Question of the week: can you name a trilogy that improved with each entry?

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s review, I really rather enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. In fact, I declared it the best MCU movie so far. 

Of course, Captain America: Winter Soldier was my favourite before that, which set me thinking. Each Captain America movie has been better than its predecessor, which is almost unheard of in a trilogy. We can all think of a trilogy that has got worse with each new movie (eg The Matrix, Look Who’s Talking), that’s got better for its second outing before producing a disappointing conclusion (eg The GodfatherStar Wars, Star Trek) or that had worse sequel before improving for the final outing (eg Back To The Future, Ocean’s Eleven, Three Colours).

But I couldn’t think of any other trilogy where each new movie was better than the one before it. Can you?




  • JustStark

    Well, From Russia with Love is definitely better than Dr. No, and Goldfinger is arguably better than From Russia with Love. So there's that.

    Oh, and I would say of the second lot of Star Wars films that The Phantom Menace is definitely the worst and Revenge of the Sith is probably the… least bad… but honestly there's so little in it, and I guess that when you posed the question you were hoping for the progression 'good, better, best' not 'terrible, insipid, almost watchable' even though that technically fits the parameters.

  • Bobloblaw

    Toy Story 3 is definitely the best of that franchise though its a close run thing between 1 and 2 for second place. Course, they're going for a fourth now, so all bets are off…

  • I'd agree (I think, after a few moments consideration) about the respective qualities of the Bonds, but they're not really trilogy (YMMV). I actually preferred Phantom Menace to the second and third movies, though – certainly, my wife managed to stay awake through Phantom Menace, fell asleep midway through Attack of the Clones and can't remember anything of Revenge of the Sith, so that's my definitive reading on their respective qualities

  • Yes, I think that might well be one. Okay, so that's two trilogies (for now, at least). Any more?

  • JustStark

    I'd agree (I think, after a few moments consideration) about the
    respective qualities of the Bonds, but they're not really trilogy (YMMV)

    No, but then if you want to stick with a strict definition of 'trilogy', ie, three and only three connected works conceived as such from the beginning, then there are very few films which do count (Three Colours, definitely, and maybe The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).

    What's far more common is when one film originally intended to stand alone is successful enough that a sequel is commissioned, and then another sequel; or, to save money, two sequels might be ordered and then filmed back-to-back. That's how we got things like the Back to the Future and The Matrix trilogies. And Star Wars, come to that.

    And if those are successful then the thing might turn into a franchise, with a fourth, fifth, maybe even more: Alien/Aliens etc, and, indeed, James Bond.

    I'd argue the Captain America films (can't comment on the quality, have only seen the first one) are examples of this: the first one ended with a sequel hook but was stand-alone enough that, had it bombed, they didn't need to do any more; but it was successful so the next two were at least written even if not filmed as a unit (your review saying that this seems like the same story as the second one, continued, suggests that); and from what I gather if these are commercially successful they will certainly by trying to make more, perhaps re-casting the lead.

    So given that, I actually think that if they count as a trilogy then the Bond films have to, as, basically, that's exactly the process that Bond went through, of one film being successful, then sequels, then a franchise, even down to the change of lead actor (and at one point, remember, it was the intention that the new actor was not so much a recasting but was supposed to be a different character who was using the same code-name of 'James Bond' [which is why George Lazenby refers to 'the other guy' in OHMSS], which is being suggested as a possible route for the code-name of 'Captain America' too).

    The only difference is that the second and third Bond films aren't the same story split into two parts; but then, neither are Aliens and Alien<sup>3</sup> and I assume you'd count them as a 'trilogy' (albeit not one that fits your parameters of each successive film increasing in quality).

  • Who'd have thought the concept of a trilogy would be so difficult? I was thinking three films that people think of as three linked films is a trilogy. The Hobbit, being four films, isn't a trilogy. Toy Story, currently a trilogy, will stop being a trilogy once Toy Story 4 comes out. If there's ever a fourth Captain America movie, it, too, will stop being a trilogy.

    So Bond isn't a trilogy because the franchise didn't stop at three. At least in my definition. If you want to group them, fair enough, but I think if someone said “Name a movie trilogy” and you said “The first three James Bond movies”, there'd be a lot more debate than if you'd said Back To The Future, The Matrix, The Godfather, et al.

    But to be fair, with my own definition, I shouldn't probably have included Star Wars and Star Trek in the lists, so whatevs. Live and let live. Not die.

  • JustStark

    Ah, I see: I was confused by the fact you used the 'Captain America' films as your example because Marvel clearly are going to keep milking each one of their franchises for as long as they can, so it seems impossible to me to think of them as 'three films' rather than 'the attempted start of a franchise running to five or six at least'. I mean, that's clearly the intent, isn't it?

    Back to your question: I haven't seen any of the films, but the titles of Darkman, Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die certainly get better as they go along.

  • Actually, the MCU is a bit trickier than that. The general universe is going to keep going for ages. The same characters can pop up between movies. However the aim with each of the sub-franchises is to only do trilogies. So at the moment, there are no plans to do an Iron Man 4, Captain America 4 or Thor 4. Instead, there'll be new franchises based around Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Spider-Man, as well as more Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Avengers. But as we saw from Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark can still appear in any of those movies, just not in an Iron Man 4.

  • JustStark

    Oh, really? I suppose it's one way to try to keep it seeming fresh, so the audience thinks they're getting something new every few years. So they can keep churning out the same product but make it look like it's new. Clever.

    Downside is that they're quickly going to run out of decent, recognisable characters and be reduced to… well, to things like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Power Pack.

    Back to the question: do we count the Red Curtain Trilogy?

  • Mark Carroll

    My wife separately wondered about “The Lord of the Rings” as a possible though not compelling instance.

  • I think you have to give Marvel a bit more credit than that. Sure, they're 'superhero movies', usually end with punching and some are more similar than others. But Thor's a romance/light-hearted Game of Thrones. Iron Man's boy's-own techno fun. Ant-Man's a heist movie. Guardians of the Galaxy is Magnificent Seven in space*, while Doctor Strange looks like it's going to be magical Inception. Even within trilogies, there's variation: Captain America is period, nostalgia-tinged boy's-own adventure in the style of The Rocketeer, while Captain America 2 and 3 are political thrillers in the style of The Bourne Supremacy.

    What they've done is smart and (I think) unique: they've created a shared universe in which various trilogies (and other movies) can co-exist and crossover, but which are nevertheless largely independent and focus on specific characters. The Thor series has Thor, Loki, Odin and co; Captain America has Cap, Bucky, Black Widow and Falcon; Iron Man has Tony Stark, Pepper and War Machine; and so on. But they can all show up for The Avengers or Civil War. Hulk (who had his own trilogy but it was rubbish so now doesn't) can show up whenever and will be best pals with Thor in Thor 3, but it's still all about Thor.

    But based on that, the Marvel Universe can then go wherever it wants. Iron Man 1 was 2008, so 8 years ago now and Robert Downey Jr ain't getting any younger (although Civil War) so they can retire his character and start using new characters rather than having to reboot and tell the Iron Man origin story again with a new actor. All the matters is convincing people that watching AN Other character from the Marvel Universe is something you can do and enjoy. Iron-Man and Ant-Man are very different characters, beyond both having special techno suits, but neither of them was especially famous. Yet because of the MCU branding, Ant-Man took $500m worldwide. And despite Ant-man's lack of namecheck status in popular culture, my wife tells me that when she's been talking with kids this week (and she does that quite a lot), when asked to name their favourite bit in Captain America: Civil War (to which, to be honest, not one of them should have gone, but…), every single one of them said “the bit with Ant-man”. So at this point, Marvel branding trumps popular culture.

    So I'm giving them a bit of credit at least.

    RE: Red Curtain. Probably not. I'd go with this list in the absence of anything else: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

    * Or would be if that weren't Battle Beyond The Stars.

  • JustStark

    Oh, I definitely have to give Marvel credit: they seem to have hit on the technique for transmuting not-very-good films based on crappy comic books into vast, Scrooge McDuck-esque piles of cash, and that's basically the twenty-first century version of the philosopher's stone.

    So obviously they are doing something very right indeed.

    That Wiki-pædia article includes the Red Curtain trilogy (or did, at least, but someone might have changed it).

  • I honestly couldn't distinguish between them…

  • JustStark

    I thought the last one was the best because it was finally over.

  • Andy Butcher

    I'd humbly suggest that we might be able to avoid more semantic arguments by rephrasing the question to 'can you name a series of at least three movies that improved with each entry?'

    Just a thought. 🙂

  • That'll work!

  • Andy Butcher

    Yeah, they've even managed to fool respected film critics into thinking that they're actually making excellently written, cast and directed superhero movies…

    After all, Hollywood history is full of studios that have made 13 hit movies in a row, all of which take place in the same world and are interconnected on multiple levels. It's not like they're doing anything unique or unprecedented.

    And most of those crappy comic books the movies are based on have only been around for 50-75 years. It's not like they've inspired multiple generations of fans or had a massive impact on pop culture.

  • JustStark

    After all, Hollywood history is full of studios that have made 13 hit
    movies in a row, all of which take place in the same world and are
    interconnected on multiple levels. It's not like they're doing anything
    unique or unprecedented

    Like I said, they're clearly doing something right.

    And most of those crappy comic books the movies are based on have only been around for 50-75 years. It's not like they've inspired multiple generations of fans or had a massive impact on pop culture

    Indeed they have. Sadly.

  • Andy Butcher

    “Like I said, they're clearly doing something right.”

    Could it be that what they're doing right is making good movies? They may not be making movies you enjoy, but that doesn't mean that those of us who do enjoy them are somehow being fooled or suckered in some way.

    “Indeed they have. Sadly.”

    Why 'sadly'? If you don't like superhero comics, that's absolutely fine. But you seem to feel that there's something fundamentally wrong with them (and thus, by implication, with those of us who enjoy them)…

  • JustStark

    Could it be that what they're doing right is making good movies?

    Nope. I've seen them (well, not all of them, I have stopped bothering to watch them). They're not very good.

    They may well be making movies some people enjoy, but that's a very different thing from good films.

    But you seem to feel that there's something fundamentally wrong with
    them

    I think most of them are complete and utter rubbish, yes, and they all do rather seem, from what I hear, to end up with everybody fighting evil future versions of themselves from alternate universes for no readily apparent reason.

    Astro City is good though.

  • We'll be discussing what 'good' means, next. I can see it. Doubt not my psychic powers

  • JustStark

    Not until we've finished with 'trilogy'.

  • Andy Butcher

    Agreed on Astro City, and that there is a difference between enjoyable and good (although something can be both). On everything else, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree. 😉

  • JustStark

    Here, this is written in a really weird and annoying style, but it correctly identifies a lot of the reasons they are not good movies:

    http://birthmoviesdeath.com/20

    I think the way I'd put it is that the movies — like modern Doctor Who — aren't so much films, as they are their own fan-fiction.

    That is, they aren't so much interested in telling new stories, as they are all about putting their already-existing characters and concepts into various combinations designed with the sole aim of producing moments that make fan-girls squeal with delight.

    But because the moments are generated entirely for the sake of being such moments, they lack any actual meaning.