From ‘Rocky III’ to ‘Clear and Present Danger’: 7 Underrated Threequels That Deserve Another Shot


Due to the nature of modern franchise world building, building a connected universe is more important than singular focused storylines. It’s rare to see a true trilogy anymore. The days of a grand, epic threequel that caps a series on a definitive note, such as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of a King or The Dark Knight Rises, feel very removed from the modern landscape. There are even franchises that seemingly concluded perfectly that recently got subsequent sequels, such as Bourne, Toy Story, and The Matrix.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will hopefully revive the Harry Potter prequel series following the negative response to the last installment, The Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s the latest threequel that we already know for a fact won’t wrap things up, as David Yates and Warner Brothers are still barreling forward with two more films planned.

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Many threequels are widely beloved, and films like Return of the Jedi, Goldfinger, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are commonly cited as the best in their respective series. However, there are some threequels that didn’t get a fair during their initial release; whether they were financial disappointments or disregarded by their fanbases, these films deserve another shot. Here are seven underrated threequels that are much better than their reputation suggests.

RELATED: Pitfalls Every Threequel Like ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Needs to Avoid

The Enforcer (1976)

the enforcer Image via Warner Bros.

1971’s Dirty Harry is one of the most important action films of all-time. Not only did Don Siegel’s investigative thriller launch one of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic characters, but the intense film introduced a new level of grittiness that was distinct within the New Hollywood generation. The 1973 follow up Magnum Force was just as heralded; while it couldn’t create a villain as fearsome as the sniper Scorpio (Andy Robinson), Magnum Force is still a tightly wound mystery. Surprisingly, the Dirty Harry series remained mostly consistent. The third film, 1976’s The Enforcer, gave Harry a worthy partner in Tyne Daly’s Inspector Kate Moore. It was critical for a series that focused so heavily on lionizing law enforcement to present a character whose worldview challenged Harry’s.

Rocky III (1982)

rocky 3 Image via MGM

Rocky III changed the tone of the Rockyfranchise. Like the Best Picture-winning original, Rocky II kept things mostly grounded and serious. By the time Dolph Lundgren showed up as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, it descended into complete lunacy. Rocky III straddles the line between campiness and emotion. Obviously, Mr. T presents an aura of inherent goofiness, and he’s hardly playing a complex character. That being said, introducing Rocky’s former rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) as his new mentor was a fun angle and introduced an interesting friendship. Sylvester Stallone’s directorial efforts have been a mixed bag, but he’s remained mostly consistent with his quality work in the Rocky saga.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

mad-max-beyond-thunderdome-mel-gibson Image via Warner Bros

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is a good movie that’s stuck between two masterpieces, and as a result it suffers in comparison. 1982’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was long considered to be one of the greatest action films of all-time, but 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road managed to top it. That being said, Beyond Thunderdome is still a very worthy entry in the series. The opening hour is excellent; the caged motorcycle fights are simply thrilling, and Tina Turner’s eccentric villain Aunty Entity made for a very different villain than the Mad Max series had seen before. While the last hour gets a little cheesy as Max saves orphaned children, it still has a terrific final chase sequence that ends the Mel Gibson run of the series on a solid, yet ambiguous note.

Day of the Dead (1985)

day-of-the-dead-joe-pilato Image via United Film Distribution Company

George Romero used each film within the Living Dead series to explore current political topics; even the critically derided Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead presented a few interesting ideas about Bush-era policies. While Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are considered to be pivotal zombie films, Day of the Dead is just as strong. The film is set after the pandemic has spread and zombies outnumber humans. The remaining human survivors live in underground areas, and a group of scientists led by Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) and Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty) attempt to understand zombie behavior by “humanizing” them. However, the military officer Captain Henry Rhodes (Joe Pilato) completely disregards their research. In a haunting depiction of Regan-era militarism, Rhodes pushes humanity towards conflict when he refuses to accept the possibility of a peaceful solution.

Psycho III (1986)

Psycho-III-Image Image via Universal Pictures

The thought of there being sequels to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho seems unthinkable, but the franchise is actually pretty interesting. By turning Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates into the main character, the Psycho series was able to explore his complex psychology instead of just relying on cheap scares. Psycho III isn’t as grounded as the more dramatic Psycho II, but it presented Bates with the possibility of a normal life. Norman falls in love with the nune Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid), and is forced to wrestle with whether he could ever forgive himself for his past crimes and form a romantic relationship. Perkins stepped behind the camera for an impressive directorial debut.

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

lethal-weapon-3-rene-russo-mel-gibson-danny-glover

Lethal Weapon 3 managed to make the dynamic between Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) still feel fresh. In the days leading up to Murtaugh’s retirement, a new drug dealer calls him back into duty, and for once the phrase “I’m getting too old for this” is appropriate. There’s always a risk with buddy cop sequels that the relationship will grow stale once the characters get to know each other, but Riggs goes through a surprising change of heart. He falls in love with their new partner Sergeant Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) and forms his first solid relationship since his wife’s death.

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

clear-and-present-danger-harrison-ford Image via Paramount Pictures

Harrison Ford debuted his version of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan in Patriot Games after Alec Baldwin launched the character in The Hunt For Red October. Patriot Games is a good movie, but it turned the series in a more action-centric direction. Ford got another shot with 1994’s Clear and Present Danger, which retained the mystery element of The Hunt For Red October. Ryan is forced to question his own patriotism when he discovers that the U.S. Government is participating in a covert war in Columbia. The final scene, in which Ford screams at the President for his coverup, is one of his definitive moments.

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About The Author

Liam Gaughan (235 Articles Published)

Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.

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