Even though it seems like everyone disagrees on just about every imaginable topic, it’s nice to know that there are at least some things we can all agree upon. Take, for example, movie trilogies. There are a number of them that we can all agree hit their stride with their second entries. Here are seven middle movies that everyone agrees are the best in their respective trilogies.
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins was a solid reintroduction of the character after his embarrassing portrayal in 1997’s Batman and Robin. And The Dark Knight Rises did an admirable job concluding the trilogy without the presence of Heath Ledger. But let’s face it, The Dark Knight completely steals the spotlight and outshines those other two films. It is endlessly complex, dissectible, and discussable, and its Joker is still a strong contender for the best portrayal of the character in the last 60 years. I don’t think there’s anyone who would disagree that The Dark Knight is the best in the trilogy. After all, there’s a reason why it’s called the Dark Knight Trilogy, not the Batman Begins Trilogy.
The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars is a classic. It’s a perfect film that does everything right. It also just so happens to be a happy accident. The special effects had never been done before on that kind of scale, the actors were mostly untested, few executives at Twentieth Century Fox believed in the picture, and George Lucas put himself in the hospital from the strain of directing the film. When all is said in done, Star Wars is a film that was saved in the edit by a series of unforeseeable serendipitous flukes. When it came time to do a sequel, Lucas gave it almost exclusively to other writers and an experienced director. And they created one of the best films of all time in the form of The Empire Strikes Back. The reason people still look back fondly on the original Star Wars Trilogy is mainly because of The Empire Strikes Back. It adds depth to its predecessor and sets the stage for the satisfying conclusion of Return of the Jedi. Everything Star Wars did well The Empire Strikes Back does even better, from relationships to action sequences. It continues to stand tall today as the best film in the saga.
Evil Dead 2
1981’s The Evil Dead was Sam Raimi’s directorial debut. Made on a shoestring budget, it managed to showcase some of the flair that would define his entire career, such as the spectacular closing shot. But six years later, when Raimi returned to make a sequel with a higher budget, he completely blew the first one out of the water. Not only is Evil Dead 2 scarier than the first film, it’s also a heck of a lot funnier, thanks to Bruce Campbell’s growth as an actor and extraordinary physical comedy. Evil Dead 2 follows a lot of the same beats as the first film, but it manages to add even more charm and heart to the proceedings. Army of Darkness came next and was great in its own right. But most of the things people remember from this series (other than “This is my Boomstick”) are found in the second film.
The Godfather Part II
Like The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II is required viewing to get the whole story on the first film in its trilogy. It boldly tells the story of how a young Vito Corleone became the Godfather alongside how his son Michael expanded his family’s power to new heights while also seeing his family come apart at the seams. The Godfather is a flawless film that manages to tell its tale in a brutal, melancholy, and mesmerizing way. The Godfather Part II provides a lot of necessary context and satisfying payoffs for what the first film set up, particularly concerning Michael’s wife, sister, and brother. The Godfather Part III offers a decent conclusion, but the second film’s reputation as the best of the three simply can’t be refused.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
I consider Mad Max: Fury Road to be an entirely separate beast from the original three Mel Gibson movies in this series, so that’s why I’m including this film on this list. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is similar to The Dark Knight. The first film in its trilogy tells the story of how the titular character came to be, and the third film presents a solid final adventure for him. But it is the second film in the series that’s remembered most. It has one of the most impressive car chases of all time as its conclusion, a host of memorable villains and heroes surrounding Max, and everything you could possibly want from an action film. The Road Warrior has been copied many times, but rarely improved upon.
Sam Raimi strikes again. His 2002 Spider-Man was a watershed film that made it suddenly acceptable to do a superhero film in the style of a comic book. 2003’s Hulk took that lesson a little too literally, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe learned the right lessons and gave us page-perfect interpretations of Iron Man, Captain America, and many other beloved comic-book characters. How do you follow up such a significant film like that? By making Spider-Man 2. This is basically the metric by which every other Spider-Man film is judged, including the first film. The web-slinger has never swung higher than he did in this film. The train sequence is the highlight of the series, Peter Parker’s inner turmoil is gut-wrenching in a good way, J. Jonah Jameson is funnier and better utilized than ever, and Doctor Octopus will probably always be the best villain in any Spider-Man movie. Sure, Harry Osborn’s cliffhanger ending portends bad things to come in Spider-Man 3, but it doesn’t dim everything else that Spider-Man 2 achieved.
X2: X-Men United
When X-Men debuted in 2000, it was a modest beginning for the franchise. The film was respectful of its subject matter, even if it was ashamed of the colorful costumes of the comics and eschewed them for a black leather aesthetic. After the first film’s small scale and brief hints at greater things to come, X2: X-Men United performed on a much larger scale and actually delivered more of what fans wanted. Wolverine got to sink his claws into plenty of bad guys, Professor X showed what he was really capable of, and Magneto had a chance to work with the X-Men against a common enemy. Sure, X-Men: The Last Stand wasn’t a great way to end the trilogy, and the series got spinoffs and reboots galore over the next two decades to varying degrees of success, but at least we can fondly remember X2: X-Men United as the best of the first three films.
These films deserve special mention because they are all improvements upon their predecessors. I’d argue they are the best films in their trilogies, but I can see why people might disagree.
- Angels & Demons
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
- Blade II
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Kung Fu Panda 2
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I’d also like to add The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (though thanks to Hollywood it wasn’t quite in the middle), definitely an improvement on the first instalment. Great list!
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I totally agree. They really wanted to milk that franchise, even after Philip Seymour Hoffman died, which kind of messed up their ending.
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