Part Three Films That Performed Well Despite the Odds

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This weekend, the third installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise — a supernatural sensation since Oren Peli’s original film debuted in 2009 — rocked the box office, taking in $54 million for its opening weekend. The film also holds rank as the highest grossing movie for any October opening in history. While Paranormal Activity’s victory can be largely attributed to its successful grassroots marketing campaign and Halloween slot (it replaced popular spooky long-runner Saw), it’s still quite the feat for a part three film. Most threequels fizzle out by the third go-round, leaving their characters to dully ride the coattails of previous successes — but clearly that isn’t always the case. And with news about Sherlock Holmes securing a writer for its third installment, perhaps the action-mystery movie can follow suit. After the break, we took a look at several trilogies that buck the trend of bad things coming in threes — some third features even managing to outdo the films that started their respective series.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Sergio Leone’s final installment of the “Dollars Trilogy”, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, is the crowning achievement of the series that brought Clint Eastwood iconic fame as the gunslinging “Man with No Name.” While A Fistful of Dollars benefited from the meticulous stylings of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo as its basis, the final film’s impeccable direction, striking score (all hail Ennio Morricone), offbeat humor, and ability to usurp all expectations of the Western genre are in full focus. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly brought home $25,100,000 domestically, nearly double that of its sequel.

Toy Story

The original Toy Story revolutionized animation, being the first entirely computer-animated film. The Pixar favorite featuring a pull string cowboy and astronaut action figure helped reinvigorate a waning industry, breathing new life into animated stars with strong characterization and a keen sense of storytelling. Part two was just as good and even better for most critics, who applauded the highly entertaining follow-up. The emotional conclusion to part three, however, blew everyone away. Eleven years later, the heart of Toy Story beat stronger than ever, proving that some things are worth the wait. Toy Story 3 made 2.2 times the amount that its sequel did, at $1,063,171,911 worldwide.

Star Wars

Fanboys hate Return of the Jedi’s Ewoks — and a laundry list of other things, including what are perceived to be greedy marketing ploys — but the third film in the director’s original Star Wars trilogy boasts more than just fuzzy teddy bears. There’s also slave Leia, the definitive fight scene with Boba Fett, speeder chases through the jungle, and of course an incomplete — but fully functional — Death Star. Jedi ranks only slightly below Empire’s worldwide totals at $475,106,177, but the space opera’s third installment is still much loved, and the series’ legacy speaks for itself.

The Lord of the Rings

Ambitious and stunning in every way, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been a consistent champion at the box office. Depth of story, incredible visuals, a talented cast, and painstaking attention to detail brought the epic drama from the pages of Tolkien’s books to the big screen, changing the face of the fantasy film genre and finding it a respectable place in Hollywood. Jackson’s final film in the trilogy — though too long for many — really knocked it out of the park, winning all 11 of the Academy Awards it was nominated for and bringing home a grand total of $1,119,110,941 worldwide.

Indiana Jones

We’re going to pretend that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull never happened (sorry, Shia!), and wax nostalgic on the 1989 Indiana Jones movie instead. Last Crusade didn’t have Raider’s awesome, melty-faced Nazis, but it did have a funny Sean Connery — who helped illustrate the movie’s endearing father/son/family dynamic — and River Phoenix — whose character inspired the YA novels that followed the film in the ’90s. Performing better than Temple of Doom at $474,171,806, Last Crusade is still as charming as Ford’s smirk and Professor Indy’s allure.

Three Colors

Symbolic for the colors of the French flag, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy has won a number of prestigious filmmaking awards for its bold emotional sincerity, larger social context, and powerful cinematography. The enigmatic story concluded with Red, starring Irène Jacob — a model whose life becomes interconnected with that of a reclusive judge. The film’s theme of destiny rang eerily true considering Kieślowski’s death just two years later, but it’s really remembered for its flawless beauty and influence on contemporary filmmaking. Red performed the best domestically out of all the films, totaling $4,043,686.

George Romero’s Dead Trilogy

Just in time for Halloween … Romero’s Night of the Living Dead revolutionized the horror genre in 1968, making the director’s name synonymous with the word “zombie.” A bloody trip through the shopping mall (and the social commentary surrounding it) makes Dawn of the Dead perhaps the most popular of the series, but Day of the Dead is arguably the bleakest in tone. The film illustrated society’s breakdown, showing that even with all of our technology and weaponry, humanity still couldn’t work together to stop the zombie apocalypse. At the end of the first film, humanity seems to be winning. By the end of the second, it’s more of a war of attrition. However, by the end of Day of the Dead, you walk away thinking humanity has already lost (despite the somewhat upbeat ending). The film doesn’t have many box office legs to stand on (only $34,000,000 worldwide), but for horror fans it’s still a worthwhile and important entry in zombie cinema.

The National Lampoon’s Vacation Series

Vacation had Christie Brinkley and Walley World, European Vacation featured an awesome Plastic Bertrand song, but Christmas Vacation proved that funnyman Chevy Chase still had the Midas (clumsy) touch. The third movie in the comedy series that follows the exploits of the Griswold family has become a holiday staple for many — despite its crudeness — because like the other films, it presents familiar situations we can all identify with. (Annoying relatives, the overachieving parent, or the crazed anxiety of the holiday season to name a few.) The snowy installment in the Vacation trilogy (the films that followed don’t even come close to the originals) delivered the box office goods with $71,320,000 domestically.