13 Terrific Trios in Film and Television
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Three’s a Company, Four‘s a Crowd: 13 Terrific Trios in Film and Television

By Rob Payne | Seriously Random Lists | May 21, 2013 | Comments ()


Dynamic duos have a long history in narrative forms, likely making them second only to Campbell's reluctant hero in terms of sheer volume of produced fiction. That descriptor is incredibly recent, only becoming prominent in the last century with the arrival of Detective Comics' Batman and Robin team-up adventures, but the idea has been around forever. There's Achilles and Patroclus, or Hector and Paris depending on your point of view; Macbeth and Banquo; Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Watson and Holmes; Green Hornet and Kato; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (before they were dead); Harold and Maude, Harold and Kumar, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Our recent televisual era has brought us partnerships from "Jake and the Fatman" to "Starsky & Hutch" to "Cagney & Lacey" to "Franklin & Bash" and/or "Rizzoli and Isles." And those are just the duos in the title card, not to mention the non-titular couplings in, for examples, "The X-Files," "Bones," and "Psych." There are often groups of four and five, as well, but those arrangements are rightly considered ensembles, with an individual or a pairing being the focus of any individual chapter, episode, or installment but the overall story focused on the collective rather than those highlighted elements. But there's one type of partnership that isn't explored quite as often as the rest, but tends to lead to some of the best actual character dynamics in fiction, especially modern and post-modern. Pairs can tend to "yes" each other to death if they aren't careful and four or more people can debate endlessly, and uninterestingly, if there are no ring leaders. But triumverates can argue and reach consensus easily and very rarely will all three agree on the same thing all the time, simply making for better drama or comedy, depending on the stakes.

The terrific trio (as I've decided to dub it) isn't unpopular, it just seems that creators tackle the dynamic less. Even great works like "Game of Thrones" focus the majority of their scenes on two people having a conversation, or larger groups navigating around one another, as opposed to three people interacting on the same level at the same time. This is unfortunate -- besides being my favorite scene structure -- because, as we'll see below, when done right trios are almost always engaging and memorable. Before you start in, the Three Musketeers are out because, remember, Chris O'Donnell makes four. And while Luke, Leia, and Han from Star Wars can feel like a trio at times, Luke is always as the reluctant hero, Han and Chewie are always the dynamic duo, and Leia as the damsel in distress. Sorry Leia.

So, without further ado, here 13 of the Most Enduring Terrific Trios in Movies and TV:

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ("Star Trek")
It's terribly easy to say that, no, Kirk and Spock are the dynamic duo of the Trek universe, but that's cruelly ignoring the gifts of Deforest Kelley and the curmudgeonly stability he brought to the Enterprise triptych. It could just as easily be Kirk and McCoy, or McCoy and Spock, which is why the three work best when they're together. J.J. Abrams might be trying to squeeze Bones out in favor of Uhura, which makes a kind of sense, but an obtuse love triangle will never be as fun as an equilateral bromance.

Chase, Martin, and Short (Three Amigos)
Say what you will about their careers since the mid-90s -- Chevy Chase = a disappointment, Steve Martin = super serious banjoist?, Martin Short = sticking with the schtick -- but these three comedic legends were never better, or sillier, than when they were playing silent film era Hollywood stars kicked to the curb and left for dead careers in pre-industrial Mexico. Their inept discovery of an invisible swordsman is great fun, but their rendition of "My Little Buttercup" never gets old.

Hanks, Dern, and Ducommun (The 'Burbs)
Growing up, it was easy to relate to the three leads of Joe Dante's skewering of suburbia via horror movie tropes, because one of the running gags was that the adults were just as immature, perhaps even more immature, than the neighborhood kids. Watching it again as an adult and empthasizing with the need for adventure in everyday mundanity, Tom Hanks' every man, Bruce Dern's war vet, and Rick Ducommon's bitter card are even more relatable. Seeing these not-so-hyperbolic traits in your own parents and their friends is just about as comical and horrifying as Dante suggests, too.

Buffy, Willow, and Xander ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
I hestitated including the original Scoobs because while they were together and mostly unified through all seven seasons of the Joss Whedon classic, there was also always Giles. And Ms. Calendar. And Cordelia. And... well, you get the idea. (It was also impossible to find a non-fan vid, if you're wondering about the .gif below.) But Buffy and her two best friends were the only ones in almost every episode and, while only one had the titular role, together they were the fulcrum of the entire series. Whedon's tried similar groupings in all of his other efforts, but these three will forever be his template.

The Dude, Walter, and Donny (The Big Lebowski)
Once again, the Dude and Walter could be a dynamic duo, and by the end of the film that's probably the direction their relationship is headed, but they're on a bowling league team of three, and that third member is Theodore Donald "Donny" Kerabatsos. Who else would ask Walter reverent questions? Where would the Dude have ended up, indeed, where would any of us be now, if not for Donny constantly explicating that the phone was ringing? They might be f*ck ups, but that's what makes them special.

Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
There is, of course, a fan theory here that suggests Cameron is imagining Ferris ala the plot of Fight Club, so Cam and Sloane could just be a dynamic duo, but the movie goes to great lengths that they don't really make sense without Ferris bringing them together. The adventure they have is the one I always tried to replicate when I skipped school, because the most fantastical element is the matter of breaking Sloane out. Everything else is exactly what three somewhat hip, somewhat nerdy kids would do on their best day.

Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell (Death Proof)
Even though Zoe Bell is the only credited as "Herself," I like to imagine that Dawson and Thoms were actually playing themselves, as well. Because that is a threesome I'd like to see in the real world. That isn't supposed to be innuendo, seriously. These three ladies just have the best time hanging out, defying death, before they have the worst time on the road facing off against Stuntman Mike (who, I like to imagine is Mike Russell, Kurt's non-famous older brother), before they have an even better best time taking their revenge. What I'm saying ids, who wouldn't want to go on their joyride?

The Workaholics ("Workaholics")
Originally, this was slotted for the Wolf Pack from the Hangover, but, frankly, the mere fact there will exist a "trilogy" in a matter of days and I have Roger Ebert levels of hate for the second installment, I couldn't in conscience include them here. My love for Zach Galifianakis is strong, but my loathing for the Hangover series is stronger. Besides, Blake Henderson Anderson, Adam DeMamp DeVine, and Anders Holmvik are the three best friends anyone could have... in college. Any other time in your life and it's just sad, which, of course, is what makes them so damned funny.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione (the J.K. Rowling novels and Warner Bros. movie series)
But, naturally, the three best friends anyone could actually ever have at any point in their lives would be the in-famous wizard world saviors. Well, really, most of that credit goes to Hermione, but I guess the "chosen one" had something to do with Voldemort's downfall, as well. And every group needs a Xander, right, Ron?

Joel/Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo ("Mystery Science Theater 3000")
No, this isn't a cheat. Joel and Mike were only in one episode together as the characters of "Joel" and "Mike" (see below), so this isn't a foursome. It's just that, as I've written before, I can't in good conscience pick one of the experimental humans over the other because each made their particular triumverate something special. While the voices of Crow and Servo may have changed, their gentle absurdity was steadfast and true. Until something catastrophic happened on the Satellite of Love, but that was only a weekly occurrence.

The Order of the Triad ("The Venture Bros.")
This brilliant show is lousy with dynamic duos -- Hank and Dean, Brock and the Doc, the Monarch and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch, Billy Quizboy and Pete, and the Henchmen just to name the big ones -- so maybe that's why the team-up of Dr. Orpheus, Jefferson Twilight, and the Alchemist is a welcome addition to every episode and story arc they get to lend not-so-helping hands. It probably doesn't hurt that two of the three members of the Triad are also two of the three members of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Or, whatever it's called now.

Sam, Neal, and Bill ("Freaks and Geeks")
No doubt every fan of this cancelled-before-its-time series has their favorite geek (Neal, a.k.a. Li'l Wolverine) and freak (Nick), but like Kick, Spock, and McCoy the nerdier group's sum is greater than their parts. We might connect to their individual dramatic plights, but it's their deep friendship that we truly love to watch. When you have friends like these, sometimes you feel like you can do anything. Like talking to the pretty new girl isn't even a challenge.

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright ("Spaced" and The Cornetto Trilogy)
Okay, now here I am cheating. For one, these aren't characters (or "characters") in a movie. Secondly, when they work on a movie together, only two of them are ever actually in front of the camera. No, these are just three real life pals who really, really like working and spending time together. Let's be real here: As much as we might enjoy watching Simon Pegg beam people up and Nick Frost trying his level best against alien invaders with some plucky kids, or drooling over the visuals for Scott Pilgrim's fight against the whole world, we really, really love them when they work and spend time together. The end of the world can't get here fast enough.

Obviously, this list isn't exhaustive. I nixed several myself just to have the baker's dozen repetition in the title, so feel free to share your not-ignored favorites in the comments. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.

Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He really hopes the Doug Loves Movies episode with Pegg, Frost, and Wright happens this summer.

25 Spoileriffic Reasons Why I Loved "Star Trek Into Darkness" | Side Effects Review: Comfortably Numb

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


    Billy, Marty, Hans. 7 Psychopaths.

  • Because that is a threesome I’d like to see in the real world. That isn’t supposed to be innuendo, seriously.

    Hell, it is for me. And apparently Rosario/Tracie shippers are a thing, squeezing Zoe Bell in the middle would be...would..be...sorry, felt a little faint there.

    The only problem is that if you do join as the fourth wheel, you may get left behind as collateral for a blatantly threatening redneck. Still I like to think he treated that poor girl to tea and crumpets.

  • s

    You missed "The Wolfpack"...

  • You clearly didn't read the article, thus justifying its omission more than my explanation ever could. THANK YOU.

  • kirbyjay

    Huey Dewey and Louie

  • Guest

    I assume you are thinking Jefferson Twilight and Master Shake are the same voice actor but your are mistaken and possibly racist. Consult your physician.

  • No, Dana Snyder is definitely Master Shake and The Alchemist. Because of that and what I thought I remembered from a Venture Bros. commentary, I honestly did think Twilight and Frylock were the same voice actor. Racist? Nah? Just mistaken.

  • Luisa

    Oh, wait - obviously Brendon, Jason and Melissa.

  • Any trio that includes Xander is not, by definition, terrific.

  • You can down vote me all you want but it's not going to make Xander tolerable.

  • valerie

    OK, WTF in the name of photoshop is going on in that header picture? Sarah Michelle Geller's rack looks like it was drawn by 7 year old and someone accidentaly erased most of Alison Hanigan.

  • lovezoid

    Oh my god, I just realised that Roman from 'Party Down' was the tall, bespectacled geek from 'Freaks and Geeks'.

  • Crackblind

    Marshall, Will & Holly?

  • DeaconG

    Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup.

  • Justa Turdoutthere

    Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint from Jaws are definitely my favorite film trio.

  • Justa Turdoutthere

    Is my favorite...

  • hippyherb

    Angel, Cordelia and Doyle.

  • GeneStarwolf

    Walt Jessie and Mike was what I was gonna say too

  • Lance Goodthrust

    What no Janet, Chrissy, and Jack?

  • Cree83

    I'm having trouble believing that everyone's favorite geek isn't Bill.

  • I hated Bill. He was my least favorite part of that show. His habitual mouth breathing made me want to staple it shut.

  • Dee

    Aang, Katara and Sokka were a terrific trio, at least in the first season of The Last Airbender

  • Ozioma

    Annie, Mitchell and George from Being Human.

  • meow

    fry, leela and bender

  • pumpkin

    Lister, Rimmer, and Cat (before Kryten)

  • toblerone

    Lister, Rimmer, and HOLLY (Norman Lovett)!

  • toblerone

    Where is Orphan Black?

    Sarah, Alison (my favorite), and Cosima (sub Helena).

    How many other shows can claim to have four distinct and interesting characters played by one actor (the amazing Canuck Tatiana Maslany)?

  • toblerone


    The Doctor, Amy and Rory.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yakko, Wakko, and Dot.

  • Stacia Daniel

    Sabrina, Kris, Kelly.

  • Stacia Daniel

    Roy, Moss, and Jen. <3

  • Uriah_Creep

    I had to think about that one for a minute, and now I miss that show again. Thanks a lot...

  • Luisa

    Pete, Berg and Sharon

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Wesley, Inigo and Fezzik.

  • Bodhi


  • Milly

    The Troika?

    Jen, Roy & Moss?

    Bernard, Manny & Fran?

  • Pawesl

    Corey, Shawn and Topanga?

  • I really hated Death Proof when it was released but on subsequent HBO viewings I've grown quite fond of it and the those 3 ladies are awesome. Such a good ass-kicking trio and it always makes me sad that Rosario Dawson hasn't had a better career.

  • TheOtherGreg

    Larry, Moe, and Curly.

  • How am I the only person up-voting The Three Stooges? They should have been #1 on the list to begin with.

  • BWeaves

    and Shemp, and Joe, and Curly Joe.

  • TheOtherGreg


  • The Star Trek one reminded me of Sheldon, Howard and Leonard.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Me, Your Mom and a heavily spiced bundt cake?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Man, I wish there was room for a fourth in that equation (can I be the delicious glaze?)

  • I'm pretty sure he can supply his own glaze. Whether or not it is delicious is up for debate, however.

  • Tarn

    Sam, Dean and Bobby.

  • Stacia Daniel

    And now, Sam, Dean, and Cass.

  • BWeaves

    The Doctor and most of his companions, as he usually had two. It was rare for him in the old (classic) days to just have a single companion.

  • DataAngel

    Han, Luke, and Leia.

  • Batesian

    Poor Chewie. Always stuck hangin' with the droids while the cool kids get their swerve on.

  • Some Guy

    Psssh. Chewie and Lando had their own party with the real cool kids. You know, the ones who don't need to talk about how cool they are in order to be cool.

    Plus, Lando's mom totally bought them some beer, at least that's what I hear, and Chewie is a total stoner who starts pulling peoples arms off after a few shots of Tequila. So.

    Have fun partying with the Wonder Twins and Hand Solo.

  • Archie Leach

    Shut the fuck up Donny!

  • noodlestein

    You're out of your element, Donny!

  • Bert_McGurt

    Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Oh! How, by the beard of a Stonehenge-crushing dwarf, could I forget David, Nigel, and Derek?

  • Julie

    The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files.

  • KV

    James Conway, Henry Hill, and Tommy DeVito.

    Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes.

  • PerpetualIntern

    I'm "Seeing Red" with that cover pic. Get it??

    ...I'll show myself out.

  • Anna von Beav

    I myself was wondering why no one told Buffy she had a cat on her head.

  • Tarn

    I guess it's better than strapping cats to her feet....

  • jim kizer

    Rocky, Colt, Tumtum? =)

  • Pawesl

    Rocky loves Emily

  • EthanLutske

    Chuck, Sarah and Casey

  • John W

    Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd (sorry Ernie).

    Viserion, Drogon and Rhaegal.

    Charlie's Angels

  • swurk

    Walt, Jesse, Mike?

  • Or Walt, Jessie, and Saul. At least before Walt got scary and threatened Saul. I hated that episode and seeing Saul intimidated by Walt.

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  • Uriah_Creep

    I love Saul too, What a lovable scuzball.

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