Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs might not quite have snatched the no. 1 spot this weekend, but it came damn close. But at least the filmmakers can rest assured that they achieved something rarer: they made a rare third film that managed to be better than both of its predecessors. Not, God knows, that Ice Age 3 is particularly good at all; but it could have been, and has been, much worse.
In its honor, a list of ten Part 3s that, if not the best in their franchise, or necessarily “good” all on their own, managed to at least do honor to what had come before them.
Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee, 1939)
The last great Universal monster movie for many a long year, until Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the way in 1954. It’s not as good as James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, of course – what could be? – but it’s still a damn fun Gothic horror picture, with Boris Karloff making his final bow as the sensitive, childlike Monster, Bela Lugosi at his goofy Lugosiest, and an honest attempt to expand the series’ narrative without drifting into tiresome repetition. Turning the story into a generational narrative about the sins of the father, it’s deeper and more interesting, and even a bit more moving, than just another tale of a mad genius tampering in God’s domain.
The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray, 1959)
In all honesty, it might be the least of Ray’s trilogy of films, following Pather Panchali and Aparajito. But least of that company is a pretty high bar, all things considered, and the conclusion of Ray’s epic trilogy – the finest coming-of-age story in cinema history – is as rich and humanist as anything ever has been. Spanning years and miles, the movie tells one of cinema’s finest stories about the way that parenthood can be terrifying to the man not ready for responsibility. Decades of wan attempts to dramatise the desire of men to remain boys has never come so close to perfection as this.
Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)
The film where James Bond became James Bond is also at or near the top of nearly every ranking of the 22 films in the franchise. Sure, it’s pretty frivolous entertainment, and it subscribes to some damned juvenile misogyny. But at the same time, it gives us one of the best Bond Girls ever in the gorgeous, acidic Pussy Galore, and the finest villainous quip in action movie history: “Do you expect me to talk?” “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Add in some ’60s-era cool and overwrought, campy glitz at ever turn, and you have one of the finest pieces of male wish fulfillment yet caught on camera.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
The first one was a fine rip-off of a great Japanese film; the second was almost as good; they’re both among the best Italian Westerns ever made. The third, in contrast, is flat-out one of the best Westerns ever made in any country by any filmmaker, in which Clint Eastwood’s squinting, angry Man with No Name meets a fella even more vicious than he is, and another man so animal-like and greedy that he hardly seems to be a man at all. Using the American Civil War less as a setting than a canvas, Leone created one of the truly mythic Western movies of all time, a vision of empty spaces, oppressive heat, and a curdled worldview in which even The Good was a callous murderer. Gorgeous and violent and iconic for every inch of its footage.
Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)
Yeah, sure, Night and Dawn are better. It would be a touch worrying if they weren’t, given that they’re both among the best films of their respective decades. That doesn’t change the fact that Romero’s third peek at the ways that American life would change – and more importantly, wouldn’t change – in the face of wave after wave of the cannibalistic undead doesn’t work almost as well. Presenting a nihilistic view of a nearly-destroyed world that’s actually a lot more unsettling than the post-apocalyptic fourth film, Land of the Dead, the film may suffer a bit for taking cheap potshots at the military, but there’s no denying that its unremittingly grim tone and series-best gore effects make for an exceptionally shocking and unforgettable story of humankind in its death throes.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell, 1987)
Maybe the one and only outright good slasher sequel produced in the whole decade, and the 1980s were certainly not franchise-averse. But more impressive than just how well it builds upon the creepy mood and faintly brilliant narrative of Wes Craven’s first Nightmare on Elm Street, is that it manages to function so well as a continuation of one of the genre’s exceedingly few masterpieces while also managing to undo everything perpetrated by the abysmal first sequel, Freddy’s Revenge. Even absent the golden glow cast by its forebear, this would still be one of the few great slasher films, with a twisty and genuinely interesting plot, death scenes that serve more purpose than just appealing to bloodthirsty teenagers, and – get this – actual, fully-developed characters.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989)
Returning the series to its roots after the generally-disdained Temple of Doom – and I’m not going to try and convince anybody that they’re wrong to disdain it, even if I’m generally a fan – the third adventure of Indiana Jones does quite a lot right to offset its tiny number of mistakes, and nothing is more right than the inspired casting of Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr., turning the by-now expected comic interplay of the series into the world’s finest father/son sitcom plot ever. If that sounds like sarcasm, I surely don’t mean for it to; the way that a fight against Nazis and the quest for the most famous treasure in Western civilisation is ultimately subordinated to the story of how the Joneses learn to like each other again is part of what makes the film genuinely good cinema instead of just boilerplate adventure. And even if I’m in the minority that thinks Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was actually a pretty good thing, except in certain Shia-shaped patches, there’s still no denying that the third film ended with the absolutely best possible farewell to the character and his globetrotting adventures.
Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994)
Perhaps the most popular, easily-watched entry in Kieślowski’s magnificent trilogy (the finest in motion picture history, else I’m no judge), although “easily-watched” is a relative thing; basically, I’m just still impressed 15 years later that he was able to wrangle a Best Director Oscar nod. Comparisons between this, Blue and White are largely a matter of taste, because they’re all pretty well fantastic; but certainly there’s nothing about this one, a study of all the ways in which human beings connect on a personal level, whether we are ever aware of the connection or not, that isn’t absolutely breathtaking cinema all on its own. The final scene of the movie, of Three Colors, and of Kieślowski’s whole career, is a bravura, wholly successful encapsulation of the theme running throughout all of the director’s films, but this trilogy most of all: we’re all part of the lives of everyone we meet, for good or bad, whether we mean to be or not.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004)
No joke, this was the film with the highest stakes of anything on this list: after two more or less dreadful, excruciatingly literal adaptations by the professionally boring Chris Columbus, it fell to Cuarón to prove that there was anything worthwhile you could squeeze out of the Harry Potter franchise at all, art-wise. And damned if he didn’t do it; saddled with the same desperate-to-please production design of the earlier films, he bent his unmatched visual sense to the project and turned the flat illustrations of Columbus’s films into a glittering German Expressionist-flavored fantasy that might be nominally for children, but exudes a gorgeous darkness that can enchant even the most cynical adult. We’d have been subjected to seven Potter movies either way; it’s thanks to Cuarón and him alone that the better part of them had a shot at being genuinely good films.
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)
The culmination of a nearly perfect upwards arc of quality: the first one was an exceptionally good spy thriller, the second was an exceptionally great spy thriller, and the final entry in the trilogy was just a flat-out exceptional movie all around, an action movie that expanded the vocabulary of cinema editing. Not to mention, it grants to the narrative of Jason Bourne, a figure birthed by Robert Ludlum, creator of fetid potboilers, a scope of mythic or operatic ambition. Greengrass and star Matt Damon are anxious to return to the well yet again; I am dubious that there’s any more upward expansion to be done, but if Bourne 4 is only this good, it’s going to be one of the best action pictures of the next decade.