is too slow, but I take it as suspenseful buildup rather than boredom. Ennio Morricone’s outstanding score adds to that feeling, but also sets it apart from its predecessors by establishing the film as its own self-contained tour de force.

Eastwood’s illustrious career is not defined by one film, but if you had to pick one to demonstrate his onscreen prowess, go with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Leone brought the cameras in close for much of the film, and while it is a common move in classic Westerns, you get a squeamishly good look at the strange calm in Eastwood’s character.

Leone’s brilliant work approaches film in a forgotten style – sit the cameras on your characters and let their faces tell the story. No example is better than the famous Mexican standoff. If you ever need the definition of the term, just turn on this classic Western and wait for the iconic showdown scene. It perfectly encapsulates what makes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly so fantastic with a drawn out, suspense-laden, five-minute stare down.

*1. Toy Story 3 (New #1 Threequel)

Toy Story 3 movie image 14 The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time And we have a new winner. While Toy Story 3 just opened, it is without a doubt the best third film in a series. Ever. (Read our Toy Story 3 review). With this third film we have a movie that actually surpasses the previous two films – something that almost never happens. Not only is it faithful to the films that came before in tone and spirit, it surpasses them in both laughs and heartwarming moments. And the final 15 minutes of the film should bring even a grown man to tears.

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The trilogy is a tricky task to pull off. So many franchises have fallen off dramatically from the first to the third film, yet the ten we’ve listed prove it is not impossible to succeed. If Toy Story 3 is as good as expected, this list will need some revisions.
Three Amigos The 10 Best Movie Threequels of All Time

The Three Amigos say, "Three doesn't have to be a dirty word."

What do you think of our favorite threequels of all time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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TAGS: back to the future, die hard, harry potter, Indiana Jones, lord of the rings, star wars

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  1. After reading this “best 10 list” I thought this was one big joke.
    It’s a subjective thing, as all lists are, but how in the world did you come up with this ranking? Toy Story 3 just got released and it’s already secured a status as being better than The Return Of The King, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ?? ….And I liked Army Of Darkness I wouldn’t rate it at number #2, Boomstick or no Boomstick. Not (again) over Return Of The King, much less Return Of The Jedi.

    I wonder how the list will alter in another week or so when…well, enough about Teams Edward and Jacob…

    Anyway, I would not have put Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade on this list. Not when there’s Back To The Future III, Rocky III and Star Trek The Search For Spock, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, heck, how about that director’s cut of Alien 3?

    But I’ll cut you guys a little slack. After all, Goldfinger is represented…

    • Wow, dude, what’s with the hate? Have you SEEN Toy Story 3? It was a fantastic 3rd film, completely on par and maybe even better than the films that came before. Or is there some sort of timespan rule when it comes to judging a film excellent that I didn’t know about?

      I didn’t films had to age like fine wine…

      Vic

      • No hate, Vic.
        Just a question of Screenrant’s sanity. The list really lost me.
        And if Predators is good, will it bump off Mission 3?

        And yes—
        I have seen Toy Story 3, but I wouldn’t put it over Return Of The King or Good Bad and Ugly. I will say I liked TS3 better than the first two (especially the second)

        If you put it over MI3 or Harry Potter, I could see that.
        But Number One, even in a notation is nothing short of nuts.
        And I repeat (as many others have)
        No Back To The Future III is highly suspect.
        Sorry.

        • Hey Darren,

          Well the article was inspired by Toy Story 3′s opening. Have you seen it, yet?

          As to Back to the Future 3, frankly, we didn’t think it belonged here – it’s pretty weak as part of the trilogy.

          Best,

          Vic

    • I don’t agree with a lot of your post but you got me wondering… Where is “Back to the Future Part III?” In terms of the trilogy it’s the strongest movie next to “Part I.” It’s full of fun and has no problems making fun of itself. It needs a spot on the list.

  2. What about the “Back to the Future” trilogy? It was fluff, yes, but as an actual trilogy, it holds together better than most of those other films do.

    • Back to the Future 3 was good but not the best. It is audacious, though, that Return of the Jedi is only number 5 on this list. Of all 6 SW movies, that was numero uno.

  3. Vic, I really have to disagree with this list. Mission Impossible3? Definite bad movie.Harry Potter 3 is not a worthy top ten either. Army of darkness should take its place at no.10.
    I REALLY WISH Ewoks were non-existent! That hurt ROTJ’s ranking. Indy 3 will be my no.2 with Back to the Future III at 3.Red from colours trilogy will feature in the list.
    The Good, The Bad and The Ugly at numero uno is great!
    I think what some people mean about you putting Toy Story 3 at number one is that you saw it for the first time recently. Viewers(including me) give a little higher rating of movies they like if they have just seen it.(therefore the term time-tested!)

    • Mission Impossible 3 i saw recently and it was a great trill, non-stop, inventive action movie with cool stunts and im glad it got notice on a top 10 list such as this.

  4. Harry potter definitely belongs on the list! Vic knows wat hes doing guys,i like this list……

    • I just want to point out that Mike wrote the article not Vic.

      • Jessie,

        We all had input into the list and its order. I made the final call on ranking.

        Vic

        • Sorry Vic. Didn’t mean to belittle the input from other staff. I was just going according to the by-line.

          • Jessie,

            No worries. :)

            Vic

  5. Sequels suffer when they aren’t made as their own stand alone movie. but with that said some sequels I think get a bad rep just because of how awesome they other movies are in their series, like ROTJ, and to a lesser extent my favorite much hated The Matrix Revolutions.

    • I was also wondering where The Matrix Trilogy was in the list. Problem is that films 2 and 3 should really be looked at a two part single film in of of it self so I suppose one could argue that The Matrix was really two films, the second one being a double length movie.

  6. I only really have a problem with Toy Story 3. It’s not better than the other two and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly trumps it for sure.

    • I’m glad I found somebody who agrees. :)

  7. @Scott
    I believe Toy Story 3 is the best in the series!!!

    • I’m coming to a realization now that it’s probably because of how I grew up with the first two that I didn’t like the third one. A lot of people were new to the franchise when seeing the third one.

      But even so, there were several other flaws other than its failure to live up to the first two. I don’t get the movie’s appeal! I know what the makers of the movie were going for, and I admire it, but its execution was less than exeptional. The humour was bad, there were too many characters, it got WAY too dramatic at times (that incinerator scene was definitely not called for in a ‘Toy Story’ movie) and even that bittersweet ending seemed out of place. Yes, I cried (I’m still human), but like I said: I grew up with the first two and watched them to feel good. Not to cry.

      All in all, Toy Story 3 is not something I would show my kids. Not even for the humour. (Like I said in my main post, the writing wasn’t top-notch. But this is the guy who wrote ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, so I can see why.)

      • How did this not live up to the first two? I grew up with them, and I loved how dramatic this movie got. At the same time, it never lost sight of the humor that made the first two so great. Many kids are going to grow up loving this movie.

  8. good article, fun read. now make room for Nolan’s 3rd Batman ;)

  9. It’s too bad they never made a “Young Guns 3″…

  10. I can’t believe MI:3 is on this list over Back to the Future III. It took the series to a whole new genre, managed to sneak in callbacks to its predecessors (“I hate manure!”)–one such being brilliant with Marty in Part II playing the arcade game “Wild Gunman”, eventually ending up in the exact place in time it was portraying–and the chapter was just a great nod to the shoot-em-up westerns of old. It even had an incredible climax with the train sequence! Having Doc as a primary focus also brought new life into his character instead of just a “crazy scientist” supporting Marty. Both their lives were intertwined with being where they were stuck–Marty wanted back, Doc was content living in the past, but potentially changed the future in doing so–a direct oxymoron to his biggest concern.

    With Cruise pulling his usual “look at me, I’m hanging out of cars and rappelling down shafts!” shots, I found MI:3 tepid and lacking any real punch save for the first 10 minutes (Keri Russell was a showstealer as a super agent–short as her time onscreen was).

    • MI:3 was awesome, nuff said!

  11. You forgot the Bourne Ultimatum… :)

    • Wait No you didn’t. My bad. It was at the top and i must have skipped it by accident

  12. Do 10 worst threequels next!

  13. Toy Story 3 is definitely my favorite sequel out of all these, and I’ve seen (and enjoyed) most of these films. I prefer this to Toy Story 2; not sure if I love it more than the original, though. But in terms of quality, it matches its predecessors in every possible way.

    • Of course it matches its predecessors in every possible way. It’s the same movie made in the same computer.

      CGI animation is NOT real filmmaking.

      • Says who, you? You’ve really convinced me.

  14. I was disappointed that they never mentioned the death wish prequels or final fantasy ones.

  15. No Back to the Future? D:

    • The third BoTF was the worst of the bunch. That would be like putting Shrek the Third on here.

      • Are you kidding me?I know it’s just your opinion but come on! The Back to the Future Trilogy is just like one big Epic film. However I agree with you with Shrek 3 .It could have been better.

  16. Glad to see Army of Darkness on this list.

  17. threequels not on here.
    Superman
    Matrix
    Red dragon
    Dirty Harry
    Lethal wepon
    Underworld

    • Good pick on Dirty Harry which would be The Enforcer. Good film with Harry going up against homeland terrorists and not to mention a female partner he can certainly do without being the politically incorrect sexist he is. I loved it.

  18. I think that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome should have been included. A lot of Mad Max fans jeer at it for not being quite as action packed or intense as the previous two films, but it has an elegiac, more mythological quality that sets it apart from the others. What I think distinguishes each film in this series is that each is a clear evolution of this character and each has it’s own style and idiosyncrasies. Siskel & Ebert both thought it was one of the ten best films of 1985 when it came out, and one of them even said it was a series of films that “keeps getting better.” I think there was a lot of thought and imagination that went into Thunderdome, and it deserves to be on the list.

  19. It seems asthough everybody makes the mistake of calling Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade a threequel, while it is actualy a sequel, it`s a sequel to Raiders because Temple of Doom was actualya prequel so thereby Crusade is a sequel to Raiders. Also Return of the Jedi was easily the best best of the OT with the awesome space battle, the death of Yoda, the conflict between Luke and Vader which was deep and interesting, the awesome battle of Endor with the fun Ewoks and all the awesom stuff in Jabba`s palace, also it was fun how both Luke and the Emperor had aat one point everything planned out. Vader turning goood and Leia and Han finally acting a bit nicer, also Luke is awesome as a Jedi. Return of the King waS EASILY THE W EAKEST OF THE Lord of the Rings films and I don`t think we should count adaptation movies.

    • Well, then we should rule out The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, because it is technically a “prequel” in the Dollars Trilogy. I definitely get what you’re saying though. Maybe there should be a best “prequel” list.

  20. This is the hardest thing because, other than ‘Return of the King’, I don’t think there’s ever been a threequel that’s been superior to its predecessors. That includes ones like ‘Return of the Jedi’ (I don’t know why that’s even on there, ‘Die Hard with a Vengence’ (it was good, but not as good as its original), and yes, ‘Toy Story 3′ (one I consider to be EXTREMELY overrated).

    But Hollywood will be Hollywood. When people fall in love with characters, a light in the back of Hollywood’s mind goes off and they think, “Hey, we can make more money with this franchise!” Not to say that sequels are not a good thing. Heck, ‘Godfather: Part II’ and ‘Toy Story 2′ are almost better than their originals (although I’m a huge fan of Marlon Brando, so I still love the first one more just because of him).

    But for some strange reason, the big 3 never works. Exceptions for Godfather Syndrome are VERY rare (I don’t like to count ‘Return of the King’ because it was made during the same time as the first two), and I don’t think ‘Toy Story 3′ is one of them. I do hope people eventually come to realize this. I asked about the public’s initial reaction to Godfather: Part III, and I hear it was originally praised other than the casting choice of Sophia Coppola. So, who knows? Perhaps over the years, the same will happen with the third ‘Toy Story’.

    Oh, but I will agree with ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. Great film. That should’ve stayed number one (next to ‘Return of the King’, which, like I said, I don’t like to count due to when it was made.)

    • How is Toy Story 3 extremely overrated? Just because you didn’t care for it much doesn’t mean it’s automatically overrated.

      • Marissa,

        I agree with Chip – do enlighten us.

        Vic

  21. What about the Back To The Future trilogy!

    • Agreed. While it doesn’t surpass the first two films, Back to the Future III was a good Treequel. Star Wars Episode III was far superior to I and II if you want to consider it the third of the second trilogy and I’m expecting the Dark Knight Rises to be a good one.

  22. Godfather.

  23. Return of the King isn’t really a threequel, is it? A sequel is a standalone story; a trilogy happens when a story is broken into two parts (LOTR), or when a standalone film has two codependent sequels(Pirates, Star Wars, The Matrix). If a single story takes three films to tell one story, I would submit it’s not really a threequel. The LOTR films were one large, magnificent project.

  24. How can you talk abouit Threequels and not mention Back to the Future 3!!!!! How is that possible. It brought Marty’s story full circle, and like the Bourne series, if you take out the ending credits it’s one of those films u can watch all the sequels Back to Back and it feels like one big movie.

    As much as i liked MI3 as entertainment, Back to the Future 3 is a much more superior movie and i think it’s highly suspect, that it isn’t on this list.

  25. I think this list should get an update when the Dark Knight Rises comes out. Toy Story 3 is awesome but it’s not #1. Too similar to the second film in some aspects to outshine LOTR, and Indy. Maybe a solid #5. Regardless 2011-2012 movies like Transofrmers Dark of the Moon, MIB 3, and The Dark Knight Rises all deserve a look.

  26. Sorry, I was with you until you ranked Return of the King so low. It won the Oscar, it was magnificent in every way. It should have been no lower than #2.

    Of course, I’m curious how this list would shake down later this year after Dark Knight Rises.

  27. Great list. I have one more way of showing this. Please see http://picspeaks.com/polls/best-movie-series/

  28. Batman Forever is a cool Threequel

  29. Although this list was made about 3 years ago, and I haven’t seen the movie yet so who knows. THE WORLDS END might make for a great threequel…I know that the first two are a couple of favorites of mine. The critical reviews are very good….according to rotten tomatoes anyhow.