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Published: Friday, 6/25/2010

Film trilogies: Does anything good come in threes?

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

Toy Story 3 got me thinking: What's the best film trilogy* of all time? And, has there ever been a trilogy that hasn't peaked with the first or second film? Has anyone ever said, "You know, the last film in the series was really the best"?

(*I'm also giving myself license to include the occasional four- or five-part film series as well in this blog about trilogies.)

Usually when you think trilogy you think Star Wars. The first film, A New Hope, while my personal favorite of the entire saga, isn't as good a film as The Empire Strikes Back. But Return of the Jedi is a big let down -- c'mon, you know it is. Jedi marked George Lucas' transformation into a full-time businessman and a part-time filmmaker. How else do you explain the cuddly, made-to-sell Ewoks?

At least Star Wars spawned Empire. What did The Matrix give us, except two reasons to realize the Wachowski Bros. peaked as filmmakers with the first film in the series.

Indiana Jones is an odd exception to what seems to be a trilogy trend, that the final installment is the weakest of the lot. Raiders of the Lost Ark is by far the best of the bunch. Temple of Doom, while ambitious and with guts to take some chances with the franchise -- its violence begat the PG-13 rating -- the film failed to carry on the sense of grand adventure from Raiders. But the third film, The Last Crusade, brought the fun back -- mostly -- and served as a fitting conclusion to the series. Wisely, Steven Speilberg and Lucas opted to never again revisit the world of Indy, thus sparing us from watching a past-his-prime adventurer and his young sidekick battle ... and that's how I choose to remember the franchise, that there was NEVER a fourth Indiana Jones, no matter what IMDB says.

Godfather 3 is the red-headed stepchild of the series, but it still has its moments. If nothing else, part 3 gave us the now-famous line of "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." That has to be worth something.

I have a similar hate-love relationship with David Fincher's ambitious Alien 3. Most of it doesn't work -- including Ripley's sacrificial mom ending. Should I say, ESPECIALLY Ripley's sacrificial mom ending. But I like the movie in theory as a sequel that tried to be something different.

Mad Max was good, Road Warrior was better, Thunderdome? Meh, at best.

You can say the same thing about the sequels in the Spider-Man and Terminator franchises.

Jaws is one of the greatest summer popcorn movies of all time. Period. Jaws 2 is OK at best. 3D was so bad it should've killed the franchise. And Jaws: The Revenge? Michael Caine accepted his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters while filming Jaws 4 in the Bahamas. I've often thought he should have been told to give the Oscar back because of that. How do you accept an Oscar while you're filming Jaws 4?

Lord of the Rings really doesn't count in this category, since the book was written as a singular work and separated by publishers to make the novel easier for readers to digest. It made it easier to make the book(s) into movies as well. Still, if you were to include LOTR in this group, I would consider it the only successful trilogy, with each film -- maybe not equal -- at least close enough in quality that there wasn't a colossal let down.

Arguments against counting the Star Trek, Harry Potter, and James Bond franchises in this category also apply. If you make enough movies, you're bound to get at least three right in the group.

Some other trilogies:

The first Back to the Future was a blast, and parts 2 and 3 proved we didn't need parts 2 and 3.

Look Who's Talking, Look Who's Talking Too, Look Who's Talking Now. In case you're ever searching for an answer to the question: Has Hollywood run out of ideas?

Austin Powers. I actually thought the second one was better than the first. For the record, I was one of maybe 500 people nationwide who saw the original Austin Powers in a theater and before it was discovered by the masses on DVD. For the record, I think the second AP is the best of the lot.

The Bad News Bears. You lost me when you went to the Astrodome.

The Mighty Ducks. You lost me when you made the first film.

The Mummy. There were actually about eight films in the series, if you count Van Helsing, The Scorpion King movies, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The Naked Gun. I actually find parts of 2 and 3 moderately funny. Still, the TV show, Police Squad, which spawned the film series, is the best of the bunch.

The Neverending Story, parts I, II, and III. Insert your own joke here.

National Lampoon's Vacation. One a classic. Two a bore. Three a funny-enough film for the holidays. Four ... wait, they made a fourth? They did, and it's better than the second Vacation.

The Bourne movies. Proof that action movies can be smart AND entertaining.

The Oceans trilogy. One was fun. Two was really bad. Three was an apology for two.

Oh, God! George Burns and John Denver. How old am I that I remember seeing these movies when they came out? Wow. And how pathetic am I that I remember they made it into a trilogy?

Porky's. How old am I that I remember trying to sneak into the first movie as a kid?

Psycho. Sorry, but I actually enjoyed Psycho III -- the one Anthony Perkins directed -- as a completely tongue-in-cheek slasher-comedy. If you haven't seen it, watch it. There are some pretty good lines tossed around by a young Jeff Fahey (seen most recently as pilot Frank Lapidus on Lost). Don't take the film seriously at all -- trust me, no one involved in making the movie did -- and you'll have a decent time with it.

Poltergeist. Scary how bad the films got after the original.

Karate Kid. It's crazy to think that such a goofy, Rocky-esque movie set in high school starring a 20-something actor and a comic-actor from Happy Days could spawn three sequels and a remake.

And yes, there are plenty of trilogies that I left outta this list. Internet space, as you know, is limited. Besides, I've gotta save something for the inevitable sequel or two to this blog posting.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734.



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