Some of the best things in life come in threes. There is the "rule of three" for perfect writing, three courses in a delicious meal, and three Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter. So yeah, lots of great things in threes. That rule doesn't exclude entertainment, with some of the best movies of all time being part of a triad. The greatest movie trilogies in the last few decades have become the gold standard for filmmaking. Why stop at just one when you can make multiple?! We're not complaining about the extra time with our fave characters in these magical worlds!
Movie trilogies don't all come in similar packages. Some are set in space, some in the old west. Many are full of drama but a few comedy trilogies have popped up as well. Basically, there is a film trilogy for every type of movie fan. Not all trilogies are created equally, though. It's just a fact of life that some things are better than others! That definitely goes for the top 20 greatest movie trilogies, which is full of great films but there are some that are undoubtedly better than the rest. Here they all are, definitively ranked!
Walt Disney Pictures
Films: The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
If we could base film trilogies on how great their first film was alone this would be number one. (Sorry not sorry). But, alas, after the OG The Santa Clause this film trilogy took a bit of a dive. The second film in the trilogy came out eight years after the original and, while it wasn't horrible, it didn't have the same magic as the original. By the time we got to The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause it was all a CGI mess. Plus, Bernard the Elf (David Krumholtz) was gone by the third and that's egregious enough for this to rank low!
Films: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
It's no secret that this film trilogy is flawed. Following up one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time (more on that later!) can be a difficult feat. Especially when you're expanding on a universe with rabid fans. There are plenty of unnecessary things thrown into this Star Wars prequel trilogy (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?) but that doesn't completely take away from the fun parts of these films. The big bits of lore, Yoda being a badass, and the crazy battles are all excellent parts of these movies. But, in the end, the prequels disappointed more than they satisfied and that's why they rank pretty low on the list.
Amen Ra Films
Films: Blade, Blade 2, Blade: Trinity
Before there was Iron Man or Captain America on film, there was Blade. The Wesley Snipes character, who is supernaturally gifted and hunts vampires, is actually a Marvel Comics character. Blade itself is a great action film. With inventive fight scenes and brutal kills, it's everything you would want in a vampire-hunting saga. The sequels begin to wain a bit, and the third is downright abysmal (a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes proves that!). Even Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel couldn't save that one. But the first film is damn near perfect, giving the trilogy some bonus points!
New Line Productions
Films: Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers in Goldmember
Anyone who says they don't love the first Austin Powers film is a liar. Mike Myers takes on dual roles as the International Man of Mystery himself and his nemesis, Dr. Evil. The film is a clever skewering of '60s spy films à la James Bond. Powers is cryogenically frozen in his '60s state and reawoken in the '90s, prepared to fight Dr. Evil is a whole new era. Each of the sequels deals in roughly the same themes, with time traveling nonsense and Dr. Evil's farcical plans. But the schtick begins to get a bit old by the third. Not even Beyoncé could save the last one! There are only so many sexual innuendos and jokes about "members" that one can take! Despite the fall from grace, Austin Powers remains one of the funniest film trilogies of all time!
Kennedy Miller Productions
Films: Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome
This is the series that, for better or for worse, gave us Mel Gibson. His breakthrough role was as "Mad" Max Rockatansky, an Aussie Main Force Patrol officer in a dystopic future. The films center on the wasteland the world has turned into, with depravity becoming rampant. The viewer follows Max throughout the trilogy as he attempts to keep his humanity in the face of what the world has become. This is one of the rare trilogies where the first sequel is deemed better than the original! While the third film faltered a bit, this has become one of the greatest action movie trilogies of all time. The series was rebooted in 2015, with Tom Hardy playing Max. While it has hints of the original trilogy, it's more of a new era for the series than part of the contained story of the OG trio of films.
Films: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End
On the surface these three films may not seem like a cohesive trilogy, but according to writer Edgar Wright, they sure are! The name of the trilogy is based on Cornetto ice cream, a product that has found its way into each of these films with a different flavor being highlighted each time. Wright has said that the themes of all these films are also quite similar, with the The World's End concluding on thematic elements that have been building throughout the trilogy. All three films also have something else in common: the inclusion of British comedy stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. While each of the films may not be for everyone (miss me with the zombie installment), this trio has amassed huge followings.
Python (Monty) Pictures
Films: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
These were the three "proper" films from the British comedy group that captivated the comedic scene in the '70s. Together they comprise the "Holy Trinity" trilogy and each lampoon a different era in history. Holy Grail takes aim at Arthurian legends, Life of Brian lambasts the New Testament, and The Meaning of Life is comprised of multiple sketches spanning multiple different years. It's definitely the greatest movie trilogy to come out of England! This trio of films makes up a trilogy that is just as unconventional as the Pythons were!
Strong Heart/Demme Production
Films: Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon
The Anthony Hopkins era of Hannibal Lecter films is one of the tensest movie trilogies of all time. Hopkins plays Lecter, a psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer (what a combo!), in the three films that follow one of the best villains in cinema history. He even won an Academy Award for his role in the first film — of which he spent less than 20 minutes on-screen! After the massive success of the first film, the studio began adapting the rest of the Hannibal Lecter novels into the next two installments in this trilogy. While they never quite hit the highs of the first frightening film, they were exciting nonetheless.
Films: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
Y'all remember a time when Spider-Man wasn't an adorable teen ripping our hearts out in The Avengers films?! We do, and back in our day, Spider-Man was slightly nerdier, and slightly goofier — he was Tobey Maguire. The Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man films actually has quite a bit going for it. Maguire's a perfect Spidey and with James Franco as an off-the-wall friend-turned-foe, there's no better dynamic. They were superhero movies with a whole lot of heart. Plus an upside-down kiss that shook the world! The third movie has a few weird plotlines (emo Peter Parker, for one) but on the whole, the trilogy is a fun little ride.
Village Roadshow Pictures
Films: Ocean's 11, Ocean's 12, Ocean's 13
You build a film trilogy around George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon and you can sure as hell bet we're going to watch it. The original film was a remake of the '60s heist film Ocean's 11, but one remake soon turned into a full trilogy. This is definitely one of the greatest movie trilogies of the heist genre and led to a number of copycats after its release. There was even a reboot of the series in 2018, giving the theme an all-female spin. The original trilogy still remains the best of the best when it comes to heist movies — and casting!
Films: Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 3
Fun fact: The first two Jurassic Park films are based on novels! After the massive success of the first film, telling the story about a theme park comprised of living, breathing dinosaurs, the second book was adapted and a third film was created completely originally. The trilogy tells one core story: reanimating dinosaurs through genetic science is probably a bad idea. Every film showed the far-reaching ramifications of bringing Jurassic Park itself, and the dinos that inhabit it, to life. Daddy Jeff Goldblum led the first two as the perfect eccentric protagonist for these type of films. By the time the third in the series was released, the OG cast was pretty much gone and Steven Spielberg wasn't sticking around to direct. Nothing can quite beat those first two films, though!
Films: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions
The original Matrix is one hell of a film. Keanu Reeves completely bends our mind as Neo, making us question just about everything after watching it. The humans vs. machine concept is alive and well throughout the trilogy as Neo and co. battle for autonomy in a virtual reality system. With sleek fight scenes (and slow-mo bullet sequences!) and thought-provoking plotlines, this is one of the most influential trilogies of all time. It influenced how action scenes are shot on film, brought the theme of humans fighting computers to a million more films, and made Reeves a star. Thank god for that last one! The quality of the sequels diminished a bit with each new addition, but the far-reaching impression of the films make this one of the greatest movie trilogies no matter what!
Films: The Hangover, The Hangover Part 2, The Hangover Part 3
This trilogy ranks so high almost solely based upon how great The Hangover is. No comedy movie has been quoted more often since 2009 than this one. The Hangover amassed such a large fanbase (and so much money) that the studio had no choice but to follow it up with a sequel. But instead of one sequel, fans got two! It's hard to follow up such a massively successful movie based on an original concept. So instead of reinventing the wheel, the first sequel was just more of the same! While not as imaginative as the first film, it was still full of laughs. By the last installment, we got a straight-up action comedy and a movie that was better than any third chapter in a trilogy has a right to be! To this day, The Hangover remains one of the funniest movies all time so it makes sense it spawned one of the greatest movie trilogies.
Films: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Full disclosure: we're acting like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't exist. Most fans (and even some stars of the film...) would agree. The first three Indiana Jones films, as the original trilogy, are damn near perfect enough to warrant the exclusion and a high ranking on this list! Harrison Ford brought the wry adventurer to life in Raiders of the Lost Ark and has made the character an icon ever since. All three original films are special in their own way, melding comedy and action-adventure flawlessly. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest movie trilogies of the '80s — and of all time.
Films: Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part 2, Back to the Future Part 3
Many of the greatest movie trilogies begin with film classics. Back to the Future is one such classic. The time-travel adventure of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is one of the most beloved films of all time. So, naturally, having this movie as part of your trilogy automatically makes it one of the best of all time, too! While the second and third films in the series aren't quite as stellar as the first, they're still solid films all their own that aren't just blatant recreations of the original formula. Getting by on the charm of Fox and Marty's unlikely friendship with an octogenarian, these films are just so much fun.
Films: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
There is no more gorgeously shot trio of films than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The beautiful scenery, lived-in settings, and insane attention to detail make this magical adventure series incredible. There is no shortage of things to love about this series. The casting was done perfectly and the make-up is Oscar-worthy in every single film. It's truly one of the greatest movie trilogies to come out of the fantasy genre. The only drawback of the series? The many hours it takes to watch it all! These are some long films. But you're so enraptured the entire time that you barely notice!
Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Has there ever been a better Batman than Christian Bale? The answer is "no." Bale's turn as the titular Dark Knight has become the definitive version of the dark superhero. It's also one of the rare trilogies where the movies get better and better, with the second being one of the peak "comic book movies" of our time. This isn't just one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time, it's one of the best representations of a superhero on film (I said what I said, MCU). The third film slogged a bit with its many villains and confusing ending, but that will never take away the highs of the franchise.
Films: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
No offense to the prequel trilogy (okay, all offense) but when it comes to Star Wars, nothing beats the original trio of films. Full of future mega-stars like Harrison Ford (in another trilogy!) and Carrie Fisher, the pure talent in this film is unquestionable. This space-opera captured a generation and has created one of the biggest franchises in the entire world. Not only is it one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time but it's one of the greatest entertainment properties ever. This is the film trilogy that showed how you do a sequel and do it right. The Empire Strikes Back changed the game with movie twists (if you don't know who Luke's father is by now then you probably never will). It doesn't get much better on earth or in space than this trilogy!
Films: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3
There is no trilogy better designed to rip your heart out that this one. Toy Story isn't just a story for kids, it's one that adults can relate to as well. Which is probably why the appeal has spanned far beyond the under-10 crowd. The first film is significant for being the very first fully computer-animated film. But it's also got a much higher distinction — it was the very first Pixar film! Aside from the impact and significance of the films, they also tell incredible stories. It's the heartbreaking saga you never knew you needed, telling us what happens to our forgotten toys when they're outgrown. With heavyweights like Tim Allen and Tom Hanks lending their voices (and comedic talents!), it's no wonder this is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time.
Films: The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2, The Godfather Part 3
Few film trilogies are as watchable and influential as The Godfather films. The saga of the Corleone family is an unrelenting story about families, the ones you're born with and the ones you make. The big reason this one ranks so high is the fact that The Godfather Part 2 is perhaps the greatest sequel ever made. As amazing as the first film is, the second ups the ante in every way. It crafted a true franchise for the crime epic and became the first sequel to win a Best Picture Academy Award. The third film came quite a bit after the second (16 years!) but still received praise and awards nominations on par with the first two films. When your entire film trilogy is made up of excellent films, it's hard not to go down as one of the greatest!