Yesterday’s episode of Sounds of Cinema took a look at threequels – third installments in a film series. Here’s a look at the movies discussed on the program as well as some additional titles.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Dir. Sergio Leone
Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone reinvented the Western genre with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars and continued the story in For a Few Dollars More. Leone completed his trilogy with 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, one of the most iconic motion pictures in the Western genre. This film is actually a prequel to the other films. It reveals the origins of the Man with No Name and this picture seals Clint Eastwood’s cinematic image as the mythic Western antihero. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has an extraordinary visual style and one of the great scores in all of film music provided by Ennio Morricone.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Dir. Don Taylor
The original series of Planet of the Apes films stretched from 1968 to 1973 with five films released in six years. The movies were renowned for their action and groundbreaking makeup effects and they have since been lauded for their political content. However, the best sequel of the original Apes saga is light on both action and politics. 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes has a decidedly lighter tone but it’s also the most dramatically engaging Apes sequel and the most heartbreaking entry in the series.
Rocky III (1982)
Dir. Sylvester Stallone
The Rocky series has an interesting tension between earnestness and self-awareness and never is that more evident than in Rocky III. The series is largely autobiographical on Sylvester Stallone’s part and Rocky III finds the character made soft by success. After becoming the heavyweight champion in the previous film, Rocky has to rediscover the “eye of the tiger.” The first half of this film is quite playful and pokes fun at the commodification of celebrities (and of Stallone himself) while the second half has some of the most satisfying drama of the series.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Dir. Richard Marquand
1983’s Return of the Jedi was the third entry in the original Star Wars trilogy and it is rightly ranked third in that initial batch of films. But it is in great company and just as Empire Strikes Back set a standard for what a sequel could be, Jedi created a template for what final chapters of a sci-fi and fantasy epic could accomplish. It also solidified the standing of Star Wars in pop culture and in the public mind.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Dir. George A. Romero
Day of the Dead was the third film in George A. Romero’s zombie series, following Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. At the time of its release and for many years following, Day of the Dead was considered an inferior sequel and it isn’t as influential as its predecessors. But Day of the Dead has undergone a reappraisal and it’s now regarded as one of the better horror films of the 1980s.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dir. Chuck Russell
The horror genre of the 1980s was awash with slasher films with many of them virtual remakes of their progenitors. However, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors stands out and is one of the best horror sequels of any decade. The movie expanded the scope of the series and provided the backstory of Freddy Krueger while also featuring some ambitious special effects. The movie also heralded the direction for the rest of the series and subsequent Nightmare films had more to do with the style and tone of Dream Warriors than they did with the original film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Dir. Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings was one of the most popular film series of the last decade and it concluded with 2003’s The Return of the King. This film ranks third among the three installments. The storytelling gets clunky in places and the extended cut shows signs of the hubris and self-indulgence that has dogged Peter Jackson’s later movies. Despite that, The Return of the King is a terrific piece of work and it tied the record with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the highest number of wins at the Academy Awards, earning eleven Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
The Harry Potter series is one of the most popular and most successful franchises in history. However, the motion picture adaptation got off to a rocky start with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and 2002’s The Chamber of Secrets. Directed by Chris Columbus, the first two Potter films were lackluster fantasy filmmaking. Alfonso Cuaron may very well have saved the series with 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuaron’s film had impressive art direction and a terrific style as well as more complicated source material and this picture is frequently credited as one of the best films in the series.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Dir. Paul Greengrass
The story of superspy Jason Bourne reached its organic conclusion with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. It brought the story to a satisfying close by resolving Jason Bourne’s identity and his ongoing conflict with the Treadstone program. Two more sequels followed—The Bourne Legacy in 2012 and Jason Bourne in 2016—but this is an instance in which the studio should have left well enough alone.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Dir. Lee Unkrich
Pixar has now invested itself in sequels. This has been a financial goldmine for the studio but with diminished creative returns. However, the Toy Story sequels are the impressive exception. The third film was made fifteen years after the original and it played to the now adult audience who had grown up watching the first two installments. Toy Story 3 was about the passage into adulthood and it is among the best movies Pixar has produced.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan finished his Batman trilogy with 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although it’s unwieldy and not as perfectly crafted as 2008’s The Dark Knight, Nolan’s third Batman film has an ambitious and epic scope. Where a lot of other superhero franchises sputtered out (the Christopher Reeve Superman films, the 1990s’s Batman movies, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy), The Dark Knight trilogy is consistently excellent and comes to a compelling close that’s unlike anything else in the superhero genre.
Before Midnight (2013)
Dir. Richard Linklater
A lot of the most notable threequels are works of science fiction and fantasy because those genres lend themselves to serialization. However, one of the best motion picture trilogies is Richard Linklater’s Before series consisting of 1995’s Before Sunrise, 2004’s Before Sunset, and 2013’s Before Midnight. The ongoing story concerns the relationship between an American man and a French woman (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) with each installment checking in on them about every ten years. Where the first two movies were about their burgeoning romance, Before Midnight finds the couple at a crisis point.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Dir. Matt Reeves
The Apes series was rebooted with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, continued with 2014’s Dawn, and concluded with 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes. The third film brings the story arc begun in Rise to a satisfying conclusion and like the best of the classic Apes pictures, War takes some dark turns while delving into themes of survival and civilization. In terms of quality, consistency, and narrative follow through, the new Apes series is one of the most consistent film trilogies ever created.