Top 10 Best Threequels: Return of the King, The Last Crusade & More
Ah, the threequel. The third and typically last film in a series. Over the years we’ve seen a number of finales drop the ball on their last go — Spider-Man 3, Superman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and even The Godfather Part III, for example — as director’s seem to run out of ideas or run into studio interference that hampers their overarching vision. And yet, there are actually quite a few good, even great Part 3s out there.
Ahead of the release of another highly-anticipated threequel Bill & Ted Face the Music (pre-order here), the boys at Podcast 426 (namely Josh Ames and Bryce Carlile) and I debated over the Top 10 Best Threequels — which you can listen to here — and came up with this list. Full disclosure, none of us have seen Before Midnight, which is why it’s not on here; and most of our choices were based more on what we call the rewatchable factor rather than artistic integrity. Is it a perfect list? Nah. But we all agreed that, if presented with these films, this is the order we would watch them in. Except for Bryce, who had Back to the Future Part III as his No. 1, which neither Josh or I could get behind. Also, we fully expect Zack Snyder’s Justice League to end up on here next year, which could drastically shake up the proceedings.
After looking through the list, feel free to tear apart our suggestions in the comments and tells us which threequels you believe deserve place amongst the greats!
1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
There are epics and then there are epics. Peter Jackson did the impossible and not only stuck the landing with the big finale to his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings but ended up making one of the greatest spectacles to ever grace the screen. ROTK is going on nearly 20 years, but the acting remains incredible, the FX, including the still-astounding Gollum, beautiful; and the big finale that sees our brave Hobbits, Sam and Frodo, ascend Mount Doom amidst Howard Shore’s epic score still packs quite the emotional wallop.
2. Die Hard with a Vengeance
Die Hard with a Vengeance is perhaps the most underappreciated sequel of all time mostly because, as critics will say, “It doesn’t take place in a building.” Yet, everything about our third outing with Bruce Willis’ John McClane feels right. From Samuel L. Jackson’s terrific turn as a “good Samaritan” who inexplicably finds himself caught in the action, to Jeremy Irons’ cheeky villain, and the stellar set pieces, including that incredible subway scene, Vengeance stands as not only a fantastic sequel but, the last ten minutes or so withstanding, one of the better (and smarter) action films to ever hit theaters. Is it better than Die Hard? That’s a debate for another day.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
Save for a rather rushed finale involving quite a few convoluted plot elements, and the bizarre decision to open the film with Batman crippled and retired — a decision that completely thwarts the finale of The Dark Knight as we now know Gotham’s watchful guardian simply went home and took a long nap – Christopher Nolan’s ambitious finale to his Dark Knight trilogy stands as a magnificent film in its own right. While not on par with either of its predecessors, Rises still enthralls with a powerful story centered around Bruce Wayne’s redemption and Gotham’s ultimate salvation; stunning action sequences, including a police chase that ranks among the series best, Hans Zimmer’s impeccable score, and fine performances from its all-star cast. Say what you will about Bane’s muffled dialogue, but Tom Hardy absolutely nails the role and deserves far more recognition than he was given.
4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The safest entry to the Indy series, Last Crusade plods through much of its first act but finally kicks it into gear with the arrival of Professor Henry Jones, who, as played by the legendary Sean Connery, provides a much-needed spark to a rather by-the-numbers flick. We’re a long way from the nightmarish theatrics of Temple of Doom! Oh sure, there are a handful of action sequences to enjoy, the best being a thrilling tank chase through the desert, but it’s the rapport between Connery and star Harrison Ford that truly gives life to Steven Spielberg’s trilogy capper.
Is Skyfall the best James Bond movie ever? That’s up for debate, but there’s no denying Skyfall ranks amongst the greatest threequels thanks to a strong performance from Daniel Craig — bouncing back to form after a rather lackluster turn in the painfully bland Quantum of Solace — stunning action sequences, a memorable villain (played by scene-stealer Javier Bardem), and the strong chemistry between Craig and Judi Dench that ultimately provides the film an emotional foundation. Director Sam Mendes borrows quite a bit from Christopher Nolan in terms of style and plot which means this will probably be the closest thing to a Nolan-directed James Bond film we will ever see.
6. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Yeah, yeah, technically Sergio Leone’s magnum opus is a prequel, but it’s still a threequel in that it released after both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. At any rate, this classic Clint Eastwood actioner ranks amongst the finest westerns ever made what with its impeccable photography, thrilling set pieces, and Ennio Morricone’s sensational score. The final showdown at the cemetery is one of the best finales to grace the silver screen.
7. Christmas Vacation
In terms of classic films, you can’t get more classic than Christmas Vacation, which remains, perhaps, the best of the Vacation films if only due to Randy Quaid’s incredible comedic performance as Cousin Eddie. Sure, the comedy is more broad than clever and some of the jokes, including a running gag featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an angry neighbor, don’t work as well as they should, but when the bits hit — the squirrel scene, the sled scene, the house lighting scene, any scene with Quaid – they hit really good.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Harry Potter cinematic franchise had already stalled out after two flatfooted installments that basically adapted the books verbatim. Luckily, acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón stepped in and guided Prisoner of Azkaban to extraordinary heights that set the bar for the remaining five films. And while the film still follows the JK Rowlings’ source material quite closely, Cuarón still manages to make everything feel fresh and alive. Some of the acting is a little wooden as the young actors adapt to longer takes and a more cinematic style (as opposed to Chris Columbus’ cut-around-the-performance approach), but Azkaban makes up for it with lush visuals, terrific FX, a superb John Williams score, and a story that all but ignores series villain Voldemort and manages to incorporate time travel in an entertaining fashion.
9. Toy Story 3
Where Toy Story and Toy Story 2 produced carefree adventures, the third entry in beloved franchise delves deeper into the horrifying life of toy-hood as Woody and Buzz must deal with the loss of their owner Andy, who outgrew his playthings long ago, all the while dealing with a murderous pink bear named Lotso. Yikes! This colorful animated caper works mainly due to its loveable characters and Michael Arndt’s sharp screenplay, even if the story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich bites off a little more than it can chew — at one point, our toys are almost incinerated by fire! Which begs questions: What happens when they die? Do they go to Heaven or Hell? Should we care? No matter, the animation is amongst the best produced by Pixar, the Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton) is hilarious, and the big jailbreak set piece remains a high point in animated comedy. Just don’t think about it too hard.
10. Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Which is better? Return of the Jedi,
The original Jack Ryan series that started with The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games goes off in spectacular fashion with Harrison Ford thwarting drug cartels and corrupt politicians in this suspenseful action extravaganza.
Paul Greengrass’ finale doesn’t quite capture the visceral thrills of Supremacy, and features action scenes that feel more obligatory than necessary. Still, Matt Damon rocks in the role, and that Morocco fight sequence oozes suspense.
The third film in the Alien saga works as a standalone film (as in, separate from Aliens) and earns points for its bleak, nihilistic tone — the movie opens with a child getting drowned — unique visuals, and Elliot Goldenthal’s haunting score, but never achieves the chills of Ridley Scott’s 1979 shocker or the thrills of James Cameron’s action-packed follow-up.