The 50 Greatest Movie Sequels

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Whether followed by Roman or Greek numerals or followed by its very own subtitle, the sequel comes in for a lot of stick. "Cynical cash-in" is one criticism often levelled; "lesser sibling" is another.Here are the sequels that make the grade, the follow-ups that put the emphasis on "up" not "follow".

*Note: We have disregarded films that are really all of a piece, like Lord of the Rings and Kill Bill, and also series that share elements but restart each time, like Carry On or Three Colours.

50. Shrek 2

Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon

Released: 2004

Gap between sequel and original: 36 months

Shrek 2 still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's not as good: there are far too many characters, the plot, similarly, is needlessly overcomplicated, and even Puss can't make up for the lack of a great villain (much as we enjoyed Everett's Charming). And while some of the endless movie referencing works well ("Be gooooood"), there's so much of it that it becomes exhausting.

Glaring error: The practice of inserting celebrity cameos from news personalities, and then redubbing with locals in other territories, started here and it's wildly annoying. Kate Thornton for Joan Rivers? Outrageous!

49. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

Directed by: Peter Hewitt

Released: 1991

Gap between sequel and original: 16 months

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's probably not quite as fun, but Keanu's hair is infinitely better, which should count for something. The inventive hellish tortures that the boys suffer are entertaining, as is their dude-ish stoner speak, and William Sadler's Death makes up for lack of So-Crates jokes this time around.

Glaring error: It's on Death's part: clearly he spent so long mastering chess that he neglected his Battleship, Clue (aka Cluedo), NFL Super Bowl Electric Football and Twister.

48. Infernal Affairs II

Directed by: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, Alan Mak

Released: 2003

Gap between sequel and original: 10 months

Infernal Affairs

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.

How does it stack up to the original? After the elegant dilemma of the first film - an undercover cop in the Triads and an undercover Triad among the cops seek each other out - this more conventional crime thriller may seem lacking, but there's still a heck of a story here. And Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang, whose police Inspector and small-time crime boss Sam provide the focus here, are both on excellent form.

Glaring error: This is set during the Hong Kong handover, dating it a mere 5 years before the original film, but apparently original leads Yan and Ming changed vastly in that time, because here they look like completely different people.

47. Airplane 2: The Sequel

Directed by: Ken Finkleman

Released: 1982

Gap between sequel and original: 28 months

Airplane 2 The Sequel still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It can't, but it's funnier than it ever had a right to be.

Glaring error: The failure to bring back Leslie Nielsen. Still, his day in the sun was coming with The Naked Gun.

46. Star Trek: First Contact

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes

Released: 1996

Gap between sequel and original: 204 months

Star Trek First Contact

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.

How does it stack up to the original? If we're taking the original to be The Motion Picture, it's approximately a thousand times better. If the original's Generations, it's still better - despite the time-travel element, this plot still makes more sense. In fact, First Contact is neck-and-neck with Undiscovered Country, if behind the mighty Wrath of Khan.

Glaring error: The existence of the Borg Queen, while an awesome character, makes not a blind bit of sense for a collective hive mind. Why this need for individual avatars like the Queen and Picard's Locutus? Nothing logical: it's just a screenwriting thing.

45. The Naked Gun 2 1/2

Directed by: David Zucker

Released: 1991

Gap between sequel and original: 30 months

The Naked Gun 2 still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Well, what it loses in the presence of Ricardo Montalban and his Japanese fighting fish, it gains with the "swimming in raw sewage - I love it" gag and the line, "I haven't had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!". If the jokes aren't quite so perfectly crafted, they're not far off.

Glaring error: The failure to publish Strokin' The Love Muffin as a novel tie-in to the movie. They could've made billions!

44. Hellboy II

Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

Released: 2008

Gap between sequel and original: 46 months

Hellboy 2 still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's generally considered better, although you'll have to watch the original to get a good grounding of what's going on here. A bigger budget means there are more monsters and magical creatures, and a few rather lovely set-pieces. It still has flaws, but it rollicks and rolls in a way the original failed to do.

Glaring error: Isn't Luke Goss playing pretty much the same part that he did in Blade II?

43. 28 Weeks Later

Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Released: 2007

Gap between sequel and original: 54 months

28 Weeks Later still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's not as good, boasting neither the shock factor of an empty London nor quite such a tightly-structured plot. And this time a specific member of the Infected keeps popping up like a bogeyman, chasing the child protagonists across London in a way that just doesn't square with the whole mindless rage thing. Still, some good shocks and scares along the way.

Glaring error: The London geography's all over the place: the kids escape the Isle of Dogs by sneaking over a bridge that's, er, in the Isle of Dogs.

42. Blade II

Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

Released: 2002

Gap between sequel and original: 43 months

Blade 2 still

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?

How does it stack up to the original? Not badly at all; the action's effective, the characters all given room to breathe, and the Reaper vampires scary enough to send a chill down the spine. It's arguable that Blade himself doesn't get quite enough to do here, but that's the biggest criticism.

Glaring error: With the exception of one killer insult and the attractive sight of Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel (delete as appropriate), the third film that follows this is a disaster.

41. Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

Directed by: Chuck Russell

Released: 1987

Gap between sequel and original: 27 months

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Perhaps the most purely enjoyable Nightmare movie, The Dream Warriors crafted a cast of likeable young heroes (led by a young Patricia Arquette) and pitted them against Krueger in a series of cartoonish and nightmarish sequences. If there's a criticism, it's that it's here where the Nightmare series began to treat Freddy as a walking gag dispenser, and the death scenes as excuses to show off effects.

Glaring error: When Freddy's skeleton is exhumed, it's wearing the razor-glove. But in the first film, Nancy's mother clearly shows that she took the glove off his corpse and stashed it in their Elm Street house.

40. The Four Musketeers

Directed by: Richard Lester

Released: 1974

Gap between sequel and original: 11 months

The Four Musketeers

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's not as much fun, but it does show a remarkable consistency of quality - which should come as no surprise given that the Salkinds, producing, shot both films at once and split them in two at the editing stage, much to the fury of the cast, who were only paid once.

Glaring error: The attempt to make two movies for the price of one led to the introduction of the "Salkind Clause" into standard Hollywood acting contracts, ruling out this sort of shenanigans. Maybe if they'd been a little more diplomatic?

39. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik

Released: 1989

Gap between sequel and original: 76 months

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's the best of the bunch, mixing surreal episodes (the sonic-boom sleigh ride) with top-class slapstick and the gentle humour of situations from a thousand family gatherings. It also features a classic performance by Chevy Chase, getting more unhinged as things go wrong, culminating in a rant that would give Christian Bale a run for his money.

Glaring error: It's never quite explained why the Griswold kids, Rusty (Galecki) and Audrey (Lewis) are younger than they are in European Vacation

38. Die Hard With A Vengeance

Directed by: John McTiernan

Released: 1995

Gap between sequel and original: 82 months

Die Hard With A Vengeance still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The original is the greatest action movie of all time, so this can't beat it. But Vengeance is an enormously confident movie that balances ludicrous set pieces (McClane escaping from a tidal wave in the New York sewers) with first-class banter between its two stars.

Glaring error: The climax, reshot to replace an explosive finale that Fox bosses thought might draw unfavourable reaction in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing, doesn't really work.

37. Halloween III

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace

Released: 1982

Gap between sequel and original: 36 months

Halloween 3 still

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..."

How does it stack up to the original? Carpenter's original is one of the five greatest horror films of all time. Wallace's movie might scrape into the top 30. But it's on this list because it dares to be so different. It's a bonkers film: masks dissolving and fomenting snakes and spiders and 'orrible fings, robotic henchmen dispatching nurses with power drills. But when it works, largely thanks to a morbid atmosphere that calls to mind Carpenter's The Fog, it's deeply unsettling. And that ending...

Glaring error: Going back to the Michael Myers yawnathon for the next Halloween picture. And the next. And the next. And the next.

36. Mission: Impossible III

Directed by: J.J.Abrams

Released: 2006

Gap between sequel and original: 120 months

Mission Impossible 3 still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's at least as good: check out that initial helicopter flight through the wind farm for bloodboiling action, and there's tension to match the first film's iconic hanging-from-a-wire scene in the bomb-in-the-brain gags. The cast more than match up to the originals, too: for every Kristen Scott-Thomas there's a Philip Seymour Hoffman, Simon Pegg, Billy Crudup or Michelle Monaghan here.

Glaring error: We're still not convinced that some of that technology actually exists, you know. We suspect they made it up.

35. Back To The Future Part III

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Released: 1990

Gap between sequel and original: 58 months

Back to the Future 3 still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's not as good, and may actually be the least impressive of the Back To The Future films. But the relationship between Doc Brown and Clara (Mary Steenburgen) is sweet, the nods to various Westerns are cute, and Thomas F. Wilson's Mad Dog Tannen is the trilogy's best villain.

Glaring error: What is up with those Oirish accents 'sported' by Lea Thompson and Fox, as Marty's own ancestor, Seamus? They're so bad we hear that Gerry Butler used them as his P.S. I Love You template.

34. The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Released: 1997

Gap between sequel and original: 47 months

The Lost World: Jurassic Park still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Can any number of Postlethwaites compensate for the absence of the great Sam Neill? We think not. What with the annoying kid and the widely loathed (but such fun) city-set ending, it never quite manages the thrills of the original - and suffers from the lack of novelty with the majority of the 'saurs - but it's not as bad as they say.

Glaring error: Why do we even need a kid? The rest of the movie's darker and scarier - why not just leave the kids at home this time?

33. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Directed by: Joe Dante

Released: 1990

Gap between sequel and original: 72 months

gremlins 2 new batch still

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.

How does it stack up to the original? This is much bigger and much funnier, from the broad brush strokes (the grotesque Female Gremlin) to the tiny touches (the automated bathroom speaker intoning, "Hey pal, I sure hope you washed those hands"). Sadly, it tanked, and it's a shame, for here is a smart, wickedly inventive movie just begging to be rediscovered.

Glaring error: We like Zach Galligan. And we know that a movie like this needs a straight man. But we're not so much concerned with Billy Peltzer's story. What we want is the Brain Gremlin for 90 minutes. Is that too much to ask?

32. Scream 2

Directed by: Wes Craven

Released: 1997

Gap between sequel and original: 12 months

Scream 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Well, sadly for Scream 2 it probably does conform to the theory laid out in the film that dictates that sequels are never as good as the original. But there are great kills here, and some really tense moments: if you weren't crawling out of your seat when Sidney escapes a crashed car by crawling over the unconscious killer, you're stronger than us.

Glaring error: We'd secretly quite like to see the full version of Stab, with Tori Spelling playing Sidney and Luke Wilson as Billy. Robert Rodriguez directed it, you know. Is that wrong?

31. Return to Oz

Directed by: Walter Murch

Released: 1985

Gap between sequel and original: 490 months

Return to Oz

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's much darker (that word again), and has monsters - those Wheelers - to make the Flying Monkeys look like teddy bears, but can't rival the huge Technicolor impact of the original. Part of Disney's black period (with films like Tron and The Black Cauldron), this deserved better than to be ignored at the box office as it was.

Glaring error: No singing or dancing? It might have made the scary bits a little less disturbing for younger audience members.

30. Lethal Weapon 2

Directed by: Richard Donner

Released: 1989

Gap between sequel and original: 28 months

Lethal Weapon 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It doesn't have the element of surprise, nor the anarchic spirit, of the first film. And it's arguably here where the cutesy touches that would mar later instalments first creep in. But you've got to love the toilet set piece.

Glaring error: Diplomatic immunity ain't quite that all-encompassing. A diplomat who shoots a cop in cold blood would (at the very least) be recalled or (more likely) be handed over for trial by his country of origin. Even if that's apartheid-era South Africa.

29. Dawn Of The Dead

Directed by: George A. Romero

Released: 1978

Gap between sequel and original: 128 months

Dawn of the Dead

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The tight, B&W claustrophobia and mounting dread of the original is gone, replaced by a gaudy, technicolour, EC Comics sensibility, with exciting action scenes, a wonderfully kitsch soundtrack and some dark humour from a director having heaps of playful fun.

Glaring error: We love Tom Savini, and we know that it a tight budget, but painting people blue to signify them as zombies just doesn't cut the mustard, sonny Jim.

28. Manon Des Sources

Directed by: Claude Berri

Released: 1986

Gap between sequel and original: 5 months

Manon Des Sources

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's an equal, frankly. There's a question mark over whether this should even be here: so closely tied is it to the first film that it almost falls into the same exemption that rules out Lord of the Rings and Kill Bill. But given the change in cast, and the long period that passes between the two stories onscreen, we're letting it stand.

Glaring error: Gerard Depardieu's daughter grows up to be Emmanuelle Beart? Not sure we buy that.

27. Addams Family Values

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Released: 1993

Gap between sequel and original: 24 months

Addams Family Values

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The critics liked it better, thanks to the pratfalls and physical humour of the original being largely replaced by the verbal kind here. Certainly the sight of Morticia giving birth in total calm, without so much as a bead of sweat maring her key-lit features, is genius - as is the rapid disintegration of murderous golddigger Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) as she discovers just how weird her in-laws are.

Glaring error: The series should have been laid quietly to rest here, instead of resurrected for a ghoulish third instalment without any of the principal cast. Although we suppose the Addams would approve.

26. The Color Of Money

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Released: 1986

Gap between sequel and original: 301 months

The Color Of Money

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.

How does it stack up to the original? There's no question: The Hustler is better. And this disappointed critics, their expectations sky-high after Scorsese's early '80s output, on release. But it's held up well, with great performances from the cast and Scorsese's moody, dark look holding up well.

Glaring error: If you watch the pool balls carefully during the games, you'll see a whole heap of continuity glarings.

25. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Released: 1989

Gap between sequel and original: 95 months

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'.

How does it stack up to the original? Not unfavourably, even though it's hard to come close to a film as brilliantly balanced as Raiders. Still, Crusade is probably the funniest of the three films, with great interaction between Connery and Ford, certainly the most quotable, and several times better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Glaring error: That whole bit where "But in Latin, Jehovah is spelled with an I" is true - only the word wasn't yet in use at the time of the First Crusades and came about centuries later with the King James Bible. Doh!

24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Released: 2004

Gap between sequel and original: 32 months

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's better than the previous two, and remains many people's favourite entry in the series. Potter's relationship with godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) is beautifully played out, and one of the great "Hell yeah!"s comes when Hermione punches Draco Malfoy. It's also the first of the films to use a rather wonderful washed-out colour scheme, and to revel in its darkness.

Glaring error: The production team used Loch Ness to double for Hogwarts Lake. What if they disturbed Nessie? What if he/she/it is visible somewhere in the film?

23. Back To The Future Part II

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Released: 1989

Gap between sequel and original: 52 months

Back To The Future Part 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? No, but it's a very different movie. Where the first was innocent and sprightly, this one is - yes, we're going to use that word - darker and more cynical. As a piece of plotting and scripting, it's genius-level, although we don't quite connect with the characters the way that we did in the original.

Glaring error: The idea that, by 2015, we'd have floating skateboards and Max Spielberg would have directed Jaws 19 - in 3D. Well, he does have six years left.

22. Spider-Man II

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Released: 2004

Gap between sequel and original: 25 months

Spider-Man 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's probably better. Freed of the need to establish Spidey's origins, there's more time to spend on actual tangling with the big bad, and you can sense Raimi's growing confidence, now that he's proved he can be trusted with a big budget, in the quirky flourishes that make the mainstream action so much more compelling.

Glaring error: "I've always been standing in your doorway"? No she hasn't! She's been shagging his mate!

21. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Directed by: Richard Marquand

Released: 1983

Gap between sequel and original: 72 months

Star Wars Return 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.

How does it stack up to the original? Ay, here's the rub. While we entertain hopes of one day convincing fans that Jedi's really not that bad, there's very little chance that we'll convince anyone that it's better than Star Wars - the original, the one with extra Alec Guinness - or Empire Strikes Back - the bleak ending, Yoda, Hoth. Still, the bronze position in this company ain't bad.

Glaring error: Somehow Han Solo manages to change from a single- to a double-breasted shirt while he's frozen in carbonite.

20. Desperado

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Released: 1995

Gap between sequel and original: 30 months


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.

How does it stack up to the original? You can argue that it's less of a sequel and more of a retread, but Desperado certainly outdoes its predecessor in every way. Banderas is that rarest of things, a recasting that works, and the action's delightfully over-the-top (bass-case rocket launcher? Yes!). Added to which, the script has a wit and zing that too many later Rodriguez films have lacked.

Glaring error: Given that this one was so much fun, how come Once Upon A Time In Mexico wasn't? The best thing about that was CIA Agent Sands' (Johnny Depp) T-shirt which said "CIA" in huge letters.

19. Day Of The Dead

Directed by: George A. Romero

Released: 1985

Gap between sequel and original: 178 months

Day Of The Dead

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It may be the best of the three. This is beautifully-controlled, suspenseful, coruscating stuff, with top-notch gore, some of the most memorable images of Romero's career (even if the wall of arms was ripped off from Polanski's Repulsion) and, in the evolving zombie Bub (an astonishing performance by Howard Sherman), arguably his most sympathetic lead.

Glaring error: With the greatest respect of George, going on to make Land of the Dead was probably the biggest error here.

18. The Bourne Ultimatum

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Released: 2007

Gap between sequel and original: 62 months

The Bourne Ultimatum

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.

How does it stack up to the original? This is a different beast from Liman's Identity, so let's compare it to its predecessor, Supremacy. And there it suffers slightly: Bourne's quest doesn't really differ that much in any of the = films. At the end of this movie he achieves some sort of closure, but nothing that really seems worth the hell he's put himself through. But this is a beautifully-made thriller, with the Waterloo sequence arguably the best sequence in the entire trilogy. We don't go into WH Smiths there now without looking over our shoulders at least three times.

Glaring error: The attempt to hint at a romantic past between Nicky (Julia Stiles) and Bourne doesn't sit well, particularly considering the interaction between the characters in the previous films.

17. Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Directed by: Wes Craven

Released: 1994

Gap between sequel and original: 119 months

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Very well indeed, for Craven circa '94 is a much better director than the '84 vintage. The effects hold up better, the acting is more polished, the death sequences (which hark back to the original) are gruesome and inventive without being gimmicky, and the psychological subtext about creators being haunted by their creations is rich enough to launch a thousand theses. Gruesome and unsettling, it's a crime that it failed at the box office.

Glaring error: Given that most Nightmare staples appear as themselves, it was perhaps a no-brainer to have New Line head Bob Shaye also appear. But it's clear in his brief screentime that, as an actor, he makes a great studio head.

16. The French Connection 2

Directed by: John Frankenheimer

Released: 1975

Gap between sequel and original: 44 months

The French Connection 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It doesn't quite live up to the visceral, verisimilitudinal impact of Friedkin's film, but French Connection II is a gripping and unconventional thriller. It makes no concessions whatsoever to making Hackman more likeable this time around - in fact, as he goes around Marseille like he owns the place, it's often wince-inducing. And then he gets kidnapped by the bad guys and forced into a heroin addiction in a gruelling extended sequence that should have seen Hackman Oscar-nominated again.

Glaring error: Frankenheimer does finish off with one of the great foot chases, as the recovered Doyle chases after Rey while the sound of Doyle's ragged, fragmented breathing dominates the soundtrack. Still, a kick-ass car chase wouldn't have gone amiss.

15. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Directed by: David Yates

Released: 2007

Gap between sequel and original: 69 months

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The first two Potters are nowadays generally dismissed as the weakest of the series (although if you go watch them again they're not bad) but the fans argue about whether the third, fourth or fifth is the best to date (Goblet of Fire got a big boost from Twi-hards returning to watch Cedric Diggory). Still, this is unquestionably up there.

Glaring error: Some of the posters were photoshopped to give the (supposedly 15 year-old) Hermione bigger boobs. Wrong on so many levels!

14. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Released: 1984

Gap between sequel and original: 37 months

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Once derided as the weak link in the Indiana Jones series, this has become more popular with time and now outstrips the Last Crusade for many fans. Of course, it doesn't come close to the original, but then very few films do.

Glaring error: We're not sure that it's really possible to survive a plane crash by using an inflatable boat, especially if you then have to sled down a mountain and into a river in it.

13. Batman Returns

Directed by: Tim Burton

Released: 1992

Gap between sequel and original: 36 months

Batman Returns

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Tim Burton's Batman has come in for a lot of abuse since Christopher Nolan took the Bat-reins, but both his Bat-films are perfectly legitimate takes on the Dark Knight, and if Burton lavishes more attention on his villains than his hero, well, we already know who Batman is. This one's probably on a par with the original Batman - and that's saying quite a bit.

Glaring error: Letting Joel Schumacher take over the reins for the next three films. Dear Zeus, what was Warner Bros thinking? Neon Gotham? Mr Freeze? Save us, Christopher Nolan, you're our only hope.

12. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer

Released: 1982

Gap between sequel and original: 31 months

Star Trek 2 Wrath Of Khan

Why's it so good? Frankly, we could simply remind you of Kirk's roar of "Khaaaaaaaaaannnnn!" 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 scenes.

How does it stack up to the original? Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not fit to lick Khan's boots. This features great character moments for all the original Trek cast, lots of the jokes that always made the series such a joy to watch, but also a deeper emotional connection that chimed with the fans' love of the show and persuaded non-fans that they were missing something. No Khan, no Next Generation or other spin-off shows, and no Chris Pine as Kirk.

Glaring error: William Shatner (Kirk) and Ricardo Montalban (Khan) filmed their roles four months apart and never actually talk face-to-face, since Montalban was still filming TV show Fantasy Island.

11. X2

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Released: 2003

Gap between sequel and original: 33 months

X-Men 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? X-Men had to establish a world, its mutants and society's attitude to them, as well as delivering an actual bad guy and his fiendish master plan. It had, as a result, very little time left for such fripperies as drama or action. X2 was able to hit the ground running, character-wise, leaving room for 69% more excitement. And fewer lines about amphibians getting struck by lightning.

Glaring error: Bryan Singer leaving the sequel in favour of Superman Returns, allowing Brett Ratner to deliver a lacklustre take on the Phoenix Saga that is so well set up here.

10. Evil Dead II

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Released: 1987

Gap between sequel and original: 66 months

Evil Dead 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? There is no comparison. This is Sgt. Pepper's to Please Please Me. Evil Dead II is, arguably, the most influential horror movie of the last 30 years.

Glaring error: It's only a ride, of course, but the powers and capabilities of the Deadites in spirit form change wildly from scene to scene. Curious...

9. Superman II

Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (UNCREDITED)

Released: 1980

Gap between sequel and original: 24 months

Superman 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? What you lose in Kryptonian flashbacks and bucolic Smallville scenery, you gain in not having a stupid "flying around the Earth backwards to turn back time" move. It also benefits from the stronger love story with Lois - although the cop-out memory-wiping kiss at the end is a disappointment.

Glaring error: The visible joins between the work of Richard Lester and Richard Donner are one thing. But what's with the cellophane S-plate Frisbee thing that Superman pulls out of his chest and throws at Zod? Does anyone have an explanation for that?

8. Before Sunset

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Released: 2004

Gap between sequel and original: 111 months

Before Sunset

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.

How does it stack up to the original? It's the perfect companion piece. Ideally, you'd watch these films as original cinemagoers did for the full effect: watch Sunrise when you're about 20, and Sunset a decade later. We know a few people who were frustrated by the open-ended ending but frankly it's spot on: you can choose your own destiny for Jesse and Celine depending on how romantic you are (well of course they end up together).

Glaring error: Some of the Parisian geography as Jesse and Celine meander through the city is a bit suspect.

7. The Bourne Supremacy

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Released: 2004

Gap between sequel and original: 25 months

The Bourne Supremacy

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.

How does it stack up to the original? As you might expect from a movie that has the stones to kill off the first movie's love interest (Franka Potente), this is a darker, more intense affair, with the playful tone of the original excised in favour of bone-crunching car chases and a hero set to Po-Faced. It also had the balls to end, not with a bang, but a desperately emotional confession from Bourne to a girl whose parents died by his hand. This movie is directly responsible for the new direction of Bond.

Glaring error: How do the bad guys track Bourne down to India? Why does Gabriel Mann go to a crime scene with Brian Cox and no back-up?

6. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by: Irvin Kershner

Released: 1980

Gap between sequel and original: 36 months

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.

How does it stack up to the original? Many prefer it to Star Wars; but that's a question of taste. What's certain is that it gives us more great lines, introduces some fantastic characters - say hello, Yoda and Lando - and signals that this Rebellion is serious with the showstopping battle on Hoth.

Glaring error: Irvin Kershner originally turned down the chance to direct, not relishing the job of making a sequel to the most popular film ever. Thankfully, he reconsidered.

5. The Dark Knight

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Released: 2008

Gap between sequel and original: 37 months

The Dark Knight

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The action scenes are better, everyone's settled into their roles in an established world, and Ledger blows every comic book performance ever off the screen. There's a reason this enjoyed such phenomenal financial and critical success: it's made by a team of experts at the top of their game.

Glaring error: This is the first Bat-film without a single real or CG bat in it. We hope that you don't feel cheated now that we've told you that.

4. Toy Story 2

Directed by: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich

Released: 1999

Gap between sequel and original: 48 months

Toy Story 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? This is one of those films that provokes debate: is it as good as the original or actually better? Frankly, why bother trying to choose? They're both sublime pieces of filmmaking, both in terms of animation, character, voice work and scripting. Certainly the technology has taken another step forward for this one, but it's polishing an already-brilliant stone.

Glaring error: This was originally conceived as a straight-to-DVD sequel. Can you imagine something this sublime going straight to DVD? It'd be a travesty.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Directed by: James Cameron

Released: 1991

Gap between sequel and original: 81 months

Terminator 2 Judgement Day

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The first one, strange as it seems, was more horror movie than action movie, a sort of slasher film with sci-fi trimmings. The second sees Cameron pull the same trick he did with Aliens, switching genre, upping the ante and producing something entirely different (the bad guy's now the good guy!) while still feeling like part of the same franchise.

Glaring error: How does the T-1000 travel through time without a covering of organic tissue? As Arnie himself says, the T-1000 can't do chemicals or moving parts ("It doesn't verk that vay") so how does it time travel?!

2. The Godfather Part II

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Released: 1974

Gap between sequel and original: 30 months

The Godfather Part 2

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.

How does it stack up to the original? The two films really should be seen in one sitting, and are majestic achievements in cinema. The first may have more purely memorable movie moments, but there's arguably nothing to rival the impact of the moment when the Machiavellian Michael has his brother Fredo killed. The surface of this water is darker, the depths chillier and less inviting, but they draw you in nonetheless.

Glaring error: The Godfather Part III. If only it had lived up to this example, it would be the greatest trilogy ever instead of the greatest twosome.

1. Aliens

Directed by: James Cameron

Released: 1986

Gap between sequel and original: 86 month

Aliens still

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!

How does it stack up to the original? Entirely changing genre, from haunted-house-in-space to balls-to-the-wall action, proved the masterstroke here. This is a defiantly different film, one that's as good as (or arguably, better than) Ridley Scott's original, but not directly comparable because it remains true to the spirit of its predecessor without ever threatening to retread its steps.

Glaring error: The Special Edition adds two brilliant scenes - the sequence about Ripley's daughter and the Sentry Guns - but also includes far too much tension-deflating filler with the early Newt stuff and an unnecessary hamster.