A while ago I listed my favourite sequels of all time, and I was careful to distinguish between a sequel, the second film in a series, and a threequel, the third and often final chapter of a franchise. I also noted that a successful sequel is a difficult feat to pull off, and that goes double for the threequel. By the time part 3 rolls around, there is a high likelihood that the franchise is running out of steam, or that the third movie will be a blatant cash-grab with little to no substance. If that isn’t the case, and a film series is still going strong at the end of part 2, then there’s also the risk that part 3 will completely fail to live up to expectations (I’m looking at you, Spider-man 3), and fans of the franchise will walk away disappointed. Every once in a while, though, a terrific threequel comes along and surprises us all and, if the filmmakers don’t insist on making a fourth instalment, a good threequel can be the perfect conclusion to a trilogy. What follows is a list of my five favourite threequels and lemme tell ya: this was a tough list to put together, because bad threequels significantly outnumber the good ones!
5. Back to the Future Part III
Do you prefer Back to the Future Part II or Back to the Future Part III? If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have said Part II in a heartbeat, but these days I definitely prefer Part III. One trick that filmmakers often employ when it comes to the threequel is to replicate the formula of the first film and switch up some of the elements, thereby making a new film with new stuff, but sticking close to the original film that we know and love. That’s definitely the case with Back to the Future Part III. You thought Marty had a hard time getting back to 1985 when he was stuck in the 1950’s? Try being stuck in the 1800’s, before refined gasoline had even been invented! Once again we get our favourite mad scientist/high schooler trying to fit in in a time that isn’t their own, without screwing up their futures in the process. This time, Doc is the one with the romantic interest, and Biff’s ancestor Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen is out for his blood. It’s a grand old time, with some really memorable scenes, and by far one of the better threequels in existence.
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The inclusion of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on this list is a bit of a cheat, since everybody knows that the Lord of the Rings movies are essentially one giant ten-hour film. That being said, though, it would have been very easy for Peter Jackson to bomb on the third picture, and some moments (like the numerous song sequences, and the multiple endings) didn’t quite ring true for me the way moments of the first two films did. But that’s a minor quibble, because Return of the King is still an amazing film, full of wonder and spectacle, with battles galore and our beloved characters caught in some of the worst situations we’ve ever seen. The special effects are incredible, the epic scope of the film is breathtaking, and everything gets wrapped up in a neat little package. What more could you want from the concluding chapter of such a legendary trilogy?
3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
This is another case where the filmmakers decided to redo the first film of the series, only bigger, and here it works perfectly. I even know some people (my ten-year-old self included) who consider Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to be the best of the Indiana Jones movies, and it’s tough to argue with them. I mean, it’s got Sean Connery in it! And some awesome boobytraps! And an immortal knight! It even has Indy meet Hitler! The film is riddled with sweet action sequences, too, and some of them – Indy and Henry escaping the Nazis hideout full of secret passages, leading into a motorcycle chase – are among my favourite in all of cinema. You just can’t deny that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a great movie. This is also the first instance on this list where the threequel doesn’t IMMEDIATELY follow the events of the sequel, and I believe that’s a big part of why it works. You could easily watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade without having seen any other Indy movies and still understand everything that’s going on. It’s a treat for both fans of the first two movies and newcomers, and that’s nothing to scoff at.
2. Army of Darkness
This list would not be complete without Army of Darkness. The Evil Dead movies are a pretty disjointed series, with the first one being a mostly-serious horror movie and the second one existing somewhere between horror and slapstick. By the time Army of Darkness rolled around, the franchise had moved into full-blown comedy mode, and Bruce Campbells heroic character Ash had not only gone from kinda wimpy to totally badass, but he had also become a hilarious jerk in the process. Army of Darkness has, hands down, the best one-liners of the entire Evil Dead trilogy, and they’re so good that Duke Nukem stole most of them. Ash is at his coolest here. Armed with his chainsaw and his shotgun, he also uses a textbook on basic engineering found in the trunk of his car to construct himself a super-strong prosthetic gauntlet-hand! He creates gunpowder using a chemistry textbook! He turns his car into a deathcoaster with spinning propellor blades! Man, where was this guy when Doc Brown and Marty needed him? Army of Darkness is not only a great threequel, it’s just an awesome movie. Hail to the king, baby.
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Want some definitive proof that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the best threequel ever made? Well, for one thing, at the time of this writing it is ranked at #5 on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the Top 250 Movies according to user rating (Return of the King is #12). Want more proof? How about Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef and Eli Wallach as three guns-for-hire, all chasing down the same treasure! The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is another case where the filmmakers decided to make a film that continues the story of the series’ central character (Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name) without necessitating the viewing of the movies that came before it. This movie can easily stand on its own and, in my opinion, far outshines A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, making it the only threequel on this list that is the absolute best of the series, and not only that: probably the best movie of the entire western genre. Not to mention the fact that it has one of the most memorable scores in movie history!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban
Die Hard With A Vengeance
Mission Impossible 3
Star Wars – Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
Toy Story 3
The Bourne Ultimatum
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome