The third entry in a film franchise can often be a real lull in the series that barely extends a reason for it to continue. However, there are more than a few examples of great Part Threes (or threequels, if you’ll allow the portmanteau) in cinema where they not only justify their existence but stand alone as great and entertaining films in their own right. Some of them are wrapping up trilogies (or impromptu trilogies), while others give the series a resurgence of energy and importance, but they all deliver the goods when people could have easily just gone on autopilot. As audiences prepare to see what type of movie “Star Trek Beyond” will be, here are the top ten best threequels in film.
10. “Rocky III”
Starting off with a controversial choice, “Rocky III” isn’t as good as the original “Rocky” but is better than the melodrama of “Rocky II” and the montage-as-a-movie “Rocky IV.” There’s good comedy with the fight against Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan), real heart at the (spoiler alert) passing of Mickey, and a solid reason for Rocky to be recast as the underdog again. Plus, it has Mr. T uttering one of the best lines in cinema (“My prediction? Pain.”) and one of the most inspirational training montages ever committed to film, full of hope and homoeroticism.
9. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
“Prisoner of Azkaban” marked the beginning of the maturity of the “Harry Potter” series as it took on darker tones and much more morally gray areas than the previous entries in the series. Director Alfonso Cuarón injected both wonder and dread into his film and brought the film series into its own as a serious movie that engaged audiences with its complex emotional storytelling.
8. “Iron Man 3”
Shane Black brought the “Iron Man” series to a fitting conclusion (at least for the time being) with this entry, injecting a lot of humor, action and character moments into what could’ve been a boilerplate franchise film. There’s lots of impressive spectacle, with great action scenes and terrifically choreographed fights, but what makes the film resonate so well are the relationships and Black’s patented banter between characters, which makes it zip along at a great pace while giving everyone their moment to shine.
7. “Undisputed III: Redemption”
This lesser known direct-to-video movie should have a wider audience to appreciate just how bone-crushing and badass it really is. Scott Adkins reprises his role as a disgraced fighter seeking to reclaim his honor while battling a crooked system and psychotic opponents in an underground prison fighting league. It’s not a deep film, but it still manages to do decent character work on otherwise two-dimensional figures, and Isaac Florentine directs the hell out of the fight sequences with great style and nice technical flourishes. Worth seeking out, and you don’t even have to have seen the previous two!
6. “Toy Story 3”
While there is a planned fourth entry in this series coming out, this would serve as the perfect capper on the entire “Toy Story” saga. It delivers not just a great villain, some pretty funny comical set pieces, and maybe one of the darkest sequences in modern family film (as the toys all prepare to meet their fiery deaths together), but it does it all without ever repeating or retreading on previous jokes and plot points. Pixar proved many skeptical fans wrong when they delivered this emotional powerhouse film that reminded people of the joys of playing as a child and the importance of family, however we choose to define it.
5. “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”
While some may not like this film as it began the whole “jokester Freddy” phase of the franchise, moving him from the more sinister villain role into a bit of an antihero that audiences cheer for. However, Chuck Russell made an incredibly engaging film that finally takes full advantage of the fantastical elements of the dreams the teens have. A talented cast, including a young Patricia Arquette and Heather Langenkamp reprising her role from the original, really make this a fun, gory and intense thriller that broadened the horizons of what a “Nightmare on Elm Street” film could be.
4. “Captain America: Civil War”
For those looking for pure spectacle and hoping to see a comic book splash page rendered on screen, “Captain America: Civil War” delivered at an unbelievably high rate. Despite juggling dozens of cast members, nearly every character is given an arc and some standout moment, and the emotions brewing through the first two “Captain America” and “Avengers” films pays off as the heroes are reluctantly forced into battle against each other. It’s not the most cerebral film, but it does pack an emotional punch and payoff, with excellent visuals that make it a truly great example of what other comic book films should strive toward.
3. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
How good is this film? There’s a large contingency of fans out there that think it’s actually the best “Indiana Jones” film. Whether or not they’re right, the film has a lot going for it: hilarious banter, great interpersonal relationship between Indy and his father, tons of exciting adventure moments and action scenes, and incredibly quotable lines (“No ticket!”). The film was the perfect capper for the series, having the group ride off into the sunset, and also featured some of the best villains in the entire series. Spielberg was at the top of his game making this one, with incredible sequences that others are still trying to mimic to this day.
2. “Army of Darkness”
True, it’s not as scary or gory as the previous “Evil Dead” entries, but “Army of Darkness” is a great sword and sorcery film with a fish out of water hook, complete with some excellent creature work by KNB F/X. Bruce Campbell proves that he should’ve been a bigger star in director Raimi’s third turn with the character of Ash, with tons of charm, perfect comic timing and action hero chops fighting off an army of the undead. It’s a cult classic for a reason, as it’s become so easily quotable with many memorable scenes that are totally hilarious and utterly unique.
1. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
Was there ever any doubt? Yes, “The Two Towers” still has the best moments in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but this film is an epic and appropriate sendoff to Peter Jackson’s massive undertaking. The heroes are at their darkest hours, yet find a way to persevere; Frodo and Sam are tested beyond anything they feared, yet they continue in the face of those challenges. And while it may suffer from too many endings, it still delivers a satisfying conclusion to one of the biggest tales ever brought to the screen in the history of film. Full of splendor, spectacle and moments that will echo throughout cinematic history, “The Return of the King” proves just how emotionally satisfying a third act can be.
Honorable Mentions: “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” “Friday the 13th: Part 3,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance”