(Take 5 is a recurring column in which we gather up five of our favorite Movies About Gladiators contributors and ask them a few questions about cinema. This edition is extra special because we have six people answering. Below are their responses.)
1. Why is it seemingly so difficult to make a successful trilogy?
Dustin Freeley: For a few trilogies, the main factor is the switch of a director or writer. Such was the fate of the X-Men series. The first two were solid, but then Bret Ratner took the reins of the third and drove it into a grove of trees inhabited by giant, blue furry radio psychiatrists from Seattle. The same fate awaited Superman. Three quarters of the first two were directed by Richard Donner, but there’s a clear moment when Richard Lester took over: the ice cream scoop blowing off from the cone. From here on out, it was Lester’s ship, and he veered into a giant berg in number three. Others are doomed because the third installment is plain unnecessary. A good example here is The Godfather III. The first and second are classics, and I’m not sure that I ever wanted to know whether or not the Corleones become 100% legit. I certainly didn’t need to see Michael die alone. We got that at the end of two, though the touch with the orange was nice.
Bill Coffin: The reason why any trilogy is hard to make is because the third act is all about resolution, which tends to stymie the things that tend to make for great storytelling. And that’s for trilogies that are originally set out to be trilogies for artistic reasons. In modern movie-making, the funding for movies makes it really hard for a story that deserves three installments on artistic grounds to get the same kind of backing financially. There’s a reason why they could keep cranking out Police Academy movies while they could never see fit to produce additional chapters to follow up the 99 million movies more worthy of development than Police Academy.
Steve Barker: I don’t think many movies start out with the intension to be trilogies, there are a few exceptions, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but what usually happens is after a movie is successful the studio wants to recreate that success. Unfortunately they usually just try to make the same movie, but in a different location or with a female lead instead of a male. I enjoyed Ocean’s Eleven, but felt the second two were basically just lesser rip-offs of the same movie.
Tim Adkins: I think it has to do with motivation. Most often, trilogies exist to maximize the profitability of a franchise. Sometimes this is done on purpose and sometimes it happens accidentally. In either case, everyone involved is trying to get paid and that tends to mean the quality of the film(s) will suffer. In those unusual cases when you have a gifted storyteller (or team of storytellers) embarking on a quest to deliver a three-part arc, the results vary from good to great. Unfortunately, the former is way more common than the latter.
Jared Wade: Most trilogies were never intended to be trilogies. They were single stories that proved commercially (or perhaps critically) viable enough to make the producers and directors decide to go back to the well. This is especially the case in today’s risk-averse Hollywood climate, but it has always existed. And it’s hard enough to pull off a single story that the film-maker often spent years forming a vision for, let alone one that goes from conception to screen in less than two years.
Jeff Garcia: I would think it is due to setting the bar high. Take Star Wars Episode 4 and 5 for example. Those two made a great progression heading into Episode 6. Empire Strikes Back was the pinnacle of Lucas’ first Star Wars trilogy, so much so that it had fans’ expectations high heading into Return of the Jedi. Then, Ewoks happened. Same could go for The Matrix trilogy, which is good, but the final installment didn’t live up to its predecessors. Trying to top the previous two films in a trilogy is tough to do. Trying to meet expectations tends to lead to overlooking what made the previous two films successful — unless it is the Lord of the Rings or the Toy Story trilogy where each one was just as good, even standing on their own.
2. What is the most well-rounded trilogy? Remember, The Godfather III featured a monotone Sofia Coppola, and Empire is the meat in a whiny farmboy/fuzzy Ewok sandwich.
Dustin Freeley: My aversion to Sofia Coppola, actress, prevents me from picking The Godfather, so I might have to say the X-Men trilogy if X3 is omitted and replaced by First Class. This film was more than just a silly origin story, and, despite the cheesy ’80s-style montage, the narrative was quite solid and well-acted. Plus, to build off of my argument in question number 1, Bryan Singer had a hand in the screen play, as he did in the first two. If this franchise stands at a fivesome (X1, X2,X3, Wolverine and First Class), then I guess I’ll have to go with the Man With No Name trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Bill Coffin: Most of my choices have been disqualified because they have been turned into tetrologies or more. And though my gut tells me the Toy Story trilogy should surely take this question in a walk, I haven’t actually seen Toy Story 3 yet, so I can’t comment. Having said all that, I’m going to dig deep and say…the Mad Max trilogy. Mad Max sets up a world without hope that robs its most dangerous man of the only thing that keeps him human. The Road Warrior shows what it takes for a nominal human being to decide if he wants to rejoin the remains of a ruined world or become the avatar of its own barbarity. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome shows that that the long, hard road back to civilization might not always be worth the trip, and that true civilization rests not in men’s buildings, but in their hearts. Plus, the trilogy featured some of the best stunt work ever, proved how a great indie franchise from abroad could go toe to toe with Hollywood studios, launched the post-apocalypse film genre and brought us the phrase, “The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah!”
Steve Barker: This is a tough one because there are a few that come close. Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are amazing movies and the first and third Die Hards are great. It’s a shame that both have one huge failure in the trilogy to disqualify them, or that an unnecessary fourth installment was created. As far as consistency in all three movies I have to say the original Star Wars. I know a lot of people have an issue with Jedi, but luckily I was nine when I first saw it so it will always hold a place in my heart. Mad Max is up there too. I should also mention, with the possibility of being banned from this column, I have never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies. I’m not actively avoiding them, I’m sure I’ll see them one day, like if I get mono or break my leg, but I just don’t have much interest. I read The Hobbit in eighth grade and only pretended I liked it because everyone else did.
Tim Adkins: If we’re talking about adaptations, I’d go with Lord of the Rings as it was mostly well-executed and had arguably the greatest source material of all-time with which to make a triplet of films. If we’re talking about original screen work, I’d go with Toy Story. That trilogy was such a remarkable achievement in technology, business and storytelling that it’s difficult to measure other threesomes against it. I know I’m supposed to make that kind of comment about the original Star Wars trilogy, but those films (Episodes Four, Five and Six) seem increasingly dated and flawed as the years pass. If we are answering hypothetically to this one, I’d go with Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Even with the flaws in the first two films, the ambition and execution is so high to this point that I expect the final installment to seal the case for those films as the most well-rounded trilogy on record. Thus far, he’s got a brilliant origin story and an excellent middle act. Even if he comes up short with the denouement, the dude has contributed some pretty stellar work.
Jared Wade: I personally prefer Stars Wars, but Lord of the Rings is clearly better conceived throughout, mainly for the reasons stated above. There were countless compromises and alterations made to A New Hope, Empire and Jedi for reasons varying from budget concerns and actors being difficult to major plot re-writes and presumed audience reception. Simply, George Lucas had to alter his original vision to appease dozens of outside influences. In was an expensive endeavor that many were skeptical about. Peter Jackson faced relatively little of this. He was handed the GDP of a small country and told “complete your vision” from producers who knew it would be a commercial success (given the ready-made fan base) and actors who gave him little grief.
Jeff Garcia: As of now I would have to say Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The story lines, the progression of the story in each film, the acting, cliffhangers from film-to-film, and it gave what the fans want. There was an abundance of action, had good pace throughout the films, fantasy worlds, notable/memorable characters, and more that the set of films are breathtaking. Like I said before, each could stand as their own film and to me, that’s what stands out about this trilogy. A close second for me is the Toy Story trilogy. The story telling, voice acting, and each film’s animated look improved as the trilogy progressed.
3. What current tandem of films deserves a third installment?
Dustin Freeley: In hopes that Vernita Green’s daughter decides to avenge her mother’s death and seek out Beatrix Kiddo after training throughout her turbulent, motherless adolescence, I’m going to go with Kill Bill. Plus, it’ll be another Tarantino film, and we could all use a bit more blood spray and decapitation in our lives.
Bill Coffin: There are a couple of good ones out there – I’d love to see a third act to The Hustler/The Color of Money, but we really need an older, more haggard Tom Cruise for that. And while I would welcome a 28 Months Later to follow up 28 Days/Weeks Later, even a gorehound like me has to admit that zombies are simply played out. and somehow, I don’t think the public will accept my disavowal of every Alien movie after Aliens, so my choice would be…Hellboy & Hellboy II. Why? Hellboy is at once a kickass comic book hero that also deconstructs typical comic book storytelling, handled by Guillermo del Toro, a man who deserves as much room as he needs to develop further whatever projects he has already worked on.
Steve Barker: I have heard there is a third Ghostbusters in the works. I’m skeptical. I didn’t think part two was all that great, but since this one is being written by fans of the original and Bill Murray can’t do wrong these days, it’s probably the one I’m most looking forward to. I have been working on my own third installment of the Speed franchise. It takes place on a blimp that will explode over The Super Bowl if it goes under 25 miles an hour.
Tim Adkins: If I’m a director looking to take on a unique challenge, then I’m pitching Tom Cruise on a follow-up to Color of Money. The way that film built on The Hustler was super dope. There’s still a good deal of creative space to explore with those characters and that story. The only trouble is that Paul Newman isn’t still alive to contribute. That is quite a bummer.
Jared Wade: I’ll just go with Iron Man. He is the most entertaining recurring character in Hollywood right now and while the second flick was far from amazing, it was still a lot of fun for a summer blockbuster. I really don’t think I will ever tire of watching him blow stuff up, fly around like an F-22 and crack witty one liners.
Jeff Garcia: Though they do not have a “part two” yet but I would like to see the recent Planet of the Apes film get the trilogy treatment and the well done recent X-Men First Class could also be a trilogy. Those two films set a great foundation for a trilogy to develop.