The Ten Best Movie Trilogies Of All Time

With the release of The Dark Knight Returns this weekend, Christopher Nolan completes his Batman trilogy. Where does it fall among the all-time great trilogies?

10. Spider-Man

Building off the success of the first X-Men movie, the Spider-Man trilogy launched Superhero movies back into the limelight and paved the way for many more comic book titled to be adapted into movies. The original Spider-Man movie had been in development for over 25 years, and at one point James Cameron was attached to helm the project. Duties were eventually handed over to Sam Raimi (who’s own Evil Dead trilogy narrowly missed making this list), who put together three films in seven years. While never approaching the greatness of some of the other trilogies on this list, the Spider-Man movies were, for the most part, what you’d expect Spider-Man movies to be: enjoyable, summertime, popcorn films.

Best of the trilogy: Spider-Man 2

9. Back to the Future

In 1985 when the original Back to the Future hit theaters, not one but two sequels were immediately greenlit, but production would take another four years to complete. While the sequels would not rise to the creative power of the first film, shooting the two films back to back allowed producers to drop in subtle hints in the second movie and set the direction for the third. Furthermore, by exploring alternative realities and traveling both to the near future and the Old West, the trilogy manages to keep things fresh and interesting.

Best of the trilogy: Back to the Future

8. Indiana Jones

The first three Indiana Jones moves were released as a trilogy in short succession, from 1981 to 1989. While there is a fourth film in the series, that was more of an afterthought, an attempt to revive a long prominent franchise that was nowhere close to the quality and enjoyability of the original trilogy. The trilogy is treated as three standalone adventures, with Indiana Jones being the only character who appears in all three movies. Furthermore, the second movie in the series, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is actually a prequel. Still, the trilogy remains a classic today, despite the efforts of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Best of the trilogy: Raiders of the Lost Ark

7. The Man With No Name

Also known as the “Dollars” trilogy, this trio of spagetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood includes three of the most popular westerns of all time: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The three films were not originally planned to be a trilogy (which is why Eastwood’s character has a different nickname in each movie), but were marketed as such by an American promoter, and have regularly been regarded as such.

Best of the trilogy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

6. Jason Bourne

Loosely adapted from Robert Ludlum’s series of novels, the Jason Bourne trilogy is a rarity: a trilogy of films that remains remarkably consistent throughout three films, with little lapse in quality. Furthermore, the interwoven narratives between the three films—where minor characters become major characters and other characters are written out—as well as the attention to detail makes watching all three films in short succession enjoyable despite similar plot-lines. The series is headed in a new direction, but rather than recast the role of Bourne, they are instead going to refocus on other parts of the universe.

Best of the trilogy: The Bourne Ultimatum

5. Star Wars (original)

The original Star Wars trilogy is the single most successful movie franchise of all-time, and has launched a prequel trilogy, a series of spinoff novels, several video games, and have been released in theaters multiple times (with 3D reissues in the works). That said, Lucas’ constant tinkering, as well as the prequel movies, has drained some of the magic and wonder from the original series for some longtime fans.

Best of the trilogy: The Empire Strikes Back

4. Batman (Christopher Nolan)

Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies work both as a trilogy and as three stand-alone films, as each movie reflects of separate themes—constantly putting the characters against new challenges and in new situations. The gritty reboot that started all gritty reboots, Nolan’s dark Batman series has inspired other series to take similar action, and had revitalized a franchise that had become a joke and was in a serious creative lull.

Best of the trilogy: The Dark Knight

3. Toy Story

Sequels to children movies have become almost a commonplace event over the last twenty years, as children enjoy the familiarity of the characters they have watched time and time again, and have led to franchises launched out of products like Madagascar, Ice Age, and even Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which has a sequel scheduled for 2014. Still no animated trilogy has come close to the success of the Toy Story trilogy, one of the only trilogies that improved with each outing and used our own familiarity with the characters to great emotional effect. Toy Story may have been made for kids, but Toy Story 3 was made with adults in mind as well.

Best of the trilogy: Toy Story 3

2. The Godfather

The Godfather: Part II remains the greatest sequel of all-time, and is among the greatest movies ever made (as is the original Godfather). However, the massive misstep that was The Godfather: Part III hinders the entire series and prevents it from taking the top overall spot. Still, the series is immensely powerful, and having two of the three greatest films ever made is nothing to sneeze at.

Best of the trilogy: The Godfather: Part II

1. The Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien remain some of the best adaptive work in modern cinema. It remains the highest grossing trilogy of all-time, and easily defeats several other prominent series with more films. Jackson’s well crafted trilogy, shot all at once with substantial investment, amassed 30 Academy Award nominations and 17 victories, including sweeping all 11 categories for which it was nominated in 2003 (a record).

Best of the trilogy: The Return of the King

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