13 must-see film trilogies

13 must-see film trilogies

Michael J. Fox portrayed time-traveling teenager Marty McFly in the 1985 original and its two sequels released in 1989 and 1990.

“To the Future, Part II.”
Universal Pictures

In the 1980s and 1990s, the “Back to the Future” trilogy, which is honored annually October 21 as the day Marty goes through time, was a phenomenon. The films made Fox an A-list actor, introduced Christopher Lloyd, who plays Marty’s best friend (for some reason), and disgraced nuclear physicist Doc Brown to a new generation, and made everyone desire self-tying sneakers and flying skateboards.

While we are not yet at the degree of technology seen in “Back to the Future 2,” the story of Marty attempting to simultaneously better his parents’ lives, save Doc from an untimely death, and return home from the Wild West remains timeless.

In fact, a musical adaption of the original film is scheduled to open on Broadway in 2023.

The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was published between 2001 and 2003, was a sweeping epic of good versus evil set in Middle Earth.

Return of the King from The Lord of the Rings.

New Line Cinema

The 1988 premiere of “The Naked Gun” was such a great hit that two additional sequels starring Leslie Nielsen as the lovably dimwitted police officer Sgt. Frank Drebin were commissioned in 1991 and 1994.

“The Unarmed Man

Universal Pictures

With “The Naked Gun,” after the 1980 mega-success of “Airplane!,” Nielsen once again parodied a well-known profession: a detective. Without “Naked Gun” and its sequels, “Reno 911,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and even “Austin Powers” might not have been made.

In October 2022, it was rumored that Liam Neeson would play Sgt. Drebin in a “Naked Gun” revival, 34 years after the original film’s release.

Clint Eastwood starred in the “Man with No Name” trilogy, which included the films “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965), and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966).

A Handful of Dollars

U.S. Artists

Actually, this trilogy was written after the films were released. These Spaghetti Westerns were initially released in Italy, and when United Artists acquired the distribution rights, the studio opted to package them as a trilogy starring Eastwood as the man with no name (despite though his characters have different identities in each installment).

However, these three films forever altered Hollywood by introducing Eastwood to the general public, a move that shaped the next 58 years (and counting) of film. Sergio Leone’s aesthetic has affected innumerable films and television shows, such as “The Mandalorian.” The theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Ennio Morricone remains one of the most identifiable pieces of music ever composed.

One may argue that Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, produced between 2005 and 2012, is the best superhero trilogy of all time.

“The Knight in Black”

Warner Brothers

When Christian Bale assumed the role of the Caped Crusader in 2005, it was not a guarantee that the film would be a blockbuster hit, let alone that its sequel would be the first superhero film for which an actor would win an Academy Award (Heath Ledger, posthumously, for his performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”).

Arguably, “The Dark Knight” (and the two films it was wedged between) forever altered the comic-book/superhero genre, paving the way for what it is now, the most important box office genre, as well as the grittier and darker look followed by many films afterward.

Even if not everyone is completely delighted with the conclusion of the trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a massive box-office triumph and, ten years later, is one of the most outstanding franchise-ending pictures.

Its other rival would be the “Spider-Man” trilogy directed by Sam Raimi and released between 2002 and 2007.

“Spider-Man 2.”


If “Batman Begins” and its two sequels were a more realistic and gritty version of a comic book, then “Spider-Man” and its two sequels from 2002 were ripped from the pages of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s 1960s comics. Tobey Maguire resembled a classic illustration of Peter Parker, the nerd-turned-superhero, hauntingly.

Even if “Spider-Man 3” did not measure up to the expectations of the first two, “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” are two of the greatest comic-book films ever made.

George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy – “A New Hope” (1977), “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and “Return of the Jedi” (1983) – is perhaps the most influential film trilogy in pop culture history.

“Star Wars: Return of the Empire”


Forty-five years after its debut, we are still receiving new “Star Wars” content, including a multiplicity of Disney+ episodes, various animated series, and two more sequel trilogies (neither of which lived up to the hype of the original space opera).

Even though we’re currently living in a vast, extended “Star Wars” universe, the first trilogy delivers a pretty straightforward, universally relatable tale: A boy from a tiny town yearns to see the world, only to discover that life is far more complicated (and amazing) outside of his bubble.

Just add some of the most endearing characters in all of fiction (Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi) and a terrifyingly iconic antagonist (Darth Vader), and you have three of the most influential and adored films of all time.

By releasing the original “Night of the Living Dead” trilogy from 1968 to 1985, George A. Romero sparked a zombie frenzy that continues to this day.

The evening of the living dead.

Continental Distributing

Prior to the 1968 debut of “Night of the Living Dead,” there had been horror films, but nothing quite like “Night of the Living Dead” had been produced. The original picture, which focuses on a small group of strangers surviving a zombie apocalypse in an abandoned cabin, is not only regarded the first modern zombie film — thank you, “Walking Dead” fans — but also one of the greatest horror films and one of the most influential films ever made.

The next two sequels were likewise directed by the indie film great George A. Romero. There are further films directed by Romero, but they were released more than twenty years after the third and are not held in quite the same regard.

In 1973, 1975, and 1991, “The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” and “The Godfather Part III” were each nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

The film The Godfather.

IMDb/Parmount Pictures

Few trilogies can boast three consecutive best-picture awards (perhaps the only other trilogy might be the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy). However, only “The Godfather” trilogy can boast two best picture victories, for the first two films.

The Italian-American mafia story has one of the greatest casts ever assembled, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Andy Garca, and it sparked a mob/organized craze in popular culture that we’re still experiencing today, from “Scarface” to “Goodfellas” to “The Sopranos” to “Mob Wives.”

Decades later, the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Temple of Doom,” and “The Last Crusade,” remain thrilling adventure flicks.

The film titled “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Universal Pictures

No one would have objected if Harrison Ford had wanted to retire from acting after “Star Wars” and Han Solo. Instead, he collaborated with “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to bring one of the most legendary (original) heroes to the big screen: Indiana Jones, an archaeological professor with supersoldier abilities.

The first three “Indiana Jones” films are absolute masterpieces of the 1980s; the less said about 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the better. Perhaps the impending fifth feature will remove this film from the list of best trilogies for good.

The single animated trilogy on this list, “How to Train Your Dragon,” demonstrated that Disney did not have a monopoly on wonderfully conveyed stories between 2010 and 2019.

“How to Tame a Dragon.”

ImagineWorks Animation

DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon” centered on the narrative of Hiccup, an awkward adolescent who realizes that dragons, long feared by his whole village as ferocious monsters, are not what they appear to be.

As Hiccup (spoiler) loses his leg in the film’s climax, he is depicted using a prosthetic in the subsequent two films, establishing him as a pioneer in disability and amputee representation.

In addition, the score for this trilogy is so impressive that it has become a full-fledged TikTok meme.

Every nine years, the “Before” trilogy (1995’s “Before Sunrise,” 2004’s “Before Sunset,” and 2013’s “Before Midnight”) follows the same pair.

“Before Sunrise.”

Columbia Pictures

Jesse and Céline’s journey began in 1995, when the two strangers met on a train to Budapest and decided to explore Vienna to pass the time. They became close because they shared a passion for music, a similar attitude on life, and other romantic characteristics.

Much of the film’s language was co-written by the actors, making Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s exchanges more relatable and entertaining.

In an intriguing turn of events, the performers reassembled nine years later for “Before Sunset” and again nine years later for “Before Midnight” to observe how genuinely the couple’s love matures over two decades.

This list also includes Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, which consists of “The Evil Dead” (1981), “Evil Dead II” (1987), and “Army of Darkness” (1992).

“The Wicked Dead.”

New Line Cinema

The “Evil Dead” films, or the “Ash Gets Punished Over Thousands of Years” trilogy, have been considered as among the most influential horror/comedy films of all time, helmed by director Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell.

Another zombie trilogy, “Evil Dead” and its two sequels (actually, one sequel and one remake/reboot) perfectly blended horror and black humour, setting the way for “Shawn of the Dead,” “Ready or Not,” “Scream,” and even “Get Out.”

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