Rarely does the final installment of a trilogy live up to its predecessors.
Between Star Wars, X-Men, and even The Godfather - it’s hard to live up to two great movies. Christopher Nolan said as much in film critic Tom Shone’s 2020 book, The Nolan Variations, when describing the difficulty of creating the third movie of his Dark Knight Trilogy.
When preparing to create The Dark Knight Rises, he found inspiration from a surprising source: Rocky III.
Rocky was a massive 1976 hit, an underdog story in both Rocky’s quest for boxing glory and Sylvester Stallone’s quest for a spot in Hollywood. Rocky II was a stellar follow-up three years later, showing Rocky’s personal struggles after fighting Apollo Creed.
Rocky III was, by all account, a backslide. It made only $125 million at the box office, $75 million less than Rocky II and $100 million less than Rocky. It’s also got a meager 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes - incomparable to Rocky’s 92%.
But Nolan cited Rocky III as a quality end to the trilogy, one that he tried to emulate with The Dark Knight Rises.
Despite poor critical and financial metrics, Rocky III did properly close out the trilogy that began in Rocky. After his bout with Creed and the following struggles, he teamed up with his former rival to defeat the up-and-coming youngster James Lang.
Batman Begins was the origin of the caped crusader - much like Rocky’s shot at the champ and instant fame in 1976. After the epic finale to both well-received sequels, the stakes were high for the third movie.
“You can’t scale down,” Nolan said. “The audience doesn’t give you any choice.” Nolan wanted to ensure that he properly closed out his trilogy - the true purpose of a third installment.
Batman floated off the shore of Gotham with an atomic bomb, only later revealed to have escaped and retired from his vigilante duties. In that sense, Nolan’s Batman trilogy had more in common with Rocky than meets the eye.
While it might not have been as critically renowned as its predecessors, it was able to finish the three-film story in a fulfilling way. As Nolan said, it’s hard to make a good third movie - but at the very least, it should be a satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, Rocky went on to have two more sequels that were even worse received than the third. The ship was eventually righted when he passed the torch to Adonis Creed, son of his former rival.