In Mark Kermode’s review of Toy Story 3 (available as a podcast and here), which he liked a great deal, he contemplated that Toy Story might be the best film trilogy of all time. This is mainly because the last film is extremely good, and that’s not the normal pattern with sequels. The other main contenders he considered were The Godfather (let down by number 3) and the less-well-known Trois Couleurs trilogy.
I saw it the other day and felt inclined to agree – it is really excellent. After mentioning this on Facebook and getting some good counter-suggestions from friends (Bourne, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future), I thought I’d find out if he’s right with some hard-core analysis…
I used two main sources:
- IMDB, which has average scores (on a 1-10 scale) from tens of thousands of punters.
This is not ideal in some ways because the viewers of films are self-selecting – people can only rate the things they’ve seen, and they’ll only watch the things they like the sound of. On the other hand, you could argue that that’s fair enough anyway, especially of genre films. The other problem with IMDB is that it will be biased towards the kind of people that can be bothered to record their opinion about films on an internet site, so is likely to be nerdier and more male in its profile than the viewing public.
I’ve used two measures:
- Weighted Average Score: where IMDB try to adjust weightings of reviews to make it as representative and fair as possible.
- Top 1000 Average Score: the scores from the 1000 individuals who have reviewed the most films – these guys have seen a lot of films so should be less susceptible to the ‘viewing only films I like the sound of’ factor.
- Rotten Tomatoes, which collates results from hundreds of movie reviews in reputable publications.
Being professional reviewers these people shouldn’t suffer so much from self-selection bias, but probably tend to be more considered and more impressed by artistry rather than simple entertainment. The main problem with film reviews is that they are not rated on a consistent numerical scale (many use a 5-star scale, but some use percentages, or letters), so combining them together to give a consistent rating is not trivial. Again, there are two measures I used:
- ‘Fresh’ score: the percentage of reviewers who, on balance, liked it. (The simplicity of this is a good way of dealing with the problem of putting the reviews on a consistent scale.) This is a good indicator of whether you’re likely to enjoy a film.
- Average score on 1-10 scale: this is done by each review being re-coded by Rotten Tomatoes onto a 10-point scale then averaging them together. This is arguably a better indicator of ‘greatness’.
So I collected these scores on all the films in 34 movie trilogies/series, including the 30 most popular movie series of all time (according to Box Office Mojo), but also a couple of others that the critics often talk about (including Godfather and 3 Colours). I also included Police Academy, which is the perfect example of what normally happens with movie sequels.
The results – the punters
First of all, here are all the results from IMDB. In each case they are sorted by the average across the trilogy. (In other words, when there are more than three films only the first 3 are used to calculate the ‘overall’ score, although all films in the series are shown)
Clearly, the punters like a bit of sci-fi / fantasy, with either Lord of the Rings or Star Wars taking the top slot. The Godfather is pretty close (let down by film number 3), and Toy Story does pretty well with the best 3rd film of all time according to the masses. Indiana Jones does well too.
It’s amusing to see how many film series start out with one good first film (all those red dots at the top of the charts), then produce an endless succession of ever-worse ones. Think Rocky, The Matrix, Lethal Weapon, Batman, Superman, Jaws, etc. Notable exceptions are Star Trek (with the famously good even-numbered ones), Harry Potter (they’re all good), and Bourne (the final one was a corker).
I thought Police Academy would be the worst film series of all time. But numbers 4 to 7 were truly appalling, and if you base it just on the first 3 then the (highly popular) Twilight series comes bottom. This feels overly harsh. I hate them, but a lot of people really like them. This is probably partly because they are very clearly aimed at young girls, and this group is probably least likely to bother telling IMDB what they thought of a film!
The results – the critics
So what about the critics? Remember, ‘Percent Fresh’ is how many recommended the film, and ‘Average Score’ is their rating of how good it is.
Well, that’s pretty conclusive – not only has Toy Story 3 got the best 3rd film ever, but it’s actually the best trilogy of all time too according to the critics. It’s that amazingly rare thing – a trilogy where all of the films were universally seen as excellent.
And it looks like Mark Kermode was pretty representative of other critics in considering Trois Couleurs a contender for crown of ‘best trilogy’. I’ve never seen any of them, but I now think maybe I should!
UPDATE: 28th July 2010
Thanks to the various commenters and other suggestions I’ve received, I’ve realised that there are plenty of other trilogies that I really ought to have included. Among them are some little-known foreign-language trilogies that some people rate very highly (Ozu, Apu, Vengeance), some real classics (The Man With No Name, Frankenstein, Evil Dead) but also some other popular ones that I missed (in order of increasing rubbishness: Hannibal Lecter, X-Men, Mad Max, the Star Wars prequels, Scream, Mission Impossible, Blade, Rush Hour, Poltergeist, Robocop, Underworld, High School Musical).
I’ve also adjusted the ‘trilogy’ rating of Star Trek so it’s based on films II to IV, which all thread together. I’ve also decided to completely ignore the Next Generation Star Trek films because I can’t decide which set to put Generations into!
To keep things simple, I’ve tried to settle on a single definitive result, and have used the combination of the IMDB weighted score and the Rotten Tomatoes average rating score.
The final result is that Toy Story is actually the 3rd-best trilogy of all time, behind Star Wars and the (little-known, Japanese, 1950s) Noriko trilogy by Yasujirō Ozu. Another 1950s trilogy I’d never heard of comes fourth, the Indian Apu trilogy, and then the usual suspects of Lord of the Rings and The Godfather come in 5th and 6th.
Click on the picture to view it at full size.