Patterns in Trilogy Quality
Most trilogies get worse as the series progresses.  Others get better.  And then there are other patterns still.  Using the IMDb scores for the individual movies, I sorted trilogies into the following six categories.




Notes:
Trilogies are only counted if all three (or four) films were released theatrically.  The reason being that the quality is certain to suffer if a film is budgeted as a TV movie or a straight-to-video release.  See, for example, a couple cases in which the third film was a video:

The Addams Family
6.6 The Addams Family (1991)
6.3 Addams Family Values (1993)
3.7 Addams Family Reunion (1998) (V)

Ace Ventura
6.7 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
5.7 Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
2.0 Ace Ventura Jr: Pet Detective (2009) (V)

Also, the fourth movie in the series is included among these lists for curiosity's sake but not factored into the series' placement among the six categories.  After all, every trilogy is just a greed cash-grab away from a fourth movie.

Note that these categories are nominal only and do not nuanced enough to address the sometimes massive quantitative differences.  In other words, in some cases the categorization could shift based on a decimal-point's difference (e.g., the original Star Wars trilogy and Lord of the Rings), whereas another movies are separated by more than a full point's difference in ratings.


123: Steady Decline
This is the most common pattern.  An original idea gets the life wrung out of it over the course of three movies.  Less originality is required once a good premise and characters are established by the first film, so others coast on momentum rather than infusing subsequent installments with equal amounts of inspiration.

Alien
8.5 Alien (1979)
8.4 Aliens (1986)
6.3 Alien³ (1992)
6.2 Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Austin Powers series
7.1 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
6.6 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
6.1 Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)

Back to the Future
8.4 Back to the Future (1985)
7.6 Back to the Future Part II (1989)
7.2 Back to the Future Part III (1990)

The Bad News Bears
7.1 The Bad News Bears (1976)
5.1 The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)
3.1 The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

Basket Case
6.0 Basket Case (1983)
4.9 Basket Case 2 (1990)
3.8 Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992)

Beverly Hills Cop
7.3 Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
6.1 Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
5.0 Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Blade
7.0 Blade (1998)
6.6 Blade II (2002)
5.7 Blade: Trinity (2004)

Boggy Creek
3.8 The Legend of Boggy Creek (1973)
1.9 Return to Boggy Creek (1977)
1.9 The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (1985) (aka Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues)

La Cage aux Folles
7.1 La Cage aux Folles (1978)
5.5 La Cage aux Folles II (1980)
4.1 La Cage aux Folles 3 (1985)

The Cannonball Run
5.7 The Cannonball Run (1981)
4.2 Cannonball Run II (1984)
3.8 Speed Zone! (1989)

Captain Nemo
7.2 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
6.8 Mysterious Island (1961)
5.4 Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969)

The Chronicles of Narnia
6.9 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
6.7 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
6.4 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

Crocodile Dundee
6.5 Crocodile Dundee (1986)
5.2 Crocodile Dundee II (1988)
4.6 Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001)

Cyborg Cop
3.8 Cyborg Cop (1993)
3.7 Cyborg Cop II (1994)
3.3 Cyborg Cop III (1995)

The Delta Force
5.4 The Delta Force (1986)
4.1 Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (1990)
2.4 Delta Force 3: The Killing Game (1991)

Whit Stillman's Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love series
7.2 Metropolitan (1990)
6.7 Barcelona (1994)
6.3 The Last Days of Disco (1998)

The Fly (1958 series)
7.0 The Fly (1958)
5.5 Return of the Fly (1959)
5.2 Curse of the Fly (1965)

Fight Back to School
7.1 Fight Back to School (1991)
6.5 Fight Back to School II (1992)
6.1 Fight Back to School III (1993)

Gilligan's Island
4.9 Rescue from Gilligan's Island (1978)
4.7 The Castaways on Gilligan's Island (1979)
3.5 The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (1981)

The Godfather
9.2 The Godfather (1972)
9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974)
7.6 The Godfather: Part III (1990)

The Grudge (American series)
5.7 The Grudge (2004)
4.6 The Grudge 2 (2006)
4.5 The Grudge 3 (2008)

The Infernal Affairs Trilogy
8.1 Infernal Affairs (2002)
7.3 Infernal Affairs II (2003)
6.9 Infernal Affairs: End Inferno 3 (2003)


Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy
7.6 The Hunt for Red October (1990)
6.9 Patriot Games (1992)
6.8 Clear and Present Danger (1994)
6.3 The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Jurassic Park
7.9 Jurassic Park (1993)
6.1 The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
5.7 Jurassic Park III (2001)

The Karate Kid
7.0 The Karate Kid (1984)
5.4 The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)
4.4 The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)
3.9 The Next Karate Kid (1994)

Lethal Weapon
7.6 Lethal Weapon (1987)
7.1 Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
6.5 Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
6.5 Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Look Who's Talking
5.6 Look Who's Talking (1989)
4.0 Look Who's Talking Too (1990)
3.7 Look Who's Talking Now (1993)

Major League
6.9 Major League (1989)
5.0 Major League II (1994)
4.0 Major League: Back to the Minors (1998)

Maniac Cop
5.8 Maniac Cop (1988)
5.4 Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
4.4 Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence (1993)

The Matrix
8.7 The Matrix (1999)
7.1 The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
6.7 The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

The Mighty Ducks
5.9 The Mighty Ducks (1992)
5.2 D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
4.6 D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996)

The Mummy (1999 series)
6.9 The Mummy (1999)
6.2 The Mummy Returns (2001)
5.1 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

The Naked Gun
7.6 The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
6.6 The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991)
6.1 Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994)

The NeverEnding Story
7.4 The NeverEnding Story (1984)
4.5 The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1990)
2.8 The NeverEnding Story III (1994)

Oh, God!
6.3 Oh, God! (1977)
4.7 Oh, God! Book II (1980)
5.0 Oh, God! You Devil (1984)

The Omen
7.6 The Omen (1976)
6.1 Damien: Omen II (1978)
5.3 The Final Conflict (1981)
3.5 Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) (TV)

Penitentiary
5.5 Penitentiary (1979)
2.9 Penitentiary II (1982)
2.6 Penitentiary III (1987)

Pirates of the Caribbean
8.0 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
7.3 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
7.0 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
6.7 Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2012)

Poltergeist
7.4 Poltergeist (1982)
5.3 Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
4.0 Poltergeist III (1988)

Porky's
5.9 Porky's (1982)
4.3 Porky's II: The Next Day (1983)
4.0 Porky's Revenge (1985)

Rambo
7.5 First Blood (1982)
5.9 Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
5.1 Rambo III (1988)
7.2 Rambo (2008)

RoboCop
7.5 RoboCop (1987)
5.4 RoboCop 2 (1990)
3.5 RoboCop 3 (1993)

Rocky
8.1 Rocky (1976)
6.9 Rocky II (1979)
6.4 Rocky III (1982)
6.3 Rocky IV (1985)
4.8 Rocky V (1990)
7.2 Rocky Balboa (2006)

Rush Hour
6.8 Rush Hour (1998)
6.4 Rush Hour 2 (2001)
6.0 Rush Hour 3 (2007)

The Santa Clause
6.1 The Santa Clause (1994)
5.4 The Santa Clause 2 (2002)
4.2 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)

Scream
7.2 Scream (1996)
6.0 Scream 2 (1997)
5.3 Scream 3 (2000)
6.5 Scream 4 (2011)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
7.1 The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
6.6 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
5.9 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Slumber Party Massacre
5.1 The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
3.3 Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
3.1 Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Spy Kids
5.6 Spy Kids (2001)
5.2 Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
4.0 Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
2.8 Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (2011)

Superman*
7.3 Superman (1978)
6.7/7.9 Superman II (1980) (director's cut)
4.8 Superman III (1983)
3.5 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
6.5 Superman Returns (2006)
*However, note that this is a "213" series when you use the rating for the director's cut of the second film.

Taxi (Luc Besson-penned series)
6.8 Taxi (1998)
6.2 Taxi 2 (2000)
5.4 Taxi 3 (2002)
5.2 Taxi 4 (2007)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
6.3 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
5.4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
4.4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
6.5 TMNT (2007)

The Three Mothers
7.4 Suspiria (1977)
6.7 Inferno (1980)
5.2 The Mother of Tears (2007)

Tom Ripley
7.3 The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
6.6 Ripley's Game (2002)
6.1 Ripley Under Ground (2005)

The Toxic Avenger
5.9 The Toxic Avenger (1985)
4.5 The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)
3.5 The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (1989)
6.3 Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000)

The Transporter Series
6.7 The Transporter (2002)
6.1 Transporter 2 (2005)
5.9 Transporter 3 (2008)

Troll
3.8 Troll (1985)
2.3 Troll 2 (1990)
1.9 Troll 3 (1990) (aka Contamination .7)

Underworld
6.8 Underworld (2003)
6.6 Underworld: Evolution (2006)
6.4 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) (prequel)

60/100 = 60% of trilogies.


132: Bad sophomore effort
Alternatively, you could view this not as a bad second film but rather as a particularly successful third movie that reverses the natural pattern of decline over the course of the series and rallies to a big finish.  There are quite a lot of these, actually.

Personal note: I disagree with the inclusion of the Indiana Jones trilogy here since the second one was my favorite (and I thought the third was just dumb), but I'm stuck with the IMDb scores.

Class Of Nuke 'Em High
5.1 Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)
3.0 Class of Nuke 'Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991)
3.8 Class of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid (1994)

The Creature from the Black Lagoon
6.9 Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
5.1 Revenge of the Creature (1955)
5.5 The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Cube
7.5 Cube (1997)
5.6 Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)
5.7 Cube Zero (2004) (prequel)

The Decline of Western Civilization
7.9 The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
7.2 The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
7.7 The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998)

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


Hannibal Lecter Trilogy
8.7 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
6.6 Hannibal (2001)
7.2 Red Dragon (2002)
6.1 Hannibal Rising (2007)

Indiana Jones

8.7 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
7.5 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
8.3 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
6.5 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

The Jersey Trilogy
7.8 Clerks (1994)
7.1 Mallrats (1995)
7.3 Chasing Amy (1997)

John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy (parallel)

8.2 The Thing (1982)
6.5 Prince of Darkness (1987)
7.0 In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

The Millennium trilogy
7.7 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
6.8 The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)
7.0 The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest (2009)

Mission: Impossible
7.0 Mission: Impossible (1996)
5.9 Mission: Impossible II (2000)
6.8 Mission: Impossible III (2006)
7.4 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Ocean's Trilogy

7.7 Ocean's Eleven (2001)
6.1 Ocean's Twelve (2004)
6.9 Ocean's Thirteen (2007)

Predator
7.8 Predator (1987)
6.0 Predator 2 (1990)
6.5 Predators (2010)

The Qatsi Trilogy
8.1 Koyaanisqatsi (1983)
7.2 Powaqqatsi (1988)
8.0 Naqoyqatsi (2002)
6.6 Naqoyqatsi (2002)

Re-Animator
7.3 Re-Animator (1985)
5.9 Bride of Re-Animator (1991)
6.0 Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Robin Hood (Columbia Pictures)
5.9 The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946)
5.0 The Prince of Thieves (1948)
5.2 Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)

Toy Story
8.2 Toy Story (1995)
8.0 Toy Story 2 (1999)
8.6 Toy Story 3 (2010)

Transformers
7.2 Transformers (2007)
5.9 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
6.5 Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

18/100 = 18% of trilogies.


213: Good sophomore effort
This is the case where a series manages to improve a bit (albeit temporarily) over its run before succumbing to the natural decay in quality.

Trilogy of the Dead (Note: Scores are so close that this could go either way; I placed it here arbitrarily)
8.0 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
8.0  Dawn of the Dead (1978)
7.0  Day of the Dead (1985)
6.3 Land of the Dead (2005)
5.8 Diary of the Dead (2007)
5.0 Survival of the Dead (2009)

The Evil Dead Trilogy (Note: Scores are so close that this could go either way; I placed it here arbitrarily)
7.6 The Evil Dead (1981)
7.8 Evil Dead II (1987)
7.6 Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1992)

Flash Gordon (serials)

7.4 Flash Gordon (1936)
7.5 Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)
6.7 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy*
6.2 Gerry (2002)
7.2 Elephant (2003)
5.7 Last Days (2005)
*This is a thematic trilogy rather than a true series.

Mad Max
6.9 Mad Max (1979)
7.6 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
5.9 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Mexico Trilogy
7.0 El Mariachi (1992)
7.1 Desperado (1995)
6.2 Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003)

The Ninja Series
4.5 Enter the Ninja (1981)
5.5 Revenge of the Ninja (1983)
3.6 Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Rugrats (Theatrical films)
5.4 The Rugrats Movie (1998)
5.6 Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000)
5.0 Rugrats Go Wild (2003)

Spider-Man
7.4 Spider-Man (2002)
7.6 Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6.3 Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Star Wars (Original Trilogy)
8.7 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
8.8 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
8.3 Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Superman*
7.3 Superman (1978)
6.7/7.9 Superman II (1980) (director's cut)
4.8 Superman III (1983)
3.5 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
6.5 Superman Returns (2006)
*However, note that this is a "123" series if you do not use the rating for the director's cut of the second film.

The Terminator
8.1 The Terminator (1984)
8.5 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
6.6 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
6.8 Terminator Salvation (2009)

The Vengeance Trilogy
7.7 Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002)
8.4 Oldboy (2003)
7.6 Lady Vengeance (2005)

X-Men
7.4 X-Men (2000)
7.6 X-Men 2 (2003)
6.8 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)


14/100 = 14% of trilogies.


231: Impossible
I guessed there would be nothing in this category before I even filed the data.  Yes, honestly.  I titled the six possible combinations before I compiled all the lists, and I called this one "Impossible" on the assumption that it is unlikely that two sequels could both be more entertaining or meritorious following a movie lacking in premise or characters with which to spin off additional movies *and* fails to build as it progresses.  Bucking those trends individually is difficult.  Doing both is (read: was) impossible.  Prior to the completion of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, I would have said this was never going to happen, but trust a director known for achieving the impossible to break this streak.

1/100 = 1% of trilogies.

The Dark Knight
8.2 Batman Begins (2005)
9.0 The Dark Knight (2008)
8.6 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


312: Unexpectedly awesome finale
Here the third film in the series unexpectedly defies the typical downward trend in quality and rises above the others.

Care Bears (Theatrical films)
5.0 The Care Bears Movie (1985)
4.7 Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (1986)
5.3 The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland (1987)

Jason Bourne
7.8 The Bourne Identity (2002)
7.6 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
8.1 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Lord of the Rings
8.7 The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
8.6 The Two Towers (2002)
8.8 The Return of the King (2003)

Three Colours Trilogy
7.9 Three Colours Blue (1993)
7.6 Three Colours White (1994)
8.0 Three Colours Red (1994)


4/100 = 4% of trilogies.


321: Climbers
This is the situation where the movies actually get better as the series progresses.  Given the closeness of ratings for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one could argue that the series could be included here if the one-decimal point difference was reversed.

The Dollars Trilogy (aka The Man with No Name Trilogy)
8.0 A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
8.2 For a Few Dollars More (1965)
8.9 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Quatermass
6.8 The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
7.1 Quatermass 2 (1957)
7.2 Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Star Wars (Prequel Trilogy)
6.4 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
6.8 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
7.8 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

3/100 = 3% of trilogies.


Series

These aren't easily classified as trilogies, even if you just take the first three.  However, they are included for the sake of curiosity and in comparison with other film series on this page.

James Bond
7.3 Dr. No (1962)
7.5 From Russia with Love (1963)
7.8 Goldfinger (1964)
7.0 Thunderball (1965)
6.9 You Only Live Twice (1967)
6.8 On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
6.7 Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
6.8 Live and Let Die (1973)
6.7 The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
7.1 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
6.2 Moonraker (1979)
6.8 For Your Eyes Only (1981)
6.6 Octopussy (1983)
[6.1 Never Say Never Again (1983)]
6.2 A View to a Kill (1985)
6.7 The Living Daylights (1987)
6.5 Licence to Kill (1989)
7.2 GoldenEye (1995)
6.4 Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
6.3 The World Is Not Enough (1999)
6.0 Die Another Day (2002)
7.9 Casino Royale (2006)
6.7 Quantum of Solace (2008)
7.8 Skyfall (2012)


In summary:

123: Steady Decline = 60/100 = 60% of trilogies.

132: Bad sophomore effort = 18/100 = 18% of trilogies.
213: Good sophomore effort = 14/100 = 14% of trilogies.
231: Impossible = 1/100 = 1% of trilogies.
312: Unexpectedly awesome finale = 4/100 = 4% of trilogies.
321: Climbers = 3/100 = 3% of trilogies.


Recent additions:

These are (as yet) unfiled.  I am simply making a note of these and will update this page when the IMDb rankings have stabilized.  This usually takes a few weeks to months after the film has opened.  Generally, the ranking is highest at that point and tapers as the film is viewed by a wider audience than just the enthusiasts (to use Patton Oswalt's term for fanboys) who are present for the opening weekend.

The Hangover
7.8 The Hangover I (2009)
6.5 The Hangover II (2011)
5.9 The Hangover III (2013)

Iron Man
7.9 Iron Man (2008)
7.1 Iron Man (2010)
7.4 Iron Man (2013)

Clerks (Yes, I also have this as part of the Jersey Trilogy above, but I think it's part of both)
7.8 Clerks (1994)
7.4 Clerks 2 (2006)
??? Clerks 3 (???)





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