Top 10 Third Movies in a Franchise

by Eric Melin on June 29, 2010

in Top 10s

Making Top 10s isn’t easy, folks. Considering that “Toy Story 3” just opened a couple weeks ago and the third movie in the “Twilight” franchise opens tonight at midnight, it was foretold that this list would happen. There was no avoiding it, simple as that.

lady vengeance parkHaving already written the Top 10 Fourth Movies in a Franchise list last year (if for no other reason than to prove that there is almost never any reason to do four movies—with maybe only one major exception–that list’s #1), I knew it was time to embark on a list that had to include better films.

What I found was really, really interesting. It turns out that there are certainly more solid third films in a series than there are fourth movies. (That said, we are not rating films based on their ranking within the series themselves, just ranking based on his third movie versus that third movie.)

But most of the best third films are the ones that only tangentially have anything to do with each other, not the ones that actually follow the same main characters through into a third story or adventure. Because of that, I’m going to just briefly browse the films that actually made the list to talk about some of the films that don’t necessarily qualify but, frankly, are more interesting.

I would also argue that it is because some of these “unlisted” films aren’t hamstrung by using the same characters in similar plotlines as their predecessors that they were able to transcend the fact that they are third in a “series.”

day of the dead 1985One movie that doesn’t qualify is 2005’s “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” the third movie in Park Chan Wook‘s vengeance trilogy (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and the infamous “Oldboy” preceded it in 2002 and 2003). Numerous actors and actresses are repeated throughout the trilogy, but only as cameos and in different roles. Instead the characters in these three movies were motivated by revenge and were considered “spiritual successors.” I don’t even think the director planned on a trilogy, but that’s the way all three movies are marketed on DVD now.

I also have to exclude George Romero’s third zombie film, 1985’s thought-provoking “Day of the Dead.” It takes place in the same universe as 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” but with no connecting characters. Still, it keeps right up with the social commentary and pits scientists (who want to domesticate the zombies that have overrun the Earth above them) against soldiers (guess what they want to do?) in an underground bunker. It’s the most talky of the bunch, but it serves up a lot to think about and a fine, gory, bleak ending.

chasing amy lee affleck1997’s “Chasing Amy” still ranks as the best movie writer/director Kevin Smith ever made, but it focuses on new lead characters played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee (who played different people in 1995’s “Mallrats.”) Both of those films and his 1994 debut “Clerks” featured Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), but in minor roles only. Each film had a different thrust (Smith would like my word choice there) as well. “Chasing Amy” still features some of the most perfectly realized portrayals of male ego and insecurity ever committed to film and some of Smith’s most insightful and filthy writing.

Like The Vengeance Trilogy, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy is tied together by theme only. Like Smith’s ViewAskewniverse movies, the third one is also the best. (That’s right—I just compared Kevin Smith to Krzysztof Kieślowski.) Each movie is based on a different theme inspired by the colors of the French flag and the country’s political ideals. 1993’s “Blue” examined liberty, 1994’s “White” looked at equality, and 1994’s “Red” tackles fraternity. A beautiful model (Irène Jacob) forms a strong and unlikely bond with a reclusive retired judge in “Red,” and, like the two preceding movies, the title color is used heavily in the visual palette. Although the main characters from “Blue” and “White” appear briefly in “Red,” it’s not really a franchise, so I couldn’t consider “Red” for this list either.

three colors red“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is the third movie in Sergio Leone‘s violent and episodic Man With No Name Trilogy. Or at least that’s what everybody else says about 1964’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” 1965’s “For A Few Dollars More,” and its way-more-famous final installment from 1966. Clint Eastwood plays the anti-hero in all three films with the same tough-as-nails demeanor and dressed in the same distinctive poncho, but despite the commonly accepted title of the unofficial trilogy, he actually does have a name. Only problem? Three different ones: Joe, Manco, and Blondie respectively. Sure, they could be nicknames. But a number of actors play different characters in more than one films, none more notable than the menacing Lee Van Cleef. These films singlehandedly changed what a Western could be and are all worth checking out if you still haven’t.

good bad ugly eastwoodAnd then there’s this quandary: Which movie is considered third in the Anthony Hopkins-Hannibal Lecter series? “Hannibal” (the third book, the second movie) or “Red Dragon” (the first book, the third movie)? To complicate matters first, Michael Mann filmed “Red Dragon” as “Manhunter” in 1986 with Brian Cox as Lecter! I give up.

Well, I spent all of my time talking about most of the movies I really wanted to write about and I haven’t even started the list proper yet. Eh, big deal. I’ll blow through the rest of these movies real quick-like.

No thanks to these, who didn’t make it:

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Boo. All zoomy, fidgety chases, no character. The worst of the series.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
A lot of people like this movie and the only reason I can point to explain that is that they’ve seen “A Christmas Story” too many times, they set the bar extra low for their poo jokes, and have yet to discover the greatness and holiday warmth of “Elf.”

Finally, the actual list (I’m bored already):

return of jedi jabba10. Back to the Future III (1990)

I know at least one person who really, really loves this movie, a sloppy Western shoehorned into the “Back to the Future” lost-in-time premise, notable only for the fact that Christopher Lloyd finally got to kiss a woman onscreen (Mary Steenburgen) for the first time.

9. Naked Gun 33 1/3 The Final Insult (1994)

The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team that originated this gag-oriented Leslie Nielsen series and the TV show that spawned it, “Police Squad!,” didn’t direct this one, but it still has a higher laugh-to-gag ratio than any movie Nielsen has been in outside this series.

8. Return of the Jedi (1983)

Jabba is cool, Boba Fett dies like a chump, and Ewoks ruin everything—especially when they sing. Worst “Star Wars” movie until “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” but still better than the worst “Naked Gun” movie.

army of darkness ash7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Sean Connery and Harrison Ford’s father-son rivalry lifted this Indiana Jones movie far above the weak and annoying “Temple of Doom” (which had a couple of heart-ripping brilliant moments at least).

6. Army of Darkness (1993)

I’ll let the purists argue whether the second “Evil Dead” movie is a sequel to or a remake of the first one, but I say it’s a sequel. (Doesn’t Ash go back to the cabin or something?) Either way, it’s “Ash III” and it rocks. Bruce Campbell at his hilarious, faux self-confident best.

5. Goldfinger (1964)

Is it the best James Bond movie? No. That falls to the superb, taut thriller “Casino Royale,” which featured Daniel Craig as an arrogant and flawed Bond. Still, its Sean Connery at his debonair best with a firm (pun intended) cast of ridiculously named supporting characters such as Pussy Galore.

m:i III4. Mission: Impossible III (2006)

A lot of people will want to fight me for this and they’d be wrong. J.J. Abrams directed the best film in the series so far, giving it a much-needed sense of hardcore drama, shifting backwards in time from a tense opening to tell a dizzying, action-packed story filled with real danger, a believably slimy bad guy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and very real consequences for superspy Tom Cruise.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Alfonso Cuaron may not have followed the book, but he easily created the most emotionally true and stirring tale from a series that continued to lose steam after this go-round. The final scene where Harry must realize his own potential in a very adult way (against terrifying cloaked Dementors) packs more of an emotional wallop than any that has come since. Considering what happened in the last film with Harry’s mentor, that statement is a firm scolding to the directors that have followed Cuaron.

toy story 3 20102. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Let’s talk emotional for a second. Pixar, the studio not afraid to get dark and strangely moving in its computer-animated, Disney-distributed movies does it again—except this time they sucker punch us with their heretofore happy-go-lucky franchise. Read my full review of “Toy Story 3” here, but suffice to say it’s the real reason I had to make this list, not “Twilight: Eclipse.” It may be to early to tell, but I think it’s the best of the series and somewhat of a modern classic.

1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Duh. So what if the epilogue is 30 minutes long? It’s the ending to an eight-hour movie—there was a lot of wrap-up to be done! Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the J.R.R. Tolkien books is still the model of epic, character-driven adventure storytelling and is packed with enough detail (and director’s cuts) to pack another eight hours worth of universe-expanding material into its filmic world. Did I mention it’s a fantastic character journey as well?

lotr return wood astin

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jess June 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

I LOVE Sympathy for Lady Vengeance! Would also put Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade higher than Army of Darkness, but that’s just me.

Reply

2 jess June 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

I LOVE Sympathy for Lady Vengeance! Would also put Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade higher than Army of Darkness, but that’s just me.

Reply

3 Jake June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

totally agree with you on MI-3. that movie is above & beyond better than the other 2. can’t believe you put Naked Gun 33 1/3 on there. man, that’s not very good. i agree with most of these though. i tried thinking about different ones that i would put on this list, but really couldn’t think of any.

Reply

4 Jake June 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

totally agree with you on MI-3. that movie is above & beyond better than the other 2. can’t believe you put Naked Gun 33 1/3 on there. man, that’s not very good. i agree with most of these though. i tried thinking about different ones that i would put on this list, but really couldn’t think of any.

Reply

5 Xavier June 29, 2010 at 3:37 pm

surely Spiderman 3 deserves to be on there more than naked gun 33 1/3

Reply

6 Xavier June 29, 2010 at 3:37 pm

surely Spiderman 3 deserves to be on there more than naked gun 33 1/3

Reply

7 Jake June 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Xavier, that’s just silly. Spiderman 3 was horrible. The scene where he breaks into dance on the sidewalk is one of the worst moments in movie history IMO.

Reply

8 Jake June 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Xavier, that’s just silly. Spiderman 3 was horrible. The scene where he breaks into dance on the sidewalk is one of the worst moments in movie history IMO.

Reply

9 Alex June 30, 2010 at 12:30 am

Mission Impossible 3? Better than Indy 3? No.

Harry Potter 3 was great, and a refreshing surprise since the first two were so childish.

I just found a post at Flowing Data that charts the Rotten Tomato ratings of popular trilogies. http://flowingdata.com/2010/06/28/do-movie-sequels-live-up-to-their-originals/ It looks like Rotten Tomatoes agrees with you about MI3, but the ratings for the Star Wars prequels erases any credibility that site had.

Reply

10 Alex June 30, 2010 at 12:30 am

Mission Impossible 3? Better than Indy 3? No.

Harry Potter 3 was great, and a refreshing surprise since the first two were so childish.

I just found a post at Flowing Data that charts the Rotten Tomato ratings of popular trilogies. http://flowingdata.com/2010/06/28/do-movie-sequels-live-up-to-their-originals/ It looks like Rotten Tomatoes agrees with you about MI3, but the ratings for the Star Wars prequels erases any credibility that site had.

Reply

11 TS June 30, 2010 at 8:14 am

Some that I like are… (Not that they are any better than your choices or the predecessors from the series)

Alien 3 (they killed Newt/a return to horror)
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (THUNDERDOME!)
The Muppets Take Manhattan
Superman III (Richard Pryor/evil-drunk Superman)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (don’t wanna dream no more)
Friday the 13th: 3D (Jason gets his hockey mask)
The Enforcer (Dirty Harry)

Reply

12 TS June 30, 2010 at 8:14 am

Some that I like are… (Not that they are any better than your choices or the predecessors from the series)

Alien 3 (they killed Newt/a return to horror)
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (THUNDERDOME!)
The Muppets Take Manhattan
Superman III (Richard Pryor/evil-drunk Superman)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (don’t wanna dream no more)
Friday the 13th: 3D (Jason gets his hockey mask)
The Enforcer (Dirty Harry)

Reply

13 Will Babbit June 30, 2010 at 10:42 am

Oddly enough I just read Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, and after seeing what they made that movie with, it deserves to be higher!

Reply

14 Will Babbit June 30, 2010 at 10:42 am

Oddly enough I just read Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, and after seeing what they made that movie with, it deserves to be higher!

Reply

15 Eric Melin June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Alex – That chart is awesome. I love the “probably not as good as the original, unless by Pixar.”

TS – I will agree with you that all of the movies you listed are the third in a franchise and I always enjoy hearing your voice. You should write something for us again!

Will – Yeah, it gives you new respect for those films, doesn’t it? I fear that that kind of non-CGI ingenuity may be dead.

Reply

16 Eric Melin June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Alex – That chart is awesome. I love the “probably not as good as the original, unless by Pixar.”

TS – I will agree with you that all of the movies you listed are the third in a franchise and I always enjoy hearing your voice. You should write something for us again!

Will – Yeah, it gives you new respect for those films, doesn’t it? I fear that that kind of non-CGI ingenuity may be dead.

Reply

17 wayne swab June 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

JAWS 3 in 3-D. Horrible movie, but when the cross-bow came into the theater, it was pretty cool

Friday the 13th in 3-D. After part 2 they all started to suck. But once again, when the spear gun came into the theater it was pretty cool. Also wasn’t that the one where the kid who walked on his hands got split? That scene alone makes it better than any Lord of the Rings movie.

Reply

18 wayne swab June 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm

JAWS 3 in 3-D. Horrible movie, but when the cross-bow came into the theater, it was pretty cool

Friday the 13th in 3-D. After part 2 they all started to suck. But once again, when the spear gun came into the theater it was pretty cool. Also wasn’t that the one where the kid who walked on his hands got split? That scene alone makes it better than any Lord of the Rings movie.

Reply

19 Eric Melin July 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Wayne- I love your criteria!
TS – Was that the one where the kid who walked on his hands got split?

Reply

20 Eric Melin July 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Wayne- I love your criteria!
TS – Was that the one where the kid who walked on his hands got split?

Reply

21 TS July 2, 2010 at 6:47 am

Wayne is correct, that kill was in Part III.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL6Q3f3Xbao
5:00 minute mark

Reply

22 TS July 2, 2010 at 6:47 am

Wayne is correct, that kill was in Part III.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL6Q3f3Xbao
5:00 minute mark

Reply

23 Eric Melin July 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Thanks! That was cool, but not nearly as graphic as I would have thought…certainly not better than 8 hours of LOTR–ha!

Reply

24 Eric Melin July 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Thanks! That was cool, but not nearly as graphic as I would have thought…certainly not better than 8 hours of LOTR–ha!

Reply

25 Gronk July 7, 2010 at 9:38 am

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is probably the best of a great series of movies – Freddy Krueger rocks!

Reply

26 Gronk July 7, 2010 at 9:38 am

Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is probably the best of a great series of movies – Freddy Krueger rocks!

Reply

27 cleavy August 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Nice picks, Melin! I have a soft-spot for Back to the Future III (it’s actually on my DVR right now – haha!) – a little ridiculous by this point, but I love the series and III stays true to the formula. Plus, Doc and Marty are always solid.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is by far the best in the series, and I would agree that all installments after that one have progressively declined in quality. Your “firm scolding” is well-deserved!

LotR – Best trilogy, series, epic, directors cuts, bonus features, etc… EVER. I’m a die-hard fan-dork.

A couple of suggestions (I also second TS’s Alien 3, Friday the 13th: 3D, and The Muppets Take Manhattan):

Dead or Alive: Final (Miike 2002) – if you haven’t seen all three of these, rent rent rent!

Rocky III (Mickey dies – OMG, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T… The Rocky formula in good form, as always, and isn’t that what a “series” is all about?)

Reply

Leave a Comment

 

Previous post:

Next post: