Movie threequels that outshone the originals

Mark Lankester
Yahoo UK Movies Features

Iron Man 3, and other surprising threequels (Credit: Disney/United Artists)

‘Iron Man 3’ has smashed up the box office, taking nearly $200 million in its opening weekend, and putting it on course to trump ‘The Avengers' as the most successful comic-book movie ever. But Tony Stark’s third solo outing is also, amazingly, a critical darling. It’s been hailed it as the best ‘Iron Man’ movie in the series.

[Related story: Iron Man 3 on course to beat Avengers at the box office]
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In the movie world, it’s very rare for a ‘part 3’ - a ‘threequel’ if you will – to outshine the original movie. Franchises almost always follow an unwritten, but well beaten track: Dazzle with the first, go darker for the second, disappoint with the third.

By the time a series reaches the three movie mark, the inspiration tank is usually running a little low. Think ‘Spider-Man 3’, ‘The Godfather: Part III’, ‘Rocky III’, ‘Home Alone 3’ (no Macualay Culkin!) and of course ‘Police Academy 3: Back In Training’ (*shudder*). The worst offender of the lot though is perhaps ‘Pirates of The Caribbean: At World’s End’; one of the most bloated and boring ‘threequels’ in living memory.

However, like every rule, there are exceptions. And not just ‘Iron Man 3’. Tony Stark’s (possibly) final outing has joined an exclusive but bigger-than-you-might-think club of film threequels that somehow outshone the originals. They include…

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
How do you improve the highest grossing film franchise in history? Gary Oldman. That’s how. He stole every last scene - maybe that’s why he was in Azkaban in the first place? ‘Harry Potter And Prisoner Of Azkaban’ also marked the tonal shift in the ‘Potter’ series, leaping headfirst into dark adolescence, and leaving its lighter predecessors behind. It was the work of Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron, the first decent director to film a ‘Potter’ (sorry Chris Columbus). 

The blueprint ‘Bond’ Movie. ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love’ gave us the raw materials, but Sean Connery’s third outing shaped them into something not only recognisable, but unforgettable. ‘Goldfinger’ marked the first appearance of the Bond-style pre-credits sequence, the classic Aston Martin DB5, and even series' first real "pop music" theme song – Shirley Bassey’s thundering “Goooldfingaah”. It perfected the balance of gadgets, girls and guns, bagged an Oscar along the way, and set the bar by which the other 22 movies have each been judged.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith
Before you go a-scoffing, we’re not saying 'Episode III' is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie - just the best of the much derided prequels. There was a lot of pressure on ‘Sith’, as it had to not only atone for the mistakes of ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack Of The Clones’, but tie together the two cleaved halves of the entire ‘Star Wars’ franchise. There were lowpoints (Darth Vader screaming “Nooooo!”), but several sequences hit the spot; Palpatine seducing Anakin at the opera, Order 66 and the twin Suns at the end.

Toy Story 3
Pixar have always been masters at emotional ambush, but with ‘Toy Story 3’ they launched an all out assault on our tear ducts. But we didn’t mind. Woody and Buzz’s final adventure dredged up the audience’s collective younger years for examination, and made a rare and genuinely adult movie about being a child. It was the pay-off of a 15 year-long set-up, and one of few finales that didn’t just finish, it actually said goodbye.

The Bourne Ultimatum
Matt Damon’s amnesiac agent was a game changer - giving us the grit and vulnerability that Bond, until then, never had. By the time we reached 2007’s ‘Ultimatum’ finale, Damon’s winning team-up with director Paul Greengrass (who joined in ‘Part 2’) was a streamlined action-movie-making-machine. The film had a relentless, unforgiving pace, as if the entire 116 minute runtime were a single climactic scene.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
A film so iconic, the first 10 seconds of its theme tune sum-up an entire genre. Director Sergio Leone never intended to make a trilogy, but ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ ended up not only trumping his first two ‘Dollars’ movies, but almost every Western ever made as well. It made Clint Eastwood a legend and massively inspired Quentin Tarantino – all his films feature an homage to ‘Ugly’.  A genuine masterpiece, and the ultimate threequel.

Honourable mentions...

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
Not as exciting as ‘Fellowship’ maybe, or as brooding as ‘Two Towers’, ‘Return’ still deserves a (pointy) hat tip for ending the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy is satisfying style. It also won more Oscars than the previous two films combined.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
What’s better, ‘Last Crusade’ or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark'? Both have their fans, but the fact there’s even a debate is mildly amazing. Kudos to Spielberg, and of course Sean Connery who was ace as Indy’s bumbling dad. If only they’d left it there…

Any other amazing threequels we’ve missed out? Chime in below…