By James Reid, Film and Television Correspondent
Genre and franchise art has been a mainstay of popular culture since as far back as Charlie Chaplin made a brand out being a lovable and troublesome tramp during the silent era. Today it seems like genre film-making has taken two centralized approaches to how it stays alive. You have the Asters and Eggers of the world who make artful works that trigger some sort of pre-existing anti snob mechanism in people. You then have the Marvel Cinematic Universe which aims at staying loyal to itself in the name of garnering guaranteed money.
In this blog I'd like to not only look back at the best of film franchises who embody what we love about genre film-making but also look at lesser known trilogies that don't get mentioned because they aren't the usual fare that people go for. Here is my definitive ranking of franchises, trilogies and brands.
Peter Jackson After Winning an Oscar, Credit Mike Blake, Reuters.
Lord of the Rings
What makes this series so special is that it shaped a lot of teenage minds back when it came out. As a thirteen year old, it helped me realize that film could be more than a Friday night excursion at the mall. Additionally the film serves as an opus in grand epic storytelling that garnered not only critical praise but also industry support in the form of 17 Oscars. If you asked me why I feel in love with film, I'd point my hand back to those three years in the early 2000s.
Star Wars (Original Trilogy)
In 1977, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope came out and shook up the box office in a way that had never been seen before. According to an Economist article the original's $3 billion worldwide when factoring in inflation make it the most successful franchise film of all time. It continued to assert cultural dominance with the next two films, especially when you look at how the twist in Empire Strikes Back is considered one of the greatest in film history.
This epic tale of the Corleone family is the second most awarded trilogy in film history and might have been number one on my list if not for the lackluster third entry. "Considering the way it inadvertently lampoons and nearly diminishes the earlier two films, this is nothing less than a travesty." said Chicago based critic Josh Larsen, even though his contemporaries Siskel and Ebert both admired the film. Whereas Lord of the Rings stands as one whole unit this stands as a trilogy with two movies that could be argued in the same sentence as Citizen Kane and Rear Window as one of the best films ever.
This is probably the least exciting but most traditionally artistic selection on this list. In the first two films there is a dissection into this conversation and relationship between these two people held over a limited period of time. The third is more expansive in its world building and doesn't feel constrained by the clicking clock of the first two. Richard Linklater is also famous for Boyhood, Dazed and Confused and School of Rock. One could say that this is what art should look like without having a pretentious nature to it
As a 7 year old kid when Toy Story came out you could say that I've grown with Pixar. My friends with children are starting to expose their kids to the movies and occasionally I'll still pop on Ratatouille when I'm writing. Toy Story dealt with a lot of good themes that should relate to children and adults, such as having to let go of toys for children and childhood for adults. You also have the unexpectedly deep look at neglect and abandonment felt by Woody in the first film. It's by far and away Pixar's best individual property
The Dark Knight
Nolan has recently become a hit or miss director for some and a target for edgy online hate for others. But this trilogy might be one of the greatest modern trilogies of all time. Dark Knight itself was so beloved that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extended their field from 5 to 10 to accommodate the chance that they might face another populist contender like this. Although that didn't really work out, because no amount of money or fan outrage was going to make Avengers: Endgame a thing. The only caveat is that the third film is considered a bit of a stinker by less enthusiastic critics of Nolan.
If the first three films were the only ones to exist then this franchise would not be on here. Ever since Brad Bird took over with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, the franchise seems to be kicking its increasing levels of overdrive. The last two almost serve as exercises in how Hollywood can punish Tom Cruise, and that is what makes it even that much more enjoyable. This is the premiere action franchise going right now
Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy
What makes this one unique is that it isn't a successive narrative told across three movies but rather three various ensemble pieces led by the same two actors, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. From the first entry serving as a satire of the Romero tropes to the third's bar hopping buddy romp feel, Edgar Wright has crafted three exceptional or rather enjoyable limey modernist classics.
I couldn't go through this article without writing about The Avengers franchise. It is the most successful singular franchise ever when put up against any Star Wars trilogy. The original made $1.06 billion. The Prequels made $1.165 billion. The newest sequel trilogy made $2.072 billion. The four Avengers films have made $2.619 billion. All this numbers courtesy of By the numbers. These four films, faults included, argue hard for the case that art should as be as much the collective viewing experience as it is for academia.
This is an ultra violet and action packed trilogy that revitalized the career of one of Hollywood's best leading men. Keanu Reeves kicks ass in a series that feels at times like what the ballet would be like for me who respond audibly to headshots. It is also one of the trilogies that make it even harder for the Academy to argue against stunt coordination as a category
Even with Marvel probably being the least artistic or passion inspiring brand on this list I still feel inclined to delve into a couple of their individual franchises. Pound for pound it might be one of the best individual superhero franchises ever. It also shows what someone becoming a star looks like.
Planet of the Apes (2010s)
What started out as a surprising start with the fun Rise of the Planet of the Apes evolved into a conclusion that became a full Noah story without the added feeling of forced religion. This is perhaps the best motion capture acting this side of Gollum in Lord of the Rings and ends on a hopeful message that caps the whole trilogy off nicely.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that J.K. Rowling's recent comments haven't soured my thoughts on the book series. The movies however still garner my undying support if only because of my nostalgic attachment to them. The franchise started the same year as Lord of the Rings and ended in 2011 with a film so well praised that small sections of the Oscar speculation crowd suggested it being nominated for Best Picture.
So I'd like to discuss some franchises that had potential to be great but fell apart. After Terminator 2 everything seemed to go to hell for them. The same could be said for Alien, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, X-Men, Spider-Man, X-Men again. Back to the Future is considered the perfect trilogy but its second film is on the verge of rotten according to Rotten tomatoes. Wolverine's trilogy is bad, average and concludes strongly. Matrix, Jurassic Park, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street all have classic debuts that make up for the rest.
Romero's movies about the dead are considered masterpieces of the genre but even they have had their problems. Scream is one of the best slasher franchises for the fifth of whiskey in a dorm room on a Saturday style crowd and Friday the 13th deserves some credit for the marathon ability it brings during Halloween every year. Lastly Mad Max could be argued as a deserved entry above but Thunderdome just doesn't cut it