The_Hangover_Part_3So Sarah and I had some friends over to watch some movies and hang out and it just so happened that one of the movie channels was in the middle of a Matrix marathon. We watched the end of the first film and I set my PVR to record the other two, under the presumption that I will watch them working out or something to see if they hold up. We watched Reloaded up until the “Neo vs a hundred Agent Smiths” fight, mocked said fight for its now incredibly jarring and subpar CG animation effects and then decided to revert back to original movie watching plan: watch Hangover III.  Not sure if you saw the final installment of the Hangover series, but it was not very funny. It had funny moments sure and I might have been kinder to it if it wasn’t related to the genius that was the first Hangover movie. Full disclosure: I was not super into the second one either and felt like it was too much of the same except you know, it was in Thailand. The third does mix up the formula a little more but in such an unfunny way that I was legitimately bummed about how the series went so far downhill.

So, witnessing two sequel/trilogy failures that initially had me excited back to back got me thinking in general how hard it is to really “nail” a trilogy. In fact, with the exception of Episodes IV-VI of Star Wars I cannot really think of a single trilogy that hits on all marks the whole way through (and even then, the prequel trilogy for Star Wars ruined the series pretty handily years later). (SPOILERS for some trilogies ahead)

  • Hangover: 2 is the same movie as the first and 3 is not very funny, has too much Ken Jeong and doesn’t really feel like an epic conclusion to the characters.
  • Matrix: Fuzzy ending, confusing side-plot where Agent Smith somehow was the main bad guy (but not really) and fight scenes so long they got incredibly boring. Not to mention the Dragon Ball Z/Superman Neo/Flying Agent Smith fight scene in the third one.
  • Back to the Future: First two are solid gold and I have a soft spot for the third, but the old west BttF has almost none of the time hopping and timeline alterations that made the first and second ones great (and is essentially just an old west version of the storyline from the first). I know some people somehow love the third installment above the second. But I think those people are crazy.
  • Lord of the Rings: I might be in the minority here, but I really feel like all three of those movies were just the same movie again and again. Walking, epic battle, Frodo adventure, epic battle, repeat.
  • Dark Knight: First two were standout and the third was also extremely good, however it still seemed to fall short. Bane’s crazy voice, Bane figuring out who Batman was by… I dunno… recognizing he was sad? Prisoners just mending a broken back to the point where Batman can now do some hardcore freeclimbing? Yeah, it’s got issues.

I could go on. Mad Max, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, Mighty Ducks, Terminator, Aliens… these are mostly beloved on the whole, however, if you pick them apart into their individual pieces there are almost always weak links in the series. The only rule is that usually the first one was pretty great. I mean, it has to be right? It has to be so good that a major studio greenlights multiple sequels. If they can reproduce the box office of a successful film twice then everybody gets a new BMW. Or something.

So how do trilogies go wrong? There’s a million ways for movie makers to fuck things up, but I’ve identified a few of them.

Matrix sadly falls into the "Fuck Everything Up" section

Matrix sadly falls into the “Fuck Everything Up” section

Way Number 1: Make the First Movie Again

When a movie is successful and makes a ton of movie there is a big room of very rich people and other people who want to become very rich people all discussing one thing “How can we make that much money again?” More often than not the easiest answer to that question is “Make the same movie.” Not only does a second movie that is far too much like the first movie plague the middle of trilogies, it often happens in sequels and prevents a third movie from ever even happening.  There are so many sequels/second movies that basically follow the exact plot of the first movie that every time I see a “2” after a title a little voice in my head becomes instantly skeptical. I would easily say this is the number one problem with trilogies, terrible second movies. A good trilogy (examples being Mad Max, Evil Dead, Indiana Jones and a bunch of others) can overcome a repetitious second film by knocking it out of the park with a solid closer.

Way Number 2: Make the Second Movie Way Too Good

Sometimes sequels get made that improve upon everything good about the first movie and then inject new and fresh ideas that the series is just propelled into the stuff of legend. These movies have such stellar second parts that not only is a third movie being made all but guaranteed, it will also almost certainly be a disappointment. Some key examples would be Alien, Dark Knight, Back to the Future and Terminator. In all those cases the second movie is just amazing and in every one of those cases, despite fairly competent (except Terminator 3) third films, the second film is often regarded as “the best one”.

Way Number 3: Just Fuck Everything Up

Sometimes a movie is so successful that it automatically gets greenlit for an entire trilogy or series. It doesn’t matter if the first one was any good, it only matters that it made a bunch of money. In this way, good movies like The Matrix end up being the first film in a pretty poorly received trilogy. Alternatively, a single movie can be so successful that even though the sequel was poorly received, years later it will still get a third movie to round it off into a trilogy. Mission Impossible, Jurrasic Park? I’m looking at you guys. These are the worst. Great movies spawning multiple terrible films is the saddest thing ever.

So how do you avoid this? Not going to lie, it’s probably quite the challenge to make a kickass trilogy that is start to finish great. I think it has something to do with identifying themes and playing with them instead of trying to just constantly one-up yourself. Maybe having a clear idea of your ending before you even start making the second film? I’m not sure there’s one single way.

But if you pull it off, you’ll be set for life as nerds everywhere will buy your 3 movies again and again for time everlasting. Now excuse me while I go out and considering buying the original Star Wars trilogy again.

Got any other triologies that messed it up or actually nailed it? Hit me up.

Keith does all sorts of things here on, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.


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