You won’t believe this, but there was once a time in Hollywood where you made one film’s story and went onto another project. A sequel to a film was relatively unheard of (outside of the comedy movie realm, such as the Andy Hardy movies, and the famous Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road” movies). Later, Sergio Leone made his “Man with no Name” trilogy of films with Clint Eastwood, ushering in the western’s submission into serialized cinema. The first sci-fi/fantasy film to buck that trend was “Planet of the Apes” in the late sixties.

Nowadays, the sequel is a forgone conclusion for a blockbuster. If it makes more than $200 million and there’s a story to be told, a sequel will be made. And if there’s enough hype, you’ll get the mother lode. A trilogy.

So, what are the great trilogies in film? This is why you have E-Nirv. Here now is the E-Top for this week: the five best trilogies.

#5. (Tie) The Matrix/Pirates of the Caribbean. They make it into the top 5 on the basis of their first installments. The original Matrix was so original to American cinema and left the door open with such potential, it ranks as one of the best sci-fi films ever. Its combination of pure action and deep thinking philosophy made it a sleeper hit in 1999, and spawned a billion dollar franchise. The next two installments, however, while flashy and brilliant to look at, did not impress to the extent of the original.

The “Pirates” franchise falls into a similar mold. A quality swashbuckling buccaneer film has too long been absent from theaters. When word got out that Disney was making a full-length feature film based on an amusement park ride, critics were understandably skeptical. The result was one of the more enjoyable action films of the last decade. All thanks to Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the always flamboyant but equally addled Jack Sparrow (“CAPTAIN” Jack Sparrow) made this film sing with character. The next two chapters seemed to get too big for their britches and the story too weighty and complex. Still, Depp made these films entirely watchable.

4. Indiana Jones Trilogy. For now, it’s still a trilogy, though a fourth installment will be released next summer. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was revolutionary. As sci-fi flicks (E.T., Star Trek, Star Wars) dominated the cineplexes in the early ’80s, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford brought to us something new, or rather something old. Inspired by the Saturday morning serial films of the 1930s, Lucas created Indiana Jones, a battle weary treasure hunting professor doing battle with the Nazis, an Indian Cult, and still yet more Nazis. The dialogue snappy, the plots compelling, and featuring a hero who occasionally gets the snot kicked out of him, the films’ staying power is undeniable.

3. The Godfather Trilogy. The first two Godfather films should rank in the top 25 of anyone who considers themselves a movie fan. They are both filled with such memorable images and themes, hardly a week goes by when you don’t hear a quote from these films. The first and only film and sequel each to earn an Academy Award for Best Picture. Conversely, the Godfather III is a flawed yet still serviceable film. Sophia Coppola’s “performance” ruins her scenes with unmitigated bad acting (word was Winona Ryder or Julia Roberts were both wanted for this movie…just imagine). Still, the film is effective in showing Michael Corleone’s final descent into personal hell. For all of the power he wielded and his ability to “pull the strings” in an effort to preserve a future for his family, he sees too late that which really matters in life, and dies old and alone, perhaps the worst death a mobster can have. There are some great moments in this film, and if you can shut Sofia Coppola out, it’s a nice finish to the trilogy.

2. Original Star Wars Trilogy. What makes the first three Star Wars so fantastic is their simplicity. The downtrodden rising up to usurp their oppressors. A galactic battle on a huge scale, told through the eyes of three individuals: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. Luke, the naive boy suddenly thrust into a King Arthur like role. He is the chosen one, yet must learn on the run as his enemies attempt to destroy him and all that he loves. Princess Leia, the eternal optimist and conscience of the Rebellion. She is the weathervane for the resistance. Eloquent and battle fierce at the same time, Leia engenders loyalty from all around her. Han Solo represents the cynic in all of us. He’s given up wanting to change things by the time the first film begins. Instead of fighting the system, he skirts around it, carving out his own niche as a smuggler. His is a tale of learning how to trust and believe again.
Finally, the Star Wars trilogy came upon its brilliance really through the use of Darth Vader. The uber-evil and mysterious leader of the Emperor’s forces is among the most intimidating of any movie villain. He can kill with a thought and often kills without thought. His minions mean nothing to him, merely means to an end. Through one of the truly surprising moments in cinema, he reveals himself as Luke Skywalker’s father in the second film. From there, the trilogy becomes about something more than just earning freedom. It becomes a story of redemption. Luke believes there still to be good in his father, even when no one else does, even Vader himself. Luke’s perseverance earns that redemption for Vader, and here Lucas ties the liberation of an entire galaxy into the redemption of one man. Great, mythic stuff.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Making JRR Tolkien’s epic series into films was once thought impossible. The books are too detailed, the characters too numerous, the plot too confusing. But Peter Jackson proved them all wrong. The story about the least among us being the savior of all is not original, but it is told in fantastic fashion as Frodo Baggins and best friend Samwise Gamgee alone enter Mordor to destroy the Ring that could destroy everything. Jackson masterfully edits Tolkien’s opus into a brilliant three acts, while taking away little if any of the wonder that Lord of the Rings generates. The films are perfectly cast and acted, the scenery of New Zealand as Middle Earth breathtaking, and the effects and sets mind-blowing. The trilogy earned more than 20 Oscars, with a record-tying 11 for the last film alone. Wonderful film making and a truly special experience.

Happy Friday from E-Nirv!