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Two-Part Trilogy

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"To be concluded... which, if this was always meant to be a trilogy, we would've ended the first film saying that, too... just saying."
— "Part 2" of The Nostalgia Critic's The Matrix review

Sometimes when a movie is made, although no one is expecting that much to come of it, it becomes a surprise hit. Of course, the best way to capitalize on a success is to make a sequel out of it - and as the golden number in Hollywood seems to be three, what better way to hit the jackpot than to make a trilogy out of it?

However, in a lot of these situations the first movie was quite self-contained; after all, if there's no expectation of a sequel, then even if you put in a few just-in-case Sequel Hooks (since producers are nothing if not hopeful) you'll still want to tie the loose ends up enough so that the audience can enjoy the story on its own merits without needing to see a sequel that might never come. If you have a couple of sequels guaranteed no matter what, however, then you can afford to leave the audience hanging in between the second and third movies - after all, they'll be back to see both installments, right?

This can lead to an interesting situation wherein the second and third movies in the trilogy share more direct relation to each other than they do with the original. The story seems to flow more from 2 to 3 while 1 remains standalone. More characters transfer over from 2 to 3. Cinematography is more consistent from 2 to 3. The story beats themselves often emulate the pattern set by 2 (such as the first film having a standing opening, the second has a Villain Opening Scene and the third also has one). When applied to video games, the sequel will make certain gameplay refinements from the first game, and the third installment is just a mild refinement from the second.

In essence, what you have is a Two-Part Trilogy - a self-contained first part with heavily intertwined second and third parts. In fact, in some cases the second and third parts of the trilogy might as well be one long movie cut in half and released separately. As a result there are a multitude of recurring pitfalls that can pop up as a result of that mindset; see the Analysis Page for more on that.

Outside of the story, the trilogy might literally be a Two-Part Trilogy - the second and third movies are also often written and produced concurrently (in order to save costs and ideally increase revenue), so where there might be a gap of several years between One and Two, Two and Three might be released within a year (or less) of each other.

A Trilogy in Four Parts is also a notable possibility, where the concluding chapter is split into two parts, thus ensuring that the franchise's climax receives more of the developing time and budget, while also conveniently avoiding Trilogy Creep.

Another cause behind this is that Pop Culture has a very short shelf life, and the executives don't want to waste effort into something that will no longer be a fad in the additional two years it may take to produce the third film.

A Sub-Trope of Movie Multipack, this happens primarily with films and video games. Compare Stillborn Franchise, where a work intended to be the first of many fails to get sequels. They usually include a Second Chapter Cliffhanger, with several Plot Threads still unresolved.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie trilogy actually inverts this trope; the first two films are a Compilation Movie of the anime - and they were released one week apart. The third film is a continuation of the anime's story.
  • Interestingly, Rebuild of Evangelion is a unique variant of a Two-Part Tetralogy (or Three-Part Tetralogy depending on how you look at it). The first two films and especially the first one are more faithful to the original TV series (though the second film does go Off the Rails near the end), in contrast to the latter two movies which are in completely new territory after a 14-year time skip. The first two films are also in a VistaVision 16:9 aspect ratio while the latter two films are the only films to get IMAX and 4K Ultra HD releases while being made in a CinemaScope 21:9 aspect ratio, bringing with these new technologies massive Animation Bumps over the already top-tier first two films. In what can be interpreted as Lampshading, the title of the final film is even 3.0+1.0, suggesting it is an expansion to the third film. The Blu-ray releases of 3.0+1.11 even include some short films that serve as prequels to 3.0.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Zero Year: The first act in the story, Secret City, could be read almost completely standalone save for the very end. It primarily focuses on Bruce struggling to stop the Red Hood Gang, who are acting completely separate from the Riddler. Acts two and three are more closely connected, with both of them being about Gotham going to hell after Riddler shuts off the power, and the central villain of the second act, Doctor Death, serves as The Heavy by working directly under the Riddler. The trade paperback collections even treat the stories as such, with Secret City collected in its own trade while both Dark City and Savage City are collected together in the following trade.
  • The Courageous Princess: While the entire series is about Mabelrose's return home, the first volume is a contained narrative of her escape from Shalathrumnostrium, ending in his death and her saving the kingdom of Leptia. The other two volumes, together, form a single narrative of Mabelrose besting the Dragon Queen and finally returning home. They also have the same art style, which differs from the first volume.
  • Rick and Morty (Oni): The story arc involving Party Dog is this. The first part of this trilogy, Issue 39—called "Rick Air"—involves Rick and Morty having an adventure in space, and in the process, crossing and invoking the wrath of galactic gangster Party Dog. In response to this, Party Dog sets up the Rick Revenge Squad, consisting of characters from various other issues (which Mr. Poopybutthole even points out at the beginning) who spend Issues 41 and 42—called "The Rick Revenge Squad, Parts 1 and 2"—attacking the Smith-Sanchez home and trying to kill the whole family. "Rick Air" ends with a "To Be Continued" (instead of "The End" like other standalone stories do) to make it clear that the story is a trilogy; however, it's relatively more self-contained (as the names of the issues imply), with entirely new characters except for the main duo, while the characters of the two "Rick Revenge Squad" issues are almost entirely the same between the two of them, and are either people we've seen before or are related to them in some way.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Toy Story series is not quite a trilogy, but it's still an interesting example of this. While all four of the films are standalone to a degree, the second, third and fourth movies share a more thematic continuity with each other than they do with the first:
    • The original Toy Story is a relatively simple story that introduces the first batch of main characters, their relationships and establishes the basic rules of the setting. It has lots of sarcastic humor, some minor horror influences and while it left room to expand on its premise later, it was made to stand on its own.
    • Toy Story 2 widens the series' scope, introduces a few more recurring major characters, has a more sincere, emotional tone, and the ramifications of the main characters being living toys (namely their fear of abandonment) start being explored for the first time in the series.
    • Toy Story 3 directly follows up on these elements by fully exploring how living toys would react to more things that they would logically go through (such as rough play, being thrown out and being given away).
    • Toy Story 4 is somewhat lighter and has a smaller scope than 3, but it still explores the fallout of the previous films, with Woody being forced to rethink what he wants out of life as a toy.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released as a mostly stand-alone film with a post-credits Sequel Hook. During production, the sequel was split into two films due to the story being too large for a single film: Across the Spider-Verse and Beyond the Spider-Verse. While Across does give main characters Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy complete character arcs, the movie ends on an explicit cliffhanger regarding the main plot and conflict, with said plot actually being in-part the result of a throwaway gag from the first movie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The James Bond films of Daniel Craig form a two-part pentalogy: Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace form an arc of their own, with very few elements of the formula of most previous Bond movies. Skyfall is largely a Standalone Episode with next to no Continuity Nods to the two previous films, while upping the ante in the spectacular setpieces department and bringing back Q and Moneypenny and a few other "traditional" Bond gimmicks. Spectre followed upon plot threads left from Skyfall, and No Time to Die did the same with Spectre, and all three of them have roughly the same amount of big setpieces, Mythology Gags and Bond gimmicks compared to the lower key Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
  • An interesting comparison between the kinds of trilogy is the Star Wars trilogies.
    • In the original trilogy, A New Hope is clearly made as a movie that can stand by itself (although the narrative is open to the possibilities of later movies), whereas The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - greenlit after the success of the first - are more closely linked together and separated by a sequel hook (in fact in the original theatrical release of A New Hope, neither the subtitle "A New Hope" nor the "Episode IV" designation were a part of the opening crawl, they were only added to later releases following the next two episodes).
    • In the prequel trilogy, it was obvious to all that all three movies were going to be made, so all are incorporated together more tightly as a trilogy, but even still, The Phantom Menace could be a stand-alone movie, ending on a happy note and also being chronologically older than all other movies (Anakin Skywalker is a child), while Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are more tightly linked as the beginning and end of the Clone Wars respectively (said wars canonically lasted three yearsnote ). The events of The Phantom Menace happened ten years before Attack of the Clones.
    • The Sequel Trilogy is a rare example where the first (VII) and third (IX) installments are more closely tied together. That's because they have the same director, while the second film has another director. And yet on the flipside, the first and second installments are tied closer together in terms of plot given that the latter picks up immediately where the former left off, whereas the third movie opens following a Time Skip.
  • Until 2021, The Matrix consisted of the original film The Matrix, released in 1999, followed by the second and third films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions and the tie-in video game Enter the Matrix, all released in 2003 within months of each other. The sequel movies and video game all tell one long story set six months after the first film, about the invasion of Zion; both movies and the cutscenes for the video game were filmed simultaneously, using all the same actors and crew. Features a Required Cliffhanger at the end of Reloaded, with the Nebuchadnezzar being destroyed and both Neo and Bane being in comas. The Direct to Video series of animated shorts The Animatrix, which was made and released in between the first and second films, goes some way towards bridging the gap between the first film and its sequels. Many shorts are prequels to the first film, covering the rise of the machines and the fall of man, while others are set between the first and second films. Also, promotional art of all the 2003 installments was consistently putting emphasis on the green color, it wasn't so much the case for the first film outside the coding lines.
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy also does this. The first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was made and can be seen as a stand-alone film. Then, after seeing its box office performance, two sequels were scheduled to be filmed back to back. In fact, they had a chance to have some form of resolution or miniature denouement at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, while also preparing the audience for the nature of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and building excitement for the coming adventure. Instead, for their Cliffhanger, they ended with all of the threads dangling. And there already was a completely formed resolution for the second movie, Norrington just snatched it away at the last minute. The two sequels also form a Myth Arc around Davy Jones.
  • In the Saw series, the first movie works pretty well as a stand-alone film, but the next two were pretty obviously made to be tied together. Of course, the third movie was supposed to wrap everything up. The seventh film, Saw 3D, was released in 2010 and finally concluded the series...until 2017, anyway.
  • A literal, but surprisingly unintended example: Originally, The Toxic Avenger Parts II and III were one long movie, which got split in half, due to being too long.
  • Intentionally done with The Human Centipede. According to Dread Central, Tom Six explained that, "My goal was that the first film will get audiences used to the concept of a human centipede and prepares them for where everything goes in the next two."
  • Inverted in the Dominican Nueba Yol films. There were only two, but the second film was called Nueba Yol 3 because of a superstition regarding second films.
  • Many people assumed that this would happen with Christopher Nolan's series of Batman films but The Dark Knight Trilogy has a rare variant where the third movie is more a sequel to the first movie than the second. Batman Begins was (as the title implies) a setup of the protagonist, using a few obscure villains from the comic, and ends on a minor Sequel Hook. The second movie The Dark Knight is a largely stand-alone story about Batman's battle with the Joker, Two-Face and the Gotham Mob. It picks up some loose threads of the first film, pits Batman against The Joker and develop the DA Harvey Dent as a hero. Nolan's intention was to have the sequel go on to feature the Joker on trial, making it more closely linked with TDK, but with Heath Ledger's death they decided on a completely new direction for the third film. Both the first and third movies are about Batman fending off the League of Shadows' attempts to destroy Gotham. The story is brought full circle when it turns out that Bruce's love interest in the third movie is actually the daughter of the first movie's Big Bad. Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises manages to bridge together a Big Bad connected to Batman Begins while also riding story arcs set up by the ending of The Dark Knight such as what befell Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, wrapping up the series as a whole instead of sticking with the story of just one movie.
  • Inverted in Richard Lester's trio of Musketeer films: The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers were produced simultaneously. Over a decade later they were followed by The Return of the Musketeers.
  • Gettysburg was a stand-alone movie based on Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels. It was followed by a sequel based on one of two American Civil War novels written by Shaara's son, with a promise of a third. However, Gods and Generals was not as successful as hoped, and so apparently there is not going to be "The Last Full Measure", making this a two-part trilogy in a different sense.
  • The first film of the Basket Case trilogy works as a stand-alone, whereas the second two are connected more by tone, cast and plot development.
  • Both Italian-made Sword and Sandal films from Golan-Globus, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators and Hercules, both with Lou Ferrigno and Sybil Danning, were filmed in the Summer of 1982.
  • The original Back to the Future was intended to be a standalone film, with its Sequel Hook meant as a joke. Word of God says it was inserted in the spirit of the heroes metaphorically Riding into the Sunset. Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III were filmed back-to-back, and were originally written as a single movie with the Working Title Paradox. The movie had four compressed acts,note  resulting in serious over-length. Instead of cramming it all into one movie, they split the fourth act off and made it Part III, allowing them to introduce, define, and develop the totally new characters and plot. The finished films are all fairly equally connected to each other and each have mostly separate main plots.
  • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is an inverted version. It was originally meant to be just two movies, Him and Her, telling the romance from the perspectives of man and woman involved. Later, however, a third film was made, Them, that incorporated the differing perspectives into a single storyline.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • The Hobbit films wound up becoming this. The movies were originally supposed to be two films, but the second half, There and Back Again, wound up being so long it was ultimately split into two films, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies. Unlike the first film, the second one ends on a very sudden cliffhanger that leads directly into the third.
  • [REC] ended up being an example of a trilogy in four parts. The first part stands quite easily on its own, though Filmax got the two directors to work on a sequel before its success at home was even assured, and it's only from the second film onwards that Sequel Hooks abound. The two worked on REC 2 together before drafting two more films to finish the series off and splitting up the workload so each one solo-directed one of the two movies (Plaza with REC 3: Genesis and Balagueró with REC 4: Apocalypse). The experience of each movie back-to-back certainly gives the four-part-trilogy feeling, with many viewers commenting that the other three films aren't as good as the first which ended where it was supposed to and didn't need sequels.
  • The movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was followed by two sequels that were shot back-to-back, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
  • Happened with the sequels to Arthur and the Invisibles, to the point that the U.K. distributor edited the two films (Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard and Arthur and the War of the Two Worlds) into one (Arthur and the Great Adventure) and the U.S. DVD release was a simple two-disc set of both films instead of separate releases.
  • Given the cliffhanger ending to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom involving the dinosaurs being set loose into civilization it is clear that the Jurassic World Trilogy is an in-progress example of this. The first film had an ending that could have stood on its own.
  • This is the case with the John Wick movies. While the first movie can be watched standalone on its own, the second movie ends on a very clear cliffhanger that leads directly into the third. As the third film ends in another cliffhanger leading into a fourth, it ends up being a two-part tetralogy.
  • Unbreakable was originally released as a completely standalone film. Split is a Stealth Sequel made many years later, after which the concluding follow-up was made immediately.
  • The film adaptations of Rurouni Kenshin fall under this, with the first film being mostly standalone while the second and third films were shot back-to-back and flow almost seamlessly between each other. As of the time of writing this, a fourth and fifth movie are currently in development, potentially making this a case of "three-part pentalogy."''
  • Inverted with Scream, a rare case where the third one feels out of place with the rest of the franchise, thanks to it having a different writer and going through massive rewrites after the Columbine massacre. The first two films focused heavily on the Final Girl Sidney Prescott, satirizing horror movie trends — '80s Slasher Movies in general in the first, and horror sequels in the second — and even having the killers be linked. The third film is a Lighter and Softer Horrible Hollywood story, has less screen time for Sidney due to Neve Campbell's schedule, and is also the only film in the series to have just one killer. Its focus on horror trilogies is somewhat odd, since they were rarely a thing at that point in time. With Scream 4 returning to the first's Woodsboro setting and commenting on remakes and reboots, it only makes the third film feel even more disconnected.
  • The Evil Dead (1981) was a standalone horror film. Evil Dead 2, meanwhile, ends on a cliffhanger that had previously been foreshadowed when the main characters read the Necronomicon and see a drawing of a figure resembling Ash. What's more, the first ten minutes are an abbreviated and distilled remake of the first film such that it's hard to reconcile the first two films existing in one continuity. (Numerous fan-made edits of all three movies back-to-back have been made, but they require some fiddling to get the pieces to fit.) That cliffhanger ending, and the foreshadowing, would be resolved by the third film, Army of Darkness. The musical adaptation manages to connect the first two films by having Act One adapt the first and Act Two the second, with a couple of scenes in the former foreshadowing that Annie and Eddie will enter the plot. The original run ignored the third film completely, but the Off-Broadway version uses Army of Darkness's ending.
  • Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! and Killer Tomatoes Eat France! both take most of their cues from Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (the second film in the series) rather than the original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Of note: they retain John Astin's character Professor Mortimer Gangreen as the Big Bad, they keep up Return's Denser and Wackier comedic tone (in contrast to the original film's mostly straight-faced parody of '50s monster movies) and FT the Fuzzy Tomato figures prominently in Strikes Back! Understandable, since Return was made a full decade after the original, while the subsequent sequels were made just a few years after it.

  • Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series. Part one is Sabriel; parts two and three, Lirael and Abhorsen, are actually a single story Divided for Publication, and pick up the story decades later with a new set of protagonists and a completely different Big Bad.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's Rama tetralogy:
    • Rendezvous with Rama is self-contained (although the last line is a very nice Sequel Hook), while the next three books are set more than 100 years later and follow the same main characters, sharing only the setting with the original.
    • The sequels are an example of the trope in themselves. The second book, Rama II, is a more-or-less complete story in itself that ends with a Sequel Hook. The last two books have their plots even more tightly connected, the third one, Garden of Rama, ending with a Cliffhanger, having the final book, Rama Revealed, conclude the story.
  • The Inheritance Cycle has this, but in this case it was the third book that was split into two, making the trilogy into a "cycle".
  • The Indian in the Cupboard. Only the first part was adapted to film.
  • Matthew Reilly's archaeological adventures, Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, and The Five Greatest Warriors.
  • Dune was originally conceived as one large masterwork, with the two sequels of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune entwined into the story. Considering the original is 412 pages, the second 222, and the third 592, they were obviously split. This creates an interesting case of the first book being easily stand-alone, while the two sequels are more closely connected but can still in a way also be stand-alone. They also allowed for God-Emperor of Dune, basically a midquel that set up the last two books in the series to be written. It's just kinda hard to say where Two-Part Trilogy begins and Trilogy Creep ends, or even what was intended to be a simple, honest trilogy.
  • The Empirium Trilogy: While the series was always intended to be three parts, Furyborn has a more difinitive ending despite the fact that there's obviously a lot more story to tell. It's plot mainly concerns itself with Rielle participating in the Sun Queen trials and Eliana discovering her powers and heritage, giving both of them more conclusive arcs. Kingsbane ends on a cliffhanger, something that Lightbringer directly picks up.
  • Ender's Game began as a stand-alone short story, then was later expanded into Speaker for the Dead. Speaker for the Dead is also sufficiently stand-alone, but the final chapter does have a sequel hook that allows for a sequel if you choose to read it. The sequel also sits surprisingly well as a stand-alone conclusion to Ender's story, but also has a sequel hook if you want to tie up some below-the-surface loose ends. This is where it gets into Two-Part Trilogy country. The final two books in the series, Xenocide and Children of the Mind, are far more connected than the previous books and were originally intended to be a single volume, but were broken off into two with a superficial cliffhanger between them. Children of the Mind returns to being a suitable conclusion, if you count the main character Ender dying, but only opens up the biggest cliffhanger yet.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan is a twelve-part saga divided into four trilogies which form their own story-arcs. Vampire Blood is about Darren becoming a half-vampire, coming to terms with his transformation and encountering a member of the vampire offshoot, the vampaneze. Vampire Rites is about Darren traveling to the home of the vampire clan and trying to gain acceptance by them, while uncovering a conspiracy to destroy the clan. Vampire War is the hunt for the Vampaneze Lord, whose death can end the war between the two clans. Vampire Destiny is about Darren learning disturbing revelations about the implications of the war, while it comes to its conclusion. Strangely, Vampire War and Vampire Destiny form their own Two-Part Trilogy, as the last two books of each form a complete storyline in contrast to the first, which are more establishing the change in the story after the Time Skip from the halfway point (in the case of War) and building to the Grand Finale with the Wham Episode that ended War (in the case of Destiny).
  • The Warrior Cats series by Erin Hunter works this way, except with series each containing six books. The first series works well by itself and nicely wraps up the ending. The ending of the second series has a few unsolved puzzles and sequel hooks, but can also work fine as the final ending of the whole book series. However when the third series ended, many plot points were still unresolved and it was clear it was just setting up the stage for the fourth series.
  • The Dark is Rising is a two-part pentology. Over Sea, Under Stone is a stand-alone, fairly standard kids' treasure hunt, with very little magic, a self-contained story, the treasure found and the bad guy defeated. The next four books introduce new characters (including Will, who takes over as the main character), magic, a bigger bad, an epic background war, mythological tie-ins, and a story that all links together.
  • The Twilight series is an odd example. It originally was supposed to be a two-part series, but the second book, Forever Dawn, was broken into New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. This resulted in development of the wolves and Jacob, with less emphasis on Bella's point of view of her pregnancy.
  • Interview with the Vampire is basically a stand-alone memoir of Louis's life in the nineteenth century with Daniel's search for Lestat making for an ambiguous Sequel Hook. Starting with The Vampire Lestat, Louis and Daniel are pushed aside in favor of a multi-part storyline detailing Lestat's plot to awaken Queen Akasha, the resulting disaster, and his search for redemption.
  • The Land of Elyon series is two examples in one. The first book can stand on its own, and the first three can stand on their own, but not the first two or first four, making the first three a two-part trilogy and the whole series a three-part pentalogy.
  • The Millennium Trilogy also follows this format. The plot of book 1 is "find out what happened to Harriet Vanger" while book 2 and 3 are concerned with "find out what happened to Lisbet Salander and punish those responsible".
  • The first book of the Haruhi Suzumiya series was written as a standalone story without much of a Sequel Hook, but it became so popular that ten sequels (and counting) were produced. The sequels are literally intertwined: most contain several different story arcs occurring some random amount of time after the events of the first book, which has become more like a giant prologue and character introduction than an actual installment. The fourth book lampshades its own giant prologue, probably partly as a reference to the first book's transformation.
  • Peter and the Starcatchers has the first book in the trilogy be roughly standalone with all of the major plot events more or less resolved; when Cerebus Syndrome really kicks in around Shadow Thieves, the books start to directly continue into one another. Sword of Mercy is more or less the same. However, if one looks by the major story arcs in the series, it actually does form a trilogy, with Starcatchers and Sword of Mercy being relatively standalone. (Relatively because Sword of Mercy still continues an arc from Secret of Rundoon and Shadow Thieves)
  • The Wheel of Time series is a rather special case, as it was originally intended by the author to be a Two-Part Trilogy, with the first book being capable of standing alone should it not be sufficiently popular... as it turns out, there was so much content to be put into the other "part" that it is now a Two-Part Tetradecology. Indeed, it was such an extensive story, it was still incomplete when Robert Jordan Died During Production, and Brandon Sanderson had to be brought in to finish writing what was meant to be the twelfth and final book... but which ended up being turned into three books, due to the sheer volume of content still to be written.
  • The first novel in The Hunger Games trilogy wraps up after the conclusion of, well, The Hunger Games. The second two books deal with the fallout of the first book and the revolution, with the last line of the second book, Catching Fire, being a Wham Line.
  • A lot of readers feel the Divergent trilogy is one of these; the difference being that it's the third book, Allegiant, that seems to feel out of sync with the other two, to its discredit ó alternating between two narrators where the first two books were told entirely in Tris's voice, (Tobias actually concludes the narrative after Tris' death) sacrificing the narrative energy of the first two books for a lot of exposition which shouldn't really be necessary at that point.
  • Mistborn started like this; Brandon Sanderson figured that he had hitherto only published one novel (Elantris), so while he had more or less planned out the entire trilogy to an extent in his head, he intentionally wrote the first book as a standalone, though he attached a Sequel Hook to the ending namely, the Lord Ruler warning that, while he was the Big Bad, something far worse than him was out there and only he had been stopping it. The second book picks up threads from the first, but ends on a Cliffhanger that sets up the third and the villain of book three was The Chessmaster behind the events of book 2 (and responsible for Lord Ruler's Backstory that lead to book 1).
  • Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is a trilogy of circumstance rather than choice, but even so the first two books — Titus Groan and Gormenghast — is a single extended story with a complete beginning-middle-and-end, common cast of regulars and single setting. Titus Alone was intended by Peake to start a new story in the saga and is essentially a separate tale, while Boy in Darkness is similar in style and scope but not really fitting into the series canonically.
  • A downplayed example in His Dark Materials. The Golden Compass ends as a very well-contained novel. However, the ending of The Subtle Knife is a cliffhanger that simply demands one scramble to find the nearest copy of The Amber Spyglass.
    • The Bookof Dust, on the other hand, is a very straight example. La Belle Sauvage is a prequel set while Lyra is a baby. It's a self-contained story that's ultimately resolved with Lyra being placed in the position we find her at the start of The Golden Compass. The Secret Commonwealth then picks up twenty years after the first volume. While the last chapter has Lyra reach a destination she's been travelling towards, none of the plot threads in the story are resolved. Her primary goal of reuniting with Pan after being apart for two thirds of the book is implied to be close but not actually seen in this book.
  • Played straight with the first trilogy of The Riftwar Cycle: the first book, Magician, stands alone while the second two, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon, tell a two-part story. Inverted with one of the later trilogies, Conclave of Shadows; the first two books, Talon of Silver Hawk and King of Foxes, tell a two-part story, while the third, Exile's Return, features a Perspective Flip, change of setting and a separate story of redemption for the earlier parts' villain, as well as setting up a later series.
  • The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan are also an example of this. The first book ends with Carter and Sadie defeating Set and essentially neutralizing him as a threat. Then it turns out that Set's dragon was actually possessed by Apophis, the god of chaos. Apophis then directly becomes the antagonist for books 2 and 3.
  • The Last Dragon Chronicles is an inverse of the way it usually happens - the first two books form a more complete and coherent story, with the third one being more separate.
  • Horatio Hornblower began with a single self-contained book, The Happy Return (or Beat To Quarters, if you're American), which detailed Captain Hornblower's adventures commanding a frigate far from home. This was followed by A Ship of the Line, taking place several years later, with Hornblower captaining a Ship of the Line in the Mediterranean. One Cliffhanger Ending later, the plot proceeded directly into Flying Colours. Of course, this was followed by seven and a half books and several short stories.
  • Inverted with Nick Perumovís (no, it wasnít that kind of inversion) Ring of Darkness, set in Tolkienís Middle-earth. The first two installments (Elven Blade and Black Lance) can be considered as a closed duology and were originally written by author in 1985-1991 as a form of fan fiction for his friends. The third book (The Adamant of Henna), however, was written after the first two were published in 1993, turned out to be bestsellers and spurred Perumov's popularity. It is set about ten years after the events of previous books, tells about a new peril rising and basically serves as a gateway to the authorís own setting.
  • City of Fallen Angels was originally supposed to be a one-shot Graphic Novel follow-up to The Mortal Instruments trilogy, until Cassandra Clare decided to make it the start of a second trilogy. It shows.
  • A variation in Diane Duane's Rihannsu series, which is more of a three-part quintology. The first two books are interconnected but stand on their own pretty well, but the next three, written a dozen years later after the Star Trek copyright holders lifted their restrictions on recurring original characters, are a tight trilogy. For some bizarre reason the omnibus edition contains the first four books, omitting The Empty Chair.
  • The Diogenes Trilogy in the Agent Pendergast series contains Brimstone which is mostly self-contained and the more directly-related Dance of Death and Book of the Dead. However, Brimstone winds up subverting this in the end as it ends in a clear cliffhanger that leads into Dance of Death.
  • The Goblin Wood as a result of having only meant to be one book has a bit of this going on. The first story is about a game of cat and mouse of sorts between Makenna and Tobin, with an underlying message that no one is wholly evil, and that empathy for the opposition can help you reach a solution that benefits everyone. When a few lose ends were picked up to make the story into a trilogy, it gained a plot about overthrowing a conspiracy while defeating an army, and the message vanished.
  • The Acacia trilogy was intentionally written this way. The first volume ends with a sense of closure, although observant readers will notice a couple of loose ends. However, the second book ends on a massive cliffhanger.
  • The False Prince, the first book of the Ascendance Series is basically a stand-alone story with a Sequel Hook tagged on to the very end. While there is some foreshadowing of future conflicts, and a few things are left uncertain, almost all of the conflicts and questions are resolved to a degree that if a few paragraphs were taken out of the last five pages, readers might not even expect a sequel. The Runaway King introduces a looming war with another country, several characters, and establishes new relationship dynamics between several characters, which all continue on into The Shadow Throne. The Runaway King also ends with a massive cliffhanger which directly plays into the beginning of The Shadow Throne, although several months lapse between them.
  • In The Wind on Fire trilogy, the first book is self-contained and deals with the recovery of the voice, while the second two are more closely tied and deal with the exodus from Aramanth and search for the Homeland.
  • Ancillary Justice is an interesting example, where it's obvious that there is a lot more to the story by the first book (certainly more than just "mostly resolved but with a sequel hook"), the storylines to the second and third books are tied together quite closely.
  • Star Wars Legends had a nonstandard example with the novel I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole and the Hand of Thrawn duology by Timothy Zahn. They were set seven years apart but written at the same time, and Stackpole and Zahn collaborated to share characters and toss Continuity Nods to each other, making them something of a trilogy.
  • Lev Grossman said that The Magicians wasn't supposed to have any sequels until he started imagining Quentin having The Voyage of the Dawn Treader style adventures on Fillory's seas and wrote two sequels.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • The final three episodes of Series 3, "Utopia", "The Sound of Drums" and "The Last of the Time Lords", tell a linked three-part story about the Doctor's battle with the Master, and they have been officially listed as a trilogy by the BBC in many official sources. However, "Utopia" is a largely standalone story about the Doctor and Jack Harkness attempting to save a beleaguered human colony in the distant future, and the Master's involvement isn't made clear until the very end; "The Sound of Drums" and "The Last of the Time Lords" are much more obviously interconnected, as both are about the Doctor and his allies leading a resistance against the Master in his "Harold Saxon" guise in the present.
    • Series 4 does something similar with its final three episodes — "Turn Left" has a standalone plot and is a separate story officially but leads directly into "The Stolen Earth", which is a two-part story with "Journey's End".
    • The series of specials that followed this also does such — after two standalone stories with no real connection to the Myth Arc (barring some Arc Words), "The Waters of Mars" functions as a standalone story that sets up the two-part Grand Finale of the Tenth Doctor's run, "The End of Time".
    • Series 9: "Face the Raven" was written as a standalone story — and is often listed as such — but becomes the opening salvo of a three-part finale in the final 10 minutes, which see the Doctor captured and handed over to a mysterious enemy and Clara, his beloved companion, Killed Off for Real. "Heaven Sent" and "Hell Bent" follow the Doctor's resultant Protagonist Journey to Villain as he is Driven to Madness, escapes the prison, returns to Gallifrey, punishes his enemy, and tries to bring Clara back from the grave, ending with his return to the side of right. The Christmas Episode that follows, "The Husbands of River Song", aired less than three weeks later and serves as a coda to the finale, as its denouement hinges on the personal growth the Doctor experiences in "Hell Bent".
    • Series 10: The mid-season "Monks Trilogy" starts with "Extremis", a Two Lines, No Waiting / Meanwhile, in the FutureÖ episode. One plot is set in the past, as the nature of the mysterious Vault the Doctor has been guarding is revealed, and the second in The Present Day as he learns of an impending Alien Invasion of Earth via his equivalent in a computer simulation said aliens have set up. It can work as a standalone story that explores what makes the Doctor the Doctor. But it also leads directly into "The Pyramid at the End of the World" and "The Lie of the Land", which chronicle said invasion and its undoing and are connected by a conventional Cliffhanger.
    • The final three episodes of Series 12 once again form a trilogy that ties up all the season's most important plot threads, while technically being considered two separate stories. "The Haunting Of Villa Diodatti" is set in 1816 and is centered around the Doctor trying to solve some strange occurrences that are happening around Mary Shelley and her friends during their evening party. For most of the episode, it seems to be your typical standalone story, until the Doctor encounters the source of the problems, Ashad, a Cyberman she was warned about earlier in the season. Ashad forces her to give him a weapon that he can use to conquer the universe, setting the stage for the finale, so once all the party guests are safe, the Doctor and her friends follow him into time to stop him. The following two-parter, "Ascension Of The Cybermen / The Timeless Children" changes the setting to the distant future, with a completely different supporting cast, and is all about the Doctor and her friends' attempt to thwart Ashad's evil plans for the Cybermen.
  • H₂O: Just Add Water was greenlit as a two season show - with the second season building on the mythology established in the first, introducing an antagonist who was the granddaughter of the original mermaid trio from the 50s, and the conclusion answered a series long question of how said trio gave up their powers permanently. Due to the show's unexpected popularity, a third season was produced. Claire Holt was unavailable to come back, so Emma is Put on a Bus completely and replaced with a new mermaid character called Bella. There are also new characters introduced such as Will and Sophie, making the season feel even more disconnected from the previous two.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers season two and three have a lot of three-parts episodes in which episode one creates the real trouble, episode two just makes the situation a little worse. Episode three solves everything.
    • ''The Mutiny'' is the exception: both sides make progress
    • The Ninja Encounter: Rangers' friends are taken hostages in part 1, part 2 just adds a countdown and a monster of the week
    • The Wedding: in part 2, Rangers evade the castle, they are put back in the end
    • Return of the Green Ranger: Rangers but Tommy are lost in time in part 1, while an evil clone of Tommy is created. At the end of part 2, Tommy is unconscious while other Rangers are lost in time, pursued by monsters

  • Frank Zappa's Hot Rats got two sequels released close to each other, Waka / Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. Then, several years after that, there was the unoffically named Läther trilogy, consisting of Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt (sometimes referred to as Hot Rats III), and Orchestral Favorites, making up a three-part sexology. Confused yet?
  • Mayhem released an EP entitled Wolf's Lair Abyss in 1997. The following album, 2000's Grand Declaration of War, had two songs that shared a riff with the last song on the EP, and had the first half of the album labelled as "Part II" and the second half labelled as "Part III".

  • An Older Than Steam example occurs in William Shakespeare's two historical tetralogies, which follow this pattern to a certain degree (they are both, effectively, three-part tetralogies). Henry VI Part 1 focuses primarily on the wars in France, while the arc of parts II and III, and Richard III, is about the Wars of the Roses. Similarly, Richard II focuses on the decline and fall of the eponymous king, while Henry IV, Parts I and II feature the rise of Prince Hal, the future Henry V, culminating in his defeat of the French in (surprisingly) Henry V. While the trend in performance is to present the plays as one big cycle, scholars often dispute the degree to which the whole thing was planned out.

    Video Games 
  • The first three Advance Wars games are an inversion of the usual norm. While the second game follows up immediately on the cliffhanger at the end of the first, with Sturm returning to make another attempt to conquer the Wars World, the third game effectively has its own self-contained plot complete with new main characters. While the Black Hole Army are once again the villains, Sturm doesn't appear and Black Hole has a new leader instead.
  • Assassin's Creed:
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was supposed to be part of this. The first game, Human Revolution, is a self-contained prequel with open-ended endings, with all the endings plausibly leading up to the events of Deus Ex, and one ending even ends with most of the major prequel characters dead. Mankind Divided cuts off the branches and begins a new arc where Jensen has to go for a new threat created by the Greater-Scope Villain, and ends on a blatant cliffhanger. However, the third game is either Vaporware or was Quietly Cancelled as far back as 2017.
  • Knights of the Old Republic is an inversion. The ending of the first game is quite clear, the player has either saved the day, defeated the Big Bad, destroyed the Death Star knock off and is universally loved, or has kept the Death Star knockoff for themselves and unleashes their new fleet on the galaxy to take over. At the end of the sequel though, good or evil ending, it just ends with the character's ship flying off into space, presumably to go and find the True Sith. That was in 2004, and the plot threads were only much later followed up on with the release of a sequel/spinoff MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic. In relation to the classic example of the original trilogy, Star Wars: The Old Republic does this as well despite being only one game: each class has a personal story questline which is divided into three acts or chapters; the first chapter ends with the character triumphantly achieving their goal so far, while the second chapter tends to end inconclusively with a setback and a direct lead into the third and final chapter.
  • The first three Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games fit this trope, though with an odd twist— 1 and 3 have more connections to each other than 2 has to either of them, though this came about in much the same manner as any other Two-Part Trilogy. And of course, the fourth game was going to be completely unconnected until the Executive Meddling.
  • A similar case happened with the first three Silent Hill games. The third game ends up being a Stealth Sequel to the first, while the second had no connections to the first other than the setting. A form of Trilogy Creep also happened with the release of Silent Hill: Origins, a prequel to the first game.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Save for some minor plot threads and a semi-cliffhanger, Kingdom Hearts stood on its own more than its two immediate sequels Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II, which both opened up a new plotline involving Sora, Donald, and Goofy facing Organization XIII while searching for Riku and King Mickey.
    • The English or Japan-exclusive remakes often add extra content to set up sequels / spinoffs. The first game's Final Mix added Sora's first encounter with an Organization member, who appears in Hollow Bastion to drop all kinds of cryptic foreshadowing before and after a Sephiroth-level boss fight. Only through playing Kingdom Hearts II do you learn that this member was Xemnas, the LEADER.
  • The Modern Warfare trilogy. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tells a largely standalone story about the Russian Civil War, and about the USMC and SAS' battle against the Middle Eastern terrorist Khaled Al-Asad and the Russian Ultrationalist leader Imran Zakhaev. Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 tell a much more obviously connected two-part story about a war between Russia and the United States, with Vladimir Makarov as the overarching Big Bad connecting both installments. Even the titles emphasize this: the series dropped "Call of Duty" from its name in the second installment, once it became clear that the "Modern Warfare" brand was successful enough to carry its own series.
  • The God of War series. The ending of the first game implied that Kratos would remain the God of War until the present day. The second game started with Kratos losing his godly powers, and ended without them restored. It also ended on an obvious sequel hook of Kratos leading the Titans to war with the Olympians. It was more apparent in the third game, but they also managed to explain away some of the differences between the first and second game, such as why Kratos can still kill gods without Pandora's Box, and why the gods are more malicious in the second game.
  • Both inFAMOUS and Infamous 2 have Cole MacGrath, a plague that is slowly spreading to all of the U.S., and at the end of the first game, Cole kills the villain Kessler, only to learn that he was preparing him to fight a powerful entity known as the Beast, who shows up in the second game. Then Infamous Second Son, set seven years later, introduces Delsin Rowe, who fights the DUP to absorb the power of their leader and save his people.
  • This is what happened with the Mother trilogy. Still, the number of plot threads linking EarthBound (1994) and Mother 3 is significantly higher than connections MOTHER has with its two sequels combined. As Shigesato Itoi only really did it for a chance to make a compelling story in a different medium, this wasn't a case of Sequelitis; most of the threads between EarthBound and MOTHER 3 were established by MOTHER 3, with EarthBound leaving only Porky's disappearance open.
  • The Golden Sun series is an interesting variation on this trope, in which the standalone piece comes last rather than first. The first Golden Sun and its sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, were originally intended to be one game, but had to be separated due to the space limitations on the Game Boy Advance. The Two-Part Trilogy is rounded out with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (for the Nintendo DS). This was not however the intended plan — Dark Dawn sets up its own plot rather than being part of a trilogy with the first two games (the final scene ended on a cliffhanger), but a continuation has yet been announced.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. The games were originally intended to be a duology and were separated in the middle of the game due to its sheer length. Due to its success, it ended up getting a more tenuously-connected third game made entitled... Trails in the Sky the 3rd. 3rd attempted to establish the foundation for an entire series taking place after the original duology. It was actually successful enough for the series to happen.
  • Xenosaga actually flips this around; in this series its the first and second entries that are closely interconnected together (as Episode I was originally meant to be longer, but was then split in half) and the 3rd entry that stands more on its own, having started off with a time skip. Arc the Lad follows a similar pattern; Arc 1 and 2 are basically one long video game, while Arc 3 skips ahead many years and stands on its own.
  • Phantasy Star Universe has this problem in the main story episodes. The first episode is a self-contained story about the SEED invasion, which you eventually defeat once and for all. Then Episode 2 introduces the Illuminus, who turn out to be behind a lot of the SEED trouble, and they essentially bring about another SEED invasion. Episode 2 ends on a cliffhanger with the GUARDIANS colony being destroyed and the Illuminus more or less victorious. Episode 3 finally has you tie up the loose ends of the previous episode, and end the threat once and for all... again.
  • The Dragon Age series has been accused of this. It was planned to be a series from the start, but the first game is fairly self-contained with an ending that grants a fair amount of closure for most of the characters (with only one major sequel hook, and only if you did Morrigan's ritual). Dragon Age II, on the other hand, ends on a cliffhanger that forces you to buy the upcoming expansions and sequels. The third game involves a setting-wide Darkest Hour - while the series may not end there, they are following this pattern.
  • The original Mass Effect trilogy is this, but mostly on the gameplay level. Story-wise, each installment builds upon the previous ones but can theoretically be played standalone. However, the series had undergone a massive Game System overhaul between the first and the second games (switching between Open World exploration and vehicle combat to more linear Railroading levels that use Take Cover! mechanics exclusively), and the third one merely expanded on the second. This is particularly evident in the individual installments' level caps: the first game goes up to Level 60; the second, to 30; and the third, to 60 again. This is because your imported Shepard is reset to Level 1 in game two, but not in game three, allowing for a continuous level progression throughout the "second part" of the trilogy.
  • The Muv-Luv series of visual novels. The first installment, Muv-Luv Extra is a self-contained romance visual novel that differs sharply from its sequels in both tone and plot, even though it serves as an important Origins Episode for the major characters of the trilogy. Muv-Luv Unlimited is the visual novel that actually introduces the "post-apocalyptic alien invasion in a parallel universe" arc the series is best known for, and it deliberately ends on a bleak note so that the key plot threads and motivations of the finale, Muv-Luv Alternative, are properly set up. This also applies in a meta sense; while Extra and Unlimited were released as a combined title simply called Muv-Luv, Muv-Luv Alternative was released and sold separately due to production issues.
  • Zig-zagged and justified with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light and Mystery of the Emblem. The only real "trilogy" in the series; but it wasn't even intended as one — What's referred to as "Fire Emblem 2" is in fact Fire Emblem Gaiden, a Gaiden Game which features only a smattering of characters from the former two.
  • The Max Payne games apply to this for the third. After Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne ended with almost everyone dead and everything tied up, the writing team was forced to suddenly shift Max from gritty New York to sunny Brazil and surround him with an entirely new cast, despite the fact he has no motivation for revenge anymore. If the plot didn't feel forced enough, the writer of the first two Max Payne games (Sam Lake) not only declined to write the third, but even wrote a cameo scene in his next game where Max ends up dying.
  • The Jak and Daxter trilogy because at the start of Jak II: Renegade, the protagonists are all dragged into their world in the future. The events of the first game have little relevance on the plot of the next two games besides Daxter's transformation. Jak 3: Wastelander resolves mostly plot points from Jak II.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • The classic Genesis Sonic trilogy is probably the earliest video game example. While Sonic 1 is self-contained, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles are directly linked to each other, with the latter being a direct sequel that chronicles the immediate consequences of the events that took place in the former, to the point that the two entries are collectively referred to as "the Death Egg saga" by fans. What makes this an especially interesting case is the fact that Sonic 3 & Knuckles was actually split into two games due to time and technical constraintsnote , yet it's possible to combine them into one, thanks to the second part's unique feature that allows it to be physically attached to the previous game and become an Expansion Pack. So you could also call it a two-part tetralogy, or even a three-part tetralogy. And that's without incorporating Sonic CD for Sega CD into the mix, as Sonic Origins did. Sonic CD canonically takes place before Sonic 2 and, like Sonic 1 before it, stands on its own, so its inclusion makes this a three-or-four-part pentalogy.
    • While unintended from the start, Shadow the Hedgehog serves as a direct sequel to Sonic Adventure 2 by building on Shadow's backstory. Adventure 2 (which in turn is a sequel to the first Adventure, but only in title and gameplay; the plots are completely unrelated) ends with Shadow seemingly becoming lost in space and dying, but he is brought back in Sonic Heroes and his story in that game ends with a subtle cliffhanger. In Shadow, many areas and elements from Adventure 2 return that were absent in Heroes and it ends with a satisfying conclusion to Shadow's story.
  • Final Fantasy XIII, while having a rather confusing plot, was for all intents and purposes a standalone game, and ended with a pretty neat closure. The game's positive reviews and commercial success prompted Square Enix to launch Final Fantasy XIII-2, which ended with the world approaching apocalypse, and a To Be Continued announcement. The game was followed up by Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which finally ends the story.
  • Kirby manages to have an actual trilogy after the rather self-contained first installment, turning it into a three-part tetralogy. The original Kirby's Dream Land manages to stand on its own, whereas Kirby's Dream Land 2, Kirby's Dream Land 3 and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards are directly connected to each other through common elements. As such, the latter three games are sometimes referred to as the Dark Matter Trilogy by fans.
  • The Zero Escape series. The first game is a straight-up mystery thriller with some psychological horror aspects, and the plot it tells, while it does dangle a few Sequel Hooks here and there, is mostly self-contained. The story is more personal as well, with the end goal of the game being to escape rather than to accomplish any greater goal. The second and third games are heavily sci-fi themed, with lots of navel gazing, and they have much more tightly interconnected stories about a grand plot to save the world.
  • The The Longest Journey series ultimately turned out to be this: the original game stands alone, but its Oddly Named Spin-Off Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, released seven years later in 2006, is very much a part one of two, and its ending provides zero closure for all but one of its many, many storylines. However, things got in the way, and Dreamfall Chapters, the continuation to that second game, would not begin release until 2014. However, while Dreamfall Chapters concludes the story from the first sequel, it also revisits elements from The Longest Journey which were not present in Dreamfall, which has the effect of making that second game sometimes feel like the outlier.
  • Mortal Kombat 9, Mortal Kombat X, and Mortal Kombat 11 all take place in a rebooted timeline separated from previous entries. However, 9 is a re-telling of the first three Mortal Kombat games that simultaneously deals with the fallout of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, while X and 11 are separated from 9 by 25 years and have an original story. Though 11 twists this a bit with its Time Crash narrative bringing in younger versions of various characters from the original trilogy era and a lategame reveal that the Big Bad has been orchestrating events across various timelines for her own means, Arc Welding the underlying Set Right What Once Went Wrong conflict behind 9 and the events of the entire first timeline by proxy.
  • Chzo Mythos: Despite ostensibly being one continuous story, 5 Days a Stranger and 7 Days a Skeptic contain no references to either Chzo or Cabadath, and work well enough as a self-contained story. It's not until Trilby's Notes that the connections between these stories start revealing themselves.
  • Neverwinter Nights' two official expansions, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, are written with the assumption that the protagonist is the same character in both, and that they are not the same person who was the hero in the base campaign (since the base game and Shadows take place at the same time). You can, however, import your high-level character from the OC, making combat in Shadows ridiculously easy.
  • Blaster Master Zero is a reimagining of the original Blaster Master, thus its plot is heavily based on that game and its Worlds of Power adaptation. Its sequels, however, tell an original continuous story, with Blaster Master Zero III taking place immediately after Blaster Master Zero II. This is downplayed, however, in that the motivation behind the plot of Zero II — Eve had been corrupted by mutant cells in her body, and she and Jason had to go on a journey to the planet Sophia for a cure — was resolved before they reach their destination, so that game's plot is still somewhat self-contained, with the only thing open is what happened to them after reaching Sophia.
  • No More Heroes has the "trilogy in four parts" variety. The first game and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle can each stand on their own, due to a 3-year Time Skip (plus the hilarious ambiguity of the former's ending), and the latter ends in a way that neatly wraps things up (a few minor elements aside). However, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes expects you to know about characters from past games despite occurring 7 years later, and it sets up several plots and characters that would become relevant in No More Heroes III. To make things even twistier, the latter two games are sequels to The 25th Ward.
  • The original Halo trilogy by Bungie followed this narrative. Halo: Combat Evolved was rather self-contained, ending with Master Chief stopping the Flood from spreading and preventing Halo from falling into the Covenant's hands. Halo 2 on the other hand infamously sets itself up for a third game in its ending, and introduces the Arbiter, the Prophet of Truth, and the Gravemind, all of whom would be major characters for the rest of the trilogy.
  • Psychonauts does have some loose ends and ends with a Sequel Hook, but it is a mostly self-contained story. While Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin resolves the sequel hook and Psychonauts 2 recontextualizes some aspects of the first game's setup, the overall plots of the sequels are heavily tied to each other and largely uneffected by that of the first game.

    Web Animation 
  • The sixth, seventh and eighth seasons of Red vs. Blue make up the Recollections Saga, named in order: Reconstruction, Recreation and Revelation. Reconstruction leaves a few plot points open ended, such as the fate of Church, Wash and the Meta, as well as a cameo by Tucker acting as a Sequel Hook, but for most part, it was a stand alone piece. Recreation however, ends on a dual cliffhanger of Washington shooting Donut and Lopez, while Sarge, Grif, Caboose, Tucker and Epsilon have to contend with a squadron of aliens.
  • The Stick figure series Shock is an inversion of this trope. The first two are a two-part episode and the third one basically stands on its own.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly Oddparents "Wishology" trilogy is intentionally like this, despite it being known from the beginning it would be a trilogy. Part I is a stand alone story involving Timmy's first battle against The Darkness. Part II ends on a cliffhanger, which is resolved in Part III.
  • The Legend of Korra has a mostly self-contained plot in Book 1, which was originally going to be the entirety of the series, but Books 2, 3 and 4 form a two-part trilogy, with the events of Book 2 being more standalone but creating the situation for the more inter-linked Books 3 and 4, which focus on the conflict against the Red Lotus Society and the fascist regime they inadvertently cause, set in a changing world that possibly may not need the Avatar anymore.
  • The three BIONICLE Direct to Video films by Miramax ended up like this through a convoluted production history. The first, Mask of Light, tells a more or less concise story. Lego initially planned to leave the original storyline at that and retool the series with a theatrical movie, but nothing came out of that idea. The second movie, Legends of Metru Nui is a distant prequel, but since no one knew at the time whether a third one would be made, it wraps up its story with a few plot threads being unresolved. A third movie, Web of Shadows, did come out, but instead of continuing the present storyline or being a standalone, Lego forced the writers to extend the prequel for another year. Since LOMN already featured a conclusive ending, WOS became an interquel, focusing on the same characters and addressing a few things left unanswered (how Makuta got free and how the Vakama's team transported Metru Nui's population to Mata Nui), but strangely neglects to touch on Turaga Dume's fate. Lego's partnership with Miramax ended afterwards, and with each successive film generating less interest, the prequels also share the fate of being ignored by most people.
  • The season three finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was written like it were the last episode of the series, due Hasbro only planning on it being a 65-Episode Cartoon. The episode closed the door on Twilight Sparkle's character arc by having her becoming the Princess of Friendship, and that was was that... except the series was popular enough to get a fourth season (and many more afterward). Showrunner Meghan McCarthy went on to refer to the season three finale as the first of a trilogy, with the season four two-part premiere exploring how Twilight actually feels about her ascension.
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood's third season feels rather out of place with the previous two - and not just for its Lighter and Softer tone, and more focus on slapstick. The arc of the first season was the titular animals journeying to White Deer Park, concluding with them reaching it. The second continued this with the animals adjusting to their new home and having to deal with the territorial blue foxes. The Season 2 finale seemed to serve as a proper conclusion to this, with the feud being ended. Season 3 had a Time Skip (whereas 2 was an Immediate Sequel), dropped numerous characters who had been there since the beginning or were introduced in the previous season, and focused even more on the children of the original Farthing Wood animals, making it feel more like a spin-off than a continuation.

Intentional aversions

There are plenty of aversions, but these works were made and designed either as one entire story, or all as individual stories.

  • The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was filmed without any consideration to people who might watch the second or third film without seeing the previous installments. Each film follows directly after the other and depends upon the others to tell the complete story, like chapters in a single, 11-hour film (despite erroneously being called "sequels" in a "trilogy", the latter two films adapt the second and third volumes of a single Door Stopper book that was Divided for Publication).
  • The Transformers sequels deliberately subverted this trope. Director Michael Bay has gone on record saying that he hates this form of movie-making and doesn't want to hold back on the current movie because he wants to save something for the sequel, "Let's go for broke on this one." Each movie aims to tell a complete story, although it has plenty of hints towards future movies.
  • The Last Airbender was written from the beginning to be three films matching the three seasons of the show, only filmed individually. Key plot points for future movies such as Ba Sing Se, Sozin's Comet, and Azula are emphasized without ever being even shown, let alone paid off. Then, of course, the film was a critical failure and commercial disapointment upon release and no future movies will be made. This is why so many studios use this trope — a bad bet leaves your already bad movie looking even worse.
  • The "Spock trilogy" of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Wrath of Khan was originally supposed to be the final Star Trek film involving the original cast due to how tepid the reaction was towards Star Trek: The Motion Picture, hence why the screenwriters chose to kill off Spock. Wrath Of Khan turned out to be a success that revived interest in more films and, even more surprisingly, Leonard Nimoy enjoyed the movie so much he was interested in returning. The entire plot of The Search for Spock revolved around bringing him back and was resolved, leaving some dangling plot threads surrounding the serious laws that were broken to make it possible. The Voyage Home concludes those plot threads, but the primary story of the film was something unrelated to Spock or their legal problems (except in as much as it gave them a chance to save the world and thus return home heroes instead of just criminals). Overall, the "trilogy" was more accidental than anything else.
  • Two parts caused by the Continuity Reboot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe decreed by Disney (that relegated nearly all existing non-cinematic works as Star Wars Legends) with their acquisition of Lucasfilm and one part caused by this trope, The Force Awakens (Star Wars: Episode VII), The Last Jedi (Star Wars: Episode VIII) and The Rise of Skywalker (Star Wars: Episode IX), collectively dubbed the "Sequel Trilogy", were purpose-built to fit together as a cohesive trilogy from the start, as well as offering several anchor points for the new Expanded Universe. That said, they had no overarching story moving forward, and the two directors wrote it by the seats of their pants.
  • Fear Street was filmed all in one go, a la Lord of the Rings and each installment released one week after each other. The first part is the only one to take place entirely in one setting (1994), while the second is a whole flashback to 1978 and the third to 1666. However, 1978 provides crucial backstory and Foreshadowing, as well as introducing a character who plays a big part in the climax. 1666 uniquely is both a flashback to the eponymous time period to get the last necessary bit of backstory, and a proper conclusion to 1994. Each film is distinct both thematically and visually; 1994 is filmed as if it were a 90s studio picture like Scream (1996) or I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1978 resembles an indie slasher like Friday the 13th (1980) or Sleepaway Camp, and 1666 is a period horror like The VVitch or The Blood on Satan's Claw.
  • The so-called "Snyderverse" of the DC Extended Universe is the nickname given to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Zack Snyder's Justice League, the movies directed by Zack Snyder and part of his intended Myth Arc. These three movies are part of that specific story, as the climax of one movie is literally the start of the next.note  Each story is very connected, and each successive film relies on having seen the previous to fully understand what is happening in each one.

  • The Complete World Knowledge trilogy. Only the first two volumes are out so far, but it looks like all three will share an equal degree of cohesion.
  • The May Bird book series inverts the trope: Instead of being a trilogy composed of two story arcs with one in the first installment and the other split between the second and third, it's a trilogy whose first arc is covered by Books 1 and 2, with the second arc covered in Book 3.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a single long novel divided in six "books" which was meant to be published as a whole (as half of a duology with The Silmarillion, which wasn't anywhere close to finished in time). However, at the time of publication in the early 1950s, paper was still under Britain's post-war rationing and not enough was available for his publisher to put out a large enough first printing. So, they suggested dividing it into a trilogy, with two "books" for every installment.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect is actually an aversion of this trope as BioWare had ALWAYS planned on it being a trilogy and essentially planned the plot out from the beginning. They aren't just trying to milk everything. The series has seen natural progression so far with the first two games, with each story standing alone and while the previous games are referenced they merely form a backstory and not key plot points to understand the current story. The second game allows you to import your savegame from the end of the original Mass Effect, and the loading screen tips repeatedly advise the player to keep their old savegames around for Mass Effect 3. The games are all very immersive RPG's and so you aren't just saving your character's appearance, but the choices you made in the first game influence your experience of the second. In particular, a key decision made at the end of the first game reflects the way certain characters treat your character in the second game, as a Savior or an Anti-Hero. However, in terms of gameplay and general look-and-feel, the latter two games are much more similar to each other than either is to the first game, although that can be chalked up to Early-Installment Weirdness.
  • The Gears of War series was developed with each installment standing on its own. You are introduced to the basic premise via a voice-over (which is basically a long-standing war between two factions) and then the characters show up and introduce themselves. The first game is about a critical mission that puts you directly in the middle of the conflict with a Sequel Hook at the end. The second game builds upon things that were brought up in the first game but otherwise tells its own self-contained story. The third game wanted to avoid locking people out of the story so it will also be self-contained, focusing on telling a story rather than simply resolving questions.
  • Hitman (2016) was set to be a trilogy from the beginning, with more content and locations added over time. However, the developers who made the game, IO Interactive, were let go by Square Enix due to perceived loss of sales by the publisher, but they both came to an agreement, and IOI retained the rights to make the Hitman games. The next part in the trilogy, Hitman 2, was a DLC pack-turned-retail-game out of financial necessity, worked on by a smaller team, and now published by Warner Bros, and it acted as a Mission-Pack Sequel with the 2016 locations being able to be imported into 2. Warner Bros. then left IOI to be independant, and Hitman 3 was made to cover those costs, again with the previous two games being able to be imported into the new one. The story arc is continuous, and the names of characters often pop up between the two. IOI have since dubbed the three games the "World of Assassination" Trilogy.
  • Final Fantasy XIII was fairly self-contained, but left a few unanswered questions related to the Fal'cie and their creators. The sequel retcons the ending of the first game, but is also rather self-contained, focusing less on the Fal'cie and more on time-traveling shenanigans, and Caius Ballad's plan to destroy everything. The second sequel is a direct result of things that happened in the second game, but also gets around to answering some of the questions that have been around since the first game.
  • The developers of Halo 4 have made it clear from the start that it was always meant to be the beginning of a second trilogy called "the Reclaimer Saga".
  • The Batman: Arkham Series has generally been good about balancing self-contained stories with plot points introduced in each previous game. Batman: Arkham Asylum tells a self-contained story about the Joker's plot to unleash the Titan serum on Gotham, but it also sets up a sequel with its hints about Quincy Sharp's political aspirations; Batman: Arkham City continues the Titan storyline with the Joker seeking a cure for his mutation, but balances it with a self-contained story about Hugo Strange building a fortified prison colony in Gotham; finishing out the trilogy, Batman: Arkham Knight explores the aftermath of the Joker's death, but it's primarily focused on the Scarecrow's attack on Gotham and his alliance with the mysterious Arkham Knight.
  • Dishonored and Dishonored 2 has an unusual example. The first game's central arc of Corvo Attano's loss of his good name, his quest to clear his name and rescue Emily Kaldwin from conspirators is a fairly self-contained story. However the 2-Part DLC for the first Dishonored game and the sequel Dishonored 2 introduces in detail the new arc: the Rise of Delilah Copperspoon as a would-be Evil Overlord who seeks to claim the throne of Dunwall and usurp Emily Kaldwin, she was thwarted in the DLC but the entirety of the sequel deals with her return and her origins, and it elevates her to big bad.

    Western Animation 
  • Infinity Train: Each season follows up on a plot thread from the previous one, but the show is formatted as an anthology series that uses a variant of the Rotating Protagonist format, with the leads of each season never reappearing after the conclusion of their character arc, with one of the supporting characters taking their place. While some events carry more weight if you are aware of what happened in prior seasons, and there are a few important recurring characters, each season serves as self-contained character studies focusing on different themes that can be enjoyed on their own. Each season is also movie-length on top of that, clocking in at just under two hours.
  • The four My Little Pony: Equestria Girls movies are designed to be standalone stories that can be enjoyed whether you follow the continuity or not, though the High School AU take on Friendship Is Magic does feature character arcs for Sunset Shimmer and the human world's Twilight Sparkle. The former was the first film's Big Bad, with Rainbow Rocks and Friendship Games having her undergo a redemption arc in which she struggles to be trusted by others, regains her self-esteem, and becomes a hero in her own right. Friendship Games uses a role reversal of the first movie to close Sunset's arc and begin Twilight's, with the latter being a social pariah and dangerously curious about magic, leading to her transforming into a demonic entity similar to Sunset prior. Legend of Everfree follows up on this, with Twilight dealing with the newfound fear of wielding magic that the event caused for her, slowly regaining her self-confidence in the process and bringing a close to her arc. Interestingly, the commentaries for the second and fourth film have the writers admit that they never intended either overarching story; especially in the case of Sunset's character arc, as she was originally just going to be a plot device that allowed the FiM Twilight to return in the second film, before the writers realized that exploring whatever the former villain was going through would be more fun to write than leaving her as a Running Gag in "another 'Twilight saves the day'" story.