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Rule Of Three / Film

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The Rule of Three in movies.


Animated

  • The Medal of Everlasting Life from The Book of Life. Chakal had it. Xibalba stole it back, causing Chakal to go monomaniacal to seek it back. But Xibalba traded it to Joaquin, who used it to launch himself to fame in hopes of honoring his father. Then Joaquin lost it to one of the banditos, who in turn ended up losing it to the citizens of San Angel, before Joaquin gave it to Manolo.
  • This is all over the place in the Disney films:
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    • Oliver & Company: "Three sunrises. Three sunsets. Three days, Fagan."
      Fagin: Three sunrises, three sunsets, three days... Three and three and three... is nine. Nine?
      Sykes: No, Fagin. Three.
      Fagin: (alarmed) Three? Oh, you mean just three days?! Oh, I'm having a bad day!
    • The Little Mermaid: "Before the sun sets on the third day..."
    • Aladdin: Whoever summons the Genie can ask for Three Wishes. But there are also three things the genie can't do: kill, force love, or raise the dead (though that's excluding his earlier statement that wishing for more wishes is not allowed either). Also, it's three days (according to the Sultan) 'till Jasmine's birthday.
    • In Mulan, Mulan has three animal companions (Cri-kee, Khan and Mushu) and three human buddies (Yao, Ling and Chien-Po) while serving in the army. At home, she has three living relatives (father, mother and grandmother — Mulan's little brother significantly is changed into a dog called Little Brother). Also, Mulan's family is the third in town to receive a conscription notice.
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  • In Epic, The "Put your arms around me..." line is used three times, each one shows the development of Nod and MK's relationship. The first one as strangers, second one as growing friends/romantic tension, and the third has them do The Big Damn Kiss.
  • In The Flight of Dragons, when Carolinus first decides to inspire The Quest to bring about his idealized magic realm, Lo Tae Shao reminds him that there must be three warriors at the start of a quest, because "the laws so command it."
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
    • The legendary armor Kubo seeks is made up of three separate pieces; the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable.
    • The main protagonists are Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle.
    • Kubo's shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument with three strings. During his final confrontation with the Moon King, Kubo re-strings his shamisen with the strand of his mother's hair he carried with him, his father's discarded bowstring, and a strand of his own hair.
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Live-Action

  • Airplane!!. During the landing sequence, Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) steps into the cockpit three times and says "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you" in exactly the same way: once as they begin the descent, once in the middle of the landing, and once after the plane is on the ground.
  • American Beauty does this when Lester is trying to seduce Angela. The first time, she reaches for a drink and there are three quick cuts. The second time happens when Lester takes off Angela's jeans.
  • In the second American Pie film, Stifler explains to Kevin that the rule of three implies that if a girl tells you how many guys she slept with, the real number is multiplied by three. In a similar conversation, Jessica explains to Vicky that if a guy tells you how many girls he slept with, the real number is divided by three.
  • Annie:
    • Annie: Her report at school. Her conversation with the social services clerk, and her failed speech at the Guggenheim.
    • Sandy: Sandy barks, growls and runs in circles when upset or afraid. She does it when the bullies corner her. She does it in the pound. And she does it again when Annie's "real parents" come for her.
  • The Swedish classic Äppelkriget (War of the Apples) takes this for a very odd twist. At one point the story segues into the back story of three brothers who go to the city to find fame and fortune. On the way, they stumble over an old book, a carpet with a hole in it, and a dead bird, all of which the two eldest brothers reject, but the third brother takes with him, thinking that they "could be useful". When they apply for jobs, two brothers fail the psych test, but the third uses the book (a psychology textbook) and succeeds. The two eldest fail to impress the ladies, but the youngest wears his carpet as a trendy outfit and is an immediate hit. Later they're all broke, but the odor of decomposing bird leads the youngest to a stash of cash in an old recliner. Finally they've used up the money, and go back to the farm to hang themselves... and as it turns out, only the youngest managed to do that right, too.
  • In Austin Powers, Dr. Evil's Mook Mustafa will answer a question if asked three consecutive times. The scene with him in The Spy Who Shagged Me uses the Rule twice. Austin discovers his weakness when he asks one question three times, then he asks another question three times, and finally on the third question he asks it once, then says, "Do I really have to ask you three times?" and asks it two more times, but Mustafa refuses to answer because he interrupted the questioning with a different question. Then Mustafa gets shot.
  • Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Three heroes (Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon) have to place data cards in the control centers of three Helicarriers secretly controlled by HYDRA. In a neat twist, instead of each hero inserting a card into one base, Falcon takes one while Cap takes the other two, and Widow goes undercover at the Triskelion to confront Hydra mole Alexander Pierce and unload all of SHIELD's dirty laundry on the Internet.
  • The Dark Knight. The Joker twice does the "Wanna know how I got these scars?" line in a prelude to doing something nasty. The third time he's got Batman pinned.
    Joker: You know how I got these scars?
    Batman: No, but I know how you got these! (shoots his forearm blades into the Joker's face)
  • Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid uses Reardon's Berserk Button thrice: the first time introduces it, the second incorporates it into a Stock Footage gag, and the third time precipitates the climax.
  • Dredd. Judge Dredd is training rookie Judge Anderson, and on three occasions asks her, "Are you ready?" The first two times her affirmative response earns a skeptical look or the comment that she doesn't look ready. Third time, after she's gained his respect, Dredd notes with approval, "You look ready."
  • Fight Club. "That's three times you promised." On the Commentary Track, it's mentioned that this is a reference to Jesus being denied by Peter thrice.
  • With each videotape of Filmgore came a death certificate from the distributor, Force Video, promising that the first person to be scared literally to death by the picture as certified by three physicians would be buried at the distributor's expense.
  • Gremlins: Oh, man, does the Rule Of Three apply here big time with the rules of caring for a mogwai. 1) Keep it out of bright light, 2) Do not let it get wet and 3) No matter how much it cries or how much it begs... never let it eat after midnight.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy must pass three tests (The Breath of God, The Word of God and The Path of God) to get to the Grail temple. Then comes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. "Three times it drops..." Hoo boy.
  • Goldfinger: When the titular villain tries to kill James Bond with the industrial laser, he tells him, "The reason for our first two meetings is now clear to me. I do not intend to be distracted by a third."
  • In the New Year's crab dinner scene in The Joy Luck Club, Waverly scornfully rejects the advertising copy June has written for her company: "Oh, god. I mean, really, June. Three needs, three benefits, three reasons to buy, satisfaction guaranteed for today's and tomorrow's tax needs?!" Snobbish Waverly regards this as unsophisticated and unworthy of her "big firm".
  • Robert Rodriguez wove multiple instances of the Rule Of Three into his scenario for El Mariachi. Example: The Big Bad, a heavy smoker, is twice seen striking a match off his resentful Dragon's cheek; the third time it happens, the Dragon is doing it to the (dead) Big Bad. In his book, Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez calls this "the kindergarten school of filmmaking", what he used to write a script that was interesting but also (and more importantly) quickly finished.
  • In the DVD Commentary for Mean Girls, Tina Fey sarcastically notes that the scene where Cady & co. are trying to arrange for Aaron to catch Regina cheating on him follows "the comedy rule of twos" and that there should really be a third method they try.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • "Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see...". The trope is subverted four times; the first time, the three questions are all easy, so the knight easily crosses. The second knight unexpectedly receives a third, difficult question which results in his death, while the third knight unexpectedly gets an easy question again but fails to answer it correctly and dies. On the final set of questions, King Arthur subverts it again by asking a question back to the bridge keeper, resulting in the bridge keeper's death. Additionally "...then thou shalt count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out."
    • The first castle sank into the swamp. The second castle sank into the swamp. The third castle... burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.
    • An unfilmed scene would have shown Arthur and Bedevere about to cross the lake to the castle Argh, only to be accosted by the bridge keeper again, who says, "He who would cross the Sea of Fate must answer me these questions twenty-eight!" After some deliberation, Arthur and Bedevere toss him into the lake and continue on their way.
  • In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Clark asks his cousin-in-law, Eddie, "Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out into the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?"
  • Sherman Klump is asked a Triple in The Nutty Professor remake:
    Dean Richmond: Can I get you anything? Juice? Coffee? Rack of lamb?
  • "What's that noise?" is the question asked three times at Bergdorf's funeral by Ocean's 11. They do not want to know the answer.
  • Pan's Labyrinth implements this in almost everything within the plot, as emphasized and confirmed by the director in DVD commentary, ranging from the number of a specific set of characters, towards the number of tasks the main character must accomplish.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Both parley and thinking of the pirates' code as guidelines are both mentioned thrice over the course of the movie:
    • Elizabeth uses parley to spare her life; Jack tries it later on his old partners to no avail; and Pintel warns Jack's captured crew not to think of playing the parley card. In this case, though, it's more like "Rule of Four", as when the pirates are captured by the soldiers, Pintel nervously tells them, "...Parley?"
    • Barbossa informs Elizabeth that he finds the pirates' code to be more like guidelines than actual rules; something she recites to Jack's crew; and something they tell him at the end of the film.
  • "Every magic trick has three parts or acts: the Pledge, the Turn and The Prestige."
  • Guy Richie's first two films, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. feature dialogue exchanges where two characters repeat the same line of dialogue three times while responding to another character. "No, Harry, you can't" in the former and "Yeah, dad, you told us" in the latter.
  • Run, Lola, Run loops three times through the same series of events, with minor to snowballing changes in each iteration.
  • Claudia does indeed try to kill Lilli three times in Snow White: A Tale of Terror, but the first two are different from the original fairytale. She first tries to bury her in a mine cave-in and secondly by making trees fall in the forest.
  • In Star Trek: Generations, Kirk is dismayed to learn that the tractor beam, medical staff, and photon torpedoes won't be brought aboard the newest Enterprise until Tuesday.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: The Manly Single Tears as shed by Kirk, Harrison, and Spock. Each from their left eye.
  • Star Wars examples:
    • The Death Star Attack from A New Hope. First attack run, easily blown to pieces in seconds by Darth Vader. Second run, someone makes the full run, but misses the actual shot. Third run, Luke's all clear; he blows that thing and goes home.
    • The Empire Strikes Back features three uses of this, though some are actually subversions:
      • Darth Vader Force-choking his subordinates. First, he chokes the incompetent Admiral Ozzel from an entirely different ship and promoting Captain Piett to his place. Later, Vader kills Captain Needa for not capturing the Millennium Falcon. Then at the end, when the Falcon jumps into hyperspace and escapes despite the Imperials sabotaging its hyperdrive, Piett expects this - but Vader just walks off the bridge.note 
      • The Millennium Falcon trying to jump into hyperspace. First they're being pursued by a Star Destroyer away from Hoth; Han attempts to jump into hyperspace but nothing happens. Then, after leaving the asteroid field and having supposedly repaired the hyperdrive, they try again and again it fails. Later, with Lando now at the controls, and with the hyperdrive supposedly fixed by Lando's mechanics, they try for the third time and it still fails to go into light speed because the Empire had deactivated it! The twist is that R2-D2 fixes it in time for their escape.
      • C-3PO spelling out the ridiculous odds against whatever they trying to do. First he says that the odds of Han and Luke surviving a Hoth blizzard are 725 to 1. Then he says the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are 3720 to 1 (prompting Han to reply "Never Tell Me the Odds!!"). Finally, he tries to tell Han the odds of surviving a direct assault on a Star Destroyer, but Leia interrupts and shuts him down.
    • The climactic battle in Return of the Jedi cuts between three different sets of action and location: the forest battle, the space battle and the duel between Luke and Vader in the Emperor's throne room. Also, just before his confrontation with Vader, Luke tells Leia, "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it, I have it... and my sister has it."
    • In Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme are held captive in the Geonosian arena and separately has to fight three different beasts, an Acklay, a Reek and a Nexu.
    • In a more meta example, The Force Awakens is the beginning of a third trilogy of Star Wars films.
  • In Stroker Ace, Stroker finds out that Pembrook is passed-out drunk on his bed. He goes to leave three separate times only to pop back into the frame and justify undressing her. After the third time, he comments to her that he could have his way with her, and she would never know and follows it by giving the audience a suggestive look.
  • In Tapeheads, the owner of Fuzzball Records tries to get the main characters to make him another video "on spec" (i.e. for free) by mentioning that "All good things come in threes." Josh retorts that it's not good things, but celebrity deaths, that come in threes.
  • In Teeth, Dawn's nether region severs exactly three penises on screen.
  • The Three Stooges. There were actually 6 of them, but never more than 3 in any one production.
  • In To Kill a Dragon, the Dragon has three heads, which can turn into three different people. Lancelot defeats the Dragon using three gifts from the townsfolk: a sword, an invisibility cap, and a balloon.
  • In Trading Mom, all customers at the Mommy Market are given only three tokens, no refunds.
  • Unfaithfully Yours
    • The film has three fantasies over how the main character would deal with what he thought was his wife's adultery.
    • When the character is trying to get a recording machine to work in "real life," as he fiddles with the controls, the machine's arm twice lifts the disc off and drops it to the side of the machine. The third time, when Alfred reaches out his hand to catch the disc, the machine instead flips it over and puts it back on the spindle.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953)
    • The Martian cylinders come down in groups of three. Each cylinder carries the components for three war machines. Once built, the machines operate in groups of three.
    • When searching for Sylvia, Forester enters three churches, finding her in the third.


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