3 + 1 = Cashing in on Trilogies
Given enough time and dvd box set revenue, movie trilogies often fail to stop there.  And then the additional spawn often comes after considerable delay.  If these were siblings, you'd call the last one an accident.  In cinematic terms, sometimes these are accidents ("trainwreck," to be precise), though, admittedly, other times they've learned from their mistakes.  I just find the overall pattern of their occurrence interesting: The gap between the end of the trilogy and the fourth installment is almost always greater (sometimes substantially) than the sum of the years spanning the original trilogy.  Check these out...

Note: I have included a number of movie series that went beyond trilogies.  It's hard to define "trilogy" in terms of intent since they aren't always entered into as such.  Often, it's just a pair of sequels following a successful movie.  And then they make another one.

Aliens - The Alien series is the one exception to this rule.  Seemingly never intended as a trilogy, each relatively stand-alone chapter has come a year faster than its predecessor.  There is ongoing talk even with Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver that they might still revisit this series.  Update: I went ahead and added all the movies in this loose series (excluding the Predator films).

Alien (1979)
Aliens (1986)
Alien³ (1992)
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007)
Prometheus (2012)

Gaps: 7, 6, 5, 7, 3, 5

Alvin and the Chipmunks - This series isn't very highly regarded.  My kids weren't especially interested in it either.  But for whatever reason, they keep making more.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (2015)
Gaps: 2, 3, 4

American Pie - Personally, I really liked this series.  Haven't seen the fourth yet, so I don't know if I'll need to qualify that statement whenever I get around to seeing the last one.  (Note: I'm not counting the straight-to-dvd "sequels," just the films with the same core cast).

American Pie (1999)
American Pie 2 (2001)
American Wedding (2003)
American Pie: Reunion (2012)
Gaps: 2, 2, 9

Austin Powers - I thought the first one was okay.  I wanted to walk out of the second one.  I rented the third one years after it came out, only to realize I had already seen the movie.  I don't even remember seeing it the first time.  I won't see the fourth one if anyone ever makes the mistake of producing it.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Austin Powers 4 (20??; announced)
Gaps: 2, 3, 11?

Batman - I know this was never considered a trilogy at all from the outset, but it's interesting how little time it took for them to crank out the last clunker.

Batman (1989)

Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)
Gaps: 3, 3, 2

Bond - I'm just throwing this in here as a sort of frame of reference in a way and just as "for what it's worth" in the trivia department.

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy (1983)
A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)
GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)
Gaps: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2*, 2*, 2, 1, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2*, 2, 6*, 2, 2, 3, 4*, 2, 4
*Bond is recast during these gaps.

The Bourne movies - I'm not really sure where this series is going, although it's missing the title character.  Go figure.

The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Gaps: 2, 3, 5

Die Hard - Like the Indy movies, the fourth Die Hard installment gives the aging hero a younger sidekick.  Same thing for the fifth movie (which I just learned about as of this writing/update).

Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Gaps: 2, 5, 12, 6

Fast & The Furious - I know they had no expectation of turning this Point Break rip-off into a trilogy let alone a series(!), but they've actually started cranking these out even faster and more furiously than ever.  The end of "6" apparently sets up the villain for "7."

The Fast and the Furious (2001)
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Fast & Furious (2009)
Fast & Furious 5 (2011)
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Fast & Furious 7 (2014)
Gaps: 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1

Hannibal Lecter Trilogy - This is a compilcated one to write about because the "first" film is actually the sequel to the lesser-known film Manhunter (1986) which I'm not counting here on the grounds that you could consider it a series reboot after that film.  Silence of the Lambs was so successful that it ultimately prompted a prequel that followed the long-delayed sequel.  However, even after all that, there's honestly no denying that Hannibal Rising was an attempt to cash in on the character's popularity.  (Personal note: I highly recommend the book version of Hannibal.  The film pulls a lot of punches that the book doesn't, meaning the series wraps up completely differently than how the film tells it.)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hannibal (2001)
Red Dragon (2002)
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Gaps: 10, 1, 5

House - This horror/comedy series kept churning out sequels until it petered out.

House (1986)
House II: The Second Story (1987)
The Horror Show (1989)
House IV (1992)
Gaps: 1, 2, 3

Indiana Jones - The Indy series returned last year after an astoundingly long break.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Gaps: 3, 5, 19

Jack Ryan - You could argue that the 4th installment of the Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy series was actually more of a reboot than a sequel since the central character was re-cast, but it's drawn from the same pool of source material and was a new film continuing the series.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Patriot Games (1992)
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
Gaps: 2, 2, 8

Jurassic Park - I just read that the latest installment has been greenlit.  Just when you think a series is extinct!

Jurassic Park (1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Jurassic World (2015)
Gaps: 4, 4, 14

The Karate Kid - This series didn't make it past its one sorry attempt at a reboot.

The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)
The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)
The Next Karate Kid (1994)
Gaps: 2, 3, 5

Lethal Weapon - These movies are the next most clustered of the lot.  Here's hoping there will never be a fifth chapter to this series.

Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Gaps: 2, 3, 6

Mad Max - They are thankfully replacing Little Hitler with that-guy-who-played-Bane for the next installment.  Same writer/director helming the fourth film as did the rest, so there's consistency without the one element that guaranteed I wouldn't see it.

Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Gaps: 2, 4, 30

Lord of the Rings - As with the Star Wars saga, the next LotR movie will be a jumping-off point to new series (i.e., The Hobbit will supposedly be a two-parter even though in my opinion, there's scarcely enough material in the source material to warrant even one film).  Also of note: In both these series, the next film after the trilogy is a prequel, much like the Wolverine spin-off to the X-Men series.  Note that I'm not considering the Trek series in this discussion since there was never any implication of a trilogy, but note how they've gone the prequel route as well, first on tv with Enterprise, and now with the latest movie(s).  Update: Since I wrote this, they inexcusably inflated The Hobbit into three films.

The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Two Towers (2002)
The Return of the King (2003)
The Hobbit (2012)
Gaps: 1, 1, 9

Mission: Impossible - This seems to be more of an on-going series with infrequent installments than a trilogy.  I don't watch anything with Tom Cruise in it anymore though, so I really can't even comment.

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
Gaps: 4, 6, 5

The Omen - This series tried the same tactic as The Next Karate Kid in making a girl the revamped central character.  Yes, the last Omen movie was made-for-tv, but it still counts as a sequel.

The Omen (1976)
Damien: Omen II (1978)
The Final Conflict (1981)
Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) (TV)
Gaps: 2, 3, 10

Pirates of the Caribbean - They couldn't leave this series be either.  Personally, I'd rather them revisit The Matrix and do some retcon damage control on what could (read: should!) have been a pretty decent series.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2012)
Gaps: 3, 1, 5

Poison Ivy - I realize this series series went straight-to-video after the second part, but there's still that substantial gap between #3 and #4 I'm talking about.

Poison Ivy (1992)
Poison Ivy II: Lily (1995)
Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997) (V)
Poison Ivy: The Secret Society (2008) (V)
Gaps: 3, 2, 11

The Qatsi films - Yes, the Qatsi films collectively are technically something of a documentary series, but they've moved beyond the original concept of a trilogy as well.

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Powaqqatsi (1988)
Anima Mundi (1992)
Naqoyqatsi (2002)
Gaps: 6, 4, 10

Rambo - Shortly after extending the Rocky series to its sixth film (16 years after the fifth one), Sly revisited his next-most-famous character.

First Blood (1982)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Rambo III (1988)
Rambo (2008)
Gaps: 3, 3, 20

Riddick - It's probably a bit of a stretch to call this a genuine trilogy, but there's still that gap before the 4th, even though the 3rd film was just a spin-off.

Pitch Black (2000)
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004; video; animated)
Riddick (2013)
Gaps: 4, 0, 9

The "Road to..." series - This was a series of silly comedies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  Note how the first three cluster like a trilogy before they returned to the series a few years later.
Road to Singapore (1940)
Road to Zanzibar (1941)
Road to Morocco (1942)
Road to Utopia (1946)
Road to Rio (1947)
Road to Bali (1952)
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
Road to the Fountain of Youth (1977) (Never made.  Crosby died that year of a heart attack.)
Gaps: 1, 1, 4, 1, 5, 10

Robotech - I'm sorry it took the Robotech series this long to come back and continue the story.  Arguably, this isn't really a fourth movie, but it's hard to get your head around the chronology of this series in anything less than a thousand words once you start explaining the genealogy of the Japanese series and how they were bundled into a generation-spanning epic story.

Codename: Robotech (1985)
Robotech: The Movie (1986) (aka Robotech: The Untold Story)
Robotech II: The Sentinels (1987)
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (2006)
Gaps: 1, 1, 19

Rocky - I guess this is actually more like a "quintilogy plus one."  Surprisingly, even though the quality of the series went down dramatically over its run, the last one was really good! (IMDb scores: 8.1, 6.9, 6.4, 6.3, 4.8, 7.2).

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)
Rocky III (1982)
Rocky IV (1985)
Rocky V (1990)
Rocky Balboa (2006)

Gaps: 3, 3, 3, 5, 16

Scary Movie - I haven't seen any of these, and I love horror movies.  I just don't love horrible movie parodies.  Interestingly, the most obvious gap was between the 4th and 5th installment.  The rules are probably a little different in this case because the movies themselves are derivative of an existing body of work in a genre.

Scary Movie (2000)
Scary Movie 2 (2001)
Scary Movie 3 (2003)
Scary Movie 4 (2006)
Scary Movie 5 (2013)
Gaps: 1, 2, 3, 7

Scream - This one made me get around to updating this page.  The Scream series returned this year with another unnecessary sequel.  Or at least it was unnecessary to me.  I don't remember seeing anything past the first of these.

Scream (1996)
Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 3 (2000)
Scream 4 (2011)
Gaps: 1, 3, 11

Shrek - I have no love for these movies.  There's no variation in the gaps.  I just hope there aren't any more in this series.  I wouldn't see them anyway.

Shrek (2001)

Shrek 2 (2004)
Shrek the Third (2007)
Shrek Forever After (2010)
Gaps: 3, 3, 3

Spy Kids - I've never seen any of these.  I'm assuming they aren't the same kids in Part 4 since, well, they can't still be kids, right?

Spy Kids (2001)
Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (2011)
Gaps: 1, 1, 8

The Star Wars saga - This really isn't a 3+1 situation either since it was always designed to be 3+3.  Personally I have to say that, while not on par with the original series, the prequels did get better as the series progressed, especially Revenge of the Sith.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
Gaps: 3, 3, 16

Superman - We have to throw out the trilogy rule in a complicated internal chronology in which the 2006 film is supposed to represent the third installment (i.e., they disown the last pair of the original films).  I also tacked on the re-boot that follows.

Superman (1978)
Superman II (1980)
Superman III (1983)
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman Returns (2006)
Man of Steel (2013)

Gaps: 2, 3, 4, 19, 7

Taxi - I haven't seen any of these, other than the American loose remake.  Terrible, by the way.

Taxi (1998)
Taxi 2 (2000)
Taxi 3 (2002)
Taxi 4 (2007)
Gaps: 2, 2, 5

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Having never actually seen the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (or any of the others, incidentally), I assumed that this was a reboot (since it has a different look), but it's actually the fourth movie in the series in terms of continuity and all.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
TMNT (2007)
Gaps: 1, 2, 14

The Terminator - The Terminator series is a case where it's sort of more like 2 + 1 and then a new (prequel?*) trilogy seemed to spring out of what became something of a trilogy after the fact.  No idea if it will actually pan out into a full trilogy, but there's certainly money to be made.  I know the 4th film wasn't very good, but I liked that it was ambitious.
*I mean, I know it takes place in the future, but we're talking about time-travel, after all.

The Terminator (1984)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Gaps: 7, 12, 6

The Toxic Avenger - The series is something of a joke, but who can believe that there was a fourth installment this long after the fact?

The Toxic Avenger (1985)
The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)
The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (1989)
Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000)
Gaps: 4, 0, 11

Transformers - I would have been content if they'd have just left this property die for a while until someone with some style and sense of character could re-boot it.  It's an empty shell of a series which is surpassed in quality by even the original animated tv series and a corny spin-off movie with a hair metal soundtrack.

Transformers (2007)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Untitled Transformers Sequel (2014)
Gaps: 2, 2, 3

The X-Men - The X-Men series pulled the prequel routine not once, but twice!  Technically the Wolverine origin story wasn't an X-Men movie since there wasn't an X-Men team yet, so I'm only counting the films with the name X-Men in the title.  Updated to include the next chapter.

X-Men (2000)
X-Men II (2003)
X-Men III (2006)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Gaps: 3, 3, 5, 3

Straight-to-video after one sequel

And some films didn't even make it to a true trilogy before resigning themselves to a final straight-to-video offering.

The Addams Family

The Addams Family (1991)
Addams Family Values (1993)
Addams Family Reunion (1998) (V)
Gaps: 2, 5

Ace Ventura

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
Ace Ventura Jr: Pet Detective (2009) (V)
Gaps: 1, 14

Don't even get me started on how fast this trend gets traction with Disney movies.

Special mention: 2+1 "Trilogies"

Crocodile Dundee - I'm not sure why they didn't go ahead and just do a third one the first time around.  Sure, that would have been wearing the material a bit thin, but strike while the iron is hot!

Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Crocodile Dundee II (1988)
Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001)
Gaps: 2, 13

The Godfather -
The winner for the all-time worst follow-up goes to...

The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Gaps: 2, 16

Look Who's Talking - It took a while to think up how to make this series even more stupid.

Look Who's Talking (1989)

Look Who's Talking Too (1990)
Look Who's Talking Now (1993)
Gaps: 1, 3

The Mummy - Granted, there was also that Scorpion King spin-off, but I thought this series should have been a trilogy right from the start.  After all, the original Universal series spawned five sequels.

The Mummy (1999)
The Mummy Returns (2001)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
Gaps: 2, 7

Predator - They seemed to have run out of ideas right at the start.  It took until the CGI era before they got the guts to take another stab at it.

Predator (1987)
Predator 2 (1990)
Predators (2010)
Gaps: 3, 20

Re-Animator - It took a while to think up how to get money to make more movies in a series that sadly never made much money.
Re-Animator (1985)
Bride of Re-Animator (1991)
Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
Gaps: 6, 12

Rush Hour - It took a while to think up how to make this series even more stupid.
Rush Hour (1998)
Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Rush Hour 3 (2007)
Gaps: 3, 6

Toy Story - They already milked one generation's childhood.  Time to move on to the next one.
Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Gaps: 4, 11

A second look:
I know these are mentioned as 3+1 series, but look at them just as 2+1 series too.

Die Hard

Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
Gaps: 2, 5

Scream (1996)
Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 3 (2000)
Gaps: 1, 3

The Terminator
The Terminator (1984)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Gaps: 7, 12


Beverly Hills Cop - There's on-again/off-again talk of the fourth movie.  If it happens, here's how it will likely play out.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
Beverly Hills Cop IV (2014)
Gaps: 3, 7, 20


Just looking at the 3+1 movies here (n = 26), the gaps average out thusly:
Average gap between the 1st and 2nd film = 2.6 years
Average gap between the 2nd and 3rd film = 3.2 years
Average gap between the 3rd and 4th film = 10.0 years

Two related phenomena

Whereas I usually look for sequels that happen many years after a series is finished, there's also the tendency to make two sequels in a row.  This can be in the form of two unrelated but simlar phenomena that often overlap. 

Back-to-back films - Films (usually sequels) that are made in a continuous production phase.
Split films - A continuous production in which a single story is split into two parts.

It's hard to tease out all the distinctions using real examples, but here many films that fall into either or both categories:
Back to the Future sequels: Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III
Matrix sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 and Part 2
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 and Part 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Part 2
Divergent: Allegiant - Part 1 and Part 2
Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 and Part 2
The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
The three as-yet-untitled sequels to Avatar?

Copyright 2009 Ale[x]plorer.  Updated 2011, 2012, 2013.
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