Is Toy Story the Greatest Movie Trilogy of all Time?

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!

—–

Combined rating (from IMDB weighted average and Rotten Tomatoes average rating). * – Foreign-language film

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.

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28 thoughts on “Is Toy Story the Greatest Movie Trilogy of all Time?

  1. Excellent analysis. But you left out the other arthouse trilogy Mark mentioned: The Ozu trilogy. All three movies (Late Spring / Early Summer / Tokyo Story) have a perfect 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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    1. Thanks Bernard! Well spotted. I’ve never heard of that trilogy at all so Mark’s reference to it completely passed me by.

      For reference, here are its scores on IMDB (weighted/top 1000/no. of votes):
      Late Spring: 7.9 / 8.1 / 2,892
      Early Summer: 8.0 / 7.9 / 1,751
      Tokyo Story: 8.1 / 7.8 / 8,247
      Whole trilogy: 8.0 / 7.9

      This would put it 6th on the IMDB weighted scores and 5th on the IMDB top-1000 scores.

      The first two have only got about 1/10th as many votes as the Trois Couleurs films, which makes them much more obscure than the others in the charts. No doubt there are lots of other relatively obscure trilogies out there too that people can tell me about!

      I would also argue that the Toy Story films outdo the Ozu ones because they got 100% fresh scores from hundreds of contemporaneous reviews, whereas the Ozu ones get their all-positive reviews from only a handful (e.g. only 8 for Early Summer) which have been written two generations later, and so probably only by the critics that are into that kind of thing.

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  2. Emmanuelle shamefully overlooked here.

    Seriously, I’d regard Star Trek II-IV as a trilogy since through the story arc they actually are – Spock dies in II, they get him back in III, and return to earth to face the resulting court martial in IV. Makes me wonder what other multi-part franchises, if any, have a trilogy part way within them.

    I think you will find Star Trek would win on II-IV, if your methodology is sound 😉

    Good stuff though.

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  3. Good stuff!

    Another excellent foreign (Hong Kong) trilogy is Infernal Affairs, which was the basis for The Departed – and IMHO a far better film than Scorsese’s.

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    1. Thanks Phil!

      Looks like the first one got great scores (8.1 on IMDB, 95% fresh on RT), though the other 2 were a bit more average (7.3, 7.0). If I’d included it Infernal Affairs would come 23rd in the list, just behind Mad Max and just ahead of Shrek.

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  4. Are you weighting the IMDb ratings of movies of a trilogy equally, or by number of votes? I’m looking at the Ozu numbers

    Late Spring: 7.9 / 8.1 / 2,892
    Early Summer: 8.0 / 7.9 / 1,751
    Tokyo Story: 8.1 / 7.8 / 8,247
    Whole trilogy: 8.0 / 7.9

    The 7.9 at the bottom would indicate that you are weighting by votes. I could see reasons to do it either way.

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    1. I’m combining them equally, without any weightings. The first number is the overall score, the second is from top-1000 voters, and the third is the number of voters in total. So the ‘8.0’ is the average of 7.9, 8.0 and 8.1, and the ‘7.9’ is the average of the 8.1, 7.9 and 7.8 scores that the top-1000 voters gave. Hope that makes sense!

      I think a good reason to *not* weight by votes is that you could imagine a third film in a trilogy being really bad and consequently people avoiding seeing it (from bad reviews). Weighting by votes would let the trilogy off lightly because that film’s terribleness would be reduced in the calculations.

      The Godfather is a perfect example – only 1/5th as many people voted on 3 (80,000) as on the original (400,000). If it was weighted by votes the combined score for the trilogy would have been 9.0 rather than 8.6.

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  5. Excellent summaries / charts / conclusions of the best film sequels. I reall enjoyed it!

    I agree the IMDB voting system is pretty uneven, but at least the top 1000 voters results give some idea of quality.

    However, both critics and voters tend to vote based on a films quality, which don’t always agree with a films “entertainment” value which I guess is hard to rate. Everyone has different tastes, and while, for example, I quite enjoyed a few of the Police Academy films, Back To The Future, and other series like Scream, Final Destination, etc they wouldn’t rank very high on that list.

    Anyway it’s pretty obvious Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, Toy Story, Harry Potter, The Godfather, Bourne, and Alien are the best series ever and it’s hard to argue with that. Trois Couleurs is the exception – probably because it’s foreign and viewed by less people (with a less representative score), but it’s something it seems I must see!

    Thanks for this post. Truly excellent.

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    1. Thanks Stuart. I noticed that some of the trashier films had a big difference between the overall and the top-1000 scores on IMDB. I think there may be another article in looking at such things…

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    1. To be fair most of the films in this list are just sequences of sequels rather than true trilogies where ‘the story’ is spread across the 3 films. I imagine that Batman will be a contender for the top of this list when Christopher Nolan’s next film comes out too…

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  6. Masaki Kobayashis Human Condition Trilogy (imdb ratings 8,7/8,6/8,9)
    Lars von Trier’s Europe Trilogy
    Ingmar Bergmans Faith Trilogy
    Andrzey Wajda’s War Trilogy
    Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy
    Federico Fellini’s Trilogy of Loneliness
    Aki Kaurismäki’s Proletarian Trilogy
    Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD-Trilogy
    Deepa Mehta’s “Elements Trilogy
    Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta-Trilogy

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  7. Ainsworld,

    Great post! Could you post the data you collected? I’d like to play with it, maybe expand a bit.

    I love posts like this that use data to tell stories that normal people can relate to. Keep it up.

    Matt

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  8. Toy Story is cool but Lord of the Rings is still the best trilogy for me. It’s an EPIC movie. The trilogy that you won’t forget. Might be lenghty but it’s worth it.

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  9. Toy Story is cool but Lord of the Rings is still the best trilogy for me. It’s an EPIC movie. The trilogy that you won’t forget. Might be a lengthy movie but it’s worth it.

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  10. ok please inform me how did lord of the rings became 5th when its 1rst and 4rth then 3rd 2 times how did you did these ?? in my opinion and all that I know lotr is the best trilogie and for me the best movie ever is lotr rotk and u can see that it is the best trilogie in the empire magazine !! 17 oscars 3 billion dollars the change of the history of cinematographie and special effects comunnn!!

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    1. Hey Marc! I’m definitely feeling your love of LOTR!

      The key thing that changed its ranking was that between making the first set of charts and the last one, some people suggested other trilogies (Ozu and Apu) that I hadn’t heard of which got better scores than LOTR.

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  11. I really think Lord of the Rings is extremely overrated. I mean I get it, it is exciting some times but is that all? I felt no emotion. I wouldnt change the one minute , the furnace in Toy Story 3 withthe entire 10 hour long Lofr trilogy. Andy giving away his toys… I mean how could you possibly compare this two? If you like Epic, I love Game of thrones, it has some pure drama in it.

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