Somewhere in cinema history, the idea of the "trilogy" was born. Sequels, of course, were part of the biz since the beginning: if a movie made money, a sequel was almost guaranteed to make more. Then Star Wars became the biggest box office smash of all time, and George Lucas said, "Actually, I plan to make nine films – three sets of trilogies." (He later insisted he only said six films.) From that point onward, producers of films ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous adopted that horrid phrase, "We always perceived of this as a trilogy." Now we're inundated with them. Some worked: Lord of the Rings, Scream, The Terminator, even Spy Kids. These did not:
- Crocodile Dundee. Paramount's decision to greenlight the thoroughly unsolicited Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, more than a decade after the first two Dundee movies, can only be called a cynical ploy to market the films as a DVD box set.
- Psycho. It's obvious that Alfred Hitchcock had no interest in filming a sequel to his classic 1960 thriller. Yet Universal rehired an aging Anthony Perkins a year after Hitchcock's death and put Norman Bates back to work. Worse yet, four years later, Perkins not only starred in Psycho III, but directed it. (Incredibly, a Psycho IV prequel was made for TV, with Perkins – dying of AIDS at the time – in a small part.)
- Free Willy. I bet a lot of you don't know that there were three Free Willy movies. Will Willy ever truly be free?
- Rambo. In 1982, Sylvester Stallone starred in First Blood, a downbeat drama about a Vietnam vet taking his old commander hostage. Three years later, glum antihero John Rambo was refashioned as a musclebound, Reagan-era superman, saving his buddies from the evil Vietnamese in Rambo: First Blood Part II. Of course this was a massive hit, and a few years later out came Rambo III. No, the title wasn't First Blood Part III or even Rambo II. You can imagine studio execs thinking, "But these dumbasses will get confused if we called it anything else!" Hence, Rambo III, a title that effectively makes no sense. Did I mention that in this film, Rambo's allies are the (future) Taliban?
- The Mighty Ducks. See entry for Free Willy.
- The Karate Kid. Like most "trilogies" on this list, the Karate Kid series was really three entirely different storylines with only a cast and gimmick in common, unlike "tune in next time" serials such as Star Wars. But its gestalt-like marketing – "First it was teacher to student. Then it was father to son. Now, it's man to man" – would have you think otherwise. Note: I am not mentioning The Next Karate Kid, starring then-newcomer Hilary Swank, because that was supposed to be a whole new series.
- The Godfather. More scandalous than any Karate Kid sequel could ever be, Paramount coaxed Francis Ford Coppola into adding a third installment to a pair of classic films that never needed a third installment. Some studio exec, sniffing easy money and more Oscars, must have figured, "Well, we can't just have two Godfather pictures." Sadly, this bloated, boring, poorly-written conclusion stained the entire Godfather legacy – as did Sofia Coppola's truly horrid performance in a key role.
- RoboCop. It was a tossup between this, Revenge of the Nerds, and Beverly Hills Cop for the coveted eighth entry, but I chose RoboCop because, unlike the other two forgettable trilogies, the original film was actually potent and interesting.
- The Matrix. Had the second and third "chapters" of this trilogy, shot back-to-back, been as good as the first one, this might have continued the scary trend of filming sequels at the same time. But because The Matrix Reloaded was such a disappointment that people stayed away from The Matrix Revolutions in droves, it's hopefully killed off the concept of the pre-sold trilogy – for now. Instead, we'll probably go back to safe, standalone sequels like Legally Blonde 3: The Blonde Leading the Blonde. (Yes, I made that up, don't worry.)