Third Time’s The Charm: Why Do Trilogies Always Disappoint?


What The Craggus Saw turned three years old this week. To celebrate this third anniversary, I thought I’d take a look at trilogies. Has there ever been a trilogy where the third chapter hasn’t disappointed? Bryan Singer obviously doesn’t think so and ironically made a joke about it in his “First Class” trilogy closer “X-Men: Apocalypse”. Oh, sometimes the creators of the trilogy decide to get the disappointment out of the way nice and early (I’m looking at you, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”), but generally, the third part of a trilogy generally lets the side down. I’m not sure if it’s because it comes partly loaded with the knowledge that something you have been enjoying (I assume you’ve been enjoying it as you’ve come back for parts two and three) is coming to an end or because they tend to try and cram everything in to wrap it all up in a neat little package (albeit leaving enough breadcrumbs to set up a part 4 or, that most awful of beasts, a second trilogy). Are there exceptions? I can’t think of any.

The original “Star Wars” trilogy is slightly unlucky in that “The Empire Strikes Back” is so good, it would be hard for the follow-up to not be a disappointment. It nearly gets away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling teddy bears. Ah, you say, but clearly “Revenge Of The Sith” is better than the two films that preceded it therefore we have Exhibit A for the defence. Objection! Yes, of course RotS is better than the dull “Phantom Menace” or the excruciatingly execrable “Attack Of The Clones” but it’s still a massively disappointing film, a veritable smorgasbord of poor writing, awful dialogue, nonsensical plot twists and character motivations and career worst performances of most of the cast. Objection sustained.

I’ve already dismissed The Matrix trilogy and Pirates Of The Caribbean, trilogies where the disappointment is all the bitterer because the first films are so clever/ such fun respectively. Hmm. How about… the Bourne trilogy? Okay, I’ll concede they’re all good films, but the third one still feels weaker to me. The secret black ops project revealed in the second film is revealed to be an offshoot of an even blacker ops programme and Jason Bourne is revealed to have a new name. While the action set-pieces were sensational, The Bourne Ultimatum felt like a retread of The Bourne Supremacy, almost like they had two drafts of the same story and decided to film them both one after the other. So no, but I’ll admit it’s close.

What about “The Dark Knight Rises”? What about it indeed. One of the worst trilogy closers of all time, it’s infuriating because many of the ingredients are so, so good but the way they’re put together is just risible. The plot makes zero sense, chatacters are required to act contrary to their natures just to make things ‘work’ and it’s so poorly put together there are jarring plot holes. It only barely succeeds as a film thanks to Nolan’s directorial style but it’s by far and away the worst chapter of the Dark Knight trilogy.

Lord Of The Rings is the other one I can think of that comes close. The problem with “Return Of The King” was pointed out to me by Mrs Craggus and it’s this: the last hour and a half of that film (slightly longer if you prefer the extended versions. I know I do.) is basically the story not knowing how to end and getting caught in a loop with goes a little like this:

10 We must fight against impossible odds. Even though we cannot win, we must fight this ultimate battle.
20 We have won this battle after all.
30 Goto 10

Once somebody makes you aware of this, the last half of “The Return Of The King” starts to become ever so slightly annoying. Sorry about that. It also means it obeys the law of trilogies. Even Wes Cravens’ post-modern ironic Scream trilogy acknowledges the problem third chapters of trilogies have and then, underlining its ironic nature, “Scream 3” proceeds to tick every annoying third chapter box to hammer home the disappointment.

By this point, I would hope you don’t need any more convincing of the law of trilogies, but in case you do, here’s some other prosecution exhibits:

“Poltergeist III”
“Austin Powers in Goldmember”
“Spy Kids 3”
“Jurassic Park III”
“Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade”
“Spider-Man 3”

What’s your favourite trilogy? Is there one where the third instalment is the best? I suppose if you count “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan”, “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as a trilogy, the final chapter isn’t the weak link but I’d love to hear from you (use the comments box below) if you can think of a trilogy where the third chapter isn’t a disappointment or if you think I’ve misjudged the films I’ve listed then let me know!

[Edit To Add: Since writing this, I’ve come up with “Back To The Future” and Marvel’s “Captain America” trilogy as ones which aren’t a let-down, even if the third chapter isn’t necessarily the best of the three]


  1. Grog the Ginger June 13, 2016

    I was thinking about this exact thing after seeing X-Men: Apocalypse. For me, my favourite trilogy closer is The Last Crusade (my fav Indy film), and I also actually think Ultimatum is the best Bourne film. I also personally prefer Jedi over A New Hope although I know that’s definitely personal. And Empire is obviously still the best anyway. I also think Return of the King was the best LotR film. I also like Goldmember although it’s definitely not as good as the first 2. Other than that though, there really aren’t many good third parts. It’s annoyingly rare now I think about it haha! Great write up!

    • The Craggus June 13, 2016

      Thanks. Die Hard With A Vengeance was another exception pointed out to me on Twitter. It may not be as good as the first Die Hard but it’s easily as good if not better than the second one (although it does lack Bonnie Bedelia).

      My favourite Indiana Jones film is Temple Of Doom, which I know puts me in a small minority (although still a much bigger population than the KotCS advocates, if they even exist). My problem with Last Crusade (which I still enjoy) is the love interest/ twist of Alison Doody’s character always feels clumsy and underwritten, which undermines the finale. The Bourne films are all great (the Matt Damon ones at least) but for me Ultimatum had many of the best set pieces but tried to pull off too many twists around the black ops set up. I still enjoy a lot of threequels but for some reason they do seem to be difficult to pull off. Mind you, at the moment, Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to produce decent sequels never mind anything further.

      • Grog the Ginger June 13, 2016

        Oh yeah I forgot about With A Vengeance! I just feel the Sean Connery addition to TLC is so perfect. I do actually love ToD too. I think that one gets too much hate. I think it’s a very different film, but very nearly as good as Raiders and Crusade as well.

Comments are closed.