When it comes to movie franchises, trilogies are a beloved favorite. The setup is modeled after the classic three-act structure and gives a series of films an arc to appear as one bigger story. They also make for great box sets for home video releases . Superhero films are some of the most popular stories in the 21st century, there are plenty of superhero films and triologies. Some even extended farther beyond triologies into quadrilogies. Yet one interesting thing to note is how few directors actually get to complete their log superies .
There are numerous stories of filmmakers directing two superhero films before departing ahead of the third film which includes Richard Donner on supermanTim Burton on BatmanBryan Singer on X-Menand Joss Whedon on The Avengers. There are times when a third film never materializes due to underperformance at the box office and a trilogy remains unfinished as was the case with Guillermo del Toro on . Hellboy or Marc Webb on The Amazing Spider-Man series.
Even recently, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 3 was scrapped by the new DC plans and it appears her trilogy will remain unfinished. It is unclear if Ryan Coogler will return for Black Panther 3or if DC has plans to bring David F. Sanberg back for a Shazam 3 or James Wan for Aquaman 3.
Yet there are a few rare cases where one director does stay on for a superhero trilogy. This director lends a guiding hand to a franchise and can use the three films in their superhero trilogy to tell a grander story. These are the six filmmakers who actually got to finish their superhero trilogies.
After high-profile superhero directors like Richard Donner, Tim Burton, and Bryan Singer departed their superhero films after two entries, it just seemed like that was the fate for all superhero franchises. Yet Sam Raimi defied the odds and made the first superhero trilogy with his Spider-Man films.
It began in 2002 with Spider-Mancontinued in 2004 with Spider-Man 2and concluded in 2007 with Spider-Man 3. Raimi’s first two films were critically acclaimed and box office hits, and while Spider-Man 3 was still a box office hit the movie was less warmly received by fans and critics due to the film feeling overstuffed with too many characters.
Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy in many ways quintessential Spider-Man, with the three films each pitting him against his most iconic enemies of Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Venom all while showing a young man trying to navigate the world and be with the person he loves. Spider-Man was intended to extend beyond a trilogy with Spider-Man 4 but that film was canceled due to behind-the-scenes disagreements with Raimi and Sony Pictures and the film was morphed into a reboot: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Christopher Nolan never seemed like a franchise filmmaker, but it is a franchise that launched him into a new level of success that he is still enjoying to this very day. Batman Begins in 2005 led to The Dark Knight in 2008 and while the director was skeptical about a third film he returned in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises which marked the conclusion of The Dark Knight trilogy. The film series was all well-reviewed and was a box office hit, with The Dark Knight Being a cultural phenomenon and shattering box office records at the time. The Dark Knight trilogy is not only regarded as one of the best superhero trilogies but one of the best trilogies of all time.
Unlike every other superhero trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was truly meant to be the end of the franchise. Nolan’s trilogy explores the origins of Batman, a traditional Batman story with him facing off against his greatest foe the Joker, and concludes with an epic battle for Gotham City. Nolan’s trilogy explores the idea of Batman as a symbol, one of fear but also of hope for the citizens of Gotham. Batman the character in the film, much like the icon of popular culture, is more than a man and will live on forever.
Zack Snyder’s superhero trilogy is sort of a Schrödinger’s cat situation where it exists but also does not exist. He originally had a five-film plan for the DCU that began with Man of Steel in 2013, continued with Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016, and then was supposed to continue in 2017 with Justice League. Justice League would be a middle point and lead to two Justice League Sequels making a Justice League trilogy that also was part of a five-part story arc for Superman.
Snyder was removed from Justice League and the 2017 film released in theaters was far removed from his original vision. His director’s cut was finally released in 2021 titled Zack Snyder’s Justice Leagueand in many ways marked the end of Snyder’s vision of the DCU. While Snyder did not get to finish his five-part story, the three films he did release do serve as a trilogy for his version of Superman and the birth of the DCU .
For all the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises, none of the film series had ever had the same directors see the franchise through, as Iron Man, Thor, Captain Americaand The Avengers were all done by multiple filmmakers. The MCU Spider-Manhowever, was all overseen by filmmaker Jon Watts. The MCU Spider-Man trilogy includes 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Homeand 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Watt’s Spider-Man trilogy is very much an extended origin story for Peter Parker, that does skip the spider-bite but uses the three films as a coming-of-age story for Peter Parker where he goes from a kid at school and by the end finds himself in the classic Spider-Man set up. The light breezy high school nature of the series is very similar to the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics and with the addition of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man in The third entry it feels like a celebration of Spider-Man as a film character.