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.

9. Goldfinger

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.

Continue to our top 5 threequels…

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