Trilogies: turning to cinema for escapism and sentimentality


By Phoebe Baltazar

The monotonous time we find ourselves in demands near-hypnotic escapism, alongside soothing and syrupy nostalgia. The answer? Our familiar favourites – film trilogies.

It is not simply watching a film, but undertaking an all-encompassing cinematic challenge. You enter and relinquish in a completely fictitious universe for a day or two, reigniting your love or loathing for the characters and place. These are the illustrious worlds we readily journey through again and again. 

Delving into these series can give us acute nostalgia; letting us go back in time or into the future (or both). In times of uncertainty, the familiarity of the narrative allows us to control our time momentarily. Whether it be a laugh, a scream, a cry or simply solace, we know what to expect.

The latest Ofcom report on media habits estimates that in peak lockdown, our screen time surged to 40% of our day, with considerably more time spent watching things. With trilogy runtimes averaging at around 6 hours but lasting up to 11, what might have been a rare indulgence before has now become a normal weeknight.  

By and large, we are in excess of top-notch movie troikas that offer up entirely different but worthwhile ventures. There’s plenty of debate over the best out there, but in case you needed a booster, or equally are new to binge-watch culture, here are some well-loved film trilogies to fulfil all of your sentimental needs this lockdown.

The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight)

A chance encounter on a train between two unlikely romantics leads to a love story that spans a lifetime but is divided into three chapters, each separated by 9 years. Romance is a highly-saturated genre, but the relationship between the Texan Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Parisian Celine (Julie Delpy) easily rises above all with its incredible beauty and authenticity. We are given droplets in an ocean of Celine and Jesse’s entanglement, but that’s what makes it all the more remarkable.

Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy gives you a romance that is sweet-natured and purposefully naïve, and displays screenplay at its most meticulous. Every word lifted from the script was carefully deliberated by the director and co-stars over the years. Listening to them talk for just over an hour is a heavenly experience, one that we wish could be elongated with even the most mundane of conversations.

These films let you escape to a tranquil European vista for just over an hour – with Before Sunrise set in Vienna, Before Sunset in Paris and Before Midnight in Greece. The real-time aspect of each film (the latter film only slightly more ambitious with its sequence) makes it all the more entrancing. The natural niceties of these local settings reels you in – similar to the likes of Amelie and Call Me By Your Name, it transports you to your own summer love affair for the entire runtime. This is the best holiday option in our current predicament, giving us a triple getaway of our own,and why the Before Trilogy is among the most satisfying escapism.

The Godfather Trilogy (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III)

Francis Ford Coppola’s gorgeous adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel-of-the-same-name is a classic ensemble of gangster film. The trilogy chronicles the trials and tribulations of an Italian American mafia family, headed by patriarch Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro) and succeeded by his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino). These three actors in particular transcended the nature of acting with their elegant embodiment of the Corleone characters, and it is these performances that foundation the legendary success of the franchise. 

Coppola took a risk in making Part II, a somewhat prequel, though with risk comes great reward. The sequel, often heralded as the best of three, expertly spans decades of the family’s simultaneous decay and upward mobility across Sicily, New York, Las Vegas, Cuba and Hollywood. Embarking on this story gives us access to the character chronicle of the mobster, making them seem at once hero and villain. Part II delectably builds on the oracle of the first film, whilst having the ability to stand independently as a marvelous piece of cinema. Trilogy executed to perfection.

Although anarchic at times, we can sympathise or relate to the magisterial titular character through its portrait of the immigrant experience – an important story that shines a light on (the failure of) the American Dream. These are people who have grappled for legitimacy, and at their core valorise family and loyalty. Fondness for the characters, from ill-fated Sonny Corleone (James Caan) to consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) underpins our heartache across the franchise.

The Godfather is a cinematic masterpiece, and its prevailing popularity lies in the escapist opulence of the Mafioso life. The films are wholly quotable, letting us profess our inner boss. Once you accept that this world prioritises machismo, as is Mafia reality, you can easily engross yourself in the madness. 

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Special Edition (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King)

Extended cuts only, none of the theatrical release malarkey, The Lord of the Rings trilogy gives you virtually flawless cinema. Tales of friendship can be the most heart-warming, and the relentless journey of a tag team of hobbits, elves, dwarves and humans across Middle Earth turns out to be the most exciting of them all. Good vs evil is frankly the basis of any good franchise, and these films execute this diegesis like no other.

The deliciously fantastical universe of Peter Jackson’s LoTR is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novels, and this incredible source material lays the blueprint for epic mythology to come alive on screen. Arguably, deeper escapism and even greater catharsis. The ambition of its filmmakers can be seen everywhere, from the ground-breaking special effects taking place on gargantuan sets, to the vast costume department detailing that CGI could only wish for. This production value continues to dazzle in The Hobbit trilogy (lucky us), but LoTR’s preeminence as the first revolutionary fantasy of its kind, alongside its more consistent pace and tone, awards its superiority.

Accompanied by Howard Shore’s glorious score, the grandeur of Middle Earth (filmed across New Zealand) is transfixing. Alongside impeccable casting across the board, the love-ability of the characters reels us into a space where life and loss seizes our heartstrings. Through all the fantasy, we seek to sympathise and identify with poor Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his gang as they wrestle with the Ring and overcomes darkness. We find optimism in their story, and so forth in our own lives.

The appendices of the special trilogy give you a thorough, riveting documentation of principal photography of all the films, and is a must watch for any diehard fans. 

Three’s the Charm

On the whole, trilogies offer us a narratively rich cosmos to digest whilst we sit tight for the time being.  Whilst longer franchises are also viable binge options (MCU, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park), three hits the sweet spot of stylish, well-crafted filmmaking and storytelling without falling into the trap of inconsistent or profit-searching features.

These films are somewhat divorced from reality; stimulating and revitalising our repetitive days. Fundamentally, they remind us of the importance of our personal relationships, whether familial or romantic, and give us hope that gloomy days can be conquered.

If you want to dedicated a couple hours of your time, here are some more trilogy suggestions:

  • Star Wars: The Original  
  • Back to the Future 
  • The Dark Knight
  • Austin Powers
  • The Cornetto Trilogy
  • The Matrix
  • The Evil Dead
  • The Hobbit