The first movie in a series presents creative ideas and introduces the audience to characters they can love for a lifetime. Sequels can build on that, sometimes expanding on the quality of the first go-around, other times showing us the frivolous nature of gluttonous movie consumption. But what about a threequel? The third sequel in a franchise presents all sorts of challenges for filmmakers. Does the movie serve as a conclusion to a trilogy? Or are the studios just milking the previous two films for more box office receipts? We'll look at the 22 best threequels ever made, all of which answer these questions and more!
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King closed Peter Jackson's ambitious Tolkien adaptation with vigor and chaos. Expansive battle sequences, heartfelt character interactions, and enough endings to shake a remote at combine into something never to be duplicated. The Return of the King puts every other threequel movie to shame with its sheer quality and masterful craftsmanship!
2. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The third Star Wars movie faced tall orders after the beloved Empire Strikes Back, but Return of the Jedi created its own legacy that many fans of the galaxy far, far away still adore to this day. Harrison Ford's hammy performance as Han Solo and the adorable Ewoks support the climactic battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in a poignant and triumphant fashion. The lightsaber duel between father and son remains modern and thrilling four decades later.
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Anyone who loves the nitty-gritty of spaghetti Westerns, take note: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly takes the crown. Clint Eastwood puts a cap on the Dollars Trilogy with incredible chemistry between himself, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. This threequel innovated and pioneered many Western tropes and moviemaking techniques of the next several decades.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy with a potpourri of ideas that drag on a little too long, but the attention to detail and the performance of Christian Bale in his final turn in Bruce Wayne's skin entertain nonetheless. Tom Hardy tries his best to follow up Heath Ledger's iconoclastic Joker with a disturbing interpretation of Bane, but he remains on screen for a little too long without Batman in the middle of the film. Anne Hathaway, as Catwoman, on the other hand, commands the screen.
5. Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 elevated Pixar's best franchise to places it never reached before by playing heartstrings like a guitar. As the kids who watched the first two films had aged into young adulthood by the time of the threequel, Toy Story 3 focuses on whether our youth lives with us forever through the eyes of the evil teddy bear, Lotso.
The third movie in the Wolverine trilogy accomplished rare feats by taking chances in the superhero genre with violence and maturity. Logan hones in on everything audiences feel about Hugh Jackman's hero, forcing fans to contemplate the character's motives and ambitions. In the process, James Mangold's movie set precedents that other blockbuster movies in the last half-decade have found difficult to emulate.
7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third Indiana Jones film incorporated the cheesy, Saturday morning cartoons vibes that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom threw to the wind, making it a threequel the largest common denominator could get behind. Sean Connery and Harrison Ford have surprising camaraderie in the film, and the mediocrity of the ensuing Indiana Jones films in the 21st century forced fans to view this one through rose-colored specs even more than before.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban stands apart from all other films in the Harry Potter series due to its sophisticated nature. Alfonso Cuarón's direction poses a dichotomy of juxtaposed concepts other entries in the fantasy franchise don't possess, such as grappling with time paradoxes and playing with lighting and symbolism in thematically rich ways. In other words, Prisoner of Azkaban represents everything Harry Potter fans wish outsiders to see in the world of magic.
9. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith closes Anakin Skywalker's arc in shocking and satisfying ways. George Lucas successfully drills home the haunting nature of the Sith with grandiose settings, and John Williams' ethereal score brings goosebumps to the skin. The last fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan firmly fits in the CGI overload camp, but Ian McDiarmid's cunning Darth Sideous becomes one of the screen's great villains.
Much like what The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly did for Westerns, Goldfinger did the same for spy films. The third 007 movie leverages the experience Sean Connery gained from playing Bond in the first two movies, introduces one of Hollywood's greatest antagonists, and cements the Ian Fleming book adaptations in cinema lore.
11. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok realized how the Thor franchise churned in mud and infused humor and colorful themes into the fold. Pairing Thor with Hulk as an unlikely duo allowed Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth to play off one another, and director Taika Waititi capitalized on Marvel fans' hunger for the lead-up to the climactic Avengers films.
12. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War served as the guinea pig for Marvel's decision to fuse all of their standalone movies into one big Avengers extravaganza. Iron Man and Captain America's feud walks a delicate line delivered with force by Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. The introduction of Tom Holland as Spider-Man also puts a nice bow on the film.
13. Iron Man 3
Much like the previous film on this list, Iron Man 3 exploits the power of Robert Downey Jr.'s acting skills. The star's talents compensate for the forgettable script and conflict in Shane Black's version of Tony Stark's universe. Iron Man 3 also reminded audiences that no other Marvel character's legacy can match that of the man in the high-tech suit.
14. Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible doesn't suffer from repetition because Tom Cruise remains dedicated to designing the perfect blockbuster action movie. The third installment applies novel pressure to Ethan Hunt, with grandiose and stylist stunts and serviceable dialogue and plotting.
15. War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes benefits from an astute, carefully planned sequence of events carved out by the first two movies. Ceasar's defection from human captors alongside his simian klan of geniuses was always going to lead to a battle for the ages, and the third film manifests its intended plot devices. Woody Harrelson supports Andy Serkis and provides a good human/CGI-ape contrast.
Daniel Craig's edition of he British secret agent probably lives most prominently in the heads of anyone under 35. Skyfall allows the character to breathe a bit, and evokes the best aspects of the previous Craig films. Skyfall also features Adele singing the title track. What else needs to be said?
17. Shrek 3
Shrek 3 differs from other good threequels in that it doesn't improve upon the predecessors in the series, nor does it introduce new concepts or memorable characters. Watching Shrek 3 will entertain because he's Shrek! The curmudgeon from the swamp never fails to make people laugh, even if the scripts start to lose steam.
18. Die Hard with a Vengeance
Die Hard with a Vengeance relies on the brilliance of Jeremy Irons and Samuel L. Jackson to layer the heroism of Bruce Willis, and this certainly seems like a great idea from the casting department. With about $360 million in box office returns, the film evokes to a time when this type of box office haul meant true success!
19. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The third Nightmare on Elm Street film experiments a lot, sometimes to a fault and other times to its benefit. 1980s movie fans fondly remember the use of dreamlike states and the influence the film had on further entertainment properties like Stranger Things.
20. Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War shines bright in a vacuum and when placed amongst the Marvel puzzle. The film captures the tension and conflict that will make Avengers: Endgame the era-defining movie it became, and it makes sure to nail home the villainy of Thanos. One of the flaws of Infinity War remains how it serves better as a prequel to the final movie in the saga rather than as a sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron.
21. The Bourne Ultimatum
Matt Damon continues to flex his action star skills as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum. The adaptation of the Robert Ludlum book series gives fans of the genre something different to chew on when they tire of Mission: Impossible and 007. Unfortunately, Damon never played the title character again after this triumvirate.
22. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Madagascar 3 serviceably checks all of the boxes any solid threequel should. Returning main cast members? Check. New voice stars like Bryan Cranston and Frances McDormand? Also, check. Kudos to Dreamworks for integrating new set pieces and taking advantage of the innate nature environments the franchise provides.