The Top 25 Movie Threequels! (Part 2)

Our list of the greatest third movies in a franchise concludes with three spy movies, two westerns, two fantasies and a little thing called Indiana Jones...

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Our list of the greatest movie threequels – that's the third film in a franchise, folks – continues! Yesterday we ran down #25-11, covering such fun flicks as Predators, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Army of Darkness and more. Today we get to the top ten, which consists of films that are so good that it doesn't matter that they're sequels. What made our Top Ten Movie Threequels? Find out now!

 


10. GOLDFINGER (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)

James Bond returned for the third time in Goldfinger, his biggest and still most lavish adventure to date (if you don’t count Moonraker, and like most people, we don’t). His new villain, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe, who expects you to die), has a dastardly plan to steal all the gold in Fort Knox, forcing Sean Connery to seduce and then team up with one of the best Bond Girls to date: Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. There are too many incredible moments to mention here, like a dangerous henchman who uses a bowler hat like a ginsu knife, a hapless murder victim smothered in gold and a climactic duel to the death in the bowels of Fort Knox next to a ticking nuclear time bomb. And that’s barely scratching the surface. With Goldfinger, the Bond franchise took its last step out of the realm of plausibility for decades, but unlike most of the films that followed (again, Moonraker) it struck a great balance between superheroic shenanigans and devilish spy plotting. And of course, Sean Connery is the man.

 

9. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2006)

Here’s an oddity: the third film in a franchise was also the first to get it right. After successful but mixed-bag entries in the Mission: Impossible movie series from acclaimed filmmakers Brian De Palma and John Woo, it took a man best known for his TV work to properly adapt the 1960s TV series to the big screen. J.J. Abrams, making his feature film directing debut after creating such popular series as Lost and Alias, focused on a team dynamic, a freewheeling storyline and a series of memorable set pieces to turn Mission: Impossible III into a remarkable action spectacular, one that faltered at the box office thanks – mostly – to Tom Cruise’s well-publicized bout with nuttiness on Oprah just before its release. But time heals all wounds, and looking back it now, Cruise is clearly at his best here in a role that respects the character, respects the espionage genre, and has a lot of fun in the process.

 

8. BACK THE FUTURE PART III (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1990)

After a clever but overly self-reflexive first sequel, Back to the Future Part III brought extempore back to the time travel series by rocketing its heroes – Doc Brown and Marty McFly – back to the Old West for one final adventure. It’s a sweet film, a funny film, and most surprisingly a pretty good western to boot, with dramatic showdowns and train heists punctuating an adorable love story between Doc and Mary Steenburgen, who starred in her second time travel love story after the cult classic Time After Time. Wonderful fun as always, but somehow it all feels as fresh as ever thanks to a romantic new setting.

 

7. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2007)

After two smart, exciting previous entries, the Bourne franchise seemed to end with The Bourne Ultimatum, which found Matt Damon’s amnesiac former assassin finally catching up with his past after a very, very long journey. As befits the cynical spy series, it’s a bittersweet revelation for the hero, but before that we’re treated to what may be the best Bourne yet, with Paul Greengrass reining in his frantic editing style after the exhausting Bourne Supremacy and settling into a delicious black ops tale that ingeniously retcons the pat ending of the previous film into an unexpected twist. The action is more incredible than ever, but it’s the overwhelming sense of mystique that makes The Bourne Ultimatum the most intriguing film of the series, at least until The Bourne Legacy comes out.

 

6. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1989)

As happens with many threequels, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade takes itself less seriously than its predecessors. But we hadn’t quite entered Kingdom of the Crystal Skull territory back in 1989, and the adventures of Harrison Ford’s fighting archaeologist still captured the fervor and spontaneity that made the character so captivating in the first place. With a ridiculously condensed origin story starring River Phoenix as young Indie, and a classic third act that found Dr. Jones outwitting ancient Biblical deathtraps to retrieve the Holy Grail, it’s almost surprising that the real selling point of the film was the witty back-and-forth between Ford and Sean Connery, playing against type as Indiana Jones’s stuffed shirt of a father. An action classic.

 

5. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2004)

Another franchise that didn’t really get good until the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had a lot of advantages that the previous films couldn’t boast. For one, the young cast was finally starting to turn into a group of talented young actors, giving their burgeoning pubescent anguish a realism that belied the series’ fantasy setting. It also helped that the Harry Potter series started getting darker and more complex in the third book, which found the titular hero tangling with a mysterious escaped convict who may have betrayed his parents to the evil Lord Voldemort. But perhaps most importantly, the series finally broke away from the relatively conventional cinematic stylings of Chris Columbus, bringing Academy Award-nominee Alfonso Cuaron on board, with his uncanny eye for the macabre and sensitive portrayals of young characters in tow. This startlingly moody film marked a huge departure for the Harry Potter series, away from mainstream feel-good entertainment and into the serious dramatic territory that made the franchise feel relevant for many sequels to come.

 

4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (dir. Peter Jackson, 2003)

Since they were all made at the same time, it came as no surprise that The Return of the King was just as excellent as the first two films, as Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean Astin) finally approached Mount Doom as the corrupt bit of jewelry overtakes our hero’s mind, and his many cohorts prepare for one last battle to save the world of men from Sauron’s vile hordes. Action movies never felt more epic than in Peter Jackson’s franchise, and The Return of the King was the biggest of them all, capable of eliciting cheers and tears in equal measure. (“You bow to no one” almost makes us cry just thinking about it.) Some folks complained that The Return of the King took too long to wrap up, but that argument only holds water if you consider it a single film. As the end of an over nine-hour movie, it’s paced just right.

 

3. STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – THE RETURN OF THE JEDI (dir. Richard Marquand, 1983)

Yes, yes, nobody likes the Ewoks. Get over it. Before Lucas started tinkering with it, at least, The Return of the Jedi was one of the best threequels ever made, wrapping up all the loose ends with an exciting three-tiered climactic battle, culminating with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) finally dueling his father, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), on equal terms. That sequence alone is powerful enough to warrant a spot in the top ten, as all of Luke's confusion, youthful rage and ultimately his hopefulness peaks in a spectacular fashion. Shot beautifully by Richard Marquand, who passed away a few years after what could have – and perhaps should have – been the last film in the once-timeless Star Wars series.

 

2. TOY STORY 3 (dir. Lee Unkrich, 2010)

Audiences have come to expect greatness from every Pixar film – with the possible exception of the Cars series – but what were the odds that even the mighty animation giant could eke a third classic from the Toy Story franchise? Apparently, pretty damned good: Toy Story 3 gave the sad but logical conclusion to the story of young Andy’s toys, who are confronted with their own mortality as their owner grows to old to keep them. Will they wind up imprisoned in the attic for years? Or donated to a daycare center where they will be abused and unloved for the rest of their days? Or will they – gulp! – be melted down into nothingness? Toy Story 3 turned out to be just as funny as its predecessors despite those unsettling themes, and more meaningful than ever because of them. A haunting, beautiful and hilarious family film.

 

1. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (dir. Sergio Leone, 1966)

Sergio Leone’s biggest western remains one of the best ever made, taking Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” into his grandest adventure yet, searching for buried gold and encountering a pair of genre icons as powerful as himself: Angel Eyes ("The Bad," played by Lee Van Cleef) and Tuco ("The Ugly," played by Eli Wallach). The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is the western to end all westerns, brimming with action and character and political commentary on the Civil War, and even though it’s almost three hours long, it somehow feels like it’s too short. Leone injects so much humor and sympathy into his masterpiece that the film never feels like it belongs to any one genre. It is simply The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, one of the greatest movies ever made, threequel or no threequel.

 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THREEQUEL?