Do Movie Sequels Live Up to Their Originals?

The third installment of Pixar’s Toy Story is making a killing at the box office (rightfully so, because it’s Pixar-tastic), but not all trilogies have the same luck. They can’t all be Lord of the Rings epics (all over 90% fresh), unfortunately.

Here’s a look at true trilogies listed on Wikipedia that had sufficient data on review aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes. TV specials and straight to video stuff was not counted.

Chart Type Used



  • Interesting, although I’m not sure I would call any of the Spiderman films “fresh” :-D.

    On a side note, how did you make this visualisation?

  • I’m confused about the heights of the bars in the second part. What do they represent? I assume a tall green bar means a better rating that a short green bar. If you have a red bar, is it better for the red bar to be tall or short?

  • we’re still comparing 2 different animals here: franchise like toy stories or say terminator where thought as stand alone projects and got a sequel to cash in on the success of the 1st movie whereas the lord of the ring, the star wars prequel etc. where thought as trilogies from the get go.

    I always thought back to the future 2 was widely viewed as the best of the 3, I stand corrected.

  • How was The Godfather not considered?

  • lol…

    what about shortcircuit 1, 2, and 3?

    land before time… lol!

    • Short Circuit never went to a Trilogy. Not as far as I am aware anyway. It is being “Rebooted/Remade” whatever the correct term is.

  • dave annetts June 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Nice presentation!

    Did you try a slightly different one — green bars above a 50% line for +ve reviews & red bars below it for -ve reviews?

    It’s nitpicking, but LOTR wasn’t a sequel. It was the same film spread over three installments.


    • Trilogy – as in three distinct movies on the Wikipedia three-movie list :).

      I did think about the 50% mark, but Rotten Tomatoes defines a movie as fresh when it’s rated 60% or higher, so I went with that.

  • but you do not have lethal weapon series, which is a damn shame, ’cause you could establish a special condition that almost every sequel is bound to fail, unless they have Mel Gibson (Mad Max is there to seal the deal :D), but otherwise, thanks a lot for the graphic, it’s been a long time since I said it must be done, and I did nothing about it.

  • I can’t believe anyone rated Spiderman 3 “fresh.” One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

  • yeah, there are some disappointing misses; terminator, lethal weapon, Godfather, Pirates of the Carribean… i guess lethal weapon and terminator had 4th films, but they shouldn’t really be counted.

    gabi, if these graphs show anything, it’s that sequels are unpredictable. i mean, yes the median drops, but look int at individual data, there are enough success cases to rule out an assumed failure. more likely, the overabundance of bad sequels skews the averages. good movies can, and do, have good sequels. just keep joel shumacher away.

    • your comment made me think about a graphic involving the producers, I just have to think of the easiest way to gather the data.

  • The Matrix Reloaded, the Star Wars Prequels, and Spider-Man 3 are all in the green? How is that possible?!?

  • Carteeg Struve June 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    The Star Wars prequels… are green………. The Star Wars prequels… are…. no. No. Bad data. Bad data! You need to restart this with some other sampling method.

    • Should probably use the ratings system found on IMDB.

      Ep4: 8.8 out of 10
      Ep5: 8.8
      Ep6: 8.3
      Ep1: 6.4
      Ep2: 6.8
      Ep3: 7.8

      This is probably a little more accurate. Also notice that while the prequels still rate fresh, they are still lower than the original trilogy.

  • Janna Kriens June 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I have seen this same sort of thing done a half dozen times before and for some reason, the trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are never included. I think its time we give Romero some props — that is one helluva trilogy of films.

  • Your use of the term ‘fresh’ is …borderline….well just dopey. Reiterating some comments from above. Spider-man 3 & Die Hard 3 were absolutely horrible. Die Hard 3 was originally a Lethal Weapon 5 script. I didn’t see an Indiana Jones scale – as I’m sure you would have had all 3 in the green (well not the 4th as I want to give you SOME credit.) If I bought the 4-pack I would walk outside Best Buy, rip open the box, and leave the 3 sequels by the trash can for anyone just getting out of a life sentence from jail.

  • Simon Brand June 29, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy and Ray’s Apu trilogy also all sit at 90% or above.


  • I would consider you a genius if my name was Jar-Jar Binks.

  • There was three Rugrats movies??

  • I think someone missed the Alien series (and yes, we Can drop off the 4th installment, just because.), but one should consider how many of these properties were indeed invisioned as a trilogy and which ones were someone went “…Oh, they GOT to do more!!”
    Just look at “The Matrix” and `LotR`.
    Also, not on this list were the following; The Batman (either series, whether first by Tim Burton… and others , or later with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale), Diehard, Jaws (hey, if you can follow one with another by adding a 2, and later a 3… its a trilogy. Now you can throw up!), Superman, The X-Men (sorry, I wasn’t Planning on this being a super-person spanking, its just turned out that way), and speaking of turning out that way the first 3 “Nightmare on Elm St” did wrap up into a nice package, what with the 3rd at the end Freddie’s grave being rendered with Holy water and therefore be consecrated.
    and also sorry, but my connection has been hinky lately so just read this article and posted my missive Without reading everyone elses comments.

  • Oh, dang! And now reading what I wrote After it posted, I see what else I forgot which stems from what I started with…
    Alien, and Aliens, was IS that rare moment in film when a sequel Can, and at some levels Is, equal or better than the original. And after coming off leave back to Ft. Carson I dragged a fellow Trooper to Aliens, Brian could only turn to me and whisper “I WANT ONE” when on descent the first Dropship deployed weapons. So, imagine my absolute glee at the trailers, and then heartwrenching pain, once I saw Alien3 with another roommate down at Hunter AAF. There were small local comic/gaming conventions as I rolled into that summer, and I mustered out of the Army and headed to home up north, I dropped this or that rumor of my own making ….
    “.. you know, I heard of two Other gentlemen that were less than pleased with how #3 turned out. Seems they decided to flip a coin: one would get to do the writing, the other would do the directing.”
    Come on, people! Alien 3 was released back in ’92’, so yeah, its pushing towards 20 years, but that was an hour and change that I Still demand be salved from my memory, or fixed? You would wonder How?
    Tell me, no ! I challenge Anyone to put a hand on a bible and Not swear that the thought of Mr. Ridley Scott and Mr. James Cameron
    flipping a coin puts a chill down their spine ! ! !

  • I can’t agree with the Star Wars (Prequel) ratings. The Phantom menace started at Suck and it all went downhill from there. It remains a mystery to me why I even bothered with Revenge of the Sith after seeing the absolutely dismal Attack of the Clichés, sorry, Clones.

  • How could you leave out the trilogy of the Man with No Name!?

  • I like the small multiples plots.

    But it’s better when I turn on a red–green color blindness filter. Otherwise, the switch between bright red and bright green is just overwhelming noise that highlights Rotten Tomatoes’ arbitrary cutoff.

  • Anthony Rose July 2, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Nathan hasn’t decidced if these movies are fresh or not Rotten Tomatoes has. He has simply used that data to create an (IMO) excellent presentation of the data. He has explained already how somthing is fresh or rotten. So please read before commenting.
    This isn’t the place to discuss whether the film is good or not its the place to have a go at him for not including the Godfather.

  • Police Academy was fresh! Show me the data! Technically I guess it could count as three trilogies – maybe four; i stopped counting when they went to Russia.

  • toy story 3 sucked ass :/