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Shrek 2 (2004)
Why's it so good? Three words: Puss. In. Boots. He's adorable, he's deadly and he goes nuts for catnip. The interplay between Puss and Donkey has become the principal reason to watch the series ("The position of annoying talking sidekick has already been taken!"), while Shrek and Fiona are reduced to playing straight men in the foreground.
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)
Why's it so good? There are Evil Robot Doubles. There's heaven, hell, Death himself (on bass) and the revelation that God Gave Rock 'n' Roll To You. It also sees the return of Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted 'Theodore' Logan (or Wyld Stallyns), an inspired riff on The Seventh Seal (see? It's cine-literate, this), a nod to A Matter of Life and Death (again with the intelligence) and the original series of Star Trek.
Infernal Affairs II
Infernal Affairs 2 (2003)
Why's it so good? Both cops and Triads are struggling against a new crime lord in town in this prequel to the original film, amid political manoeuvrings and back-alley deals between opposing sides. This plot is so intricate that it makes the previous one look positively anaemic, but it's meaty rather than tangled when you sink your teeth in.
Airplane 2: The Sequel
Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)
Why's it so good? Zucker Abrahams Zucker were not on board for this one - Ken Finkleman, a Canadian writer who also penned Grease 2 that year, somehow bagged the gig - but this is underrated. It suffers in comparison to the original, sure, but given that Airplane! may be the funniest film ever, that's understandable. Still, this maintains the frenzied gag rate of its predecessor, as Ted Styker (Robert Hays) and Elaine (Julie Hagerty) find themselves aboard the first commercial space shuttle flight, bound for the Moon - and disaster! There're genius-level gags here - "Danger: Vacuum"; the courtroom sequence - without ever lapsing into the lazy parodies that mar so many modern spoofs. And just when you think you're all laughed out, Finkleman deploys his trump card: The Shat! His cameo as Moon Base commander, Buck Murdock, is better than all five series of T. J. Hooker.
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Why's it so good? Unquestionably the best big-screen outing for the Next Generation cast, this pits Picard and crew against wonderfully hissable bad guys the Borg. Picard, traumatised from an old encounter with them (in series 2 double-parter finale Best of Both Worlds, fact fans), gets closure by kicking stellar amounts of ass, while Data gets to explore his human side more deeply than ever before.
The Naked Gun 2 1/2
Why's it so good? Because of lines like this: "I'm sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn't that right, Mr... Poopy Pants?" And because Leslie Nielsen's comedy timing should be floated on the stock exchange to fix the financial crisis.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Why's it so good? Between the first and second Hellboy films, Guillermo del Toro further honed his craft, and proved the serious appeal of his style, with Pan's Labyrinth. There's a sense here of greater artistic confidence and style; the character relationships are more fully explored and Hellboy gets to do more than fight the same monster over and over again.
28 Weeks Later
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Why's it so good? This is another one of those sequels that works because it changes up the formula. So instead of a tiny band on the run from a zombie - sorry, infected - plague that has already spread, we get to see the plague vector work its way through a small, enclosed community. Also, somebody chops up Infected with helicopter rotors, and that's always fun.
Blade II (2002)
Why's it so good? Guillermo del Toro took over Stephen Norrington's job as director, and delivered something that begins to show his own style: the team of mismatched misfits, each with their own talent, Ron Perlman, Gothic stylings and vampires that are not sexy but positively plague-ridden. And who knew that dude from Bros could be scary?
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
Why's it so good? Despite the fact that A Nightmare On Elm Street had been his fevered brainchild, Wes Craven hadn't been involved with Jack Sholder's disappointed, muddled and slightly homoerotic sequel, Freddy's Revenge. When that underperformed, New Line asked Craven back as screenwriter. He brought on young turk Frank Darabont, who further expanded on the surreal potential of a Dreamworld by pitting Robert Englund's razor-fingered maniac against a group of kids with astonishing dream powers, and Chuck Russell to provide inventively gory direction.
The Four Musketeers
The Four Musketeers (1974)
Why's it so good? While many films have captured the rollicking adventure and swashbuckling side of Alexander Dumas' novels, this is the only one that shows the Musketeers grappling with real tragedy. D'Artagnan's girlfriend is kidnapped, Athos' past with Milady de Winter is revealed, and the super-happy ending is simply not forthcoming. Not until the end of The Man In The Iron Mask would we see another such downer.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Why's it so good? The third part in any series is tricky and, usually, rubbish, and for comedies that rules applies quadrupley. Yet somehow the third outing of the manic family Grisworld was the best of the bunch, a modern Christmas comedy that doesn't make you want to stab your eyes out with the business end of a tree. More family-friendly than the previous two Vacations, this one sees Chevy Chase's Clark W. Griswold determined to give his family the hap-hap-happiest Christmas of their lives - and nothing will stand in his way. Not his idiot cousin, Eddie, not a slightly overcooked turkey, not an uncooperative family (including Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as the kids) and certainly not a rogue squirrel on the loose
Die Hard With A Vengeance
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)
Why's it so good? Renny Harlin's efficient Die Harder was an enjoyable, larger-scale retread of the first movie. Die Hard With A Vengeance, though, saw original director John McTiernan come back and open out the claustrophobic, single-location franchise to a much bigger playground: New York City. Adding an antagonistic Samuel L. Jackson for Bruce Willis - whose John McClane is a slobbish wreck here, as opposed to the flawless superman of the first sequel - to bounce off pays dividends, while Jeremy Irons, having enormous fun with an outrageous accent, makes the hokey plot device of a vengeful long-lost brother actually work.
Why's it so good? John Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace will always deserve praise for daring to move the Halloween series away from hack'n'slash territory, as an evil Irish toymaker (Dan O'Herlihy) plans to trigger a Pagan apocalypse through a series of very special Halloween masks, and the most unsettling ditty in movie history. Altogether now: "Three more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween..."
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Why's it so good? M:I III does the seemingly impossible (of course) by taking the worst thing about its predecessor - the endless 'face-off' removals of astonishingly realistic rubber masks - and making it the best thing here. What's more, newbie director JJ Abrams manages to balance some brilliantly staged action - the Vatican infiltration, the bridge attack - with actual emotion, a first for the series.
Back To The Future Part III
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Why's it so good? After the twists and turns and dystopian pit stops of Part II, Zemeckis and Gale changed gears for Back to The Future Part III, setting virtually the entire thing in the Old West, while shoving Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) centre stage with a love interest to boot. The ingenious plotting of the first two films is largely absent, but this is a good old romp, an excuse for Zemeckis to try his hand at a Western.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Why's it so good? The set pieces are great - watch Julianne Moore's face as the glass that's the only thing between her and a thousand foot drop begins to slowly cra-a-a-aack - and this time there's only one irritating kid. Also, check out the cast: Goldblum's back, but he's joined by Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite and Richard "Toby in The West Wing" Schiff.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Why's it so good? While the first Gremlins had moments of Termite Terrace-inspired slapstick, it was largely a horror. But when Joe Dante was given a bigger train set by the bods at Warner Bros., he made a demented live-action cartoon, transplanting the action from a sleepy Anytown to New York, introducing a greater variety of Gremlins (including Tony Randall's loquacious Brain Gremlin) and constantly breaking the fourth wall (and, depending on where you watch the movie, the projector or the video player). Oh, and Gizmo's still cuter than a baby hedgehog riding a sunbeam.
Scream 2 (1997)
Why's it so good? Cause it's so, like, meta. It's a sequel wherein the characters spend quite some time discussing whether sequels can ever be good, in a sequel that is good. Apologies if we just blew your mind. But more seriously, this film contains some great kills, more smart dialogue and a wonderfully implausible reveal of the final bad guy/gal/s.
Return to Oz
Return to Oz (1985)
Why's it so good? This is a twisted, almost Gothic sequel to 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, the sort of film you'd expect from Tim Burton maybe. But in fact it's the sole directorial outing from legendary editor and sound editor Walter Murch, and one that does him credit. It's one of the scariest children's films ever made, and every bit as dippy as the original.
Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Why's it so good? Barely a day goes by in the Empire office without someone saying "Dip-lo-mat-ic-imm-un-it-y" in a bad Afrikaans accent: this is a film that has entered the public consciousness. There's action, conspiracy, a truly hissable bad guy, and the fact that it actually manages to surprise us by killing off Patsy Kensit
Dawn Of The Dead
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Why's it so good? Different decade, different Dead. Almost ten years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero returned to the zombie apocalypse in glorious technicolour (Dulux should bring out a shade of red called Spurtin' Savini) with plenty of satirical arrows to fire at consumerist society, as a motley band of survivors hole up in a shopping mall and then become corrupted by avarice. If Chaucer had written a zombie movie, Dawn Of The Dead might have been it.
Manon Des Sources
Manon of the Spring (1986)
Why's it so good? Continuing the story, begun in Jean de Florette, of the tragic intertwined destinies of two familes and their propensity to tear each other apart, Manon sees the tragedy culminating in quietly dramatic fashion as Manon takes her revenge against those responsible for her father's death, and they learn the full extent of their wrongdoing.
Addams Family Values
Addams Family Values (1993)
Why's it so good? It's witty, it's sharp and it's satirical in its inversion of social norms that the none-more-Goth Addams represent. It also contains the delightful sight of Wednesday and Pugsley being sent to a cheery summer camp, where they are force-fed Disney movies after one too many displays of weirdness and magically transformed into happy, normal children - a sight that's somehow horrific. Wednesday's smile is far more disturbing than her axe-murderer look, after all.
The Color Of Money
The Color of Money (1986)
Why's it so good? Martin Scorsese's sequel to Robert Rossen's The Hustler takes place 25 years after the original, and sees Paul Newman return as Fast Eddie Felson to mentor young wannabe Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise). And if the three names in the previous sentence aren't enough to convince you it's good, you might want to re-read it. But seriously, this is a portrait of an older, wiser man given added poignancy by our memory of his younger self.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Why's it so good? It brings back perennial baddies-par-excellence the Nazis, and a familiar Judeo-Christian McGuffin - some would say the ultimate Judeo-Christian McGuffin, in fact. Bringing in Sean Connery as Indy's father introduces a lovely new dynamic to our favourite rogue archaeologist, and the set pieces are every bit as good as Raiders'.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Why's it so good? Alfonso Cuaron took over from original director Christopher Columbus, and with the difficult task of world-building out of the way was able to take the story and run with it, making Potter feel like a real adventure story for the first time, and one taking place in somewhere bordering on the real world.
Back To The Future Part II
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Why's it so good? Much-maligned when it came out in 1990, this first of a two-sequel salvo that fed directly into the Western-themed Part III has revealed its true brilliance with age. As Marty McFly zips forward to 2015, then back to a hideous alternate 1985 and finally 1955, where he must avoid his old self, director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale construct an ingeniously-plotted film that ties into, and toys, with the touchstones of the first film. We're still not sure about Michael J. Fox playing his own daughter, though.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Why's it so good? It's got high stakes, a wonderfully nuanced bad guy, a plot that moves like a train, a train that moves like a bullet and some super-fight scenes that are just wonderful. It also has Alfred Molina, always a win, and that wonderful trademark Raimi operation scene.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Why's it so good? Jedi gets a bad rap, mostly because of the Ewoks, but the fanboys need to get over the teddy bears and accept that it's a damn good film. From the Jabba's palace opening onwards, it combines great space battles, lightsaber duelling, another Death Star, another Skywalker and a certain gold bikini to magical effect.
Why's it so good? In a surprisingly flammable Mexican town, Antonio Banderas stepped in the Mariachi's shoes and proved he was a Hollywood star, oozing charisma and no small helping of sex appeal while proving that he can play guitar, romance Salma Hayek and blow bad guys away all at once.
Day Of The Dead
Day of the Dead (1985)
Why's it so good? That rare beast: an Eighties film that's bleaker than its '70s predecessor. But, by the 1980s, George Romero was pissed off. And it shows in a movie that, a couple of notable exceptions aside, stands back, wipes its hand off the whole sorry affair and says, 'Sorry, the world is fucked'. By Day, the zombies outnumber people 400,000 to 1, and most of the humans left are paranoid, raging, ASBO-courting assholes. This was the first film where Romero started to side with the zombie, the first movie where you can sense palpable anger coming through.
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Why's it so good? The conclusion of the Bourne trilogy is a snare-drum-tight thriller that at last gives some closure to Matt Damon's amnesiac assassin as he embarks on a breakneck world tour. The biggest hit of the trilogy, it also established Paul Greengrass as arguably the premier thriller director currently plying his trade.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Why's it so good? After Freddy's Dead, otherwise known as Nightmare 6, had steered the Freddy franchise headfirst into a wall at 90mph, it was left to Krueger creator Wes Craven to once again pick up the pieces - which he did by achieving the impossible and making Freddy scary again, via a post-modern treatment in which Krueger was revealed to be the latest manifestation of an ancient reality-piercing demon haunting the dreams of original Nightmare star Heather Langenkamp.
The French Connection 2
The French Connection (1971)
Why's it so good? Gene Hackman came back as hard-edged police detective, Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, with John Frankenheimer on board as director. This sequel takes Doyle out of his familiar New York surroundings and drops him into the incomprehensible world of Marseille, where he pursues Franco Rey, the drug dealer who escaped justice at the end of the first movie. What he finds there tests Popeye to the limit.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Why's it so good? David Yates took over the directing reins for this fifth film, based on the longest - and, some would say, dullest - book in the series, and knocked it out of the park. Excising large swathes of not much, he cut it down to one of the leanest films and delivered a barnstorming last act in the Ministry of Magic, with the sort of magical duels we'd been waiting four-and-a-half films to see.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Why's it so good? The modern trend for making sequels "darker" surely dates back to this blood-soaked effort, with its human sacrifice, child enslavement and Indy himself being possessed by the Dark Side. While the bookends of the original trilogy are funnier, this one stays with you longer, albeit in nightmares.
Batman Returns (1992)
Why's it so good? Generally, multiple villains make a franchise weak, leaving too little time for a coherent plot. In this case, however, the villains play together so well that it's hard to complain too much - and Danny DeVito's Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman are sublime creations. Particularly Pfeiffer, who should be canonised for services to catsuits.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Why's it so good? Frankly, we could simply remind you of Kirk's roar of "Khaaaaaaaaaannnnn!" (www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRnSnfiUI54) and that should be enough to convince anyone. But this also raised the franchise to undreamt of levels of drama and action, remained its undisputed crowning glory (at least until JJ Abrams' stormer this summer) and saw one of cinema's most memorable and moving death scene.
X2: X-Men United (2003)
Why's it so good? X2 manages the difficult task of splitting its time between all the members of the vast X-team, as well as finding room to make us care about the new additions (take a bow, Nightcrawler) and amp up both action and drama. In short, it's all things to all mutants, and that's an achievement indeed.
Evil Dead II
Evil Dead II (1987)
Why's it so good? The Evil Dead made him. Crimewave nearly broke him. And so, looking for a hit to rekindle his wunderkind reputation, Sam Raimi and his bessie mate Bruce Campbell went back the woods. It could have been a shameless retread of the first movie, but Evil Dead II takes care of that in the first five minutes. It then goes on to defy convention at every turn, with Raimi's restless camera and Campbell's bravura performance as the idiot-cum-iconic action hero, Ash, the key components of a film that makes you laugh, scream and laugh again, sometimes within the space of one shot.
Superman II (1980)
Why's it so good? Superman worked beautifully as a world-setter, but suffered the inherent drawback of most Superman comics: the baddies weren't powerful enough to really give Superman a run for his money. This time, three bad-to-the-bone Kryptonians raise the stakes considerably, while Supes himself is depowered out of love for Lois.
Before Sunset (2004)
Why's it so good? If the first was about being young and in love, here's a film about being older, possibly wiser, definitely more burdened, and still in love. Only this time what's keeping you apart is not a whimsical decision to trust fate and meet again in 6 months but the whole progress of your lives since.
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Why's it so good? Bringing in intellectual, politically-motivated British director Paul Greengrass, then most famous for his searing documentary work, to a nascent franchise was a gamble that paid off handsomely. Greengrass brought a sense of urgency and desperate, high-stakes reality to the Bourne franchise, with a frazzled and grieving Bourne on the run for reasons he doesn't entirely understand, but which have pissed him off no end.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Why's it so good? The best sequels open out the original - or turn it on its head and change the rules. By that measure, Empire is one of the greats. This is the point where Star Wars went from being popcorn fun to something mythical and able to inspire 30 years (and counting) of utter devotion. And it had the courage to give us that dark, unresolved ending - pretty bold for a summer blockbuster.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight (2008)
Why's it so good? Christopher Nolan's special genius lies in building his comic book films around a theme and making them stronger for that. The theme of Batman Begins was a city's response to fear (good drinking game: count the uses of that word / variations on it during Begins). This time, it's about the fine balance in our lives between control and chaos. Oh, and Heath Ledger's Joker perfect balances Bale's fiercely controlled Dark Knight.
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Why's it so good? Pixar's only sequel to date displays all the artistry and attention to storytelling that you'd expect from the studio, and bodes well for the upcoming Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and Monsters Inc. 2. The new characters - particularly Jessie - fit in beautifully with the established crew, there's that hilarious cinephile space-set opening, the themes are deepened and developed, and that Sarah McLachlan song will slay you every time.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Why's it so good? The action, the pace, Sarah Connor's biceps, the clever early switcheroo where you think Arnie's the bad guy and Robert Patrick is the good guy - only you're wrong - and the further considerations of what time travel means for the present are all effective. But it's the effects and the set pieces that really blew our collective socks off - and they continue to stand up even today.
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Why's it so good? Although we've hopefully given you a whole lot more, this is THE trump card to pull out when having a heated pub debate about great sequels. Two years after The Godfather redefined the mobster movie and swept the Oscars, Francis Ford Coppola was back, without Brando (a late flashback cameo was nixed when the actor demanded more money), but with a story to tell about Michael Corleone's Shakespearean descent from family man to cold-blooded, corrupt monster. The scope is broader, flashing back to the sepia-tinged rise of Vito Corleone (with some no-hoper named Robert De Niro doing his best Brando), and contrasting that with the bleak, blackhearted Michael, who may or may not be a metaphor for America and capitalism.
Why's it so good? Cameron's genius here lies in manipulating the tension, beautifully structuring the switches from build-up, to carnage, to unbearable waiting, to action. The Colonial Marines who accompany an understandably reluctant Ellen Ripley are each fleshed out as individuals, and the plot brilliantly conceived to showcase every character and then kill most of them off horribly. Why does it beat the Godfather Part II? Because that doesn't have a single acid-veined xenomorph in it, that's why!
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