Top 5: (Personal) Favorite Film Trilogies

List by Aaron Haughton 

The recent news that James Gunn will be directing the third installment of Guardians of the Galaxy had me thinking about all the film trilogies that have made an impact on my life. I wanted to present a list of top film trilogies, but I didn't want it gravitate solely towards artfulness or longevity or mass appeal. No, I wanted to do the selfish American thing and make it all about Me.

I thought it would be interesting to chronicle the film trilogies that shaped me in all my various stages of growing up. And, while there are a number of film trilogies that have a special place in my heart, I can basically boil it down to a list of five that have helped enrich my life throughout the years.  

  • 5Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Arc, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade) 

I've got to give it to Indiana Jones. After all, these films consumed my early childhood. I watched VHS copies of these films over and over and over again as a kid, ingesting them en masse as early as age 4 or 5.  It was far and away the most badass thing my parents had ever allowed me to watch, which was pretty cool of them considering the obvious reasons for a parental to deny such pleasures, i.e. face melting and pulling hearts out of chests and being mutilated by planes and aging so fast you wither into dust in gratuitously gleeful fashion.

I loved all of them (and, yeh, I'm excluding Crystal Skull here for obvious reasons), but I had a particular fondness for The Last Crusade, which I used to reenact quite frequently. This shouldn't come as a surprise since kids are quick to mimic anything they see, especially if they see it repeatedly, but I used to act out only one scene in particular: 

Yes, I used to act out the scene above in my bedroom from the height of my bed, hanging my mom's muslin doll over the ledge, hollering, "Elsa. Elsa! Elsa, honey, your hand...I can't hold you, Elsa!" 

I think the thing about Crusade that won me over more as a kid than any of the other Indiana Jones films is that it opened with a glimpse of Indy as a young man, which allowed me to connect with the character on deeper levels. There's also the fact that I grew up in Indiana, so having a character that referenced my home state was a pretty cool thing. And, considering the state lacks the obvious excitement of others, especially when you live in the middle of nowhere in the country secluded from other kids your age, I was forever in need of adventure. 

  • 4Austin Powers (International Man of Mystery, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Goldmember)

As I made my transition from childhood toward the awkwardly miserable years of adolescence, I found myself more and more in need of laughter to get by. So, I naturally took a shine to Mike Myers and his rich, over-the-top character comedies. While my first exposure to Mike was through a VHS copy of Wayne's World, which my family had procured somehow from a fast food chain (I think McD's was handing out certain Paramount titles with the purchase of select value meals, or something), my adoration for him was taken to new extremes with his playful lampoon on James Bond.

Like Indiana Jones, I was quick to imitate the film's many exaggerated characters — my personal favorite being Dr. Evil. Yessir, I had honed my Dr. Evil impression over time, until it wasn't just on point, it was razor fucking sharp. I had the whole pinky gesture, condescending air quotes, and "Scotty don't's" down pat, and I carried them with me wherever I went, which sometimes included school. I remember doing a book report presentation in the frame of a talk show hosted by Dr. Evil. It was quick to get laughs, but may've sent me to the principal's office. 

This comedy trilogy, oddly enough, even allowed me to have a deeper relationship with my grandmother on my mom's side, who, in here old age, found the movies just as whimsically humorous as I did. We would watch all the films together, her and I, and I would entertain and make her laugh by reenacting the film or bending the characters in my own stupid adolescent way. My funniest memory of my Grandmother, though, was with Goldmember

This was the only Austin Powers' film that I ever got to see in the theater (Can you guess what platform I saw the first two on? A: VHS), and we all went together, that's my mom, my brother, my grandmother, and me. Goldmember ironically opens with a false open, which had prominent actors pretending to play the mainstay Austin Powers' characters. Well, at the end of the film, my grandma turns to me and says, "I didn't know Tom Cruise, Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey were in these movies the whole time." She couldn't understand why we laughed so hard...

  • 3:  The Trilogy of Americana (The Fischer King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

As life wore on, I took my growing love for exaggeration and absurdism to more highly elevated levels with my discovery of the kooky, bizarre worlds of Terry Gilliam. I had never really seen anything quite like his fantastical film universes before in my life, and they stuck to my young adult mind like glue. Each one of these films takes me back to a specific time and place in my life.

Fear and Loathing was the first film I saw out of this series and it takes me back to high school, where experimentations with various chemical compounds had become a primary source of fun for me and my group of friends. 12 Monkeys transposes me back to the first year of college, and I still vividly remember the colossal mind-fuck head trip is delivered. But, it was The Fisher King, which was the last film I saw in the trilogy, that touched me on a deeper level. 

In a lot of ways, at the time I found this movie (it was the last one I watched out of the three) in my first year of college, my outlook mirrored Jeff Bridges character's low opinion of humanity, but as the film wound toward it's closing, my worldview began to alter. I began to champion humanity. I wanted to connect more, instead of retreat to the confines of my dormitory. It was a goddamn miracle. 

  • 2: The Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

This trilogy is unique in that I was somewhat exposed to these films at a young age, but they didn't really resonate with me personally until my college years. The indirect exposure came from my father, a man of few words with an affinity (like many man from his generation) for the western. 

As a kid, the western wasn't very appealing to me, except for the shootouts, of course, which took so long to builds towards — I never really had the patience for it then. At that age, I needed my narrative fast paced and action packed, a la Indiana Jones. However, as my taste buds began to develop, I quickly became hungry for the long-lasting nourishment of story over thrills. And, so, I began to have a newfound tolerance for the slower paced narratives. This caused me to revisit Leone's notorious spaghetti western epic, which quit literally shot the proverbial hat off my head. 

After my revisitation, I quickly noticed how Sergio Leone's western trilogy was the living embodiment of both story and thrills. It gave me something to talk about and share with my dad, who, to my surprise, actually opened up quite a bit, sharing various tidbits of trivia about the films. He told me about how Leone didn't speak any English and had developed a certain syncopation of speech that allowed him to convincingly dub it into nearly any language, and about how the term spaghetti western was coined, which Clint Eastwood talks about below:

1: The Three Color's Trilogy (Blue, White, Red)

This trilogy is one that I'm surprised I didn't find sooner (I watched it for the first time only last year). I had always stopped and looked at the DVD covers periodically throughout my adult life, but never bought the ticket and took the ride. I think mainly because the cover art is a bit tacky, which I mistook to be a physical representation of the films' contents. Regardless of lateness in which this Kieślowski trilogy entered my life, I'm a firm believer in that things come to me when I'm ready to receive them, and I was very ready to receive these films.  

The films came into my life while I was mindless thumbing through Criterion's page on iTunes. I saw the three colors trilogy and decided to check out the iTunes preview for Blue, which was the opening three minutes:

From then on, I was hooked. I had to see the rest of the film and the series, and I needed to do it right now, this instant. So, I dropped the money to purchase the boxset the next second (that's what credit cards are for, right?), and was forever changed. This trilogy to me, it the highest form of Art. Each film manages to be deep, intellectual and lyrical, all while have the legs to function as a standalone, yet still managing to bring everything full circle. 

Those are my personal favorites, but there's so many more that I know have impacted other people on a grand scale, from the obvious (Back to the Future, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings) to the more obscure trilogies (Lars Von Trier). It's not so much about the specific trilogy, but how it moves you. Please feel free to share your favorite trilogy with us, or a favorite memory brought on by one of the many trilogies that shaped and molded who we are today.