The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, Revolver in 1966, and Sgt Pepper in 1967. Not only are these three iconic albums in three consecutive years, but they are three strikingly different albums. They are each unique in terms of song-writing, tone, recording techniques, and even instrumentation.
Alfred Hitchcock pulled off a similar feat with Vertigo in 1958, North By Northwest in 1959, and Psycho in 1960. Not just three classic films, but three films that are really in three different genres: psychological thriller, wrong-man spy thriller, and horror. Hitch wasn’t just making the same (great) movie over and over.
What Makes This Possible?
There’s a combination of prolific production, creativity, and talent that is really astounding. Perhaps there’s also a desire not to look back? To push forward? I’d say youth plays a factor, but Hitch turned 60 in the middle of his three-in-three!
I’d also wager that the relatively primitive creative tools of the time made it possible to create and release in such a short period. Less chance for fiddling. More tolerance for mistakes in the final product.
Perhaps there was less of a marketing machine driving release schedules?
The Beatles and Hitchcock also had enough popularity at these points in their careers to kinda do whatever they wanted, I think.
I’m looking at Shigeru Miyamoto, who released Super Mario Bros (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), and Zelda II (1987) – but I don’t think that Zelda II is great enough to make this another three-in-three. It’s certainly unique enough!
I figured Spielberg must have pulled it off at some point, given how many great films he released in the 80s and 90s, but he always has a stinker in there or takes a year too long. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), and then… Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
Akira Kurosawa was prolific, but his iconic works were spread out across his career (not a bad thing!)
I checked in on Picasso but realized that his career is defined by periods in which he’s refining a technique and producing similar work. So that doesn’t qualify either.
What about actors? Harrison Ford starred in Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Blade Runner from 1980 –1982, but does that count? They’re uniquely great movies, but he didn’t write or direct the movies themselves. The characters he’s responsible for, while great, are a little too similar.
It can be hard to judge if something’s a true three-in-three unless you know the works well. You have to know the field. You have to be able to tell if they’re uniquely great releases.
For example, I know Bob Dylan’s hit songs, but am not that familiar with his albums. I see that he released three critically-acclaimed albums from 1965 to 1967 (Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and John Wesley Harding) but I don’t know those albums well enough to say if they’re each uniquely great or just plain great. It’s a high bar!
Let me know if you have an idea that fits the criteria!