Has The Way We Make Movie Trilogies Changed?

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

“When I grow up, all my trilogies will have four movies!”—Typical Hollywood Producer.

Ever since the Harry Potter series ended with a two-part conclusion, we’ve been getting more, and more two-part endings to trilogies.  The Hunger Games and  The Avengers are the best examples of this phenomenon.  This leads to the question—do trilogies matter anymore?

Big franchises that set you three or more movies are supposed to show the complete arc of both the plot and the story for the characters.  To properly show the ending to a journey, you cannot rush it.  The filmmakers who made the last two Harry Potter films knew this.  This is why they split the 800-page source material into two movies.  However, because of the success of both films, a trend was born.  Even though it may seem like trilogies are running stronger than ever (there are even trilogies entwined within trilogies in the Marvel MCU ), I believe that the lack of definitive endings to characters’ journeys, and the over-saturation of trilogies are what have cheapened the value of the trilogy.

Nowadays, the first part of the last chapter feels like nothing more than build-up to the inevitable part two film.  Even Harry Potter 7 was a victim of this to a certain extent, because The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 could not have a conclusion, since it was just the first half of the series’ ending.  I heard the same complaints about the first part of the final installments of  The Hunger Games and Twilight series.  Besides money, why split the last movie into two parts?  Oh wait, I just answered my own question.  Let’s look at The Avengers trilogy (or whatever you want to call it, since it two will be four movies).  Does Tony Stark’s character change at all in these films?  How about Thor?  In Thor 2, Thor still believes that Loki can come back to him, after Loki proved to be rotten in both Thor and The Avengers.  Sure, these films are not supposed to be dissected.  But we are only looking at the surface. If character arcs and complete stories are things that kid shows get right, so should the Marvel MCU.  In Gargoyles, important, consequential things happen.  Goliath realizes he needs to leave the castle roughly 90 days after he started living there, and Goliath and his clan took out Xanatos and were arrested.  Ever since Thor’s introduction in 2011, he still falls for all of Loki’s tricks.

Additionally, many trilogies have now received the franchise sticker, meaning that Hollywood can make a movie for the same franchise every year and make box office cash year after year by releasing a new film as a part of their larger pantheon of films.  Examples of such franchises are Star Wars, the Marvel films, and Harry Potter.  Star Wars soon will be the weirdest trilogy explanation.  Before Disney, it was simple: Original and Prequel trilogy.  Basic and easy to pinpoint which ones were good and bad.  Now, we will have seemingly one-off movies (Rogue One, the Han Solo film) in between and after the movies of the sequel trilogy.  How will audiences be able to identify which ones are which?  I guess it will be as simple as George Lucas’s gold, George Lucas’s crap, and Disney’s reign of mediocrity.  As a result of the oversaturation of franchises and their yearly films, the idea of having trilogies becomes less valuable.  I used to get excited for trilogies, because they wouldn’t happen all that often.  In a lot of ways, superhero films and Star Wars movies are turning into Bond movies.  The character’s problems don’t roll over into the next film; everything is just a self-contained story.  Look at how little Iron Man 3 and Cap 2 actually mattered to The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  None of the MCU films feel like they are completely resolved at the end (save for Iron Man 3, which, thanks to Age of Ultron, ended up not mattering anyway), because there is always a bigger picture.

I know that The Lord of the Rings is essentially a 10-hour journey to the bigger picture.  But, at the end of each film, you see the end of the main characters’ problems.  At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo had changed from a boy to a man.  In The Two Towers, Rohan stopped and defeated Isengard.  The Return of the King resolves the final battle.  But when you are watching Cap 2, you wonder, “Why is this movie about Hydra, when Loki just killed Odin, and Thanos is still out there?!  Shouldn’t something much bigger be happening now?”  Most of the Marvel movies do not matter, because we know that Avengers 3 (in all of its dual-parts glory) is supposed to deliver (at least some sort of) closure to the current MCU era.

The other major element that cheapens trilogies is simply low-quality sequels.  With The Man with No Name, Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings, and the original Star Wars trilogies, great care was put into making each film. That’s why they are regarded as some of the best trilogies ever made.  But for every good trilogy, there are numerous bad ones that were ruined by one or more movies.  In such trilogies, it’s apparent that the studio was more concerned with making a trilogy for the money, rather than because they truly believed there was enough fresh ideas to be used over three films.  Just look at Alien 3 and Terminator 3.  Also, there are sequels that are made to continue an unfinished story (RoboCop 2). Sometimes the filmmakers fail to capture the feel of the series established by the original (RoboCop 3). Additionally a trilogy can sour if the story becomes very convoluted (The Dark Knight Rises).

The idea of a trilogy is very exciting, as long as the nature of the story established in the original film lends itself to multiple sequels. I hope that one day trilogies will, overall, no longer over-saturate the market, and are again handled with the care by film studios.


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