3rd Time's the Charm: All-Time Top 5 Genre Movie Part 3's

This week the vampire vs. werewolves Underworld film series gets its third entry with Rise of the Lycans. As fans of science fiction, fantasy, and comic book movies well know, Part 3's have something of a spotty history in genre film history. There are any number of examples where third installments suffered after quality first entries and arguably equal-to-superior sophomore efforts (think X-Men, Spider-Man, and Blade most recently, and Superman and Batman historically). However, there are a few standout film series that have managed meet and even exceed fan expectations in their third frame.

Here is a look at 5 films where the third time was the charm…

5. Army of Darkness (1993)

This is something of a cheat, because the first two Evil Dead films were so obscure outside of cult-fan circles, and the third film in director/producer/co-writer Sam Raimi's horror-comedy series is a pretty significant departure from its two predecessors, which were noticeably low-budget and notorious in their day for their level of violence and gore.

Army is still rooted in horror, but expands the comedy (making star Bruce Campbell as chainsaw-for-a-hand hero Ash Williams a cult figure in his own right) and adds something an action/adventure vibe as well. While not a box office hit by any means, the film served to showcase how the then low-profile Raimi could stretch a budget, setting off a career arc that would eventually land him on the Spider-Man franchise.

And Ash Williams lives on to this day in a recent series of comics by Dynamite Entertainment, even recently crossing over into the Marvel Comics Universe … well, the Marvel Comics "Zombie" Universe, but that's a story for another day.

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Although thus far the lowest grossing film of the now five film series, the third Potter adaptation is remembered as the installment that sent the movie-verse off in a more mature direction, and at least according to movie-rating website Rotten Tomatoes, is the most critically well-received of a franchise that is almost uniformly well-regarded.

The first Potter adaptation that wasn't helmed by Chris Columbus in his somewhat safe/faithful/please-the-fanbase style, director Alfonso Cuaron (who went in to write and direct 2006's highly-regarded Children of Men) introduced a deeper, darker, more complex and thusly satisfying vision of J.K. Rowling's universe, which directors Mike Newell and David Yates continued in the two subsequent installments.

3. Star Wars Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi (1983)

Perhaps easily the least regarded of the original Star Wars trilogy, Jedi is proof positive that all things are indeed relative and serves to illustrate how high the benchmark for the original films actually was.

While to this day the cute and cuddly Ewoks (the Jar Jar of their day) and the musical/dance finale on Endor is still a prickly issue for some of the Star Wars faithful, with some time and distance and the little-to-no-fun-to-be-had second prequel trilogy to serve as a reminder of how good we all once had it, Jedi stands out as a more-than-satisfactory companion to the 'first' two episodes and a fitting if imperfect conclusion to an all-time classic trilogy.

And bonus points for being the only film in the series to feature Princess Leia in a bikini.

2. Goldfinger (1964)

The third of 23 films in the 'official' James Bond canon (that's another story for another day), Goldfinger stands as something of a grounder-breaker and standard-bearer for some of the now ultra-familiar Bond movie elements.

The Sean Connery-starrer was the first to feature a pop-song over the stylized opening credit sequence (Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger") and produced perhaps the most iconic Bond image in history (actress Shirley Eaton in head-to-toe gold paint). It was also the first box office blockbuster of the series, breaking numerous records during its day and still ranks as the second-best grossing film of the series (after '65's Thunderball), totaling nearly $900k when adjusting ticket prices for inflation.

Also on its list of accomplishments was being ahead of time in terms of spawning lucrative licensing deals, being widely credited for jump-starting the 60's "secret agent craze" that would eventually give rise to everything from TV's Get Smart to Marvel's Nick Fury– Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it was a critical darling and is still a favorite of Bond connoisseurs to boot.

In short, it was the Bond film that made Bond Bond.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Although a whole fourth film could have maybe been generated from all the "farewell" exposition of its third act, the Academy Award-winning King stands as the triumphant grand finale of not only one of the best film series of all time, but maybe the most remarkably consistent.

From a filmmaking standpoint, each of the trilogy's three installments are nearly indistinguishable in their level of quality, likely due to the fact co-writer/co-producer/director Peter Jackson shot all three in under 300 days, mostly without any hitches in production.

King stands – maybe ironically – as arguably one of the best, satisfying, and ultimately most faithful adaptations of a literary work in history, as well as one of the great auteur tour-de-force filmmaking efforts of all-time.

Here's hoping the upcoming two-part The Hobbit adaptation by Guillermo del Toro can live up to its predecessor's legacy.

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