's recent decision to pass on the third installment of the X-Men
trilogy made me begin to think about the relation between filmmakers
and movie trilogies
. In our modern day and age, it's incredibly rare for a movie trilogy to have one filmmaker in the pilot seat
for all three movies in a trilogy. As a matter of fact, it's pretty much always been a rarity.
While the dictionary definition of a trilogy is "a group of three dramatic or literary works related in subject or theme," most typical movie trilogies feature a similar character or cast of characters and a running story. Yet, trilogies can also be three movies simply dealing with a similar theme, a similar plot yet not running plot or a similar location.
Thus, after some extensive research, I think I have sorted most of the major movie trilogies into four categories:
Movie Trilogies with a Single Filmmaker for All Three Films
Most often, these trilogies often have a much more focused vision and usually don't disappoint most fans of the films, such as: Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future Trilogy, Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings trilogy and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones Trilogy, although that series is going to four films in 2006.
In this category of movie trilogies, change is a rather important factor. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy is universally loved because each film is absurdly different from the next (even though some consider the second to be a remake of the first), yet Jay Roach's Austin Powers Trilogy suffered from a lack of change while some might say that the Wachowski Brothers changed far too much in the final two installments of the Matrix Trilogy.
Every now and then in this category a third film won't be received nearly as well as the previous two. Such as Wes Craven's Scream Trilogy and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy.
Then there's a filmmaker falling in love with a character that he decides to base an entire trilogy around and directs each film. Such as Sergio Leone’s "Dollars Trilogy", more commonly known as the Man With No Name Trilogy, which is made up of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly., Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi Trilogy (Rodriguez, who also has the Spy Kids trilogy to his name I might add) which is made up of El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Jose Mojica Marins's Coffin Joe Trilogy which consists of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast.
Movie Trilogies with 2/3rds of the Films with a Single Filmmaker
Sometimes, a filmmaker will direct the first two films of a trilogy and not direct one of the installments. This is mostly due to either creative differences, the need to distance themselves from a trilogy or simply because they were unavailable to direct.
The most recent example of this would be in The Terminator Trilogy. James Cameron passed on directing Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines after feeling he told the entire Terminator story in the previous two films that he had made. Regardless, inexperienced director Jonathan Mostow made the third film. Steven Spielberg also felt no need to be a part of a third film in the Jurassic Park Trilogy, thus Joe Johnston directed the third film. And as previously mentioned Bryan Singer has ditched on what would be the third in the X-Men Trilogy to do the new Superman Returns film slated for a 2006 release. Yet, the X-Men movies may very well go beyond a trilogy.
When John McTiernan was too busy making The Hunt For Red October to film Die Hard 2, action-only director Renny Harlin had to step in to direct. Yet, McTiernan returned for the trilogies finale Die Hard: With a Vengeance, although the Die Hard series may very well go to four soon as well.
In terms of the Scary Movie Trilogy, the Wayans Brothers were looking for a new direction for the series after Keenen Ivory Wayans had directed the first two films. Thus, spoof master David Zucker was brought onboard for Scary Movie 3. This series is also threatening to go to four and thus becoming the Police Academy of our time.
Yet the "2/3rds" trilogies often can have some odd occurances though. Take the example of the cult favorite Sleepaway Camp Trilogy. Robert Hiltzik made the first film and was replaced by the slightly more experienced Michael A. Simpson for the later two films. Yet, the movie, which had been considered a trilogy and packaged as a trilogy since 1989, was given the good ol' direct to video sequel treatment with 2002's Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, which had Jim Markovic directing. Yet, it has recently been announced that even though Hiltzik only made one movie in his entire career, the first Sleepaway Camp over twenty years ago, he is attached to direct a fifth film in the series Return to Sleepaway Camp.
Movie Trilogies With A Different Filmmaker For All Three Films
For various reasons, movie trilogies often have a different director for each film. Perhaps the most extreme example of this would be the Alien Trilogy. While it hasn't been a trilogy since 1997, each film in first three films was a fantastic exercise in different filmmakers working with the same idea. Each film was made by a then unproven director, Ridley Scott having Alien be his first feature film in 1979, James Cameron setting his feet firmly as a filmmaker by following up The Terminator and Rambo: First Blood Part II with Aliens in 1986 and then music video director David Fincher making his first full length film with Alien³ in 1993. Since then Jean-Pierre Jeunet made a crummy premise into a worthy installment with Alien: Resurrection in 1997 and then perhaps the most proven director at the time of his assignment to direct an Alien film, Paul W.S Anderson came along and made the horrific Alien vs. Predator in 2004.
While the Alien films are a huge example of different people making different films with a similar idea, other trilogies have had different directors handle similar ideas, but often the final product is rather similar to each other. Examples of this include The Mighty Ducks Trilogy, Rambo Trilogy, the American Pie Trilogy, the Beverly Hills Cop Trilogy, From Dusk Till Dawn Trilogy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy. While The Exorcist Trilogy had different directors for each film, had varying results and yet now has a prequel in theatres.
The Hannibal Lecter Trilogy also is an oddity when it comes to relating filmmakers and a trilogy. While the entire series started with Michael Mann's Manhunter, and exploded in popularity with 1991's Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards, Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, which practically overshadowed Manhunter (besides hardcore fans of the series, few even know of it). The trilogy was completed in 2000 with Ridley Scott's disappointing film Hannibal , which was made after Demme and the lead of the second film, Jodie Foster had passed on the screenplay after fifteen rewrites. Yet in 2002, Red Dragon, directed by Brett Ratner (who with the forthcoming Rush Hour 3 will have a trilogy of his own) was released, which was basically a remake of Manhunter. However, many consider the Hannibal Lecter Trilogy to consist of The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon and not Manhunter. This could be because the Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal Lecter was very different from the Bryan Cox portrayal.
Another interesting case is perhaps the most popular film series of all time, and its two trilogies. The original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI) are often credited to having been directed by George Lucas, when in reality, only A New Hope, the first film released in what is now considered the "original" trilogy was directed by Lucas. While he had a story credit, a producing credit and a whole ton of creative control over the next two films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were directed by Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand respectively. Yet in the new "prequel trilogy" (Episodes I, II and III) George Lucas has directed all three films, although sometimes against the advice of his fans and those close to him.
Atypical Movie Trilogies with a Single Filmmaker for All Three Films
As I stated earlier, most typical movie trilogies are three films sharing a similar character or cast of characters and a running story throughout three films. Yet in some cases, filmmakers decide to direct a movie trilogy that can share no characters and have no running story, yet be connected in theme, tone and subject matter.
A good example of this is Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain Trilogy, which consists of Strictly Ballroom, his modern retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge!. These films are connected in their hyperkinetic style and by small references to the other films, such as the reoccurring L'amour logo.
Filmmakers also try to convey a single message or theme with these types of trilogies. Krzysztof Kieslowski took on issues of contemporary French society with his Colors Trilogy in the early 90s, which consisted of the films Three Colors: Blue, Three Colors: White and Three Colors: Red. Steven Spielberg never confirmed this, but his "unofficial" Running Man Trilogy are all films with different characters and settings yet all involve a person running from something. The trilogy consists of Artificial Intelligence: AI, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. Terry Gillam's Dream Trilogy or Childhood Trilogy (both of which are technically "unofficial" as well) consists of Time Bandits, Brazil and Adventures of Baron Munchausen and each represent one of the three stages of man, which are youth, middle age, and elderly and the impact of imagination on each.
The Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier seems to have this type of trilogy down quite well though. Europa Trilogy features three movies about tragedy and trauma in Europe. The Europa Trilogy is made up of The Element of Crime and Epidemic which are set in the future and the WW2 set film Europa. Eight years after "Epidemic" was released, he started on a new trilogy, the Golden Hearts Trilogy, each which told the story of beautiful, yet highly disturbed women. That trilogy was made up of Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark. Yet von Trier is in the process of creating yet another trilogy of this sort, with his Land of Opportunities Trilogy, which deals with the immorality behind the common idea of The American Dream. The first film Dogville was released in 2003 and will be followed in 2005 by the slavery story Manderlay and the final film in the trilogy, Washington in either 2006 or 2007.
Takashi Miike's trilogy Dead Or Alive is unusual because it reuses actors, always has a Dead Or Alive title and consistently contains hard action and graphic sexual behavior, yet besides that, the films aren't related at all.
Kevin Smith's Jersey Trilogy is perhaps the mother of the "atypical" trilogy. First off, although the official name for the series became The View Askewniverse after it went to four movies with 1999's Dogma, people still refer to all five movies as The Jersey Trilogy. Yet these five films are more connected by characters and numerous references to the other films and each have amazingly intricate connections. For example: we hear about three characters having sex with Rick Derris in Mallrats and Chasing Amy and Clerks (in which the character appears). Not to mention there is a bus company called "Derris" featured in Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The chronological order of those films goes: Mallrats, Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The first three are determined by one event mentioned in all three films (a character drowning at a YMCA pool). At the end of Jay and Silent Bob's appearance in Chasing Amy they hint at a possible bus trip, which we find them at the end of in their first appearance in Dogma. Then, at the end of Dogma, Jay makes a request to Silent Bob that they go hang out at the Quick Stop, which is where we see them, assumingly only moments after the epic events of Dogma, in the opening of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.