Movie trilogies can be tricky. Most times, the third entry is the finale. Occasionally, it's meant to be the continuation of a series, but doesn’t do a good enough job to merit any more films. It’s a recipe only a few trilogies have successfully managed to carry from beginning to end, such as Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings. There's an adage about how the third part of a trilogy is always the worst; we’re here to examine which third entries failed its predecessors the most.
This list is highly subjective, and some of the films on this list have a dedicated fan base which doesn't share our sentiment. This list does include films that are now part of franchises longer than three movies, but nonetheless did some damage to the brand.
Here are the 13 Worst Third Entries into Movie Trilogies.
14 Superman III
Before Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, there was a very different version of Superman audiences were fond of. Christopher Reeve’s Superman leapt into theaters in 1978 and ushered in an era of comic book movies. After two successful films, Superman III hit in 1983. Joining the cast was comedian Richard Pryor, but unlike the first two movies, Superman III was not well received.
The movie was heavily criticized for its tone and the performance of Richard Pryor. While the first two Superman installments had their own campiness, critics felt that was taken to the extreme with III. The movie grossed $80 million worldwide of a $39 million budget, earning a tidy profit. Given the critical response and lukewarm financial performance, Superman III was not a success with fans or the studio.
13 The Divergent Series: Allegiant (and Ascendant)
The wave of success that young adult book adaptations were enjoying in the Harry Potter halcyon days are long gone, and it’s nowhere more apparent than in the Divergent series. After a successful first entry and slight less-so sequel, the studio, in its infinite wisdom, decided to split the third and final story into two movies.
Critics and fans bemoaned the film’s incoherent plot and character development. Interest in the movie was so low that it practically flopped, grossing $170 million on a $110 million budget, not to mention marketing. The failure of the movie sent the studio scrambling to save face with the planned fourth film. At this point, nobody cares about these movies anymore.
12 Scream 3
The 70’s and 80’s saw slew of horror franchises being created, each spawning what seemed like a million mediocre sequels. Scream, which launched in 1996, was a satirical take on all those slashers, and was well-received by horror fans. The third installment would succumb to the trilogy curse, and become exactly what it spoofed - a played-out and predictable slasher.
The $40 million movie didn’t carry a huge budget, which helped it avoid outright failure at the box office. Fans were less forgiving. The movie was derided for its predictable formula laden with genre cliches. The storyline between Ghostface and Sidney Prescott was worn out and didn’t merit another movie. This marked the end of the Scream franchise, until it was revived 11 years later with the equally forgettable Scream 4, and a TV series.
11 Little Fockers
There are times when a movie just isn’t called for, and Little Fockers is exactly that to the Meet the Fockers series. After two successful films and a six-year hiatus, for some unexplained reason, a third entry was greenlit. What’s worse, it didn’t keep the idea that made the first two movies so funny: meeting the parents. Instead, the third movie focused on a fractured marriage and a mistaken affair that was not so between Ben Stiller’s Gaylord Focker and Jessica Alba’s Andi Garcia. Not exactly what you want from a comedy.
The movie was a success, recouping its $100 million budget with a $310 million take, but the reviews were ferocious. The downer plot didn’t sustain any comedy. Arguable, the movie's highlight is a “Godfocker” joke, a play on The Godfather, but it falls terribly flat. Earning a putrid 10% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Little Fockers should have never been made in the first place and just ended up being an embarrassment for all involved.
10 Ocean's Thirteen
Having an ensemble cast with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in the lead seems like a recipe for success. After Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven remake became a hit in 2001, a less-popular, but still successful, sequel was made. A third Ocean’s movie, with the given title of Ocean’s Thirteen, was an easy proposition. Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin were added to the already sizable cast. What came out was an overblown heist flick with no character development, lacking the original's spirit.
Thirteen grossed over $400 million off an $85 million budget, but critics weren’t as quick to embrace the movie. Despite having a killer cast, there simply wasn't a story here worth telling.
9 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Parts 1 and 2
After the first two The Hunger Games movies, momentum couldn’t have been bigger. The first and second were record-breaking successes, with an award-winning and beloved lead actress. Nothing could go wrong - until it did. Studios made the greedy decision to split the last piece of the trilogy into two movies. This made no sense as the final book, Mockingjay, didn’t lend itself to being split in two.
A quick synopsis of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is 'the propaganda war before the actual war.’ The main action of the book was largely skewed to the backend, which only compounds the terrible idea to split the movie. If the finale was done correctly and in a single film, it could have been viewed as one of the best trilogies of all time. Instead, it concluded with the lackluster Part 1 and Part 2. Both grossed an enormous amount of money, but that doesn’t make the the knowledge of what could have been any easier to swallow.
8 The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift
It’s easy to see the Fast & Furious franchise now and and only think of muscle cars and success, but once upon a time, the franchise was teetering between life and death. After the success of the first movie, a sequel was made without Vin Diesel. By the time The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift rolled along, Paul Walker had jumped ship as well. The movie abandoned the streets of L.A. and Miami in favor of Tokyo, Japan, with a whole new cast of characters. It doesn’t take a genius to know a movie without its main stars won't succeed.
Tokyo Drift suffered without Diesel and Walker and just didn’t elicit the same excitement with a cast that included Lucas Black and Bow Wow. The movie escaped with a profit, grossing $158 million from an $85 million budget, but the critical and fan response was tepid, at best. Justin Lin failed to establish a strong movie to build a new Fast & Furious franchise and almost ended the series entirely. That was, until Diesel and Walker returned for Fast and Furious and the franchise hasn't looked back. Tokyo Drift is still considered the weakest film in the franchise. The producers even set it in the future of the franchise timeline - it takes place between Fast 6 and Furious 7.
7 Spider-man 3
The modern comic book era began with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002, and it reigned as the king of this genre until 2007. After an even-better received sequel set the bar high, the third film tried to go all out with a bang. Spider-Man 3 hit theaters in 2007 featuring not one but three villains standing in Spidey’s way—Venom, Sandman and a new Green Goblin. It’s wasn’t just the villain cast that was saturated with characters - so was Peter Parker’s love life, with Bryce Dallas Howard joining the cast as Gwen Stacy to compete with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson. What resulted was a bloated, boring movie.
Spider-Man 3 was a massive success, grossing nearly $900 million at the box office, but was negatively received by critics. The movie received the lowest reviews of the franchise. On top of that, the three main villains didn’t carry the same gravitas as Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus or Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin. On top of all that, one of Spidey's most popular villains, Venom, was poorly executed and contributed to the strangest moment in the franchise - jazz-dancing emo Peter Parker.
6 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Perhaps Johnny Depp's defining role came courtesy of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Captain Jack Sparrow revived Depp's career and gave it a second wind. Plans for two back-to-back sequels were greenlit, and the third entry sailed into theaters in 2007. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is also a jumbled mess as confusing as its title suggests. The movie was another stellar financial success but didn’t quite match the originality or freshness of the first movie.
By the time Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End had come along, Captain Jack Sparrow’s schtick had grown old. The plot of the movie was also all over the place with tangled threads about redeemed absentee fathers, pirate lords, and a sea goddess love interest for Davey Jones. The convoluted story didn’t help a movie already suffering from a few too many explosions and bit too much CGI. At World's End should have been the last of the series, but where there's gold to be plundered, a pirate-y sequel is never far behind.
5 X-Men: The Last Stand
Mention the name Brett Ratner to any X-Men fan and they will recoil with fear. He helmed the last chapter in the first X-Men trilogy, and let’s just say he didn’t quite deliver the proper send-off. After two successes, director Bryan Singer left the franchise to reboot Superman. Brett Ratner took over for The Last Stand and brought some new ideas with him. When X-Men: The Last Stand hit in 2006, it didn’t resemble its cohesive and properly developed predecessors.
The dichotomy created between humans and mutants that fueled the first two movies played second fiddle to action and grandiose set pieces. The movie was a success, as expected, but given its bloated budget of $210 million, $460 million in earnings didn’t quite meet the bar set by its contemporaries, such as Spider-Man. One gripe fans had with the film was its willingness to kill major characters for the hell of it. Professor X and Jean Grey are both are offed by the end of the movie, but that doesn’t compare to the pathetic story arc Cyclops is stuck with as a mopey boyfriend, before he’s killed halfway through the movie. It ended up being an entirely forgettable third entry in yet another trilogy.
4 Alien III
A franchise switching directors every movie is often a sign of trouble, but that didn't seem to be the case for the Alien franchise which scored not one, but three legendary directors: Ridley Scott, James Cameron and David Fincher. Pretty lofty company, and you’d think the each movie would be great, but one failed to carry its weight—Alien 3 director, David Fincher. After Ridley Scott's first installment, a successful sequel was directed by James Cameron, and a third movie was planned. When Alien 3 landed in theaters in 1992, it sorely disappointed.
Alien 3 didn’t live up to the standards established by predecessors. Despite the talented director, the film felt disjointed, and disconnected from the previous two. It did end up being successful at the box office, but it officially ended any plans for future movies, and concluded the franchise prematurely, until French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet brought us Alien: Resurrection five years later. The only bright spot is the iconic scene between the Alien and Ripley (as seen above).
3 The Godfather Part III
Few films are as revered as the first two Godfather films. Part II is considered the best-produced sequel in cinematic history; each are considered among the best films ever created. Following them would never be an easy task, and The Godfather Part III fell far short of expectations. The Francis Ford Coppola epic mob saga concluded 16 years after the release of The Godfather Part II. The widely anticipated Part III was supposed to pick up right where the last movie left off and conclude what was expected to be the best trilogy of all time. Needless to say, Part III dropped the cannoli.
The Godfather Part III was still a moderate hit and succeeded in the grand picture of things, but it didn’t reach the same acclaim as its predecessors. There were many criticisms of the movie, such as poor editing and convoluted plot, but the main critique was the performance of Sofia Coppola. She was out of her league, starring alongside Al Pacino and Andy Garcia. Her on-screen romance with Andy Garcia wasn’t believable and lacked chemistry. Director Coppola has since called this the epilogue of the first two films, but it still stands as the inferior chapter in The Godfather trilogy.
2 The Matrix Revolutions
Every so often comes a movie that transcends our understanding of the medium. They make us question our humanity, our sanity, and innovate the filmmaking process. The Matrix did all that with its rule-defining computer world as the backdrop of a war between humans and machines. By the end of the movie, one thing was for sure: Neo was The One, and sentinels are insane. You may ask yourself, how could a sequel come of this? That’s a valid question. How could the Wachowskis ever expand their groundbreaking idea into something worth telling? The answer is that they tried to, but failed utterly.
The first of two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded, was not too well received, veering far from the first movie's structure. By the time Revolutions arrived to conclude the trilogy, it had turned into a complicated mess that I still don’t understand to this day. Not only are Neo and Trinity both killed off, but the overall plot is anticlimactic and unsatisfying. Two of the three main characters are dead, while the Oracle and the Architect hold hands and stare into the sunset. Not the kind of closure fans were expecting.
The Matrix trilogy drastically declined as it continued from film to film right up until its conclusion. The movie was still a box office success, but its quality, or lack thereof, made an impact. It missed Reloaded’s intake by over $300 million. In the end, it made us wish we'd just taken the blue pill from the start.
When films like The Matrix or The Godfather launch trilogies, it’s an impossible task to make a sequel as great as the originals. How could any movie ever follow up The Godfather Part II? It can’t, without being a disappointment. Not all third chapters can be Return of the King, but we still hope for a proper send-off.
What do you think? Did we leave any other third entry into a trilogy off the list you think deserves a spot? Let us know in the comments down below!