The Coen Brothers Movies You Didn't Realize Were Part Of A Trilogy

It might seem like all of Joel and Ethan Coen's special and specific ragtag characters belong in the same universe — the TCBU, if you will — but the brothers previously refuted that theory. However, one thing you may not know is that they did confirm that four of their films (yes, four) are part of a special trilogy called the Numbskull Trilogy. How's that for some film trivia?

The four entries in the Numbskull Trilogy include 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", 2003's "Intolerable Cruelty," 2008's "Burn After Reading," and 2016's "Hail Caesar!" What do each of these films have in common, you might be wondering? Well, none other than the George Clooney stars in each of them. Spoiler alert, he's always playing one of the numbskulls.

"I just want to point out that only a Numbskull Trilogy could have four parts. When did we start talking about the Numbskull Trilogy? I can't really remember," Ethan noted in a 2016 interview with the Huffington Post. "Maybe it was the second one we did with George?"

Joel added:

"We like the idea like Krzysztof Kieślowski would do a trilogy: 'Three Colors: Red,' or there was the 'The Apu Trilogy' — Satyajit Ray — that great trilogy of movie about a Bengali boy. We thought, 'Well, we have to do a trilogy. Which trilogy is not taken?' Well, nobody's done a Numbskull Trilogy, and I met George. We realized that our environment lined up perfectly, so to speak, and we found our numbskull."

George Clooney's "Numbskull" Legacy

Joel even revealed that Clooney nearly tapped out of the token dummy roles ahead of "Hail, Caesar!" 

"You know, George did say after 'Burn After Reading,' on the last day I think he said, 'OK, boys. I've played my last idiot,'" he told the outlet. "But to his credit, George has come back for the fourth installment of the trilogy."

The actor is known for being a bit of a heartthrob, but I'd argue that Clooney shines brightest when given slapstick, comedic material that has a dark edge. I've always been grateful to the Coens for knowing how to utilize him, much like they knew exactly how to bring out the best in Brad Pitt (truly, bless all of them).

I generally think of "Burn After Reading" when I search for a great example to back up my point. He plays a paranoid US marshal who gets into an affair with the wife of a CIA analyst — and it's deeply impressive how well the romantic lead sheds his usual skin and steps into such a dumbed down and almost pure role. Since he's known for his handsomeness and movie star charisma, he tends to play roles that are the complete opposite of his Coen characters, which makes these turns stand out all the more.

"Burn After Reading" happens to be my personal favorite of this bunch, but there's not one of Clooney's roles from the "trilogy" that doesn't completely embody the numbskull archetype — and he might be the least likely actor to take that on, but damn is he good at it.