10 Movie Trilogies Where The First Movie Is The Worst

Summary

  • While many movie trilogies get worse, some only improve as they go.
  • Many of these trilogies don’t have stereotypically “bad” films – just weaker installments.
  • Some trilogies are also linked thematically, rather than progressing traditionally.

While there are many examples of promising movie trilogies that get weaker as the series progresses, it can be harder to think of examples where the reverse is true. The brutal nature of the movie industry often means that films that fail often don’t get followed up, with potential franchises left unfulfilled. However, this isn’t always the case.

In fact, throughout film history, there are examples of series that noticeably improve after the first chapter. In some cases, it’s not that the first installment was particularly bad – just that subsequent movies manage to refine the formula and enhance the overall story. In others, later movies expand upon what was a promising idea, ironing out the kinks that were initially evident. Whatever the circumstances, it’s clear that some of the most well-known series in film history fall into the category of trilogies that improve after the first movie.

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10 Fear Street

Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Fear Street Franchise Poster Fear Street

Created by R. L. Stine First Film Fear Street: Part One – 1994 Cast Kiana Madeira , Olivia Scott Welch , Benjamin Flores Jr. , Ashley Zukerman , Ted Sutherland , Gillian Jacobs , Sadie Sink , Jordana Spiro , David W. Thompson , McCabe Slye

Based on R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name, Fear Street is a perfect example of a franchise that initially faltered but succeeded thanks to the strength of its central idea. In many ways, however, the continual improvement of the trilogy was baked into the project from the start.

Although Fear Street Part One: 1994, followed somewhat derivative slasher tropes – albeit sometimes effectively – the following two movies actually made the first film’s story better. Part Two improved upon Part One‘s slasher formula, while Part Three introduced more unsettling supernatural horror, as well as employing a complex narrative that switched between past and present storylines. The result is that, while each film in isolation is worthy of praise, the final two Fear Street movies are both better in isolation and retrospectively make Part One stronger.

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9 Planet Of The Apes – Caesar Trilogy

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, War For The Planet Of The Apes

Planet of the Apes Franchise Poster Planet of the Apes

Created by Pierre Boulle First Film Planet of the Apes Cast Charlton Heston , Roddy McDowall , Kim Hunter , Maurice Evans , James Whitmore , Linda Harrison , Mark Wahlberg , Helena Bonham Carter , Tim Roth , Michael Clarke Duncan , Paul Giamatti , James Franco , Andy Serkis , John Lithgow , Freida Pinto , Gary Oldman , Keri Russell , Kodi Smit-McPhee , Jason Clarke , Toby Kebbell , Judy Greer , Woody Harrelson , Amiah Miller , Kevin Durand , Dichen Lachman , William H. Macy , Owen Teague , Freya Allan Expand

The Planet of the Apes reboot occupies an uncertain place in movie trilogy history. Not only is it part of a pre-existing franchise, but all three of the movies incorporate elements from earlier films, making its status as a distinct movie trilogy a matter of some debate. This is made even more complex by the arrival of a fourth reboot film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, in 2024. Nonetheless, the Caesar-led series has a distinct enough storyline, as well as consistent characters and themes, that it can be considered a separate movie trilogy.

…subsequent entries
Dawn
and
War
both upped the ante considerably, introducing complex political and social themes and some truly spectacular set pieces.

Beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the reboot trilogy centers on Andy Serkis’ Caesar – charting his childhood and early years with James Franco’s Will Rodman and his ascension to the leadership of an ape insurrection. The film offered a welcome refresh to what had become an ailing franchise. However, subsequent entries Dawn and War both upped the ante considerably, introducing complex political and social themes and some truly spectacular set pieces. As such, while it’s still an enjoyable movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes ranks lowest among the three films.

8 Toy Story – Andy Trilogy

Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3

Toy Story G Where to Watch

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Director John Lasseter Release Date November 22, 1995 Cast Tom Hanks , Don Rickles , Annie Potts , Tim Allen , Jim Varney Runtime 81 minutes

With the release of Toy Story 4 in 2019, and the upcoming Toy Story 5 in 2026, the extent to which Toy Story can still be considered a trilogy is debatable. However, the structure of the overall narrative, in which the first three movies revolve around the toys’ relationship with owner Andy, helps the original movies stand apart as separate and distinct entries. Things become even more complex, however, when ranking the films.

There is no doubt that Toy Story is a masterpiece of animation. However, despite its deserved reputation, there is a sense that, with hindsight, it still falls short of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. Woody is a thoroughly unpleasant character for most of the runtime, and the Pixar animation that once seemed so ground-breaking has lost much of its impact. By contrast, Toy Story 2 and 3 remain as vibrant and entertaining as ever, with the passage of time only enhancing each toy’s personality. Toy Story remains a classic, but its follow-ups took things to a new level.

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7 Star Wars Prequels

The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones, Revenge Of The Sith

Star Wars Franchise Poster Star Wars

Created by George Lucas First Film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope Cast Mark Hamill , James Earl Jones , David Prowse , Carrie Fisher , Harrison Ford , Daisy Ridley , Adam Driver , Ian McDiarmid , Ewan McGregor , Rosario Dawson , Lars Mikkelsen , Rupert Friend , Moses Ingram , Frank Oz , Pedro Pascal Expand

Ranking any aspect of a franchise as popular as Star Wars will inevitably cause controversy – and the prequel movies are no exception. Despite being generally regarded as a step down from the original movies, each Star Wars prequel still has its defenders. However, while it is by no means a total failure, The Phantom Menace stands out as the weakest film in the series.

While the original Star Wars was legendary for its propulsive storytelling, vivid practical sets, and immersive world-building, The Phantom Menace became a CGI-soaked thesis on the intricacies of intergalactic trade. While some scenes bucked the trend, the movie was generally turgid and plodding – punctuated by the notoriously irritating interjections of Jar Jar Binks. Both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith had their faults. However, Star Wars would never be as boring as it was in The Phantom Menace.

6 Vengeance Trilogy

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance_Movie_Poster Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance R Director Chan-wook Park Cast Kang-ho Song , Ha-kyun Shin , Doona Bae , Ji-Eun Lim , Bo-bae Han , Se-dong Kim Runtime 121 minutes

While not a traditional series in a narrative sense, Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance series is a prime example of an underappreciated thematic movie trilogy. Each installment explores a different aspect of vengeance through the eyes of three separate protagonists – all while offering a subtle social commentary. Yet while the films share a preoccupation with revenge, some installments are more well-rounded than others.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, despite constituting the start of the series, is by far and away the weakest of the trilogy. Not only did the film fail to make an impact at the box office, but critics were largely disappointed with its ultraviolent content (resulting in a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 54%). By contrast, both Oldboy and Lady Vengeance improved the balance between violence and broader themes, with Oldboy in particular now regarded as a classic of South Korean cinema.

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5 Mad Max Original Trilogy

Mad Max, Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Mad Max Poster Showing Mel Gibson Holding a Shotgun in Front of Bikers Mad Max

Movie(s) Mad Max , Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior , Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome , Mad Max: Fury Road , Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga , Mad Max: The Wasteland First Film Mad Max Cast Mel Gibson , Joanne Samuel , Hugh Keays-Byrne , Steve Bisley , Tim Burns , Roger Ward , Tom Hardy , Charlize Theron , Nicholas Hoult , Rosie Huntington-Whiteley , Riley Keough , Zoe Kravitz , Abbey Lee , Courtney Eaton , Anya Taylor-Joy , Chris Hemsworth , Tom Burke , Alyla Browne Expand

One of the best examples of low-budget action cinema, the original Mad Max remains an impressive achievement. The film’s revenge narrative, suitably over-the-top performances, and impressive stuntwork have helped endear it to generations of film-lovers – even if contemporary reviews were somewhat divisive. However, even though its 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating is impressive, the original Mad Max still falls short of its first two sequels.

Mad Max 2 (released as The Road Warrior) in the United States arguably created the template for post-apocalyptic storytelling, introducing many of the tropes that have become genre staples. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome continued the trend, creating an immersive world that the original (with its relatively minuscule budget) could never hope to replicate. Mad Max remains a cinematic landmark, but its sequels have arguably had more of an impact when it comes to shaping popular understanding of what a post-apocalyptic movie should be.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa, Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road, and Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Related Every Mad Max Movie, Ranked Worst To Best

George Miller has made five Mad Max movies in the post-apocalyptic franchise, but their quality can vary. The Mad Max movies ranked reveals the best.

4 Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War

Captain America The First Avenger Poster Captain America: The First Avenger PG-13 Where to Watch

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Director Joe Johnston Release Date July 22, 2011 Cast Chris Evans , Hayley Atwell , Hugo Weaving , Sebastian Stan , Tommy Lee Jones , Samuel L. Jackson , Dominic Cooper , Stanley Tucci , Toby Jones Runtime 124 Minutes

Although part of a wider cinematic universe and shaped by events in different films, the three Captain America movies nonetheless constitute their own distinct trilogy. Starting with Captain America: The First Avenger, the films follow supersoldier Steve Rogers as he battles enemies both internal and external, ranging from Nazis to fellow Avengers.

The Winter Soldier
is a gripping spy thriller that benefits from the presence of other popular Marvel characters, while
Civil War
is arguably one of the great crossover movies of all time…

While by no means a disaster, the original Captain America is easily the weakest of the trilogy. The Winter Soldier is a gripping spy thriller that benefits from the presence of other popular Marvel characters, while Civil War is arguably one of the great crossover movies of all time – featuring the likes of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and introducing Spider-Man to the MCU. Compared to these entries, which remain among the MCU’s best, Captain America: The First Avenger understandably falls short.

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3 The Wolverine Trilogy

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, Logan

x men origins X-Men Origins: Wolverine pg-13 Where to Watch

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Director Gavin Hood Release Date April 30, 2009 Cast Hugh Jackman , Ryan Reynolds , Liev Schreiber , Taylor Kitsch Franchise(s) X-Men

The extent to which the three Wolverine films can be considered a trilogy is debatable. Although they each focus on the same central character, their settings, tones, and stories are so distinctive that there is little beyond Wolverine himself to connect them. However, part of the reason for this may be that the first installment failed so comprehensively to create a narrative worth exploring further.

The first film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was a critical failure – rebuked for its messy story, derivative characters, and occasionally poor special effects – resulting in a mediocre Rotten Tomatoes score of 38%. The Wolverine improved things substantially, with its Japanese-set story proving more successful with audiences and critics. However, the series really peaked with Logan – widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies of all time and praised for its thoughtful and mature approach to the character.

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2 The Annabelle Trilogy

Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, Annabelle Comes Home

Annabelle Movie Poster Annabelle Where to Watch

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Director John R. Leonetti Release Date October 2, 2014 Cast Annabelle Wallis , Alfre Woodard , Michelle Romano , Eric Ladin , Tony Amendola , Ward Horton Sequel(s) Annabelle: Creation , Annabelle 3

An off-shoot of the wildly successful Conjuring series, Annabelle got off to a fairly inauspicious start. Whereas the original Conjuring was praised for being a genuinely terrifying rejuvenation of the horror genre, Annabelle fell back into derivative jump-scare territory, with a story that failed to innovate. As a result, the movie received a paltry 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, seemingly auguring poorly for the Annabelle films’ future.

Movie

Box Office

Rotten Tomatoes Score

Annabelle

$257.6 million

28%

Annabelle: Creation

$306.5 million

70%

Annabelle Comes Home

$231.3 million

64%

However, things improved substantially with the two subsequent Annabelle movies. Annabelle: Creation combined a gripping origin story with an unsettling atmosphere, resulting in improved reviews across the board. Annabelle Come Home continued the trend, earning 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and highlighting just how short the first film had fallen.

1 The Dollars Trilogy

A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

a fistful of dollars A Fistful of Dollars pg-13 Where to Watch

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Director Sergio Leone , Monte Hellman Release Date January 18, 1964 Cast Clint Eastwood , Marianne Koch , Gian Maria Volonte , Wolfgang Lukschy , Sieghardt Rupp , Joseph Egger

Perhaps the most recognizable Western trilogy in movie history, Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy is credited with introducing the world to Clint Eastwood and cementing the genre’s global popularity. Each movie is impressive on its own terms – highlighted by their enduring popularity and consistent critical acclaim. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable sense that the film that started it all, A Fistful of Dollars, is the weakest in an outstanding series.

Although expertly executed, (
A Fistful of Dollars
) nonetheless lacks the originality on display in
For A Few Dollars More
and
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.

Part of the reason for A Fistful of Dollars position is that it functions as an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Yojimbo. Although expertly executed, the movie nonetheless lacks the originality on display in For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Each movie is a cinematic classic, but the Dollars series nonetheless counts as a movie trilogy that improves after the first film.

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