An excellent way to tell a story, the trilogy allows storytellers to split their work into three parts and provides ample room for the story and characters to grow without getting too long. As such, superhero stories have adopted the trilogy as one of their most common forms. With the huge growth in popularity of superhero films, most franchises have taken to trilogies to tell their stories. It’s not even just movies that use the trilogy format. From classic comic books to video games, it appears that the trilogy has become almost a de facto storytelling technique when it comes to superheroes.
The trilogy can be a powerful storytelling tool, but it can also cause quite a few issues. Whether it’s uneven — where some parts pale in comparison to the others — or a lack of plot development and character growth over all three parts, the trilogy can fall flat and isn’t always perfect. Of course, there are also times where a trilogy is released with nearly flawless execution as it goes down as a classic part of superhero media. Time and time again, superhero trilogies have captured audiences and kept them hanging on for all three parts. After all, tragedy isn’t the only thing that comes in threes!
15. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Nostalgia is a powerful force. When most people look back on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trilogy, it is usually remembered fondly as a staple of their childhoods. While the original 1990 film is far from a masterpiece, it is still good. A fun action-comedy romp with everyone’s favorite ninjitsu-trained turtles, the first live-action TMNT movie is an overall success. Unfortunately, this isn’t a ranking of individual films because the first one was followed by two lackluster sequels that really bog down the franchise.
It’s also hard to ignore the weird puppet costumes of the turtles. While it was state of-the-art at the time, the special effects really don’t hold up. It feels wrong to fault an entire series for being a product of its time, but with the vast improvements we’ve seen since the 1990s, the turtles are nothing short of creepy by today’s standards.
Let’s get this out of the way; Logan is one of the greatest superhero movies of all time and it deserves better than the two previous solo Wolverine films. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is far and away one of the absolute biggest disasters of a superhero film and while The Wolverine was a major improvement, it is still mediocre at best. Not even Hugh Jackman’s flawless performance as the Canadian mutant can raise this trilogy from its low ranking. Wolverine’s solo outings were for the most part just flat out bad.
Whether its Origins’ laughable CGI and horrible deviation from the source material or The Wolverine’s middle-of-the-road plot, Wolverine struggled to cement himself a spot as a proper comic book solo film star. Of course, Logan changed that, but it is still not enough to forget the character’s difficult past.
13. DC ANIMATED MOVIE UNIVERSE BATMAN
DC may have stumbled while finding its footing for the DCEU, but outside of the big screen, it has successfully established a universe in its straight-to-DVD releases. Based on the New 52 continuity, the DC Animated Movie Universe features a Batman trilogy detailing his relationship with his son, Damian Wayne. All three movies contain some great moments, but not even these moments and the inclusion of characters rarely seen in the live-action films can help this trilogy.
The movies are by no means bad and are worth a watch, but the sameness of each film causes them all to blend together and become almost indistinguishable from one another. It doesn’t help that Damian’s cocky attitude makes him almost insufferable and his lack of character growth is a shame, as seeing him become a humble and better teammate would have been an excellent payoff after a full trilogy.
RoboCop from 1987 is a classic action flick that won over audiences and critics with its nuanced themes of corruption, greed, media influence and capitalism. Beyond its gruesome violence (who can forget Kinney’s opening death scene?) the film had something to say. The mix of its message with 1980s-style action was a recipe for success and the film was a huge hit. It cemented itself as a sci-fi staple and will be remembered for years to come as such.
It was just a matter of time before Hollywood cashed in on the original movie’s success and turned it into a franchise. The movie spawned two sequels where the subtle themes from the first film were left behind to focus on the action and violence, tarnishing the legacy that the film had left behind. The first will always be a classic, but the unnecessary money-grab sequels will never stack up to their predecessor.
11. IRON MAN
The one that started it all, 2008’s Iron Man has quickly become a classic comic book film and is still one of the best movies to come out of the MCU. A perfect example of how to make an origin story movie, which includes Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent performance as Tony Stark, made this one an unprecedented success and the foundation of an entire cinematic universe!
The two sequels are not bad movies but they can barely hold a candle to the original. Stark’s personal struggles are demonstrated really well throughout the three films and his logical progression makes it a complete trilogy. However, the second and third films are nowhere near the level of the first, despite what the box office numbers say. Overall, it is a classic superhero trilogy, but the sequels lack the punch and are too forgettable to give this franchise a higher spot on the list.
10. THE MATRIX
The Matrix trilogy is complicated when it comes to ranking. The first film was so revolutionary and will always be a cornerstone of pop culture, the second film wasn’t nearly as good but was still enjoyable, but the third film lost all momentum and couldn’t live up to its predecessors or the hype. In all, it is a successful franchise solely for how it took high-concept science-fiction and became a mainstream phenomenon.
The final two films may not have had the same impact on audiences that the initial movie had, but it is still a complete story with character growth across all three parts. The story gets bogged down by its convolution towards the end, but the action never lets up, and let’s be real here, bullet time is pretty damn cool.
9. INFINITY TRILOGY
The 1990s are not so fondly remembered for comics. The decade was littered with lackluster stories and quite a bit of sexism, and has become the laughingstock decade when readers look back on it. Marvel especially struggled through the decade (Clone Saga, anyone?), which is surprising since it started off strong with The Infinity Gauntlet in 1991, which has become one of the most iconic storylines in all of comics and has set the bar for Marvel’s cosmic universe.
Gauntlet was followed by The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade in 1992 and 1993, which may not be as beloved as the first but were still commercially successful. The three events tell the story around the cosmic corner of Marvel, particularly Adam Warlock, Thanos and a handful of staggeringly powerful artifacts. The books are considered classic tales from Marvel, though it sadly all falls apart by Crusade.
8. X-MEN ORIGINAL TRILOGY
When X-Men hit theatres in 2000, it changed the game completely by proving that superhero movies could be good without being campy messes. While it is still a good film, it does not necessarily hold up to today’s standards with the incredible superhero movies we have seen since. X2 is a different story and is still considered to be one of the best superhero movies. It was also a logical progression from the first one and continued the story of the team properly.
Things went haywire with the third film, ending the trilogy on a sour note due to its poor execution and bloated scripts. It provided an unsatisfying ending to many characters’ arcs and felt phoned-in after the highs of the first two films. The conclusion of the trilogy being so underwhelming really brings down the franchise as a whole.
Before X-Men proved superhero movies to the mainstream, Blade proved to fans that these movies could be taken seriously. It may not have achieved the same mainstream success as later superhero movies, but the Blade trilogy will always be the basis of what we have today. The first two films are not perfect, but they sure are fun and entertaining, partly due to Wesley Snipes and his iconic portrayal of the titular character.
Blade: Trinity was ultimately a letdown, but that does not take away from the importance of the franchise since it basically launched the modern era of comic book movies. Besides its importance, this trilogy is a prime example of how to properly adapt a character from the pages of a comic book to the screen as it encompasses the best of both worlds.
6. X-MEN PREQUEL TRILOGY
After a couple of big misfires, the X-Men film franchise reinvented itself with a set of prequel/reboot films that were overall much more even than their predecessor trilogy. The first two films, First Class and the sort of reboot Days of Future Past are both great, with the latter being arguably the best X-Men film of them all. Both movies helped shape their universe while also removing the sour taste left in fans’ mouths from the previous two entries. In effect, they saved X-Men movies and relaunched the franchise into popularity.
The final entry may have been a disappointment but Apocalypse does get more flack than it deserves. It is far from a great film and is not up the standards set by the previous two, but it does round out the trilogy in an almost satisfying conclusion and properly sets up the next era of the X-Men film series.
Depending on who you ask you are bound to get a different answer for the best Spider-Man actor, but it is safe to say that Tobey Maguire’s portrayal defined the character for a generation of movie-goers. The first two movies of this trilogy still hold up to the modern superhero films we have today, and while the conclusion is messy and often mocked, it still wraps up the story nicely.
This trilogy boasts two of the greatest on-screen villains of all time in Green Goblin and Doc Ock, while also showcasing how to perfectly execute an origin film. Not only that but the character growth and plot lines flow nicely through the series save for a few scenes in the final entry. All in all, it is a masterful work of superhero film with a final turn that still didn’t throw the whole completely off-course.
4. ARKHAM GAMES
The only video game series to make the list, the Batman: Arkham trilogy of games proves that video games can be art. Not only are they top of the line games but they also encompass many great aspects of comic books into their gameplay. The Batman lore runs deep with appearances from even the most obscure of characters and the story is equally impressive as Batman takes on his most dangerous foes. Not only are these games extremely fun to play through, but they are exemplary at telling their story.
The games had the uncanny ability to make the player feel like they really were the World’s Greatest Detective (and fighter) as they built up an immersive world. Most likely the greatest video games based on a superhero ever (so far), Arkham is one trilogy that any Batman fan should not miss.
3. MILLER’S DARK KNIGHT
The year 1986 saw a revolutionary Batman story when Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was published. It was a darker and grittier take on the Caped Crusader than readers were used to, yet it was also extremely popular. Telling the story of an alternate universe Batman who returns to fighting crime after initially retiring, it turned Bruce Wayne into a jaded version of himself.
When Miller decided to revisit this universe in 2001, the result was nowhere near as good as its predecessor. The sequel was not as well-written nor as impactful as the original and ultimately fell flat. Miller returned to form with help from co-writer Brian Azzarello for the third entry in this series. While it was fruitless to expect any follow-up to ever reach the highs of the original, the conclusion of Miller’s story was still great and redeemed the trilogy.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA
The jewel of the MCU, Captain America’s trilogy has become one of the greatest superhero works of all time. While the first film was just above average, it set the stage for the following two films, both of which are bound to go down as two of the greatest comic book movies of all time. The trilogy uses all three parts to its advantage as Cap’s character arc progresses with each film. Marvel did the impossible with this trilogy as it took Captain America who was thought to be bland and turned him into one of the coolest heroes out there.
Watching Steve Rogers go from all-American poster boy to fighting authority is a joy to behold. The trilogy tells a great story and is executed nearly perfectly. The Winter Soldier is arguably Marvel’s greatest movie and Civil War is an epic tale that perfectly concludes the super-soldier’s story.
1. NOLAN’S DARK KNIGHT
The king of all comic book movies, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of what a superhero movie can be. Not only a great comic book flick but an all-around incredible work, it will always be the benchmark for superhero adaptations. This is the one superhero film so perfect that it acts as the ideal fulcrum around which the entire trilogy turns. Batman Begins started things off excellently and the story only progressed to new highs with its sequel.
While The Dark Knight Rises is far from a perfect film, it does not tarnish the excellence of its predecessors, nor the narrative as a whole. It is the weakest of the trilogy but it provides a satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s version of Bruce Wayne, wrapping things up nicely and leaving fans with a proper ending to the story.
What is your favorite superhero trilogy? Let us know in the comments!
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