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.
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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)
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.
- 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.
- What do you think of our favorite threequels of all time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.