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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Threequel Films

June 13, 2017 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 Threequel Films

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Pixar is back in theaters this week as Cars 3 hopes to strike gold with audiences. The Cars franchise is certainly not one of the animation studios’ most beloved entries, but it is one of the most profitable thanks to the kid-friendly designs and engaging if not excellent story. The third film in a film franchise is one that can be tricky for studios to get right; from Blade Trinity and Spider-Man 3 to The Matrix Revolutions and more the third film in a franchise is usually a major sinkhole that often kills lively franchises dead. This week I thought I would honor the best threequels in film history.

Caveat: For a film to qualify, it had to be the third film in a franchise. The only real caveat to that is this: I did not consider “Cinematic Universe” films to count, as they muddy the waters of what’s a sequel to what. For example, is Iron Man 2 the threequel of the MCU, since it’s the third film? You can see where that gets weird. I threw out the whole MCU in general because of that.

Just Missing the Cut

Day of the Dead (1985)
Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

#8: Army of Darkness (1993)

It almost goes without saying that the Evil Dead franchise makes for one of the greatest horror comedy franchises of all time. Bruce Campbell’s Ashley Williams is an icon to horror hounds, the ultimate badass in one of the few franchises where the hero is actually more well-known and has more of a following than the villain. At the end of Evil Dead II, our everyman with a chainsaw hand found himself teleported back to the year 1300 in such a way that fans were desperate to see where things were going to go from there. The answer was Army of Darkness, a film that dials back the horror a little and instead turns it into a blend of comedy and dark, dark fantasy. The juxtaposition of Ash and his modern ways in the anachronistic setting makes for a lot of fun while Campbell gets a lot of choice moments and lines in, including all of his insults for his medieval pals and enemies. Raimi gets the pleasure of subjecting Campbell’s Ash to any number of devious torments and we gleefully follow along. It’s almost silly to say a film like this is underrated but it sometimes is simply because it isn’t quite as good as its predecessors but that’s a pretty high bar for it to pass; while it may not be as good as the first two Raimi still knocks it out of the park. For fans of horror, who are particularly used to their beloved franchises being crap by the time the third entry rolls around, Army of Darkness is a true treat of a threequel.

#7: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2012)

Next up on our list is a true rarity; a documentary threequel. You don’t often get a sequel to a documentary, and a third is practically unheard of. But that is just one of several ways that the Paradise Lost trilogy is remarkable. The trilogy of films, which focuses on the infamous murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the teenagers who were convicted of the crimes, is one of those rarified non-fiction films that actually accomplish what it set out to do in freeing the three who were wrongfully convicted in the eyes of many. And while you can argue the innocence or guilt of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, you cannot deny the significance of this series in shining a light on the case which is what ultimately helped the three attain their freedom. Paradise Lost 3 focuses primarily on the final four years of the trio’s incarceration–at that point approaching twenty years–and their ongoing struggle to have the state of Arkansas review evidence that could exonerate them. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky effectively mix just enough footage from the previous films to give this one context and proceed to examine the case once more, with focus put on one of the late boys’ fathers as a suspect. Fortuitously, the West Memphis Three earned their freedom in a last-second development before the documentary was completed, allowing this film to finish off the trilogy with as happy an ending as possible. That term may be dubious at best in a case where three young boys died and three more were possibly unjustly imprisoned for two decades, but you take what you can get in such a situation.

#6: Before Midnight (2013)

It’s not one of the highest-grossing trilogies of all-time, but Richard Linklater’s Before trio is undoubtedly one of the best. The series kicked off with Before Sunrise in 1995 and then nine years later gave us Before Sunset. It was yet another nine years before we got the third and (presumably) final entry, Before Midnight which capped off the story of Jesse and Celine, the two lovers who initially had a chance meeting on a train through Europe and by the time of the final film are married with twins, dealing with the rigors of a long-term relationship. Like the first two films, Before Midnight isn’t an action-packed or dramatic plot twist-heavy film; it moves ahead in a very natural manner and that can be a turn-off for some moviegoers. But Linklater’s script gives Hawke and Delpy the opportunity to give wonderful performances and their chemistry together is off the charts. Linklater takes a subtle approach behind the camera, making Jesse and Celine’s tale an engaging, emotional and thought-provoking look at the nature of life, love and relationships. There’s a purity in its simplicity and both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are sublime in their roles. It’s an often funny and always touching tale of two people who have found that one love, and how they deal with the fact that it’s not all just a storybook tale. For my money, Before Midnight concludes one of the best romantic stories in cinematic history.

#5: Return of the Jedi (1983)

I know that technically Return of the Jedi is the sixth Star Wars film in terms of narrative chronology, but it is the third film that came out and that makes it a threequel in my book. Obviously, the Star Wars franchise redefined big-budget movie-making and helped usher in the age of blockbusters, for better or worse. While Jedi is the lesser of the first three films, it is still quite good and established many of the important elements for a concluding chapter of a modern trilogy. The cast was completely lived-in in terms of their performances by this point; any initial awkwardness that Mark Hamill showed in A New Hope was long gone by now, and Richard Marquand did great things in the director’s chair with Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas’ script. The special effects are top-notch for the era and we get the conclusion of all the important story arcs (at that time, anyway). Popcorn films weren’t supposed to be much more than a fun time but I know many, many people who got quite emotional over Vader’s heroic sacrifice. Jedi set the part of what blockbuster movie concluding chapters should be for years and it still stands as a strong threequel to this day.

#4: Toy Story 3 (2010)

The Toy Story franchise is the most iconic of Pixar’s films for obvious reason, being the first and most successful among them to date. For the third film John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich set out to create a final chapter for the series and they achieved everything they could want with it, to the point that despite the fact that it could be great, I have no desire to see a final entry. Sometimes a franchise is good sticking with a limited number of entries and this is one of those where I desperately want them to leave it on a high note. (That’s not stopping Pixar from releasing a fourth one in 2019 though.) Tom Hanks and Tim Allen keep their characters lively and interesting, delivering more spirited performances than a dozen Fox Animation films combined. while the new cast holds up their end with flying colors. The film is a funny, touching and poignant one and I loved the nods to classic prison breakout movies that were weaved through in order to appeal to adults. Short of the slightly over-the-top action climax, I loved everything about this movie and consider it to be one of the best Pixar has ever made.

#3: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson had delivered two stunningly good entries in the Lord of the Rings films before The Return of the King came along, bringing fantasy to the screen in a way that we only dreamed of in the 1980s and 1990s. Between the tales of Mordor and the Harry Potter franchise (not to mention the sadly-sputtered out Narnia films, which never topped the great first entry), the idea of what could be accomplished with a fantasy film in terms of quality and business were redefined. But as in gymnastics, it all would have amounted to nothing if Jackson had been unable to stick the landing. But stick it he did, gloriously so. Return of the King has the epic climax we all wanted. Sure, Two Towers has the better single battle (Helm’s Deep) and Fellowship had the most character development, but Return of the King tied it all together and elevated fantasy to an Oscar-capable genre. Sure, it is overlong and has too many false resolutions, but it is still an amazing film in spite of those flaws. That’s the magic that Peter Jackson wove over us, and it stands one of the greatest fantasy films (and, obviously, threequels) ever made.

#2: Goldfinger (1964)

The James Bond franchise has one on for so long — twenty-four films with six stars over fifty-plus years — that even as a James Bond devotee who loves the franchise up and down, I have problems remembering which films are in which order. There are certain ones I never have to think about though; Dr. No is the first, Spectre is the twenty-fourth (I always remember the most recent) and Goldfinger is #3. The reason for the latter is quite simple: few Bond films have made such a strong impression, not just upon me but upon the world. The 1964 film is largely considered to be as close to perfection as a Bond film can get. Sean Connery delivers his best performance as the famous superspy while the film introduces many of the elements that would make the series famous, from the gadgets to the world-recognized image of Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson dead on a bed, covered in gold paint. You add in the greatest Bond girl in history in Pussy Galore, a great villain in Auric Goldfinger, the famous Bond theme sang by Shirley Bassey and just about every other element and you have the one of the best films in one of the greatest franchises in film history.

#1: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Some might (and have) argued that Sergio Leone’s Dollars movies doesn’t count as a trilogy because there isn’t a single story running through the three films and Clint Eastwood’s character is referred to by a few different names. However, each of those names are clearly aliases or nicknames (thus the “Man with No Name” moniker) and if you pay attention you can actually see how in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly he picks up elements of his costume worn in the other two films, which along with the film’s Civil War setting versus the post-war setting of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More establishes this as a direct prequel. Good, Bad and Ugly is the pinnacle of Leone’s masterful spaghetti westerns; it is epic in scope and regularly considered to be one of the greatest films of all time for very good reasons. Eastwood is the epitome of badass and he is well-matched with Wallace as Tuco and Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. This is everything you could possibly want from a spaghetti western and from a Man with No Name film; it and the rest of the franchise are so iconic than it made the “Man with No Name” label, which was used to describe a stock character in the genre, synonymous with Eastwood’s role in a way that completely works. There’s no film I can think of that works better as the third entry of a franchise than this one.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.