Omne Trium Perfectum: Good Things Come in Threes?

In the end of July, Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be split into three films. The decision was cause for concern, particularly among those who had a hard time picturing how a relatively short book would be coaxed into three separate films. (Would the story be sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread?) In contrast to Jackson’s conscientious objectors, my two-part reaction was quite mild (and perhaps standard): 1. I assumed there was profit motive behind the decision; and 2. I didn’t care because I would be able to see more exciting movies. To explain my bland response, I’ll confess that I’m not a Tolkien purist or super fan. I’ve read The Hobbit twice, read the Lord of the Rings books twice, and seen the movies several times. I couldn’t, however, finish wading through The Silmarillion. I’m sorry.

In addition to being excited to have a babysitter-worthy media event for the next three Decembers, the marathoner in me was also enthused about the prospect of another high-quality trilogy in The Hobbit. A quick look at our list of commonly marathoned films reveals the presence of many trilogies: Back to the Future, Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (really two trilogies–three “originals” and three “newbies”), and Toy Story. Although some viewers may wish the filmmakers quit while they were ahead (ahem, Godfather III), there is something in us that responds well to threes. I began thinking about the value behind this rule of three. Many of our character groups come in threes: Harry, Hermione, and Ron; the three Peverell Brothers of the Deathly Hallows; Luke, Leia, and Han; Bella, Jacob, and Edward; the three Corleone brothers. These combinations enable interesting group dynamics, including love triangles and intense fights that leave the odd person out. The group of three also gives us a few backups in case characters get whacked.

But the main thing I have concluded about the value of threes is that stories (good stories) need a clear beginning, middle, and end. A trilogy assures us that we will receive these three pieces, and we can walk away with a stronger sense of closure. Plus, we have ready-made meal breaks to help us maintain our marathoning energy.

  1. Breakfast
  2. Film one
  3. Lunch
  4. Film two
  5. Dinner
  6. Film three
  7. Go to sleep with a big sense of accomplishment



10 thoughts on “Omne Trium Perfectum: Good Things Come in Threes?

  1. I agree that there is something about the number three that really gives a text a sense of closure. For some reason, three is the perfect number and trilogies are extra-fun to marathon. That is what makes other, longer series seem a bit awkward. For example, the last Hunger Games movie will apparently be split in two. I don’t really understand that move, because that story is not significantly longer than the other two. Something about a quartet of movies seems unnecessary and wrong. There is no natural rhythm to a beginning, middle, beginning-end and end-end. A quartet seems especially alien since that series is split into three distinct categories relating to The Capitol: Submission, Unrest and Revolution. Revolution part one and part two does not have the same effect. I believe that both Mockingjays will be spread thin and boring. I know that movie studios are using popular texts to squeeze out every possible penny from the audience, but at some point it gets ridiculous. I think sticking to trilogies is perfect for marathoning and for telling a basic story.

  2. I agree with the value of threes that good stories need a clear beginning, middle, and end even though I can’t recall watching any type of trilogy. After reading this post, I am sad that I have never seen Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Godfather, or any other trilogy. I am not a big movie fan because I tend to doze off even if the film is action packed.
    Although I have not experienced watching three separate parts of a full story in film, I assume that having a clear beginning, middle and end is key to helping viewers fully comprehend the story and have a stronger sense of closure. I think that instead of stuffing an entire story into one or two movies is pointless because the viewer will not see all of the details that were most likely taken out of the film to fit the time constraint. The same goes for making what should be two or three movies into one film.

    Another example of a character group of three is Lexi Grey, Mark Sloan, and Jackson Avery who end up being in a love triangle on Grey’s Anatomy.

  3. Isn;t it funny how all good things come in threes? Don’t forget appetizer, main course and dessert!
    No, but seriously, three really is the magic number. However, I strongly believe that it is the magic number because when the 4th one comes, it’s never as good. It is always the film to fall off the radar. Maybe the film industry has caught onto this and therefore quits while they are ahead. This does not count making the last film in two parts. I know Twilight is looked down upon, and I know that technically it is being made in four films, but I could not imagine how terrible a “5th” film would be. I couldn’t imagine how terrible a “4th” Toy Story would be, etc. I feel as though three is the number that allows the writers to have a beginning a middle and an end. A beginning, middle, and end sells well!

  4. I agree with three signifying the Beginning, middle, and end of a story. I always feel like three is the magic number of a good series. When films don’t follow this common tactic, it feels odd.
    I used to be a huge Pirates of the Caribbean fan (still am I’m afraid) When At Worlds End (Third movie) came out, I felt like the story was over. There was a clear end. When the Fourth movie came out (On Stranger Tides), it felt odd. I still saw it because of my love for Jack Sparrow, but it felt like the beginning of a whole new story to me. The old story was the past, and it felt like there should be more to this whole new story involving Jack and new set of characters. Whether the film was good or not, it leaves the audience thinking “There should be two more.”
    This is also a smart money-making tactic for the film industry. Stretching out a money-making story into more than one or two films is more profitable than cramming three books into one single movie. A Series of Unfortunate Events is a great example of stupidly cramming three books worth of story into one single film.

  5. I can understand this need to develop a beginning, middle, and end to a story but I think writers and producers sometimes fail at offering the best flow from the first to last book or film. Of course readers and viewers need closure, but a substantial amount of consistency is also necessary to keep us in that narrative world and keep us turning the pages with intrigue. Two trilogies that puzzle me are both the Millennium Series and The Hunger Games series. In the case of the Millennium Series: the third book seemed like Stieg Larsson’s excuse to insert a few hundred pages of historical context that he largely omitted from the first two books. And in my experience, I found myself skimming through most of it in order to stay engaged in the plot line. In the case of The Hunger Games series: the format of the third book was drastically different from the first two–mainly because the annual Hunger Games ceased to take place after the second book. I enjoyed the third book the least out of the three because it didn’t “fit” for me in the same way that the first two books did. I agree that a trilogy is what gives readers and viewers closure, but it has to be done right to have the desired affect.

  6. I think the only time that film series can go past 3 films is when it was written to play out that way. I don’t like how the last book in a series sometimes split up (I wish Deathly Hallows was just one long movie). The books were written that way for a reason. Movie execs come in and think of how they can maximize profits while pissing off the fewest amount of people. They rely on the fact that texts with cult-followings are a safe bet and will automatically rake in millions of dollars. What is even worse is that films with no need for a sequel are being recycled and rehashed (Anchorman, Finding Nemo, Taken). There is very little originality in Hollywood nowadays. It seems whatever has the smallest chance of bombing gets the green light.

  7. I think a trilogy definitely “feels” good because as people have been saying, we get that beginning, middle, and end dynamic that leaves us with some closure. However I don’t think that is necessarily the only reason why producers do it. I think movies that are produced specifically to be a certain way, a trilogy or perhaps more, will always feel OK, at least ideally, because they were made to be that way (the story is told in the parameter of the number of movies initially set). Movie series’ that feel like they are being stretched too far are typically ones whose additional movies were added on and weren’t originally planned. When someone tries to make a film out of a book though, the story is already there and it exists. Since books are usually denser, it is pretty much up to the producer’s discretion what details he or she wants to include. For example, with Harry Potter, I think they could have easily made two movies for each book, and still wouldn’t have captured all the details. I think also, if they wanted to, they could have made Harry Potter 3 movies and just packed it in, but that would have left out a lot of subplots. I think what it comes down to is that people just don’t have the attention span or time to dedicate to this cinematic depiction of all the details of a book, and producers pick the essential details they need to include, and this amount kind of determines the number of movies.

  8. I definitely think 3 is the magic number. It seems like it does define a clear beginning, middle and end. I have watched several trilogies, but unfortunately I have not seen Lord of the Rings, nor do I have plans of watching it, it’s just not my type of movie. I loved the Transformers(although the last one was a bit long and I lost interest in it) and Iron Man series. Although it was a bit longer than 3 movies, I absolutely loved the Harry Potter movies and was a little sad when it ended. I felt like I had watched Harry, Hermione and Ron grow up to young adults and that I knew them. Like Chris said and I also believe this, it comes down to attention span. Directors and producers probably feel like 3 is the magic number and any more than that, they may lose some of their audience and that is something they never want.

  9. Everything happens in 3’s. I’ve always said that and are happy that the movie industry takes this into mind. All the characters should be in 3’s because there will always be the 1 character that the audience finds dull compared to the other 2. Also all the greatest movies that you listed above are in 3’s because I think that 3’s are the perfect amount of space between the movie’s which allow for the reader to comprehend and anticipate. Anything more than 3 is definitely pushing the limits. I personally think its stupid that the 3rd movie of a trilogy is split in to 2 separate movies (like in Twilight) because the wait is horrific and honestly at the end of the part 1 movie i get mad thinking that they could have just made the movie in to 1 full movie. The industry tries to build to much suspense for audiences and sometimes that suspense backfires and upsets the audience. The quality of part 1 and/or part 2 can be ruined because of this.

  10. It’s interesting that the number three is so revenant in subjects and mediums beyond TV, films, or books like you have mentioned. My mom is an interior designer, so the number 3 rule often comes into play, for example, there should always be 3 pumpkins on display because “even numbers look strange”. Is that the same as in films? I believe that 3 characters is a really interesting aspect, for instance, Harry Potter. Though the series goes way beyond the ‘magic number 3’, the characters remain so close, I believe because odd numbers are always better than even. I feel the same goes for series of such mediums where these trilogies make the most sense, as you have said, because of the beginning, middle, and endings that help the character really become fully aware and understand these complex narratives or storytelling. Also, I think three is so appealing to people because they may be more apt to watching and finishing the series of movies or films if they were in smaller counts. Though I loved the Harry Potter movies, I found myself getting annoyed that there were so many though they couldn’t have done any different without completely leaving out major parts of the plot. So, I am conflicted, because though the number three does sound like the magic number, sometimes we need more as viewers. And as far as characters go, three can sometimes be awkward to watch, for example, the three-some of friends in the movie Twilight was incredibly awkward to watch. Because there were three friends, one was often left out (Jacob), which I believe leads back to real life scenarios.

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