While the era of the film trilogy has given way to the blockbuster, multi-film franchise, there are still a few properties out there that want a clear beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, even some of those franchises have since been re-opened.
Yet, there are still some great film trilogies out there, but a few got off on either the wrong foot or didn’t find their footing until the second film. The middle chapter is hard to perfect, as oftentimes it feels too open-ended (The Two Towers), or maybe it even feels like a completely different film (Aliens), but whatever the case there are a few second films that improve upon their predecessor. This weekend, for example, sees the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a middle chapter that, based on reviews, is a much better film than the first.
With that in mind, here are 6 middle chapter films that are the best of their trilogy.
While Park Chan Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” is quite the twisted treat as a whole, a lot of that cult status comes from the trilogy’s middle film, Oldboy. All three films center on revenge stories, but Oldboy‘s is so unique, but also bizarre, that it went on to win the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Yes, the movie with the “hammer scene” also won some pretty prestigious awards…and that’s saying something.
We’ve already gushed at length about Oldboy in the context of comparing it to Spike Lee’s remake, but in the “Vengeance Trilogy” it’s easily the best. In fact, it may even be the best film in Wook Park’s entire filmography.
As one of the first blockbuster superhero films of the 21st century, the first X-Men was a calculated risk, keeping things relatively small and not branching too deep into comic mythology. However, once X-Men proved the property’s viability, X2: X-Men United was able to take the gloves off and unleash its claws.
Knowing what the filmmakers now had in star Hugh Jackman, X2 puts a lot of the focus on Wolverine’s origin story, but it doesn’t neglect any of the other X-Men either. In fact, X2 actually throws even more mutants into the mix, including fan favorites Nightcrawler and Colossus. Since X2, the X-Men franchise has changed drastically, and split off into three different franchises, but that huge boom can likely be traced back to this improved sequel.
Arguably the most controversial choice on our list, The Godfather Part 2 isn’t necessarily an improvement, it’s almost a completely different, but equally excellent, film. While the first Godfather introduced us to the Corleone Family and its inner workings, Part 2 showed audiences its humble beginnings and future. Where one has Brando, the other has DeNiro, and where one has “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” the other has “I know it was you Fredo.”
It’s basically comparing two masterpieces, but there are some out there who prefer Part 2 to the first and suggest director Francis Ford Coppola found a better overall approach with the second film. But, in all honesty, you can’t go wrong with either of the first two Godfather films, as both are Best Picture Oscar winners. But, you’re better served avoiding the third.
Another case of “not necessarily better, but different,” Terminator 2: Judgment Day is almost like the Aliens of the original John Connor trilogy, which is funny considering James Cameron’s involvement with both films. He takes his first, more suspenseful film and reinvents it as almost pure action, while still preserving the same tone and overall feel.
What makes the film particularly memorable is that this sequel takes the villain from the first movie and makes him the hero, but does so in a way that works within the property’s mythology. Sure, the general conceit is the same, but the amount of one-liners and memorable moments in T2 make it the film that most will look to when they think of the Terminator franchise. After all, who hasn’t said, “I’ll be back,” at least once or twice in their life?
It’s become almost a given that a blockbuster sequel will be bigger, but not always better, than its predecessor. Spider-Man 2, for example, sheds the necessary origin restrictions of the first film, and embraces its comic book inspirations whole heart. Yes, there’s still an origin story, but this one focuses on the creation of Spider-Man’s villain, Doctor Octopus – played to great effect by Alfred Molina.
Obviously, the origin story is important to the overall property, but getting to go full throttle with the action, at the very least, makes the second film more exciting. And that bigger action, combined with better character work and higher stakes help cement Spider-Man 2‘s place as the best film in the Sam Raimi trilogy. We wouldn’t go so far as to say Spider-Man 2 created the superhero sequel formula, but it certainly perfected it. So much so that the reboot is following the trilogy’s formula (thus far) almost to a “T.”
The new benchmark for modern (solo) superhero movies, The Dark Knight took what director Christopher Nolan teased in Batman Begins and expanded or improved upon it in every appreciable way. That’s true of a lot of superhero sequels, but what makes The Dark Knight unique is its improvements don’t stem from bigger set pieces (although it has those) or more effects work. It’s simply a better story framed around a unique character (and great performance). From the villain to the scope to the multi-layered plot, The Dark Knight is not just a great Batman film, arguably the best yet, it’s a great film in its own right.
Say what you will about the Nolan trilogy as a whole, whether or not the final film delivered, there’s no denying The Dark Knight‘s place in cinema history, as both an excellent comic book adaptation and a huge box office earner.
As was mentioned, there are some great film trilogies out there, many of which have expanded past their initial three films. Some, like Star Wars, work as a whole, and make picking a favorite truly difficult, while others change genres from one entry to the next. Still, there are some film trilogies that got better as they went on, and really came into their own in the second film – hence our list.
But what about you? Which second films in a trilogy are better than the first in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below.
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