People tend to prefer things in threes. There’s three strikes and you’re out. There’s three outs in an inning, and... there’s probably a third thing that’s hard to think of right now. Anyway, the point is that people like things in threes. With movies, a solid script, good casting, competent direction, and excellent marketing (that’s 4 things), you can create a franchise that can sustain over multiple movies. In this case, it’s trilogies. The best part about trilogies is that legendary characters and memorable stories make watching these movies so much fun.
Most of the movies on this list did well both critically and financially. Their critical success was due to their high quality of writing, acting, and direction. Financially, if killing at the box office were a crime, most of these trilogies would be found guilty on all counts (probably 3 counts). Most of the movies on the list are extremely well known. However, there are a few shining examples of what smart people can do to a movie franchise even if they don’t follow the typical moviemaking formula.
This list is a definitive end to the long-standing argument of the best trilogies ever. Don’t bother searching the Internet for anything else.
10 The Jurassic Park Trilogy
Remember that scene in the first one where that goat’s leg falls on the roof of the car when the T-Rex breaks free? Or how about in Jurassic World when those pterodactyls started flying through the park? That scene was so intense, most people probably crapped a pterodactyl in the theater.
What made this trilogy so great was that each film was scary, honest, action-packed, and came with a deep storyline with underlying themes of money, power, and the human tendency to play God.
What didn’t work for this trilogy was that the budget for Jurassic Park had an inverse relationship with the quality of the script over time. As the budget went up, the writing went down. The first film had a budget of $63 million and was arguably the best, earning over $1 billion in gross receipts. The second film had a budget of $73 million and pulled in just over $680 million at the box office. The final film had a budget of $150 million and has raked in around $1 billion. Accounting for inflation though, the movies became more expensive over time and slightly less profitable because a million dollars today is not the same as it was in 1993. All that aside, with gripping scenes throughout all three movies, Jurassic Park is an unquestionable success.
9 The Godfather Trilogy
There’s a chance that the only people who haven’t seen any one of The Godfather movies live under a rock. The franchise is so incredible that some aliens in a far away galaxy are discussing how amazing it is that the first and the second one ended up on the American Film Institute’s 100 best films.
What makes the Godfather trilogy so interesting is its stunningly accurate portrayal of Rwandan refugees making the harrowing journey from their homeland to several European countries. Wait... that might be the wrong plot.
What really made The Godfather trilogy so great was the risk, effort, and detail in each of the movies. Even the producer of the original film met with a mob boss to make sure they got it just right. The trilogy has so much depth, it’s the only genre on this list where a character kills a priest (in the third one) and, in a weird way, it made sense. Bada-bing.
8 The Dollars Trilogy
According to movies, the Wild West was like Compton but with more cowboy boots. The daily task list for characters in westerns was basically shooting guns, getting money, and settling disputes (kind of like the premise for most rap songs). Movie buffs can thank the Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the bad, and the Ugly), for setting this up.
What makes Dollars so unique is that it actually revived a movie category that was virtually dead in the 1960s. Despite their low-budget, low-frills techniques, the producers of the trilogy put some serious work into reinventing the Western. With a troubled hero, violent themes, and distinctive cinematic practices like extreme close ups, Dollars brought a whole new style to the romanticized Old West. The films were a huge box office success, too. This is despite each of the films being written almost exclusively for a European audience by an Italian writer. Bravo!
7 The Vengeance Trilogy
It’s xenophobic and (probably) racist to only include American trilogies or trilogies with Americans as the stars. Budgets in United States for movies are gigantic. Actors are paid a fortune. Directors are paid a fortune. Writers... well, no one cares about the writers, but that’s a different story. The point is that America often churns out the most flamboyant, big-budget films more than any other country. Either that or Americans have nothing better to do than go to the movies.
Regardless, Vengeance, a South Korean trilogy, shouldn’t be judged by its box office receipts because, frankly, they’re unimpressive. Sometimes, how well a trilogy performs is judged less by dollars and cents and more by the opinions of their peers. In this area, Vengeance has few equals. The nausea-inducing violent scenes have been considered masterpieces by film critics because it weaves in slick mysteries in the plot. Each film has won multiple international awards for its quality despite its low budget and un-American stylings.
6 The Matrix Trilogy
The working title for these movies was probably Movie Special Effects: A How-To Guide. All jokes aside, The Matrix trilogy did more than just offer up sweet computer graphics. The movies were so memorable that even just mentioning the name of some things conjures up memories of how good the franchise was. The Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus, Neo, and the Oracle are instantly recognizable because of the complicated, but consistent and well-told plot.
The biggest stain on this trilogy is the film’s third installation, The Matrix Revolutions. In just its second week, its gross box office receipts dropped over 67%. The revenue continued to fall every week until it was mercifully pulled from the theaters. The franchise’s popularity can’t be denied though, especially not when people have been trying to imitate Neo’s bullet-dodging abilities for the past 15 years - probably with extremely limited success.
5 The Toy Story Trilogy
For those who are unfamiliar, the trilogy centers around the group of toys that come to life when a young boy, Andy, is not around. The main character is a cowboy named Woody who is their unofficial leader. There is also a Mr. Potato Head with a Brooklyn accent and of course Buzz Lightyear, a space commander, who is probably the coolest toy in the bunch. All the toys get themselves into and out of a heap of trouble over the course of the three movies and make deep connections with one another. Andy, the toy’s personal God, never finds out his toys are possessed and watch him sleep at night. Maybe that last part is untrue.
All three films were spectacular box office successes grossing nearly $2 billiion in total and, interestingly enough, the original Toy Story was intended to be the first movie using only CGI. It’s a good example of how to use CGI properly and not to cover up a bad script (looking at you, Transfomers).
4 The High School Musical Trilogy
Before hitting the red X button on the internet browser, just keep reading. High School Musical (HSM) was a massive, massive success. Most of the movies on the list are ones that most people have heard of. Unless there is a 12-year old in the house, the movies may seem unfamiliar.
HSM tried to be different with its premise. The movie didn’t rely on sex, violence, or have some political message it tried to slip in. The producers based the movie on singing, dancing, and good clean fun only. They took small budgets, on the small screen, and squeezed every dollar they could out of it.
Just to help visualize, this television movie spawned two sequels, a direct-to-DVD feature, a foreign spin-off, a stage musical, a concert tour, an ice tour, books, video games, a reality series, and countless awards and nominations. In terms of just money, the last installment had a measly $11 million budget and brought home $252 million in box office receipts. For $11 million, some of these other movies couldn’t even afford to get their star actor the elephant tusk golf clubs they asked for. Arguably, HSM earned a spot on this list.
3 The Dark Knight Trilogy
There is little point in ignoring how amazing this trilogy was. Even for non-comic book geeks, the success of the franchise was undeniable. The trilogy made a super star out of Christian Bale and it eclipsed $1 billion in sales since the original’s release. The director, Christopher Nolan, admitted that he can’t even get his arms around the fact it was so massively successful.
It’s not possible to talk about this trilogy without mentioning Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in the second installment of the franchise. He was so crazy, it’s surprising his performance didn't cause Homeland Security to panic and start frisking everyone they saw dressed up like a clown, even though most people wouldn’t argue if they did anyway. Ledger’s acting won him a Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars, but the most touching tribute was probably that his own government named a theater after him in Perth, Australia, his hometown.
2 The Original Star Wars Trilogy
There is no question that Star Wars would have ended up on this list. The only debate is about which trilogy in Star Wars was the best. Naturally, this could wage on as long as there are nerds to bore people about the topic.
With all things considered, nothing beats an original. Here are the quick reasons why. First, there would not have been any new Star Wars movies without the old Star Wars films to support it. Second, the original actors have enjoyed untold success that has spanned nearly 40 years after the original film went to theaters, making it probably more popular than the second trilogy. Third, street performers in Hollywood and Times Square had their choice of so many characters, but chose Star Wars characters over all of them to harass tourists. Finally, Jar-Jar Binks. End of discussion (imaginary microphone dropping).
1 The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
To help understand the insane cost of The Lord of the Rings franchise, it is important to look at numbers in comparison to something else. For all three movies, the production budget was a combined $1.1 billion. Compare this to the Gross Domestic Product of Grenada. It’s a small country that would take longer to get to than Mount Doom. Their GDP? $1.2 billion.
And that’s not the craziest part. The films have made so much money that it could probably just buy Grenada and just use the whole country as a set for future films. Grossing nearly $6 billion, The Lord of the Rings is one of the highest grossing movie franchises ever.
It would be unfortunate to characterize this trilogy only by the money its made. The Lord of the Rings has had a cultural impact that can hardly be quantified in dollars. With a worldwide following hardly seen in any genre, this trilogy is truly something special.