Earlier this week, Shawn revealed several “unofficial movie trilogies” featuring three or more movies that were, if not technically linked, were thematically linked. This is a topic Shawn and I have discussed before, so I thought I’d write up my own list of “unofficial movie trilogies”.
I’ll start with one of the more well known, “The Ninja Trilogy”. There were, in fact, three Sho Kosugi movies that were loosely considered a part of this trilogy. The first was 1981’s Enter the Ninja (trailer). That movie, however, featured Sho as an evil ninja (not the ninja doing the “entering” of the title) . The movie is a tad boring but overall worth a watch, I mean, Franco Nero from the original Django plays the good ninja. That’s worth a watch right there. The second movie in this loose trilogy was 1983’s far superior Revenge of the Ninja (trailer). In this movie Sho plays a Japanese man trying to start over in America after his wife’s death. His son in the movie is played by his real life son Kane. Sho must don the ninja suit to fight drug dealers and a friend that has tricked him into smuggling heroin. It’s pretty awesome and one of my favorites. I did a scene by scene review of the movie on my blog for Ninja Day 2010. The third movie was released in 1984, Ninja III: The Domination (trailer). It was obviously named so because it was, in fact, the third movie in this series of ninja movies (that really have nothing to do with each other). You can see how this might confuse audiences as there was no Ninja I or Ninja II. In Ninja III, a ninja dies escaping from the police and possesses the body of an phone repair person/aerobics instructor played by Lucinda Dickey (from the movie Breakin’). I actually saw it in the theater and it’s a horribly awesome movie that’s really fun to watch. I also did a scene by scene review of Ninja III on the blog and the Nerd Lunch Podcast devoted an episode to it. It’s that epic. And those are the three movies that are traditionally considered as part of the “Ninja Trilogy”. However, as a footnote to this discussion, a movie I believe fits better into this group (replacing Enter the Ninja) is Pray for Death from 1985 (trailer). In it, Sho Kosugi and his family (son again played by real-life son Kane) run a restaurant and must fight drug dealers and crooked cops when something valuable is discovered in the back room. Kosugi once again must don the black ninja suit when his son is kidnapped. It’s almost a reboot of Revenge of the Ninja.
The perfect followup to the “Ninja Trilogy”. In 1985 Karate Kid started a genre of movies involving “comeback kids”. Essentially bullied, nerdy kids who discover confidence through martial arts and the defeating of their bullies. Karate Kid also popularized the conceit that the best karate teachers are the most unorthodox. You don’t learn good karate from a dojo, you learn it from a handy man, gardener or a janitor. Shawn used Karate Kid in his list, so I’m going to leave it off my list and use three other movies. But know that Karate Kid essentially birthed this particular trilogy.
The first movie, No Retreat No Surrender, was released in 1986 and featured Jean Claude Van Damme’s feature film debut (he was the villain). In it, a teenager is picked on by bullies and his dad’s karate school is terrorized by the Russian mafia. What’s a boy to do? Well, if you’re Kurt McKinney, you summon the ghost of Bruce Lee to teach you Karate. I kid you not. Kurt is taught the martial arts by the ghost of Bruce Lee so he can go in the ring and beat Russian mobster Jean Claude Van Damme. AWESOME. I loved that movie. Here’s the trailer, but be advised, they show pretty much the entire movie in that trailer. In 1992 the Chuck Norris vehicle Sidekicks (trailer) was unleashed unto this Earth. In this movie Jonathan Brandis stars as an awkward, asthmatic kid who gets bullied and constantly fantasizes about hanging out with Chuck Norris. So he convinces a Chinese fry cook to teach him karate so he can win the upcoming karate tournament (sound familiar?). And finally, in 1993’s Showdown, new kid Ken is beaten up by a local bully for talking to his girlfriend (Brady Bunch Movie‘s Christine Taylor). School janitor Billy Blanks teaches Ken martial arts so he can defend himself. It’s actually a pretty good movie but the middle part drags a bit however the final battles (yes, I said battles with an ‘s’) are awesome. Here’s the trailer.
In 1978 Tim Matheson played Eric Stratton in Animal House. It was a classic role that pretty much jump started his career. The Eric Stratton character was a womanizer and heavy partier and that character type would become a staple for Tim. Next, Tim played a very similar irreverent character, Bob McGraw, in the 1984 college romp Up the Creek about a collegiate white water raft race. I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a funny 5 minute clip from the movie. Then, to cap off the hat trick, Tim would play Van Wilder’s dad in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, thereby coming full circle as Animal House was also by National Lampoon and in the movie Van’s dad is inferred to also be a former partier. As an adendum, Tim would play a famous college alum in American Pie: Book of Love (2009). He would appear in a scene with other actors who portrayed famous high school/college characters like Dustin Diamond (Saved by the Bell), C Thomas Howell (Red Dawn, My Secret Admirer), Christopher Knight (Brady Bunch) and Robert Romanus (Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
In 1988 Kevin Costner made Bull Durham and introduced the world to “Crash” Davis, catcher extraordinaire and mentor to “Nuke” LaLoosh. It was a career defining role and one many consider to be his best. In 1999 Costner would return to the baseball diamond in For Love of the Game. Costner played a pitcher, Billy Chapel, about to pitch the last game of his career. Then, in 2005, Costner played retired baseball player, Denny Davies in The Upside of Anger. Costner’s Denny Davies in Upside was every bit as irreverent and funny as Crash. I’m surprised they didn’t just name him Denny Davis and maybe have one mention of his nickname being Crash or something. The roles are really that similar. I was close to putting Tin Cup in this group mainly because that character is essentially “Bull Durham on a golf course”, but I’ll leave it as a footnote.
For some reason, three years in a row, it was popular to have Bruce Willis teamed up with a child. First was Mercury Rising in 1998. It was a fairly enjoyable movie featuring Willis teamed up with an autistic kid who can crack sophisticated government codes. Then came The Sixth Sense in 1999. Obviously that features Willis and a kid that sees dead people. Finally was Disney’s The Kid from 2000. This movie featured a cynical Willis paired with the 8 year old version of himself played by Abigail Breslin’s brother Spencer.
B-boys, breakers and taggers (graffiti artists) became all the rage in the mid-80s thanks to two documentaries; Wild Style and Style Wars. Those docs featured the street life of a group of rappers, breakers and graffiti artists. Hollywood saw their popularity and turned their subject matter into urban “rags to riches” stories. The first movie in this group, Breakin’ (trailer) came out in May 1984 and took a more comedic approach to the street life of breakers and rappers. In it, break dance duo Turbo and Ozone recruit classical dancer Kelly to their group and tear up the dance clubs as TKO. At the movie’s end they would go on to a big dance audition for what seems to be a Broadway show about hip hop dancing and they get it (spoilers!). I guess I could also include the sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, which came out later that same year. The next movie, Beat Street (trailer), released in June 1984, took a more serious approach to street life. It also featured a group of friends but they are more varied, with breakers, graffiti artists and DJs amongst the group. Kenny, a struggling DJ, gets the opportunity to do the live New Year’s show at the Roxy, and a chance at stardom, but life keeps getting in the way, including the death of his best friend, Ramone. It’s a good slice of life movie with an even more awesome soundtrack. My favorite of this group is 1985’s Krush Groove. It’s a fictionalized account of the rise of Russell Simmons and Def Jam Records who at the time managed Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow. This movie includes the story of the unlikely rap group Disco 3 who would get runner’s up in a Def Jam new artist performance contest and after performing at a club when the winners are disqualified, become the extremely popular rap group The Fat Boys. The trailer heavily features Sheila E but she really has nothing to do with Def Jam and is the worst part of the movie. The last movie in this series would be Rappin’ from 1985. It featured Mario Van Peebles as a street rapper who just wants to become a superstar. This movie is the worst of the group and is barely watchable. If you don’t believe me, check out the horrible, horrible trailer here. And yes, like Breakin’, the movie it was trying to emulate, it features Ice-T. All of these movies are definitely products of their time period and feature great looks back at clothing, urban lingo and early rap and hip-hop music (the soundtracks are also great). Beat Street even had real life breakers The NY City Breakerz and Rock-Steady Crew actually do a break dance battle at a club in a very famous scene (one of my favorites) and Breakin’ has previously mentioned Jean Claude Van Damme in one of his first ever movie appearances during a beach break dancing scene (you get a good look at him at about 3:10). It doesn’t get more “urban ‘hood” than Van Damme dancing and clapping awkwardly in a black unitard to break dance music.
So, those are my unofficial movie trilogies. I know two of them actually had four movies, but I think I did pretty good sticking to Shawn’s rules (when I wasn’t ignoring them completely). In case you want to read them again, here is a link to Shawn’s list of unofficial movie trilogies.