With the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, which hit theaters on Thursday and figures to set major box office records, it got me thinking: just what are the best movie series ever?
I’m a huge fan of sequels, trilogies, and sagas. To me, a good movie series will surpass a great individual movie in terms of the legacy it sets over the course of time. And the reason is pretty simple: in movie series, there is more story and conflict, more action and drama, and more character development to attract your affections.
To give you an everyday analogy, let’s say you meet somebody at a party and spend two hours interacting with them, learning about their past, their likes and dislikes, and find out what kind of character they have. You may never see that person again, despite how pleasant the evening was, and it still feels like they’re a stranger. On the flip side, aren’t you more likely to grow fond of that person if you met up with him or her a few more times, kept learning about and having experiences with him or her? The same thing can be said about characters in a movie series.
So, what makes a great movie series? For starters, let’s make sure we understand that greatness is relative to each individual. What I find great isn’t necessarily going to be felt by others.
The other thing that makes a movie series great is the continuity of characters and storyline. There are plenty of movies where the cast of the sequel is different than the original, and that just doesn’t feel right to me. Because although they share a movie title, it feels like two completely separate movies.
With that in mind, here are the six criteria I used while grading the movie series that I’ve seen.
- Plot: How good is the storyline? Is it an interesting tale that holds my attention? Do I learn something from it? Does it motivate me in some way? Does the script offer a dialogue that helps push the story forward?
- Characters: How unique are the characters? Are they clearly distinct in their personalities and mannerisms? Do they entertain me? Can I empathize with them? Are the protagonists easy to like and the antagonists easy to dislike?
- Entertainment: How entertained am I by this movie? Is it funny? Does it make me laugh? Is it a thriller or suspenseful? Does it hold my attention? Do I pick up my cell phone in the middle of it to check Facebook without wanting to pause it?
- Cinematography: How good is the film production? Is it an expensive production or low budget? How good are the visual effects? If there is some kind of animation, is it good quality or does it look oddly out of place? How’s the soundtrack? Is the music enjoyable and does it fit with the plot?
- Suspend Disbelief: Can I lose myself in the moment, or does it feel like I’m watching a movie? Could I imagine myself being there live as the action unfolds? Do I have to question the validity and reliability of the script, or does it just feel right?
- Rewatchability: How likely am I to watch these movies again? Can I watch them over and over again without getting bored? Will they sit in the closet collecting dust for months? How much time has to elapse before I watch them again?
For each of those categories, I assigned a value of 1-3. A value of 1 meant the movie series was just fine in that area. A value of 2 meant the movie series was good, or strong, in that particular criterion. And a value of 3 meant the movie series was superior or excellent in that category.
Without further ado, here is my list of Best 25 Movie Series:
Best 25 Movie Series
- City Slickers
Starring the always hilarious Billy Crystal, City Slickers (trailer) is a funny tale about a man who is on the verge of turning 40 and who, along with his two best friends, are having midlife crises. As a birthday gift, the three friends go on a two-week cattle drive, and, as the title denotes, find it hard to make the transition from city slickers to cowboys. In the sequel, City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (trailer), Crystal’s character, along with one of his friends and now his brother — played by the annoyingly funny Jon Lovitz — go back on the trail to search for gold that may or may not be there.
- Monsters, Inc.
One of the first of a few animated movie series I enjoy, Monsters, Inc. (trailer) is an extremely clever story about an alternate monster world that exists behind children’s closet doors. The funny twist is that while children are afraid of monsters in real life, monsters are just as afraid to have any contact with children in the movie. Monsters University (trailer) is the second movie in the series, but is actually a prequel to the first movie. It traces the history of the two main monsters from the original movie (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) as they go through college, trying to earn their way into the scaring industry.
- I Know What You Did Last Summer
I’ve never been a big fan of gory horror movies, but I do enjoy thrillers. I Know What You Did Last Summer (trailer) stars Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze, Jr. It’s about those four teenagers who are being stalked by a killer, one year after they hit a man with Phillippe’s car and attempted to cover it up. In the movie’s sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (trailer), the teens, now in college, win a trip to the Bahamas. But what they come to find out is that their haunting past follows them all the way there.
Like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream (trailer) is what I would call a lightweight horror film movie series. There are four films in the series, each with its own surface-level plot, but the core plot of the entire series is that Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell, is stalked by a variety of killers over the span of a few years. The killers are generally copycat killers or individuals that are aware of the horror film genre and try to replicate these in “real life.” The sequels are all sequentially numbered: Scream 2 (trailer), Scream 3 (trailer), and Scream 4 (trailer)
- American Pie
What’s a more wholesome movie than four high school kids making a pledge to lose their virginity? In all seriousness though, American Pie (trailer) didn’t receive a lot of points in my plot category but there was quite a bit of humor that made this enjoyable. American Pie 2 (trailer) brought back the original class on their summer break from college in a quest to throw the ultimate beach house party. American Wedding (trailer) was the third movie in the series and showed all the fun and shenanigans that happen when planning a wedding. And American Reunion (trailer), which might have been the best and funniest movie next to the original, featured the cast meeting up for their high school reunion.
- Father of the Bride
Father of the Bride (trailer) is a classic, heartfelt romantic comedy about a father who has trouble with the fact that his firstborn daughter is getting married and moving out. There are so many funny lines in this and Steve Martin (the father) nails the role. In Father of the Bride Part II (trailer), Martin’s next big challenge is caring for his wife and daughter — both of whom are pregnant at the same time. I love how committed he is and how he runs around willingly to do anything and everything for his two pregnant ladies.
- Men In Black
A clever tale about alien life, Men in Black (trailer) stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith and is about a special department that monitors extra terrestrials that live discreetly in human disguise. Based on its popularity, the film spawned off sequels Men in Black II (trailer) and Men in Black III (trailer), but in my opinion, both fall short of the original.
- Major League
Major League (trailer) is one of the best baseball movies of all time. It’s about a professional baseball owner who inherits the team from her late husband and she wants her team to lose so badly that she can relocate them to Miami. So she assembles a cast of oddball players to do that, but they rally together and foil her plan. Major League II (trailer) returns most of the first movie’s cast but is more a kid-friendly movie that lacks much of the adult humor and theme that made the first one special. They also came out with a third installment, Major League: Back to the Minors (trailer), but only a few actors from the original appeared in it and it was far worse.
- Beverly Hills Cop
Starring Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop (trailer) is about a Detroit police officer who heads to — where else? — Beverly Hills to solve a murder. Filled with action and the unique humor of Murphy, the movie was extended into a series with the additions of Beverly Hills Cop II (trailer) and Beverly Hills Cop III (trailer). Similar to the first installment, Murphy’s character finds his way to California for the second two movies to investigate crimes.
- Toy Story
Toy Story (trailer) just might be the greatest animated movie series of all time. It features the voices of some great actors such as Tom Hanks and Tim Allen and is a heartfelt comedy about the importance of a child’s connection to his toys, and a made-up tale of the connection between the toys themselves. Toy Story 2 (trailer) and Toy Story 3 (trailer), unlike many sequels in the movie industry, were highly successful and did the first movie justice by continuing the storyline. Supposedly, Toy Story 4 is also in the works for a 2018 release date.
- Jurassic Park
I was hesitant to give this series the ranking that I did, mostly because I did not like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (trailer) and Jurassic Park III (trailer), the second and third movies of the series, respectively. But Jurassic Park (trailer), the first, and Jurassic World (trailer), the last, were so good that the series belonged higher on the list. This received high marks from me in Characters, Entertainment, and Cinematography based on the creation of the dinosaurs, the gripping action and solid visual effects.
- National Lampoon’s Vacation
The National Lampoon’s Vacation (trailer) movie series received high marks from me for its humor and entertainment value. Chevy Chase plays a bumbling, but extremely dedicated husband and father for whom you can’t help but have empathy. He loves his family dearly and wants to take them on good ol’ fashioned family vacations, all of which never go as planned and lead to some kind of trouble. There are some continuity issues among the four core movies — European Vacation (trailer), Christmas Vacation (trailer), and Vegas Vacation (trailer) followed the first — most notably that the children and the family’s household change from movie to movie. But you’re in for a barrel of laughs every time you sit down to watch one of these.
When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? A classic movie from 1980s, Ghostbusters (trailer) stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as parapsychologists who start a ghost-capturing business in New York City. The trio eventually hire Ernie Hudson as their fourth and set out to rid the city of ghouls and goblins before landing a job helping Sigourney Weaver’s character. In the sequel to the first, Ghostbusters II (trailer) showed an out-of-work Ghostbusters team finding ways to make ends meet until a resurgence in ghosts in the city cause them to get back in business for a final, New Year’s Eve showdown. Another installment of the Ghostbusters franchise will be released in July 2016, featuring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as female ghostbusters.
- The Karate Kid
Where else can a skinny, nerdy kid from Newark, New Jersey beat up a tough, seasoned karate fighter from California? In The Karate Kid (trailer) movie, of course. I have an affinity for ‘80s movies and this one is filled with great culture, fashion and music from that era. With the help of an Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio) is trained to defend himself against school bullies, and enters a karate tournament to prove his mettle. He wins the championship and then returns to defend his title in The Karate Kid, Part III (trailer). But wait, what about The Karate Kid, Part II (trailer)? Oh yeah, immediately after winning the title in the first movie, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi head to Okinawa to visit Miyagi’s dying father. While there, another thug bullies Daniel, who has to defend his own honor and that of his love interest he meets there.
The first Speed (trailer) movie was very clever for its time. The movie starred Dennis Hopper as an angry retired member of the bomb squad who rigs a city bus with a bomb, set to explode if the bus drops below 50 miles per hour. Keanu Reeves stars as a police officer who jumps aboard the bus to try to save the people on board and and help them resolve the issue. The always delightful Sandra Bullock, in one of her first starring roles, plays a college student who has to take over driving the bus after the driver was shot by another passenger. The movie did well enough to garner a second installment, cleverly titled Speed 2: Cruise Control (trailer) — a play on words considering this movie took place on a cruise liner. Bullock returned for this film, but with a different love interest than Reeves.
Who doesn’t love underdog stories? Rocky (trailer) may be among the best. Played by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa is a struggling Italian boxer from the streets of Philadelphia. He’s given the opportunity to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers), in what is supposed to be an easy fight for the champ. But Rocky goes toe-to-toe with Creed and nearly beats him. The movie was a big success and spawned off many sequels: Rocky II (trailer), Rocky III (trailer), Rocky IV (trailer), and Rocky V (trailer), all of which Rocky seemed to be the underdog in. After a 16-year hiatus, Stallone filmed a sixth installment, titled Rocky Balboa (trailer). And nine years later — this past November — they added a seventh, which is called Creed (trailer), and it tells the story of Apollo Creed’s son.
Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker (and Spider-Man (trailer), of course) in the 2002 adaptation of the comic book hero. Parker is a high school student in New York City who develops spider powers and turns to crimefighting. Spider-Man 2 (trailer) was released two years after the first and features Spider-Man trying to save the city while battling the diabolical Doctor Octopus with his mechanical tentacles. Spider-Man 3 (trailer) came out in 2007 and is basically a continuation of the second film, as it takes place a few months after the end of the second one. Spider-Man takes on Venom and Sandman in the third film. A reboot of Spider-Man came out thereafter, titled The Amazing Spider-Man, but I enjoyed the first three better.
Although the cast changes from film to film, Batman (trailer) happens to be my favorite superhero movie series. Originally starring Michael Keaton, Batman takes on Joker (played by the incredible Jack Nicholson). Batman returns in Batman Returns (trailer), the second installment of the series. Danny DeVito plays the role of Penguin as the chief antagonist who teams up with Christopher Walken’s character, Max Shreck. And Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Catwoman. The third film, Batman Forever (trailer), featured an interesting villainous duo of Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Val Kilmer replaced Keaton as Batman and Nicole Kidman played his love interest. In the fourth film, titled Batman & Robin (trailer), George Clooney starred as Batman and Chris O’Donnell, who appeared in the third film, reprised his role as Robin. Alicia Silverstone become Batgirl and Arnold Schwarzenegger played the villainous Mr. Freeze. There was another Batman series that came thereafter — The Dark Knight Trilogy — which was great in its own right, by my heart lies with the Keaton-led movie series.
- The Hunger Games
I read the first Hunger Games book while on my honeymoon and was instantly hooked. When my wife and I returned, I borrowed the second and third books of the series and finished those in short order. Then I heard that the fourth movie was coming to theaters in the fall of 2015, so what did I do? What any normal person would do: buy the first three films and watch them in sequence before going to the theater for the fourth! The Hunger Games (trailer) is — as I noted — originally a series of three novels written by Suzanne Collins that was adapted into a movie series. It’s about a post-apocalyptic nation called Panem, which is divided into 12 districts that are oppressed by the Capitol. Every year, as punishment for past rebellion, the Capitol forces one young boy and girl from each district as part of a lottery to compete in a fight-to-the-death outdoor arena in what is called the Hunger Games. 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), triumphantly — and defiantly — wins the Hunger Games for which she volunteered, which sets off the plot for the second, third and fourth installments — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (trailer), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (trailer), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (trailer).
- Indiana Jones
Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, a fictional archaeologist who’s a bit of an adventure hunter, to say the least. Raiders of the Lost Ark (trailer) is the first installment of the Indiana Jones movie series and sets Indiana out on the mission of locating the Ark of the Covenant. The second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (trailer), is actually a prequel to the first one in which Indiana chases after a mystical stone for an Indian village and discovers a secret, evil cult. In the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (trailer), which is perhaps my favorite of the series, Indiana searches for his father (played by Sean Connery) who was kidnapped by the Nazis who are looking for the Holy Grail. Nineteen years after the Last Crusade, a fourth film was released titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (trailer). In that one, Indiana is up against Soviet agents while searching for a telepathic crystal skull.
- Die Hard
In my favorite police-action film series of all time, Bruce Willis stars as NYPD officer John McClane. Seriously, who can play that role any better? In the first Die Hard (trailer), Willis battles East German terrorists in Los Angeles. In Die Hard 2 (trailer), Willis takes on villains at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. In the third film — which could be my favorite — titled Die Hard with a Vengeance (trailer), Willis is back in New York City and taking on terrorists and is at the whim of a madman named “Simon.” He runs all over the city playing a dangerous game of Simon Says, answering tough riddles and completing near-impossible challenges to avoid more bombs from blowing up. Twelve years after the third film, Live Free or Die Hard (trailer) was released, featuring Willis battling cyber-terrorists who hack into FBI computers. Finally, A Good Day to Die Hard (trailer) was released in 2013 where Willis travels to Russia and Ukraine to save his son and battle the bad guys on a new frontier.
- The Fugitive
I was a little hesitant to include this movie on the list because The Fugitive (trailer) was such a strong stand-alone film — and may be my favorite movie of all time. But the film did spawn a sequel titled U.S. Marshals, thus, it qualifies for the list. In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. He escapes while being transferred to another prison and evades U.S. Marshals led by Deputy Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones) while trying to put together clues to prove his innocence. In the sequel, Jones and the rest of his U.S. Marshals (trailer) return as the focal point of the movie as they try to capture fugitive Mark Warren (played by Wesley Snipes), who was also wrongly accused of a crime. Both films will grab you by the throat and not let you go throughout the twists and turns.
- Back to the Future
Back to the Future (trailer) became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1980s and revived some of its popularity in 2015 due to it being the year that Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) time traveled to in Back to the Future Part II (trailer). Brown is a crazy scientist who invents a time machine built out of a DeLorean. While being chased by Libyan terrorists, McFly accidentally goes back in time to 1955 and gets stuck there without plutonium. So Brown’s 1955 self devises a plan to use the aid of lightning to send McFly back to 1985, where he came from. As previously mentioned, Brown and McFly travel to 2015 to save McFly’s future son from jail time. The bully of the trilogy, Biff Tannen, steals the time machine and goes back in time to 1955 to give his old self a sports almanac so that he can make bets and become wealthy. Brown and McFly have to go back in time and stop Biff from giving his younger self the almanac. At the end of the second film, after they achieved their mission, Brown is struck by lightning in the middle of a storm and sent back in time to 1885, to the Old West. In Back to the Future Part III (trailer), McFly — who was stuck in 1955 at the end of Part II — found the time machine that Brown buried while in 1885 and he used it to go back to the Old West to bring Brown back to 1985. If you’re confused, no worries — it takes a few watches to get it all. This is a classic trilogy and, as you can tell, one of my all-time favorites.
- Star Wars
Alas, we come to film series that inspired this post, and as you can tell, it is not my favorite movie series of all time. But it just might be the greatest of all time in popular culture. For more on why I like this series, you can read this post. But in short, to have six — going on seven — movies that form one long story is about as epic a saga as it can get. Space battles, evil plots, good guys versus bad guys — this science fiction action series has certainly influenced this country for many years. As all Star Wars fans know, Episodes 4-6 came out first, followed by Episodes 1-3, and now Episode 7. But sequentially, they are: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (trailer), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (trailer), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (trailer), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (trailer), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (trailer), Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (trailer), and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (trailer).
- Pirates Of The Caribbean
What’s better than outer space fighting? Well, to me, fighting out on the open seas! We finally reach the greatest movie series — in my opinion — of all time. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (trailer), Captain Jack Sparrow, played by the uber-talented Johnny Depp, sets out to regain the ship he once captained but that was stolen from him when the crew mutinied and left him stranded alone on an island. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (trailer), the second film, Sparrow has control of the Pearl but now must avoid the villainous Davy Jones, to whom Sparrow owes servitude. Meanwhile, Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company is chasing after Sparrow and is trying to take control of the seas. In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (trailer), the third film, Lord Beckett gains power over Davy Jones by capturing Jones’ torn-out heart. Jones reluctantly does Beckett’s bidding as they try to extinguish Sparrow and pirates everywhere. There are lots of twists and turns in this one as alliances change frequently which culminates in an epic battle at sea with unbelievable cinematography and visual effects. A fourth installment of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (trailer), came out four years after the third. In that installment, Sparrow sets out to find the Foutain of Youth and comes across the infamous pirate Blackbeard. Former captain of the Black Pearl, Hector Barbossa — who led the mutiny against Sparrow in the first movie — joins King George II’s navy and is in a race against Sparrow and the Spanish fleet for the Fountain. A fifth installment of the film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is set for release in 2017. Guess who will be there sitting middle-center of the theater?
Now, if it looks like I’m missing some big ones, it’s probably because I have not seen them — or, haven’t seen the complete series. Among these “incomplete” movies are: Harry Potter, The Terminator, Friday the 13th, Lord of the Rings.
As for the rest of the movies that I’ve seen and enjoy, but that did not make the top cut, they are listed below.
Honorable Mention Movie Series
- Home Alone
- Ice Age
- Jump Street
- The Mighty Ducks
- The Santa Clause
- Analyze This/That
- My Girl
- Sister Act
- Wayne’s World
- Bill & Ted’s
- Look Who’s Talking
- Problem Child
- The Naked Gun
- Scary Movie
- Short Circuit
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Weekend at Bernie’s