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There’s something about the concept of the Trilogy that effectively captures the imagination of modern movie audiences. Maybe it’s because a story told in the course of three movies tends to mirror the traditional three-act structure found in most popular fiction, only on a wider scale. In some cases, trilogies are constructed by movie studios eager to squeeze even more revenue from a popular film, but certain trilogies effectively manage to tell a complete story within its three parts or at least are able to justify their existence as a trilogy in other significant ways.
Perhaps the best-known trilogy in the world of film is George Lucas’ original Star Wars series, which began in 1977 with the first Star Wars film (now better known as A New Hope) and ending with 1983′s Return of the Jedi. This was one of the most successful to use three separate films to tell one long, overarching story. Eighteen years later, another wildly successful and highly influential trilogy arrived with Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The years in between these two landmark film series brought us a number of other trilogies that sprang from blockbuster films of the time, most of them with a narrative through-line that carried over across all three films, with varying degrees of success. The concept of the narrative trilogy has also bled over to the arthouse this year with Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the follow-up to 1995′s Before Sunrise and 2004′s Before Sunset, which depicts the evolving relationship between a couple played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Many of these trilogies tend to dip in quality with each installment, while a select few of of them manage to not only maintain their quality but improve with each film. Of course, this formula does tend to fall apart sometimes when more films are added to the series, as shown with 2008′s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and 2011′s Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides, both of which are prime examples of what can happen when studios force out a new version of an old idea and come up with something that doesn’t satisfy anyone.
A lesser-used but still somewhat prominent approach to the Trilogy is the “thematic trilogy,” in which a director releases three films that have similar casts and tell three distinct and separate stories that offer variations on a common theme or idea. This year brought the culmination of one of the most purely entertaining of these trilogies with Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, which rounded out his excellent “Cornetto Trilogy” that started with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, all of which featured Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the two most prominent roles. Other noteworthy trilogies of this type are Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” Western trilogy and Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy of films that ruminate on the ideas symbolized by the three colors of the French flag. While most of these trilogies aren’t as accessible as the more mainstream ones, they are fascinating attempts by their directors to focus on a certain theme in several distinct ways, and while the individual films are perfectly fine to watch on their own, watching them in tandem can reveal several common aspects between them that may not be as easily noticed at first.
With all the diverse and different types of trilogies now available to watch, which one would you sit down and marathon right now, given the choice? Which series of three films best exemplifies what a film trilogy is or can be in your eyes? Please choose among the options listed below and elaborate via the comments.