6 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Trilogies

Why do film-makers and -goers alike love the number three? Somehow the simple little number became the go-to stopping point for many a great film franchise. With three movies, George Lucas completed his masterful original Star Wars trilogy. Robert Zemeckis did the same with Back to the Future, and so too did Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings.

Some trilogies go deeper however, as directors find themselves exploring similar themes through three films without ever revisiting the same exact characters or stories. These trilogies deserve a bit of recognition too, so here are six (three-times two!) trilogies you probably weren’t even aware of.

1. Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy

British comedy director Edgar Wright is brilliant in his restlessness, as evidenced by his genre-hopping films and his frenetic editing style. For his first feature film (discounting the little-seen A Fistful of Fingers), Wright teamed up with star and co-writer Simon Pegg, who also starred in Wright’s earlier TV series Spaced, to create a gleeful slacker subversion of Romero zombie films called Shaun of the Dead. Pegg and Wright went on to pen two more features together — Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — to complete a trilogy of films often dubbed the Cornetto trilogy, after a British ice cream snack seen in all three films. Each film stars Pegg and Nick Frost and focuses on issues of male friendship, arrested development, and conformity, while satirizing a specific genre of film. Oh, and all three are great.

2. Quentin Tarantino’s Alternate History Trilogy

With The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino has completed a trilogy of revisionist history films that interpret American historic events through the director’s own fractured, often exploitative sensibilities. The unofficial trilogy began in 2009 with the WW2-focused Inglourious Basterds and continued with his “spaghetti southern” Django Unchained. His latest film doesn’t seem as obvious in its historical revisionism, confined as it is to a single location in the Old West wherein a group of outlaws and lawmen become trapped during a bizarre storm. With two acclaimed alternate history films already under his belt, Tarantino may be in the midst of completing one of cinema’s greatest unofficial trilogies.

3. Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy

In the past decade or so, South Korea has proven itself a nation to be watched in the international film community, particularly when it comes to unreservedly violent genre films. Much of the credit goes to director Park Chan-Wook, who gained acclaim for his brutal Vengeance Trilogy. The three films — Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance — are linked solely by the Park’s stylish direction and themes of revenge and salvation. Oldboy, the most famous of the three, has become something of a modern classic (far surpassing the merits of its American remake) for its creatively brutal action setpieces and Shakespearean tragedy.

4. John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy

Director John Carpenter is probably best known for virtually inventing the slasher horror subgenre with the original Halloween, but perhaps his greatest accomplishment (and my personal favorite of his films) is the stomach-churning sci-fi horror The Thing. Carpenter has dubbed the 1982 feature, which was panned upon release and only later revered as a cult-classic, as the first of three films he calls his Apocalypse Trilogy, along with Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994). All three films focus upon a horrific threat to humanity and the attempts to contain the various threats. The endings are predictably bleak, but all three are underrated films in Carpenter’s impressive canon for their uncompromising strangeness.

5. Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy

Roman Polanski channeled his experiences living in cramped urban dwellings into this trilogy of thematically-linked films all focusing on characters whose psyches are compromised while living in claustrophobic apartments. Rosemary’s Baby is the most famous of the three, following Mia Farrow’s expectant mother as she comes to suspect her husband and possibly-Satanic neighbors of plotting against her and her child, but his low-budget Repulsion is just as scary and far more psychological in its horror, using black and white cinematography and surreal imagery to capture the mental breakdown of Catherine Deneuve’s disturbed Carol. The Tenant is the lightest of the three films, focusing on the paranoiac tendencies of a lonely Paris bachelor (Polanski himself) in a wildly entertaining film with a darkly comedic streak wherein almost nothing adds up neatly.

6. Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy

Controversial director Lars von Trier has said on more than one occasion that his films are easily categorized into trilogies — ambitious, eh? His most recent trilogy has been termed the Depression Trilogy and reflects the depression the director himself struggles with. All three films in the trilogy — Antichrist, Melancholia and the two-part Nymphomaniac — star Charlotte Gainsbourg and deal with characters dealing with feelings of, you guessed it, depression. Von Trier’s films are characteristically uncompromising in their brutality and dreariness, often finding nothing in the world worth living for and nothing worth celebrating in humanity. They’re all fascinating films — Antichrist is my personal favorite, but I’m not sure if I ever want to see it again — but each one is guaranteed to ruin a weekend. Don’t watch all three in a row, or you may find yourself descending into a depression of your own.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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