The best film series of all time, for me

When I first started writing this blog I touched briefly upon the idea of sequels and prequels and how they can sometimes ruin a film series. For a while in fact it looked as though I would never find a favourite film series, too many of them annoyed me. However, after much thought I have come to realise I might be able to answer the question that I previously couldn’t: what is the film series?

Before about two weeks ago the answer for me was uncertain. The problem I have is that usually I like the original film so much it just means other films added before or after are, in comparison, not so impressive. It’s very rare that a sequel is better than the original film, with the exception of course of films such as the third Harry Potter film, amongst others.

I actually touched briefly upon this idea towards the end of last year with my blog post based on the box office success of the second Hunger Games film. In the post I talked about sequels and how easily they can become terrible or brilliant. The best example I can give is the James Bond series. Over a fifty year period the franchise has trawlled through rock bottom and seen new heights, which just shows how adding films can lead to more being made, or to a franchise nearly being dropped.
But the reason I used to struggle with picking a film series that I think is the best is because I hadn’t come across one that was consistent. For a film series to be good it has to be consistent and strong throughout. Some film series go downhill straight after the first film, but then other have what I call the ‘fading out’ effect. This is where the first film is very good, the second one might be good but not as good, but then it slowly fades out as the films get worse. Be it straight away or gradually it is clear than many film series have weak links in the chain. Take a look at some of the biggest film series of all time, a lot of them have their weak spots:
Back To The Future – a very strong first film, followed by a near enough equally strong sequel, but all it took was a risky third installment for the franchise to lose its touch somewhat. I still really like the series but I can’t say it’s my favourite. Not after seeing Marty McFly in a pink cowboy outfit.
Indiana Jones – the original trilogy was very good and in fact Raiders of the Lost Ark remains a prominent part of my childhood, but the fourth film just wasn’t the same. The risky venture in to science fiction territory provided us with plot holes, stereotypical characters, boring action sequences, cringe worthy visuals and Shia Labeouf. None of which we can forgive. Especially Shia Labeouf.
Terminator – after a good first film and an even better second film, there’s not much to be said about the third and fourth installments. The first two were very well made for their time and still stand as two of the best science fiction films you’ll see, but the two that followed were loud, uninteresting and really quite flimsy.
Alien – regular readers will know that I absolutely love the first Alien film, it is a masterpiece of science fiction and film. The second film is still good, but it has too much of the James Cameron influence for my liking, but then it’s all downhill after that which is a real shame. As I said I love the first film, I think it is one of the best films ever made, but sadly as the third film graced our screen we all knew which way it was heading.
Lord of the Rings – now this one is a real shame because the series has a good starting point with the first film, and is has a very good third film to end it, I’m just not keen on the second film. It’s the film that allowed Peter Jackson to be ill-disciplined so I’m still not grasped by it. Seeing the work that he has done for The Hobbit recently I  now realise upon reflection that the battle of Helms Deep was the perfect opportunity for Peter Jackson to waffle. It is a brilliant piece of film, but it’s bloody long.
Jason Bourne Films – this is the perfect example of the fading out effect. It started with a very strong opening film, but then as the series progressed the films became less interesting and faded out. I’m not entirely sure where this whole Jeremy Renner thing is heading but I’m not interested. And don’t even get me started on the rumours of them making a film with Jeremy Renner and Matt Damon.
Predator – no.
The Hobbit – so far I’m not a fan of the films. I love the book with a passion, and at present I don’t feel the films are even near as good as they can be. There is so much waffle based on content that Jackson has added, and it takes away what made the source text so beautiful in the first place. I don’t have high hopes for the last installment based on the fact they have allowed Peter Jackson to make an entire film based on the battle of five armies. No thank you.
Star Wars – now the original trilogy is good, not very good but they are still classic films in the history of cinema, for whatever reason and so should be appreciated. Then the prequels came. The three films that wasted our time and money, whilst showing how awful George Lucas is as a screenplay writer. They are boring, over-indulgent and lacking in any form of substance. They are films based purely upon George Lucas’ uninteresting screenplay that carries the same weight and substance as the pieces of polystyrene a new electrical appliance is protected by.
Pirates of the Caribbean – the first film is passable, after that it just goes downhill rapidly, and I have to be honest when I say that I didn’t even bother with the fourth film. I saw the trailer and the running time and decided against it. I had enough with the third film. Any director who can’t tell a cast what to do isn’t doing their job properly. So we’re left with a third film that had Johnny Depp being as annoying as he was in the first two films, Orloondo Bland being boring, and then Ikea Knightley still playing the role of a secondary school head girl who get’s frustrated because people don’t listen to her. It’s just an absolute mess.
The Godfather – I know it’s cliched to say this trilogy isn’t perfect, but I don’t agree with a lot of people. Most people would say the third film is awful, but I’d argue otherwise. It is a good film, it just doesn’t live up to the artistic mastery of the first two, which is a shame more than an annoyance.
There you have it, there’s a weak link in many film series. I am aware I have missed many out so if there are any you would like me to address then leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Back to business, I have thought about what the best film series is, and I have indeed made a decision. I must say it’s rather ironic because I’ve gone from having no favourites to suddenly having three. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that they are the best out there, they’re just the ones that are the best for me. So, in no particular order, my three favourite film series:
1. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – intelligently written, well directed, with an all round good cast and an excellent cinematographer. They weren’t just films about a super hero; they’re about character. They are a continuation of Christopher Nolan showing us all how you can make a big and expensive blockbuster without being stupid. The consistency for me is shown through the character development of Bruce Wayne. In Batman Begins we see him become Batman, in The Dark Knight we see him break and in The Dark Knight Rises, they give it away in the title but it’s about him building himself back up. That’s what I love. The films take their time and allow development to happen. Nolan didn’t just focus on the silly outfits and the action sequences (*cough* Tim Burton *cough*), he focused on the human side of Batman, to present him less as an old fashioned style super hero, but a vigilante for modern audiences.
2. Toy Story – it’s difficult to find something wrong with the trilogy, it is water tight. It’s not just because of the strong plot line, superb sense of humour or the fact it’s just a generally entertaining experience, but it’s about the messages and the themes that develop. There’s a constant focus on the value of family and friendship, and that makes them so much more than just childrens films. They’re a rollercoaster of an adventure for the children and an emotional journey for the adults because at the end of the day, the relationship Andy has with his toys is a reflection of the relationship parents have with their children and how they eventually have to leave and be free.
And then as of two weeks ago, a late entry that kick started this post…
3. Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy – now this may be one that’s unknown to some so to make it clear, the trilogy I am referring to consists of the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight starring Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Three films, spanning eighteen years, with two main characters. There are so many words I could use to describe the films, but the two that jump out at me are charming and beautiful. It’s refreshing and rather uplifting to see films where two people just talk. It is rather magnificent to see this relationship develop on screen and see nine years actually pass you by between each film. It just shows that delicate and well-written screenplay can be the most effective weapon in a film maker’s arsenal. It’s just so realistic and hard hitting to see two people move through life, from the initial stage of free young romantics to settled down adults dealing with mundane life. I’m getting to the point now where I literally cannot describe the films because they just make me so happy and it ceases my articulation in order to let me smile. They are just exquisite films that I would recommend to anybody, and if a miserable cynic like me smiled throughout I think that’s a sign that near enough anybody can enjoy them. It’s not about having a set structure of themes and messages, it’s about what the individual gets from them.
So there you have it, the Grinch’s heart has grown a couple of sizes and all it took was some bloody good films. As I’ve said before I don’t think these films are the best, they’re just my favourites. If you’re reading this and haven’t the slightest clue what I’m talking about then I would thoroughly recommend watching the films mentioned. I promise you will not be disappointed.
If you have any comments or opinions then I welcome them, particularly if they are in regards to the films mentioned. Also as I’ve said before if you have any films or film series you’d be interested to hear my judgement on then please leave a comment and I promise to get back to you, either with a straight forward reply or a blog post dedicated to you.

One thought on “The best film series of all time, for me

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I won’t disparage you for being young, because in time you’ll catch up with more of the wonderful series from before your lifetime and the ones from other countries, and your lists of favorites will expand. I basically agree with your estimations of the trilogies you discussed, but would add that there’s an extra challenge (degree of difficulty points, like in diving) when you make film adaptations based on literary sources. LOTR, Harry Potter, and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had to satisfy a previously established fan base that Star Wars, Toy Story, Indiana Jones and the Before films didn’t.

    Here are some thoughts about other series you didn’t discuss that I like and respect. I think the series that compares to the Before films are the first four of six “Thin Man” films made between 1934-1941. The main characters, Nick and Nora Charles, are to dialogue what Astaire and Rogers are to dance duos. Amazing charisma, energy, warmth and humor facilitated by the chemistry between the two actors (William Powell and Myrna Loy) and their trust in the director, W.S. Van Dyke.

    Another way of categorizing trilogies is thematically. Great directors will often make 2-3 films in a row about related ideas, variations using different characters. Kieslowski’s Red/White/Blue, and Barry Levinson’s Baltimore trilogy (Tin Men, Avalon, Liberty Heights) work this way. My pick for the best thematic trilogy of all time is George Stevens’ “American Trilogy” made between 1951 and 1956 – A Place in the Sun (economic class vs ethics), Shane (the use of violence where there is no law), and Giant (which encompassed both previous themes, as well as being the best film ever made about America’s racial problems).

    Given that it has persisted, succeeded and made money through periods based on books, original stories, and interpretations of the same characters by different actors, I would have to say the “greatest” film series of all time is the James Bond films. Some are better than others, inevitable in a series of 23 films, but the best of them are as good as any adventure film made anywhere, any time.

    Along the lines of Indiana Jones, some other great “written for the screen” series following the same characters through time and new situations include Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” from India, Truffat’s autobiographical films using his alter ego “Antoine Doinel”, and Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy which made Clint Eastwood a star. I also love Robert Rodrigues’ more recent El Mariachi/Desperado/ Once Upon a Time in Mexico trilogy, and look forward to all the Sin City films (planned as a trilogy).

    When I was a kid I watched and strongly bonded with Universal’s Frankenstein trilogy starring Boris Karloff on TV before there was color. Bride of Frankenstein, like Godfather II, is one of those rare sequels that surpasses the first film.

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