From The Godfather, Part III to Matrix Revolutions, there’s a long history of otherwise great trilogies disappointing fans and critics alike with their final installment. But one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters looks poised to buck the trend, and could perhaps go down as the best final trilogy film ever made.
War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, is receiving rave reviews from critics in advance of its July 14 release. As of Friday, the film boasted a 96% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (48 positive reviews to just two negative ones).
Though there are technically three other films with a better rating, there’s a good argument to be made that War for the Planet of the Apes is still the best of its kind. We’ll get to that in a moment.
So what is the case for War for the Planet of the Apes as the best-rated trilogy finale?
The Toy Story franchise will soon expand to a fourth film, meaning its first three films will no longer qualify as a true trilogy. Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” which culminated with the masterful The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was not envisioned as a trilogy, and there’s no continuity between its three films. That leaves Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, which admittedly is a real trilogy even if its films were released in very long nine-year increments.
But when considered in conjunction with how these third films compare to the other two films in their respective trilogies, War for the Planet of the Apes clearly emerges. It’s the highest-rated film in the highly rated Planet of the Apes trilogy, beating the franchise’s average on Rotten Tomatoes by seven points. Only Riddick had a better score compared to its trilogy average, but that wasn’t a very high bar.
Overall, just seven films have a better rating than their trilogy average. As amazing as Toy Story 3 is (99% on Rotten Tomatoes), Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were even better (each maintaining an unfathomable 100%). And aside from the films already mentioned, the only ones to appear in the top 10 in both sheer Rotten Tomatoes rating and comparative rating are The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Kung Fu Panda 3, and The Dark Knight Rises. War for the Planet of the Apes has them bested on each list.
The Lord of the Rings, in the view of this writer, is the best film trilogy ever made and quite possibly the singular greatest achievement in filmmaking this century. Using Oscar wins as the criteria, Return of the King is the best third movie in a trilogy ever—and it’s not even close. It won 11 Academy Awards in 2004, tying the record held by Titanic and becoming only the second sequel in history to win best picture (The Godfather, Part II being the other).
Some have argued that those Oscar wins were meant more for The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a whole—a crowning achievement for a wildly popular and critically acclaimed fantasy franchise. Perhaps War for the Planet of the Apes can similarly garner a best picture nomination, though the Apes franchise isn’t nearly as culturally resonant as The Lord of the Rings was in 2004 (and remains today).
Academy members should also think about honoring the actor central to both franchises: motion-capture master Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and now plays Caesar in the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy.