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15 Thematic Trilogies From 15 Directors

15 Thematic Trilogies From 15 Directors

It’s quite likely that, in a few summers’ time, cinemagoing will start to resemble entering a giant narrative web, as each auditorium will be hosting a film featuring characters on their way to the plot being screened in the next theatre over. Disney, Marvel, DC—the brilliance of their crossover strategy seems only matched by the appetite of moviegoers for the results. The thought, then, of a standalone narrative, a one-off rather than a sequel springboard, is a rare phenomenon in today’s cinematic landscape, let alone the idea of linking films together only loosely, in such a way that they can’t be shorthanded by sticking a "2" or a "3" on the end of the original title. 

But over the past ten years director Edgar Wright, for one, has successfully steered fans away from the pull of direct sequels. Instead, he favored a grand thematic statement by devising the Three Colors Cornetto Trilogy: “Shaun of the Dead," which is currently celebrating its 10th birthday, “Hot Fuzz” (2007), and “The World’s End” (2013), three distinct statements co-written by Wright and Simon Pegg on conformity, aging, and friendship, which all simultaneously serve as quality, rip-roaring entries in three separate genres.

While Wright’s trilogy is perhaps the most high-profile, recent example of such an approach, many filmmakers, most of them outside the United States, have quietly built up similar meditations on a certain subject or theme, and delivered a trio of films that, while nothing like a franchise, still reward being thought of as a single entity as well as their disparate components. Here, to celebrate 10 years of ‘Shaun,’ we delve into 15 other examples of cinematic trilogies, (mostly) delivered by a single distinctive filmmaking voice. And while the first selection of "Road To…" movies are centered around the actors, one could very easily argue that without them, it simply wouldn’t have worked.

The “Road to…” Trilogy: “Road to Singapore” (1940)/“Road to Zanzibar” (1941)/”Road to Morocco” (1942)
Seven films from 1940 to 1962 made Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour household names back in the day, and rewarded Paramount with one of their most financially successful series. But it was the initial trilogy of films, “Road to Singapore," “Road to Zanzibar," and “Road to Morocco," that set the stage for the long-running antics of Hope and Crosby—largely improvised, energetic, and rife with brilliant chemistry. Also featuring Lamour as the straight man and the duo’s object of affection, arguably the films never really kept a straight face long enough to construct the kind of thematic consistency we’re really talking about here, outside of your most basic con artistry. But consider these genre-swapping films a prototype for the balancing acts of action, comedy, and genuine drama in the Cornetto Trilogy later on, and simply enjoy the interplay of Hope and Crosby as they travel from country to country, hatching new financial schemes, falling for the local beauty, and fleeing town promptly afterwards.

“Road To Singapore," the first film of the bunch and with its filmmakers uncertain of the creative direction, is definitely the weakest of the three, essentially an Apatow production of the ‘40s that let its two leads improvise the entire show. But it was a rumored outburst to camera from Lamour during its filming (“Hey fellas, I haven’t had a line for ages!”) that clarified for the crew the winking and entirely absurd approach held from that point forward. ‘Zanzibar’ and ‘Morocco’ both showcase a number of recurring jokes and fourth wall breaks that grew to define the series: the patty-cake routine signaling a brawl, or a camel lamenting his status in “the screwiest picture I’ve ever been in." Hope and Crosby found their groove in “Zanzibar” and perfected it with “Morocco”, a film that in fact netted two Oscar nominations—one for Sound Recording and one for the screenplay by Frank Butler and Don Hartman. Essential, and without a doubt the most easygoing trilogy on this list, a point to keep in mind once Lars von Trier enters the arena in a fit of existential ennui.

John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache” (1948)/”She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949)/”Rio Grande” (1950)
"You say someone’s called me the greatest poet of the Western saga. I am not a poet, and I don’t know what a Western saga is. I would say that is horseshit." As glimpsed in nearly every interview during his lifetime, including this New Republic one, John Ford kept his ornery perspective more than grounded when it came to analyzing his own work. This could explain why the director saw nothing unique or connected in his so-called Cavalry Trilogy—“Fort Apache”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," and “Rio Grande”—other than that they all take place on American Cavalry forts, and are based on stories by James Warner Bellah.

Behind-the-scenes records support Ford’s claim: the only reason “Rio Grande” even went into production was contractual obligation, but the film historians who remain the primary advocates of a unified Cavalry Trilogy have a strong case too. An emphasis on the individual in military duty, a consistent stable of actors in similar roles, and musical motifs from composers Richard Hageman and Victor Young all feature heavily into the three films. Bypass the creaky depictions of Native Americans (still far more balanced here than in Ford’s prior work), and the films also reveal a surprising thread of commentary on warmongering and American colonialism. Each film in this Western trilogy essentially follows John Wayne as a character in the American army post-Civil War, “Fort Apache” sees him attempting as a Captain to stop an Apache massacre from taking place. “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” charts an aging Captain as he embarks on one last mission to quell a reservation breakout; and we then finally glide through to “Rio Grande” where, as a Lieutenant Colonel, Wayne is a broken old man separated from his wife (Maureen O’Hara) and child for 15 years. Victor McLaglen, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson, and Mildred Natwick all inhabit colorful supporting roles throughout, and Ford brings a host of symbolism, both religious and historical, that elevates the films to a lasting station in his filmography.

Federico Fellini’s Trilogy Of Loneliness: La Strada” (1954)/“Il Bidone” (1955)/“The Nights of Cabiria” (1957)
Poignant, touching, and emotionally rich, the tragic nature of Federico Fellini’s Trilogy of Loneliness arguably elevates it above some of his greater known works like “8 ½” and “Amarcord.” Part of his early neorealist bent that predated the fanciful poetic realism of more surreal works, the three films in Fellini’s loose trilogy are “La Strada,” “Il Bidone” and “Nights of Cabiria” and all center on a class of misfits and outsiders on the fringes of society.

A heartbreaking “Beauty and the Beast”-like dichotomy, “La Strada” involves a faithful young girl (Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina) being sold to a cruel circus performer (Anthony Quinn) by her poverty-stricken family for a plate of pasta; the fucked-up co-dependent relationship that forms; and the hardships they both endure scraping to get by. Fellini follows “La Strada” with “Il Bidone,” which chronicles a group of professional swindlers also trying to carve out a meager existence, and the lead con man for whom the personal consequences are ultimately devastating. Lastly there’s “Nights Of Cabiria” which re-teamed Fellini with his wife, again as a prostitute with a heart of gold, dreaming and grasping for a better life, rounding out the director’s three must-see meditations on hope and survival in Italy.

Andrzej Wadja’s War Trilogy: A Generation” (1954)/”Kanal” (1956)/”Ashes and Diamonds” (1958)
The Stalinist ‘50s marked an advance for Polish cinema onto a world stage, and filmmaker Andrzej Wadja is due much of the credit. His War Trilogy shone an unflinching spotlight on WWII and the Polish resistance as they bravely fought off German occupation after the British withdrew from the country. Even up to recent years with his 2007 film, “Katyn," Wadja has understandably chosen to linger in this period, bringing an intimate eye to the stories behind Stalin’s war crimes (especially with “Katyn," as Wadja’s father was one of the victims of the real-life events portrayed in the film). But never do the films stray into overly revisionist history or rabble-rousing histrionics. Instead, Wadja employs an array of deceptively simple images to build to a crushing emotional punch each time.

A Generation” sees a young factory worker (Tadeusz Lomnicki) turn down the road of activism; in the grand scheme of the trilogy, it is a conventionally told but powerful account of such a narrative. However, it is when Wadja elaborates on the Resistance with “Kanal” and “Ashes and Diamonds” that the themes of steadfast survival against hopelessness really take shape. “Watch them closely, for these are the last hours of their lives,” reads the opening narration of “Kanal," and both films handle that fatalism with tremendous technique. Wadja even crafted a host of clever double interpretations in order for the trilogy to pass the censors: in “Ashes and Diamonds” one of the characters dies atop a pile of garbage, and Wadja said later the only clear meaning for audiences was that “whoever raises his hand against People’s Poland will end up on the rubbish heap of history." The attempt worked, the film was passed uncut, and Wadja’s scathing perspective lives on to this day.

Ingmar Bergman’s Religion/Faith trilogy: Through a Glass Darkly” (1961)/ “The Winter Light” (1962)/“The Silence” (1963)
If Ingmar Bergman were more a provocateur, he could have labeled these three early-‘60s films the Sex and Death Trilogy, as while they do deal in faith and its numerous challenges, certainly the final installment “The Silence” directs the viewer more towards crises of mortality and sexual need in God’s absence. Bergman’s 1963 film is a chronicle of two sisters, Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and Anna (Gunnel Lindbloom), as they travel—deprived of obedience to any sort of higher power—to a once-glamorous hotel in a an unnamed European country on the brink of war. Unlike “Through a Glass Darkly” and “The Winter Light," “The Silence” frees its characters of any and every inhibition. Incest, asphyxiation, lesbianism, and a rather inexplicable theatre troupe of little people all make an appearance (perhaps Bergman had just seen the Fellini trilogy), and it leads to one of the director’s most explicit and horrific films.

So “The Silence” rounds out the trilogy as the best of the lot, but the first two are still solid chamber dramas of their own, and are in fact better suited to one another thematically. “Through a Glass Darkly” charts a dysfunctional family’s breakdown, and “The Winter Light” concerns a priest trying to calm a series of anguished visitors, like a fisherman (Max von Sydow) worried about the possibility of nuclear war. Stripped down, the films came out of the crisis of faith that Bergman was battling at the time, and specifically focus on lack of communication and spiritual isolation. Just take a look at their settings: on an island in the forest in the first and during the white void of winter in the second.

Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy: Repulsion” (1965)/”Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)/”The Tenant” (1976)
The first order of business in all three films of Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy is a keen sense of place. Armed with bigger budgets than 1965’s “Repulsion," “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant” open with extended helicopter and crane shots showing every inch of the apartments where we’ll be spending the next few hours. Geography holds the key to Polanski’s masterful focus on paranoia, claustrophobia, and seclusion: in the dresser blocking a closet—why was it misplaced?—or the incessantly squeaky floorboards that turn the neighbors of Polanski’s protagonist in “The Tenant” against him.

A slow, psychological unraveling results, and “Rosemary’s Baby” remains the most effective in its aims, proving a legendary success story for Paramount exec Robert Evans, producer William Castle, actress Mia Farrow, and of course the wunderkind Polanski making his stateside debut. It also sticks the slowly mounting tension and final release much more powerfully than “The Tenant," which takes a relatable premise and rides it to overly ludicrous heights. For a better portrait of a lonely figure slowly driven mad, “Repulsion” remains the ticket, boasting a committed performance by Catherine Deneuve, and also an obsessively detailed soundtrack full of ticking clocks and beating hearts.

Wim Wenders’ Road Movie Trilogy: Alice in the Cities” (1974)/”The Wrong Move” (1975)/”Kings of the Road” (1976)
Wim Wenders is a director defined by crisis of identity: half rooted in the cultural turmoil of post-WWII Germany, and half in America, celebrating the source of much of his filmic inspiration as he had discovered it growing up in Düsseldorf. His Road Movie Trilogy takes that wandering individuality and explores it on the streets and highways of Germany, all while using the genre most linked to mini-studio BBS’ output and other ‘60s and ‘70s American cinema. Much like Bergman or Polanski’s work around the period, remote personalities occupy the films, such as when Philip, the journalist at the center of “Alice in the Cities," is forced to take care of a young girl after her mother fails to show in Amsterdam. He’s even against taking care of the child, giving her over to the police, but he’s eventually drawn back to her through reflection using an American touchpoint–“Memphis” performed by Chuck Berry

For Wenders’ second installment, “The Wrong Move," he borrows Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s muse Hanna Schygulla to play another searching writer’s travel companion. But while the director admitted to not using her effectively, he did strike gold by casting a 13-year-old Nastassja Kinski, who plays the mute companion of a homeless man previously in WWII concentration camps as a German Captain. “Kings of the Road," a three-hour car journey down the divide of the two German halves, is the closest Wenders comes to a “buddy movie” experience, following a theatre projector repairman and a man named “Kamikaze” who bond over rock n’ roll and cinema. Naturally, while the pace is more languorous than one would expect from the genre, the references to Nicholas Ray and Edward Hopper come fast and furious, along with subtle remembrances of Wender’s Germany.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy: The Marriage of Maria Braun” (1979)/ “Veronika Voss” (1982)/”Lola” (1981)
Drawing on his direct experience of the blend of confusion and blame in post-WWII Germany, director Rainer Werner Fassbinder pulled together his scathing satirical and dramatic talents to produce a trio of films in response. The BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) Trilogy portrayed the country’s post-War history through the eyes of three women and uses their fates as potent commentary on the recent past.

The Marriage of Maria Braun” is a layered, challenging drama that possesses a force of nature in its lead, actress and longtime Fassbinder collaborator Hanna Schygulla. As Maria, a WWII widow who rises out of despair by virtue of a quick mind and keen self-awareness, she is the central reason to seek out the film; to learn her character’s quirks and watch as she changes tact. That type of agile character hollows out with Fassbinder’s second film, “Veronika Voss," which follows a washed-up silent film star (Rosel Zech) struggling to stay afloat with the help of a young sportwriter (Hilmar Thate). Here, the emphasis is on illusion, and the lengths people go to in order to avoid a cold reality; naturally Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” is a prime influence and so was the life of actress Sybille Schmitz, who worked regularly during the Third Reich and faced an overwhelming rejection by the country’s post-war film industry. “Lola” likewise takes inspiration from Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel," and concludes the trilogy with as bleak an outlook as that film’s. Its characters (with Barbara Sukowa in the lead) may hold a sense of optimism, but their progress is blocked by insurmountable obstacles due to their given status in life.

Terry Gilliam’s Imagination Trilogy: Time Bandits” (1981)/ “Brazil” (1985)/“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988)
To call a selection of Terry Gilliam’s films “The Imagination Trilogy” might feel a bit pointless, but when we talk of “Time Bandits," “Brazil," and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”, we’re speaking of imagination in a distinct role: as a form of escape, and at three different stages of human life. In each film, we follow a protagonist stuck in what Gilliam describes as “the craziness of our awkwardly ordered society”: a young, history-obsessed boy with neglectful parents; a lowly government worker wrapped up in a terrorist plot; and an old man in war-torn Europe who claims he’s the Baron Munchausen of legend.

Wrongly judged as a “children’s film” upon release, “Time Bandits” is a fantastic romp, filled with cameos galore from Michael Palin, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, and more. But it only takes until the minotaur gladiator sequence to reveal Gilliam’s intention of contrasting carefree and horrific elements, as the young boy Kevin (Craig Warnock) witnesses Sean Connery gruesomely dispatch a minotaur warrior. The implications of the film’s ending also shock, but they also bring up another of the trilogy’s main threads, the idea of truth and fiction in day-to-day life. Did Kevin dream up his entire journey through time with six robbers? In “Brazil,” does Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) really encounter the woman of his dreams and mount a fight against the totalitarian government? Gilliam delights in the audience being challenged for their own conclusions. “It was only at the making of ‘Baron Munchausen’ that I kind of realized what was going on here about the child, the man and the old man, so I took full credit for having done a trilogy,” said Gilliam years after the films’ releases. However, considering the overflowing well of prescient sci-fi ideas from Gilliam, seen in “12 Monkeys” and most recently with “The Zero Theorem," we’re likely to see a 14-chapter “Berlin Alexanderplatz” of Imagination from him soon enough.

John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy: The Thing” (1982)/”Prince of Darkness” (1987)/”In the Mouth of Madness” (1994)
Inspired by his childhood in the 1950s, reading Revelations in grade school and fearing the atomic bomb, John Carpenter set out to make a series of films in the ‘80s and ‘90s that focused on “the end of things”—the end of people, order, our environment, and the likelihood that the apocalypse would come from mankind’s own hand. He also carried with him a love for gut-punch storytelling, and so The Apocalypse Trilogy was created, positing the end of days through alien invasion, Satan, and the presence of something borne from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft or Algernon Blackwood.

Based on the John Campbell novella “Who Goes There?,” 1982’s “The Thing” is an essential sci-fi horror, stripping exposition clear away and leaving its team of scientists, which includes Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley to figure out who or what’s picking them off one-by-one in their South Pole outpost. The chilling lack of explanation is what makes the film so successful, and it is exactly the reverse that hinders “Prince of Darkness” from attaining anywhere near the same quality. As a team of physics grad students pore over a mystery green goo and we’re treated to their hallucinatory dreams of Satan, the poor dialogue and shoddy plot undermine the atmosphere that Carpenter creates. However, the trilogy goes out on a high note with “In The Mouth of Madness," which features a game Sam Neill as an insurance investigator-turned-asylum-patient recounting his search for famed horror author Sutter Cain. Carpenter spins a massively entertaining yarn with both humor and genuine scares, while also commenting on the blurred reality of authors and their fictions. But the real takeaway from all three films in not in the genre, but rather its detail of humanity’s downfall. As they effectively depict, the threat of apocalypse is at its most terrifying when the idea of self dissolves first.

Claire Denis’ Colonialism Trilogy: Chocolat” (1989)/”S’en fout la mort” (No Fear No Die, 1990)/”J’ai pas sommeil” (I Can’t Sleep, 1993)
In Claire Denis’ feature debut “Chocolat," a young woman returns home to Cameroon, which in turn summons memories of her French colonial upbringing during the 1950s. The director has noted repeatedly that it mirrors her childhood years and it shows, the film capturing images and moments of displacement and class disparity and rendering them visceral. For her following two films though, “S’en fout la mort” (No Fear, No Die) and “J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep)," she ventures outside of that initial sensory experience while still tapping into those same outsider concerns.

The three films are what Denis calls her "trilogy about colonialism and its aftermath"; they seek to offer entryways into the perspective of immigrant protagonists—black African males, often played by Denis collaborators Isaach De Bankolé and Alex Descas—struggling to stay afloat in the West Indian and Eastern-European communities of France. The two latter films are bleak, distressing works, the rarely screened “No Fear, No Die” following two men into the cockfighting world, and “I Can’t Sleep” finding three main characters in Paris struggling to stay afloat as murder suddenly interjects. Largely stripped of Tindersticks tracks and the striking impressionistic style she would later adopt, Denis nails a tone of social realism in all three films, quietly observing marginalized protagonists subtly and silently shifting into despair—a psychological state that results in increasingly harmful actions. But Denis is aiming for a universality through specificity in these films as well, as she outlines with the Chester Himes quote opening “No Fear, No Die”: “Every human being, no matter his race, whatever his country, creed, or ideology, is capable of everything and anything.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Trois Couleurs/Three Colors Trilogy: Blue” (1993)/”White” (1994)/”Red” (1994)
Unlike many of the looser triptychs on this list, Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Trois Couleurs” was entirely conceived as a thematic trilogy with his constant co-screenwriter, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Based on the three political ideals represented in the colors of the French flag—liberty, equality, fraternity—the films were “Three Colors: Blue," “Three Colors: White," and “Three Colors: Red” and aside from a briefly unifying conclusion, the only connecting element overall remains Zbigniew Preisner’s beautiful musical score.

“Blue” stars Juliette Binoche as a mother grieving and grappling for reasons to live after her family dies, eventually discovering their deaths as a kind of emotional freedom. The more maligned “White,” an unlikely comedy, features Zbigniew Zamachowski as a man who attempts to restore equality to his life while enacting revenge on his aloof wife (Julie Delpy). And “Red,” starring Irène Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant explores the unlikely friendship and eventual bond—fraternity—between a model and a depraved retired judge who spies on his neighbors. As is Kieślowski’s wont, the finale film deeply charts his fascination with past lives and the metaphysical; it also wraps up the trilogy with an intuitive suggestion that all souls—including the seemingly disparate characters in these three films—are all universally linked and connected. 

James Gray’s New York Crime & Family Trilogy: Little Odessa” (1994)/“The Yards” (2000)/”We Own The Night” (2007)
One of filmmaker James Gray’s central preoccupations, especially as evinced early on in his career, is the destructive and traumatic nature of family in our lives. But understanding wisely—even at the age of 21—that getting a family drama made wouldn’t be easy, Gray injected a genre element into all his family narratives and over 10 years a trilogy eventually formed. His debut in 1994 brought “Little Odessa,” a crime drama about a professional killer (Tim Roth) who returns to his Brighton Beach home and family (Edward Furlong, Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave), and it introduced a tragic theme he would return to repeatedly: we cannot escape our past, and almost always our pasts and our very nature is built from our (often dysfunctional) families. 

Next came “The Yards” (2000), a more sprawling and operatic take on a similar subject. Also a tragedy set in Queens, New York, it centered on the central notion of corruption in our society and how its various tentacles destroy a family and the ex-con son desperate to fit into it (with the excellent cast of Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Ellen Burnstyn and Faye Dunaway). Employing a more Shakespearean bent to another Queens-set crime tragedy, “We Own The Night” was a policier focused on a mediocre king (Robert Duvall as a NYPD chief) and his two disparate sons (Joaquin Phoenix, a club manager and Mark Wahlberg as a fellow NYPD cop). This film employed similar dark themes and aesthetics, but played with the notion of how obligations to family can crush the hopes and dreams of those who dare choose another path. “Two Lovers” would return to Brighton Beach, but instead as a love story, ditching his foot-in-the-door crime interests arguably in pursuit of a more pure emotional and character-based form in similar stories (see: his upcoming drama, “The Immigrant”). 

Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy: “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002)/”Oldboy” (2003)/”Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”
Without a doubt, 2003’s “Oldboy” is the poster boy and central showcase of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. An international hit that catapulted the director onto a worldwide stage after winning that year’s Grand Prix at Cannes, the film also joined Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” and Kim Ki-duk’s “3-Iron” as signaling the Korean New Wave’s entry into the mainstream. Park’s second entry into the trilogy has since been sullied by Spike Lee’s remake last year, but on either side of that film exist two films—“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Lady Vengeance”—that complement it with unique riffs on revenge and its futility, a thematic notion that now seems to show up in every other gritty thriller.

The trilogy’s first film, ‘Sympathy’ follows a young man, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), whose kidney and money is stolen after undergoing a black-market operation to save his dying sister (Bae Doo-na). As a desperate remedy, he kidnaps the daughter of a worker at the factory from which he was recently fired. More so than in the other two films, which are morally foggy but mostly stay trained on one character, ‘Sympathy’ gains just that for both Ryu and the man trying to get his daughter back—an approach that makes its gruesome climax all the more harrowing. On the other end of the trilogy, ‘Lady Vengeance’ charts a wrongfully accused woman’s attempts to clear her name. The most darkly humorous of the three entries, the film tosses in Australian foster parents, female prison life, and some outstanding action sequences into a worthy thematic end to Park’s trilogy, also with a great performance by Lee Young-ae.

Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy: Antichrist” (2009)/”Melancholia” (2011)/”Nymphomaniac” (2014)
Ambition is simply a natural resource for Lars von Trier, as he remains a filmmaker unfazed by the idea of trilogies—in fact, it seems as though he can only envision his work in the context of a grand thematic declaration. Director of the Europa, Golden Heart, and the as-yet-uncompleted Land of Opportunities Trilogies, his latest to wrap up is what’s termed The Depression Trilogy: “Antichrist,” “Melancholia," and “Nymphomaniac." Finished just last month, the three films concern female protagonists on a downward spiral, their conditions linked simultaneously to a larger cosmic or supernatural force at play.

This aspect is most explicitly drawn in “Melancholia,” which features Kirsten Dunst as a bride-to-be who flees the altar and instead finds solace in the literal end of the world. In the others, the narrative is more focused; it is only the world’s end for Justine in “Nymphomaniac” or She in “Antichrist," both played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. But all three films are strangely optimistic, in only the way that von Trier can be. Beaten down mentally and physically by circumstances of their own doing, the female protagonists shirk off any idea of martyrdom and fight for their own wellbeing, regardless of whatever unconventional form that may take. Of course, von Trier prefers to take a pair of rusty scissors, a collision of planets accompanied by Wagner, or sex and Fibonacci numbers to explore that journey, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Honorable Mentions
Many acclaimed filmmakers came close to inclusion with their completed thematic trilogies, including Baz Luhrmann, who devised the Red Curtain Trilogy (“Strictly Ballroom”/“Romeo + Juliet”/“Moulin Rouge”) around motifs of individuality and “reel” time and of course Satyajit Ray‘s Apu Trilogy (and his "Calcutta" trilogy for that matter) is a major one we’ll tackle in another edition eventually. A clutch of excellent directors from Mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan have also made their mark in this format: check out Edward Yang’s Urban Trilogy (“That Day on the Beach”/“Taipei Story”/“The Terrorizers”), Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Taiwanese History Trilogy (“City of Sadness”/“Puppet Master”/“Good Men, Good Women”), Jia Zhangke’s Hometown Trilogy (“Xiao Wu”/ “Platform”/”Unknown Pleasures”), Ang Lee’s Father Knows Best Trilogy (“Pushing Hands”/”The Wedding Banquet”/”Eat Drink Man Woman”), or “The Human Condition” from Masaki Kobayashi.

Out of Europe there’s La Trilogie Marseillaise (“Marius”/”Fanny”/”Cesar”) from playwright and screenwriter Marcel Pagnol; Pier Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life (“The Decameron”/“The Canterbury Tales”/“Arabian Nights”), Antonioni’s famed Alienation trilogy (“L’Avventura”/”La Notte”/“L’Eclisse”) which we wrote about here; the Trilogy of Spectacle by Jean Renoir (“The Golden Coach”/”French Cancan”/“Elena and Her Men”); the Glaciation Trilogy by Michael Haneke (“The Seventh Continent”/ “Benny’s Video”/”71 Fragments of the Chronology of Chance”; Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy (“Blood of a Poet”/”Orphee”/”Testament of Orpheus”); Roberto Rossellini‘s War Trilogy (“Rome Open City”/ “Paisan”/“Germany Year Zero”); Aki Kaurismaki’s Proletariat Trilogy (“Shadows in Paradise”/“Ariel”/“The Match Factory Girl”), and the Fontainhas Trilogy by Pedro Costa (“Ossos”/“In Vanda’s Room”/“Colossal Youth”)

Finally, from the Americas, the Death Trilogy (“Amores Perros”/“21 Grams”/“Babel”) from Alejandro González Iñárritu merits a mention, as does Gus Van Sant’s own Trilogy on the same subject (“Gerry”/”Elephant”/”Last Days”). Whit Stillman created the Yuppie Trilogy with “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona,” and “Last Days of Disco,” while Sofia Coppola can lay claim to a Teenage Female Alienation Trilogy (“The Virgin Suicides”/“Lost in Translation”/”Marie Antoinette”).

What thematic trilogies do you count among your favorites, and which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments below. —With contributions from Rodrigo Perez

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Guy Maddin’s ‘Me’ trilogy – Cowards Bend The Knee, Brand upon The Brain and My Winnipeg. The closest cinema ever came to the Nabokovian melange of sarcy wit and nostalgic evocation? I have no earthly one but it’s fahkin mustard


I could never really picture those Carpenter movies as a trilogy.
I guess they all involve the end of the world or something, but that seems like a minor aspect to the best of the three, and the other two just seem so removed in feel and quality.

And to be honest I'm not always comfortable considering the first 3 SW's a trilogy, return being so bad. Its like calling the first 3 X-men a trilogy.

I'd prefer not to.


It's Wajda, not Wadja! An exquisite article, though. I'm glad you mentioned Kieślowski's Three Colours.

The MF

Gus Van Sant's death trilogy in which he has even said are connected: GERRY, ELEPHANT and LAST DAYS


Oliver Stone's Vietnam Trilogy

Platoon/Born On The Fourth Of July/Heaven And Earth

Indie fan

John Carney's struggling musician trilogy-in-a-making.
Begin Again

Mood for love

How come you forgot to mention Wong Kar Wai ?? such a shame…


Barry Levinson's Baltimore Trilogy–Avalon, Diner and Liberty Heights.


Ozu's Noriko Trilogy is not here.


Oliver Stone Vietnam trilogy?


Upon completion, "Silence" will complete what could be called a "meditation on faith" trilogy for Scorsese, preceded by "Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun".


In We own the Night…..James Caan Its not the father of Joaquín phoenix and Mark….is robert duvall


I think John Frankenheimer's (self titled) Paranoia trilogy should be there.
1) Manchurian Candidate
2) Seven Days in May
3) Seconds


Another worthy honorable mention is Spielberg's "running man" trilogy – Artificial Intelligence A.I., Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. All three feature alienated and isolated protagonists who find themselves on the run from forces they cannot control. And all excellent movies, of course.


Missing two trilogies from Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange
Anderson: There Will Be Blood, The Master and Punch-Drunk Love (view in that order)

Felip Serra

Director Theo Angelopoulos had 3:
The Trilogy of History: "Days of '36", 1972; "Traveling Players", 1975; and "The Hunters", 1977.
The Trilogy of Silence: "Voyage to Cythera", 1984; "The Beekeeper", 1986; "Landscapes in the Midst", 1988
The Trilogy of Borders: "The Suspended Step of the Stork", 1991; "Ulysses' Gaze", 1995; "Eternity and a Day", 1998
He would have completed a fourth trilogy (referred to as Trilogy on Modern Greece) that began with "The Weeping Meadow" (2004) and "The Dust of Time" (2009) but was killed during the filming of the third film, called "The Other Sea" (2012).


No Canada? Bruce McDonald's Rock 'n' Road trilogy? Highway 69, Roadkill, and Hardcore Logo?


1. Francis Ford Coppola's 'Godfather' Trilogy
2. Satyajit Ray's 'Apu Trilogy'
3. Satyajit Ray's 'Calcutta Trilogy'


Clearly The Playlist hates Linklater and his "Before…" trilogy…


The Cornetto Trilogy? Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End


Where in the hell is Sergio Leones "Once upon a time…" Trilogy?

Other than that and the missing Herzogs Jungle Trilogy, really great list.


How can you forget Pakula's paranoia trilogy…Klute, Parallax View, All the President's Men!!!


Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy from last year was brilliant. Love and Faith in particular, but Hope is excellent as well.


From the Americas, it could also be mentioned Pablo Larraín's trilogy of the Chilean military dictatorship: “Tony Manero” (2008), “Post Mortem” (2010) and “No” (2012).


Can't forget the dour and depressing tone of all the films in the "Jennifer Connelly Suicide Trilogy" – ie. "Requiem for a Dream," "House of Sand and Fog" and "Dark Water".

Danel Griffin

Great list, though I submit that Claire Denis made a quadrilogy– "White Material" was almost certainly a cap on her colonialist films. I would also recommend Werner Herzog's "Kinski in the Jungle" trilogy (for lack of a better title): "Aguirre," "Fitzcarraldo," and "Cobra Verde."


Park Chan-Wook didn't win the Palm D'or with Oldboy, he won the Grand Prix.

John Kinsella

Both John Frankenheimer and Alan J. Pakula produced "paranoia trilogies". Frankenheimer had The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964), and Seconds (1960). Pakula directed Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974), and All the President's Men (1976).


Wong Kar-Wai?

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