Discovering Unofficial Movie Trilogies

I was talking with Shawn Robare of Branded in the ’80s over Twitter a while ago (click here to follow him) and he came up with a great movie game:  unofficial movie trilogies.  The idea was to name three movies that weren’t sequels or remakes of each other, but had some type of over-arching connection through subject matter or archetype.  Shawn originally focused his trilogies on ’80s movies, but I started ignoring his “rules” and opened it up to include ’70s – 2000s.  However, after doing this, I noticed the majority of our answers did in fact come from the ’80s and ’90s.

So, we tweeted back and forth different lists of movies we grouped together in these “unofficial trilogies”.  Just looking at the movie titles you couldn’t tell what they may have in common, but when you look deeper, the connection becomes apparent.  It reminded me of that board game, Tribond.

Tribond game

In TriBond, for those that don’t know, you are given three seemingly unrelated things and you have to name what they have in common.  For instance, on the box above, you have pie, Earth and bread.  How are those three things related?  The answer, they all have a crust.  See?  How about another one; Florida, door, piano.  What do they have in common?  Give up?  It’s keys.  They all have keys.  Clever right?  Well, that was Shawn’s idea, relate three previously unrelated movies. So we went back and forth giving our answers and we came up with some good ones.  I thought I’d share them with you guys and let you in on the fun.

As a special treat, Shawn has agreed to write a companion piece over on Branded in the 80s.  I’ll be discussing my list of movie trilogies here at the Cavalcade (you are reading it now) and Shawn will discuss his list of movie trilogies over on Branded.  It was fun to do this with Shawn and I think you guys are going to like it.  Let’s get started.

Animal House Up The Creek Van Wilder
Tim Matheson “Eric Stratton” trilogy – In 1978 Tim Matheson played Eric Stratton in Animal House.  It was a classic role that pretty much jump started his career.  Don’t get me wrong, Tim was in a crap-ton of stuff before Animal House, but Eric Stratton would pretty much define his career.  Not surprisingly, Tim would play a similar irreverent jokester character, Bob McGraw, in the 1984 college romp, Up the Creek.  I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a funny 5 minute clip from the movie. Then, to cap off the hat trick, Tim would play Van Wilder’s dad in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, thereby coming full circle as Animal House was also by National Lampoon and in the movie Van’s dad is inferred to also be a former partier.  As an adendum, Tim would play a famous college alum in American Pie: Book of Love (2009).  He would appear in a scene with other actors who portrayed famous high school/college characters like Dustin Diamond (Saved by the Bell), C Thomas Howell (Red Dawn, My Secret Admirer), Christopher Knight (Brady Bunch) and Robert Romanus (Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

Bull Durham For Love of the Game Upside of Anger
Kevin Costner “Crash Davis” trilogy – In 1988 Kevin Costner made Bull Durham and introduced the world to “Crash” Davis, catcher extraordinaire and mentor to “Nuke” LaLoosh.  It was a career defining role and one many consider to be his best.  In 1999 Costner would return to the baseball diamond in For Love of the Game.  Costner played a pitcher, Billy Chapel, about to pitch the last game of his career.  Then, in 2005, Costner played retired baseball player, Denny Davies in Upside of Anger.  While Billy Chapel wasn’t as irreverent and funny as Crash, Denny Davies was every bit as irreverent and funny as Crash.  I’m surprised they didn’t just name him Denny Davis and maybe have one mention of his nickname being Crash or something.  The roles are really that similar.  I was close to putting Tin Cup in this group mainly because that character is essentially “Bull Durham on a golf course”, but I like the idea of three baseball movies.

No Retreat No Surrender Sidekicks Showdown
The “Other” Karate Kid trilogy or “White kid learns karate from unorthodox teacher” trilogy – In 1985 Karate Kid started a genre of movies involving “comeback kids”.  Teenage Rocky, if you will.  Only, instead of boxing you have martial arts.  Karate Kid also popularized the conceit that the best karate teachers are the most unorthodox.  You don’t learn good karate from a dojo, you learn it from a handy man, gardener or a janitor.  No Retreat No Surrender was released in 1986 which featured Jean Claude Van Damme’s feature film debut (he was the villain).  In it, a teenager is picked on by bullies and his dad’s karate school is terrorized by the Russian mafia.  What’s a boy to do?  Well, if you’re Kurt McKinney, you summon the ghost of Bruce Lee to teach you Karate.  I kid you not.  Kurt is taught the martial arts by the ghost of Bruce Lee so he can go in the ring and beat Russian mobster Jean Claude Van Damme.  AWESOME.  I loved that movie.  Here’s the trailer, but be advised, they show pretty much the entire movie in that trailer.  In 1992 the Chuck Norris vehicle Sidekicks (trailer) was unleashed unto this Earth.  In this movie Jonathan Brandis stars as an awkward, asthmatic kid who gets bullied and constantly fantasizes about hanging out with Chuck Norris.   So he convinces a Chinese fry cook to teach him karate so he can win the upcoming karate tournament (sound familiar?).  In the 1993 movie Showdown, new kid Ken is beaten up by a local bully for talking to his girlfriend (Brady Bunch Movie’s Christine Taylor).  School janitor Billy Blanks teaches Ken martial arts so he can defend himself.  It’s actually a pretty good movie but the middle part drags a bit however the final battles (yes, I said battles with an ‘s’) are awesome. Here’s the trailer.

Enter the Ninja Revenge of the Ninja Ninja III Pray for Death
Sho Kosugi bad ass ninja revenge movies – There were, in fact, three Sho Kosugi movies that were loosely considered a trilogy.  The first was 1981’s Enter the Ninja (trailer).  That movie, however, featured Sho as an evil ninja (not the ninja doing the entering of the title) .  The movie is a tad boring with some awkward white guy being the good ninja.  The second movie in that loose trilogy was 1983’s far superior Revenge of the Ninja (trailer). In this movie Sho plays a Japanese man trying to start over in America after his wife’s death. His son in the movie is played by his real life son Kane.  Sho must don the ninja suit to fight drug dealers and a friend that has tricked him into smuggling heroin.  It’s pretty awesome.  The third movie in this loose trilogy was released in 1984, Ninja III: The Domination (trailer).  It was obviously named so because it was, in fact, the third movie in this series of ninja movies (that really have nothing to do with each other).  You can see how this might confuse audiences as there was no Ninja 1 or Ninja 2.  In it, evil ninja Sho Kosugi dies and possesses the body of an aerobics instructor played by Lucinda Dickey of the movie Breakin’.  I actually saw it in the theater and it’s a horrible movie but really fun to watch.  One I believe fits better into this group (replacing Enter the Ninja) is Pray for Death in 1985 (trailer).  In it, Sho Kosugi and his family (son again played by real-life son Kane) run a restaurant and must fight drug dealers and crooked cops when something valuable is discovered in the back room.  Kosugi once again must don the black ninja suit when his son is kidnapped.  The best of this trilogy are Revenge of the Ninja and Pray for Death.  Ninja III is worth watching for its kitsch value but Enter the Ninja is not that good.  AT ALL.

Mercury Rising Sixth Sense The Kid
Bruce Willis partnered with a kid trilogy – For some reason, three years in a row, it was popular to have Bruce Willis teamed up with a child. First was Mercury Rising in 1998.  It was a fairly enjoyable movie featuring Willis teamed up with an autistic kid who can crack sophisticated government codes. Then came The Sixth Sense in 1999. Obviously that features Willis and a kid that sees dead people. Finally was Disney’s The Kid from 2000. This movie featured a cynical Willis paired with the 8 year old version of himself.

Beat Street Krush Groove Rappin'
“Down and out teens from the ‘hood are only one rap/dance contest away from becoming famous” quadrilogy – B-boys, breakers and taggers (graffiti artists) became all the rage in the mid-80s thanks to two documentaries; Wild Style and Style Wars.  Those docs featured the street life of a group of rappers, breakers and graffiti artists.  Hollywood saw their popularity and turned their subject matter into urban “rags to riches” stories.  The first movie in this group, Breakin’ (trailer) came out in May 1984 and took a more comedic approach to the street life of breakers and rappers.  In it, break dance duo Turbo and Ozone recruit classical dancer Kelly to their group and tear up the dance clubs as TKO.  At the movie’s end they would go on to a big dance audition for what seems to be a Broadway show about hip hop dancing and they get it (spoilers!).  The next movie, Beat Street (trailer), released in June 1984, took a more serious approach to street life.  It also featured a group of friends but they are more varied, with breakers, graffiti artists and DJs amongst the group.  Kenny, a struggling DJ, gets the opportunity to do the live New Year’s show at the Roxy, and a chance at stardom, but life keeps getting in the way, including the death of his best friend, Ramone.  My favorite of this group is 1985’s Krush Groove.   It’s a fictionalized account of the rise of Russell Simmons and Def Jam Records who at the time managed Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow.  This movie includes the story of the unlikely rap group Disco 3 who would get runner’s up in a Def Jam new artist performance contest and after performing at a club when the winners are disqualified, become the extremely popular rap group The Fat Boys.  The trailer heavily features Sheila E but she really has nothing to do with Def Jam and is the worst part of the movie.  Lastly, the movie Rappin’ in 1985 featured Mario Van Peebles as a rapper who just wants to become a superstar rapper.  This movie is the worst of the group and is barely watchable. If you don’t believe me, check out the horrible, horrible trailer here.  All of these movies are definitely products of their time period and feature great looks back at clothing, urban lingo and early rap and hip-hop music (the soundtracks are also great).  Beat Street even had real life breakers The NY City Breakerz and Rock-Steady Crew actually do a break dance battle at a club in a very famous scene (one of my favorites) and  Breakin’ has Jean Claude Van Damme in one of his first ever movie appearances during a beach break dancing scene.  It doesn’t get more “urban ‘hood” than Van Damme dancing and clapping awkwardly in a black unitard to break dance music.

So, those are my unofficial movie trilogies.  I know two of them actually had four movies, but I think I did pretty good sticking to Shawn’s rules (when I wasn’t ignoring them completely).  This was a fascinating article to write and I’m glad Shawn wanted to do this experiment with me.  So head on over to Branded in the 80s and check out Shawn’s unofficial movie trilogies and let him know the Cavalcade sent you.

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9 Responses to “Discovering Unofficial Movie Trilogies”

  1. Thanks for reminding me about Airborne. I’d completely forgotten about that flick.

    I need to see Ninja III again, it’s been ages. Think I’m going to have to break down and pick up a bootleg. As far as the other Ninja movies, I haven’t seen them, but I’m dying to now.

    I’ve never seen Krush Groove either, though I finally caught Beat Street when I picked up the Breakin’ boxset a while back.

  2. Nice work and entertaining read on both accounts!

  3. How do you come up with this shit? Um, not shit in a bad way–in a good way. Even though he’s not a ball player, couldn’t Field of Dreams kind of count for Kostner? Maybe a quadrilogy (or whatever the correct technical name would be).

    I think you need to do a feature on stars before they were stars per our Hanks reminiscience on Twitter. Remember Jim Carrey in Once Bitten? so awful.

    • Trish,

      Get out of my head, lady. I actually have a draft of an article discussing famous movie stars and their lesser known roles. I started it a few years ago and never went back to it. I may have to resurrect it.

      I did consider Field of Dreams, but Costner wasn’t actually a ball player in it, and his character didn’t match the Crash Davis theme I was going for. However, if I did a Kevin Costner “baseball” theme, it would include Bull Durham, For the Love of the Game, Field of Dreams and maybe Upside of Anger.

      Glad you liked the topic. Like I said, it was Shawn’s idea, he just let me run with it.

  4. Not too sure if this counts, but there’s also Edgar Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, a series of films directed by Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The films are “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”.

  5. The Midgets Save the Country/World/Universe Trilogy

    Under The Rainbow (1981):
    Bad comedy about the casting of the muchkins with Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher and of course Billy Barty. In it the myriad little people thwart German and Japanese spies en route. Midgets save the country.

    Return of the Jedi (1983):
    Great movie in which the 501st legion (Vader’s Fist), the baddest ass legion of stormtroopers and commandos, like, ever, get totally punked by a bunch of wookie-midgets, en route to saving the galaxy.

    Willow (1988):
    Okay movie in whic Val Kilmer plays Val Kilmer and a midget saves … I don’t know, Middle Earth I guess?

  6. I personally would remove Return of the Jedi and add Time Bandits.

    Under the Rainbow
    Time Bandits

    That’s a pretty good trilogy there, Mike.

  7. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. That is a very well
    written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read extra of your helpful
    information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

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