The Best Movie Trilogies in Movie History



“Back to the Future” starred Michael J. Fox as the time-traveling teen Marty McFly in the 1985 original and its two sequels in 1989 and 1990.

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future.”

Universal Pictures


The “Back to the Future” trilogy, which is celebrated every October 21 as the day Marty travels in time, was a full-blown phenomenon in the ’80s and ’90s. The films made an A-list movie star out of Fox, 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 long for sneakers that tied themselves and flying skateboards.

While we’re still not at the level of technology we saw in “Back to the Future 2,” the appeal of the story of Marty trying to simultaneously improve his parents’ lives, save Doc from an untimely death, and ultimately return home from the Wild West, remains timeless.

So much so that a musical adaptation of the first film is heading to Broadway in 2023.

The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, released from 2001 to 2003, told a sprawling tale of good versus evil set in a fictional world called Middle Earth.

sam and frodo

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

New Line Cinema


“The Naked Gun” was such a huge success upon its 1988 release that two more sequels following the lovably dimwitted cop Sgt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) were commissioned in 1991 and 1994.

the naked gun

“The Naked Gun.”

Paramount Pictures


After the mega-success of “Airplane!” in 1980, Nielsen once again spoofed a well-known profession with “The Naked Gun”: a detective. Without “Naked Gun” and its sequels we might not have gotten “Reno 911,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” or even the “Austin Powers” movies.

Sgt. Drebin is so enduring that 34 years later, none other than Liam Neeson was tapped to star in a “Naked Gun” reboot, which was reported in October 2022.

Clint Eastwood starred in the “Man with No Name” trilogy, consisting of 1964’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” 1965’s “For a Few Dollars More,” and 1966’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

a fistful of dollars

“A Fistful of Dollars.”

United Artists


Fun fact: This trilogy was actually crafted after the movies were released. These Spaghetti Westerns were first released in Italy, and once United Artists picked up the distribution rights, the studio decided to package them together, as one trilogy starring Eastwood as the titular man with no name (even though his characters do have different names in each).

However, these three movies changed Hollywood forever, as they introduced Eastwood to the movie-going masses, a move that affected the next 58 years (and counting) of cinema. Director Sergio Leone’s aesthetic has influenced countless movies and TV shows, including hits like “The Mandalorian.” And, of course, Ennio Morricone’s theme for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is still one of the most recognizable pieces of music of all time.

There’s an argument to be made that Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, released from 2005 to 2012, are part of the best superhero trilogy of all time.

the dark knight

“The Dark Knight.”

Warner Bros.


When Christian Bale took over as the Caped Crusader in 2005, it wasn’t a given that the film would be a huge success, never mind that its sequel would become the first superhero to have an actor 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 its sandwiched between) changed the comic-book/superhero genre forever, paving the way for what its become today, the most important genre at the box office, as well the grittier and darker aesthetic many films adopted after.

Even if everyone isn’t 100% satisfied with the trilogy’s conclusion, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a huge box-office success and, 10 years later, is now one of the more impressive franchise-ending films.

Its other competition would be director Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy released from 2002 to 2007.

spider-man 2 subway

“Spider-Man 2.”

Sony


If “Batman Begins” and its two sequels were more a realistic, grittier adaptation of a comic book, 2002’s “Spider-Man” and its two sequels were ripped directly from the pages of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comics in the ’60s. Tobey Maguire looked eerily like a classic drawing of Peter Parker, nerd-turned-superhero.

Even if “Spider-Man 3” didn’t live up to the hype of the first two, “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” are some of the best comic-book movies of all time.

But arguably the most significant trilogy in pop culture history remains George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy: 1977’s “A New Hope,” 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” and 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”

the empire strikes back disney

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”

Disney


Forty-five years after its release, we’re still getting new “Star Wars” content, between the multitude of Disney+ shows, multiple cartoons, and two more sequel trilogies (neither of which lived up to the hype of the original space opera).

But even though we’re still living in a sprawling, extended “Star Wars” universe, the first trilogy tells a relatively simple story that anyone can relate to, even decades later: A small-town boy pines to explore the world, only to find out that life is much more complicated (and wonderful) when you leave your bubble.

Just add in some of the most charming characters in all of fiction (Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi) and an iconically terrifying villain (Darth Vader), and you have three of the most influential, beloved movies ever.

George A. Romero kicked off a zombie craze that we’re still living in when he released the original “Night of the Living Dead” trilogy from 1968 to 1985.

Night of the Living Dead

“Night of the Living Dead.”

Continental Distributing


There were horror movies before this trilogy, but nothing had come along quite like “Night of the Living Dead” upon its release in 1968. The first film, which focuses on a small group of strangers riding out a zombie apocalypse in an abandoned cabin, is not just considered the first modern zombie movie — you’re welcome, “Walking Dead” fans — but also one of the best horror films and one of the most influential movies of all time.

The next two follow-ups, also directed by Romero, an indie film legend, continued the series. While there are more also directed by Romero, they came 20+ years after the third film, and aren’t held in quite the same esteem.

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

1973 the godfather

“The Godfather.”

Paramount Pictures/IMDb


Not many trilogies can boast a three-for-three best picture statistic (perhaps the only other trilogy might be the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy). But only “The Godfather” trilogy can claim two best picture wins, for the first two films.

The Italian-American mafia story has one of the greatest casts ever assembled — Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Andy García, to name a few — and kick-started a mob/organized craze in pop culture that we’re still living in today, from “Scarface” to “Goodfellas” to “The Sopranos,” to even “Mob Wives.”

The original “Indiana Jones” trilogy, 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” 1984’s “Temple of Doom,” and 1989’s “The Last Crusade,” remain exciting adventure films decades later.

indiana jones

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Paramount Pictures


If Harrison Ford had wanted to retire from acting after “Star Wars” and Han Solo, no one would’ve begrudged him. Instead, he teamed up with “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and none other than Steven Spielberg to bring one of the most iconic (original) heroes to the big screen: Indiana Jones, an archaeology professor who also has the combat skills of a super-soldier.

The first three “Indy” movies are stone-cold ’80s classics — the less we speak of 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the better. Perhaps the upcoming fifth film will take this film off the best trilogy list once and for all.

The sole animated trilogy on this list, the “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy, proved that Disney didn’t have a monopoly on beautifully told stories from 2010 to 2019.

how to train your dragon 2

“How to Train Your Dragon.”

DreamWorks Animation


“How to Train Your Dragon,” released by DreamWorks Animation, focused on the story of Hiccup, an awkward teenager who discovers that dragons, long-feared by his entire community as raging beasts, aren’t what they seem.

As Hiccup (spoiler) loses his leg at the climax of the film, he is seen using a prosthetic in the next two films, making him a landmark in disability and amputee representation.

Additionally, the score for this trilogy is so awe-inspiring that it became a full-blown meme on TikTok.

The “Before” trilogy (1995’s “Before Sunrise,” 2004’s “Before Sunset,” and 2013’s “Before Midnight”) checks in on the same couple every nine years.

before sunrise

“Before Sunrise.”

Columbia Pictures


The story of Jesse and Céline began in 1995 when the two strangers met on a train to Budapest, and decided to roam around the city of Vienna to kill time. They bonded over their shared love of music, their similar outlook on life, and various other aspects of romance.

Much of the film’s dialogue was co-written by the stars, making actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s conversations all the more relatable and watchable.

In an interesting turn of events, the actors reunited nine years later for “Before Sunset,” and nine years after that for “Before Midnight” to check in on the couple to see how love realistically evolves over two decades.

Sam Raimi has another trilogy on this list: the “Evil Dead” trilogy, consisting of “The Evil Dead” in 1981, “Evil Dead II” in 1987, and “Army of Darkness” in 1992.

the evil dead

“The Evil Dead.”

New Line Cinema


The “Evil Dead” movies, or alternately the “Ash Gets Punished Over Thousands of Years” trilogy, has been cited as some of the most influential horror/comedy films of all time, shepherded by director Raimi and star Bruce Campbell.

Another zombie trilogy, “Evil Dead” and its two sequels (well, one sequel and one remake/reboot) flawlessly balanced the black comedy and the horror staples of the genre, paving the way for “Shawn of the Dead,” “Ready or Not,” “Scream,” or even “Get Out.”



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