The 25 best blockbuster sequels of all time

Big blockbuster sequels have a bad reputation — we’ve tracked down the films that redeem them…

Before we start, a couple of rules. Firstly, we’ve only allowed one sequel per franchise to be included. And secondly, we’ve ruled out reboots, although we’ve allowed sequels to reboots.

Thirdly, and this is the contentious one, it’s blockbuster movies we’re talking here, which we loosely define as tentpole pictures of sorts that a studio has pumped decent money into, or where the original was a sizeable hit. We’re really talking blockbusters in the modern day, post-Jaws era, else the Spaghetti Westerns would have been high up the chart for starters. And A Shot In The Dark. And The Enforcer. But you won’t find them here for that reason. Sorry.

Finally, this is, of course, an opinion piece, and do feel free to join in the debate in the comments below.

Without further ado, let’s start…

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25Rugrats In Paris

Not the movie you expected to find on the list, right?

While the first Rugrats movie was a shaky affair, it was a shaky affair that still managed to gross $100m at the US box office. The second, though, is something of a work of genius, far more in keeping with the cheeky tone of the TV series. The highlight is a quite marvellous spoof of The Godfather, which is pretty much the last thing we’d expect to find in an animated movie aimed at a family audience. It also has Chuckie, one of the finest and most underappreciated animated creations of modern times.

It’s a very funny film, that suffers slightly from a mawkish song right near the end. But it’s a reminder of, when on top form, just how priceless the Rugrats could be. Something, ironically, that was forgotten by their makers when their next movie adventure saw them sharing the screen with The Wild Thornberrys. Sigh.

24Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

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The budget went up and the fun factor went through the roof for this superb comedy sequel, that comfortable exceeds the original. Starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, this is the one where dimwits Bill and Ted inadvertently end up having to play Death at a series of challenges. With a comfortable nod to Bergman, things then take a uniquely Bill & Ted twist, with a witty script, and some brilliantly bizarre moments. William Sadler’s Grim Reaper playing a game of Twister anyone? Or what about that game of Battleships? (“You have sank my battleship!”). It’s tight, funny, mad as a box of frogs, and has a damn fine singalong at the end, too.

All concerned have wisely resisted a third film, because more so than any other movie of its ilk, Bill & Ted nailed it on their second, and ultimately most excellent adventure. We preferred its original planned title, though…

23Lethal Weapon 2

It tones down some of the weightier moments of Shane Black’s original screenplay, but Lethal Weapon 2 – complete with a truly terrible performance from Patsy Kensit – is still rollicking entertainment. The key to it is the double act of Mel Gibson’s Riggs and Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, the mismatched cops who spend much of the film mining comedy out of their differences. The pair are on fire here, fizzing off each other and showing just why Hollywood got obsessed with mismatched double acts for a very long time.

Director Richard Donner would, later in the franchise, allow comedy to purely take centre stage, though, yet Lethal Weapon 2 catches him when he’s still willing to put some edge into things. That said, the moment when Murtaugh is sat on the can with a bomb strapped to it is genuine comedy gold. After Lethal Weapon 2, sadly, the franchise started its descent downhill…

22Blade II

Stephen Norrington’s original Blade movie was a solid opening chapter to the franchise, but it was the handing over of the reigns to Guillermo del Toro that ignited the franchise. Wesley Snipes returns in the title role, and this time he’s having to form uneasy alliances, when a mutated form of vampire appears.

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Now granted, in most people’s hands this’d have direct to DVD stamped all over it. But not del Toro’s. His film is stylish, action packed, and comfortably tops the film that preceded it. Much of its good work would be undone by the less successful (in every sense) Blade: Trinity (clue: never let writers automatically take on the directing of a film. Very often, there’s a reason they’re writers), but Blade II remains the sparkling highlight of the franchise, and a film that richly deserved its success.It would also give Mr del Toro a richly-deserved proper Hollywood platform, and paved the way for the Hellboy movies, another reason to love the film.

21Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

We nearly opted for Order Of The Phoenix here, given that Prisoner Of Azkaban seems to turn into Back To The Future Part II for its final tired act. But it’s what happens before that ending that genuinely impresses, and eclipsed anything that the Potter franchise had managed to put on screen to that point.

The stroke of genius that Warner Bros had was in employing director Alfonso Cuaron to direct, a genuine gamble, and he rewarded them with some outstanding visuals, a real sense of menace, and with the Dementors heading for the train right near the start, arguably the best sequence in the franchise full stop. The sinister tone pervades much of the film (and is in stark contrast to those first two movies), to its benefit, and in the lulls, there’s always Gary Oldman and the excellent supporting cast of British thesps to fall back on. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is a very good sequel, with some genuinely outstanding moments.

20Scream 2

The fun with Scream 2, which has a bit of a crappy villain ultimately to let the side down, is that it has so much fun with the sheer fact that it’s a sequel. Take Jamie Kennedy’s speech on the rules of the sequel, that the film then happily starts adhering too. Its tongue couldn’t be further in its cheek if it tried.

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But credit must go to the wise hands of Wes Craven behind the camera, who perfectly understands that, while Kevin Williamson’s strong script is providing the jokes and the set-up, it’s up to the director to provide the jumps.

Craven duly obliges, characters get bumped off, and the Scream franchise would ultimately fail to rebottle what it caught in Scream 2 for its third, but not final, instalment.  Scream 2, though, is a horror comedy that very nearly matches the original. No small feat, and a new trilogy is now in production to try and repeat the trick…

19Clear & Present Danger

The Jack Ryan franchise is a bit of a bumpy ride, with a couple of reboots along the way, but Clear & Present Danger is a follow-up to Patriot Games, and saw Harrison Ford reprise the lead role. It’s also the peak of the franchise.

For Hollywood, this is a complicated and layered action thriller too, packed with a terrific supporting cast (led by the always-magnetic James Earl Jones), and a surprisingly successful side plot involving Willem Dafoe. Phillip Noyce takes his film seriously, too, although not without staging an outstanding assault on a motorcade first.

It’s slow going for the first half hour or so, but get past that, and Clear & Present Danger has all the hallmarks that someone blatantly bothered. It doesn’t pander, it doesn’t dumb down, and Ford is as good here as he’s been in any film this side of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. It’s a pity they’re not letting him near the franchise for a third time.

18Ghostbusters 2

A sequel that rarely seems to get the credit it deserves, and yet repeated viewings reveal it to be far better than many care to remember it. It picks up the narrative a year or two after the events of the first film, and has a logical feel to it. The ghosts are gone, the guys are party entertainers, there’s a weird painting, lots of goo running under the streets of Manhattan, and another witty script that serves the ensemble cast (undoubtedly the film’s main asset) well.

It’s no equal to the original, to be fair, but it does still mix action and comedy with a real confidence. And while it lacks the tightness of film one, it’s happy to indulge itself with its textbook cast of comedy performers. Seriously: can anyone on the planet snarl out a line with such sardonic comedy as Bill Murray?

A third Ghostbusters is now on the way, and that may yet prove to be the moment where the second gets the reappraisal it surely deserves.

See also: Underappreciated Movies: Ghostbusters II

17Addams Family Values

Sequels to comedy blockbusters, for some reason, never really seem to work. Sure, a couple of American Pie sequels and Naked Gun follow-ups may have generated a couple of chuckles, but generally while the box office may go up, the laugh quotient invariably goes down (that’s you we’re looking at, Meet The Fockers).

So meet, then, one of the few exceptions. Addams Family Values wisely spends much more of its time devoted to Christina Ricci’s outstanding portrayal of Wednesday Addams (and Ricci, surely, was the finest child actor of her generation bar none). When she goes into the happy hut and comes out attempting to grin, it’s sheer comedy gold. And bloody frightening.

But then, while not without a couple of problems, Addams Family Values is a tighter, funnier film than its predecessor. The sad thing was that in this cast, the film was better and the box office went down, meaning the next Addams Family movie was a useless straight to video affair, with a brand new cast. Sigh.

16Rocky IV

Regular readers of Den Of Geek will not be surprised to learn that it’s the fourth Rocky film we’ve plumped for here, but to be fair, we appreciate people will have an argument for Rocky II and perhaps even Rocky Balboa.

Yet Rocky IV is quite brilliant 1980s blockbuster moviemaking, that leaves behind any desire to take things seriously, and just goes all out for fun. There’s the Cold War, an unbeatable opponent, Dolph Lungdren spitting out sparse dialogue, over the top music numbers, and Sylvester Stallone turning all of Russia to his side in the space of 12 rounds. What’s more, Rocky IV manages to pack all of this, as well as a dodgy robot, into a fabulously entertaining 90-odd minutes.

High art it isn’t. Sequel genius? We think you know where we stand on that one.

See also: Rocky IV and Sky Modern Greats

15Mad Max II: The Road Warrior

“Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”

See? Lines like that are a good start, but then George Miller’s first Mad Max sequel – told as a parable and in flashback after Max’s death, a brave narrative device – really is something quite special. Gibson owns the title role completely, with the deliberately sparse script choosing its words carefully.

It’s the action that counts, too, of course, with some excellent car chase work, and Miller happily gambles by not simply wheeling out a carbon copy of the first film.  Instead, it takes the idea of a revenge movie, as presented in Mad Max and turns it into mythology in a desolate vision of the apocalypse. An outstanding movie, where one man, and the last V8 Interceptor, can briefly hold back the descent into a new feudal dark age.

14Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

We’ve discounted this year’s Star Trek film under the reboot rule, which conveniently gives us a chance to talk about the marvellous The Wrath Of Khan, a film that in modern day Hollywood, simply wouldn’t happen.

After the ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture, whose box office hardly paid for the Paramount Christmas party, The Wrath Of Khan was simply a blinding bolt out of the blue. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the man who also brought us the excellent sixth Star Trek film, as well as Time After Time (which we need to talk about on this site soon), it picks up a thread from the original TV series, and proceeds to take the USS Enterprise to the edge of destruction.

It plays its joker, of course, with the outstanding Ricardo Montalban as Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan (sorry), a villain that even the JJ Abrams’ reboot couldn’t hope to beat. And, topped off with an ending that disposed of one of the franchise’s major characters, Wrath Of Khan remains a sequel that improved on its predecessor, had more fun, and ultimately, just took a few more risks. And heck, we’re still idolising it nearly 30 years later. You can’t say that about Star Trek V, can you?

See also: Star Trek II retrospective review

13Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade

Appreciating we’ve got a real soft spot for the darkness of Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom (a film that’s technically a prequel, of course), we opted nonetheless for Last Crusade. The reason? Sean Connery, primarily, and the marvellous comedy partnership he strikes up with Harrison Ford. It’s a good job they’re there, too, as Last Crusade isn’t the tightest of the franchise by any measure, but it’s so pleasurable to see two audience-pleasing actors having such a whale of a time, that it’s hard not to fall for the film’s charms.

Director Steven Spielberg still manages to stage some very impressive action sequences, something he’d struggle to do with the underwhelming Crystal Skull nearly two decades later (and there’s an argument that The Last Crusade is a film he simply feels in less control of than usual, blinded to a point by his leading actors), and by keeping events in the lens of a camera rather than a hard drive of a computer, the film retains its matinee charm. Plus, it really is bloody funny, and was the kind of charming, action-packed romp we were all hoping to see when Indy returned last year. Ah well…

12Spider-Man 2

Our first superhero movie, and arguably the first entry in this list that supports the theory that it’s with a second film in a franchise from this particular genre that everyone can cut loose and make the film they wanted (before inevitably screwing things up on the third movie). Spider-Man 2 boasts the superb Doctor Octopus for starters, and Sam Raimi juggling some exquisite action sequences that he’s invariably at the heart of.

And then there’s Peter Parker. He’s long been the most interesting part of the Spider-Man universe for Raimi, and he convincingly explores the angst Parker faces, specifically in relation to his feelings for MJ. Contrast that to the simply laughable equivalent in Star Wars sequel Attack Of The Clones, and you instantly see the pit of vipers that Raimi was walking a tightrope across. Raimi won, Lucas didn’t.

But Spider-Man 2 primarily scores in the entertainment stakes. Wider in scope than its predecessor, and happily using the city of New York as its playground, Spider-Man 2 is an expensive and very big film, and for once, all of that actually managed to make it to the screen.

And Doc Ock really does rock…

11Terminator 2: Judgment Day

If you want a sequel done properly, then the message of this list is James Cameron is your man. We’ve got another of his films coming shortly, but it’d be remiss not to commend how he intelligently picked up the strands he laid down with the first Terminator movie, and simply then got his teeth into them.

At first, the idea of turning Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character into the hero of the piece seemed like pandering to a big movie star’s need to be good. But in the Terminator world, it all makes sense, and allowed Cameron to introduce a far more threatening foe in the shape of Robert Patrick’s staggering T-1000. Cameron’s screenplay also picks up the story of Skynet, and does what proper science fiction should: explore contemporary issues, and take them through to their potential  conclusions.

Yet, this is still a summer blockbuster as well, and if you want loud, violently entertaining and frequently funny popcorn entertainment, then James Cameron fits the bill here perfectly. Terminator 2 – while overlong, and a little flabby – smacks most of its sequences out of the proverbial park, and inspired a host of films that would follow in its wake. Sadly, Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation didn’t appear to be among them…

10X2: X-Men United

The likely departure of director Bryan Singer from the next Superman film means that we’ll never get to see if he can work some X2 magic on the Man Of Steel. Singer’s first X-Men, after all, was a solid, workmanlike picture that set up the necessary platform to really cut loose with a second film. And that’s just what Singer did, with X2 setting a standard that the franchise has hopelessly failed to match since.

So much of it works. Take the excellent opening sequence, with an assassination attempt on the US president. Singer, to this point, had faced some criticism over his ability to set up a good action sequence, but such fears were promptly thrown out of the window here. He’s also expert at juggling a collection of characters, and finding interesting things for them to do, and his film is expertly paced, genuinely exciting and stands up to umpteen viewings.

If Singer really isn’t going to do Superman Returns 2, then at the very least, Fox might want to consider giving him a call and bringing him back to the Marvel world instead. The two X-Men films released since he moved on have been sorely missing the man…

9Back To The Future Part III

Our rules of the list state that we can only include one sequel per franchise, and there’s a little bit of rooting for the underdog that shaped our preference for the third Back To The Future film over the second. But on closer examination, it’s actually the tighter movie, without compromising on the collection of ideas that underpins the second.

It benefits from simplifying its narrative a little, and yet still manages to resolve the whole trilogy, inject some love interest for Doc Brown and take some time out to poke fun at the conventions of the Western genre. But most of all, it’s rollicking good fun, and a nigh-on perfect end to a terrific trilogy.

Arguably it’s the least popular of the series, given its setting in the 1800s (it’s a brave move to put a Western anywhere near the heart of a modern day blockbuster), but the little conventions and details of the franchise are all present and correct, and this is arguably the film in the series where everyone simply had the best time. It certainly looks like it…

See also: Underappreciated movies: Back To The Future Part III 

8The Bourne Ultimatum

We can’t think of any other movie trilogy that consistently gets better as it progresses, leaving part one the weakest and part three the best. But that’s the case with the outstanding The Bourne Ultimatum, a breathless two-hour chase movie that only even thinks about relenting its pacing as it hits the final few minutes.

Directed in handheld documentary style by Paul Greengrass, it’s bursting with amazing sequences, arguably the finest of which is the pursuit of Paddy Considine’s journalist through Waterloo Station in the first half. Greengrass then beefs up Joan Allen’s role, and – his casting masterstroke – brings in David Stathairn and a whole host of tracking technology to stay on Matt Damon’s tail.

Backed with a thumping score from John Powell, The Bourne Ultimatum has a strong case for being the action movie of the decade. Unsurprisingly, Bourne 4 is likely to be coming in the next few years…

7The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

You could debate whether this is a sequel or not, but given the year we had to wait for it, we felt it just about snuck over the line. The difficult middle chapter of Peter Jackson’s genuinely epic cinematic trilogy, The Two Towers was arguably the toughest of the three stories to put on film. And yet what a job he made of it, not least the stunning realisation of Gollum, and the frankly amazing battle of Helm’s Deep. As someone remarked to us once, it’s the first time they’d seen battle strategy convincingly realised in a movie, and they were absolutely right.

Freed from the need of the baggy final act that would drag Return Of The King down slightly, The Two Towers is an excellent, dark and towering ‘sequel’, that puts its main characters through the wringer, and leaves them damaged and weakened ahead of their final quest.

And Gollum really is something a bit special, isn’t it?

6Superman II

It’s some achievement, given the fact that the film was shot by two different directors, that Superman II emerged to be quite the comic book masterpiece that it is. The first Superman is an outstanding film, but its sequel, arguably, eclipses it. And it does it by a simple mechanic of spending time with its hero and his frailties, and then delivering one of the very best villains in blockbuster cinema history.

It should be said that Christopher Reeve as Superman is superb here, as he explores his feelings for Lois and ultimately sheds his superpowers to be with her. But the world gets turned on its head when three super-villains, led by Terence Stamp’s screamingly brilliant General Zod, arrive on Earth. Stamp eats up every inch of celluloid he’s allowed near, with his deadpan delivery and sneer of evil giving Superman a foe that the films have never matched since (Nuclear Man doesn’t measure up, sadly).

It’s a borderline masterpiece of a comic book movie, and an exceptional sequel. And it also proves that it is possible to have four villains in the same film, and not compromise the end result.

See also: 80s Icons: General Zod

5Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Joe Dante has made no bones about the fact that he made Gremlins 2 as if there wouldn’t ever be a Gremlins 3, and he did a fabulous job at realising his ambition. Only taking on the job when he was given assurances that he’d be able to make the film he wanted, he delivers a startlingly on-the-money parody of movie blockbusters, while also sending the comedy factor through the roof. He sidelines his main character from the first film, Gizmo, for long periods, but he’s having so much fun with his new collection of Gremlins, that you can’t blame him at all. Few blockbuster movies, yet alone sequels, have anywhere near the number of ideas that are crammed into Gremlins 2, and it still beggars belief that audiences at the time all went off to see Dick Tracy instead.

Bonus marks too of course for a cameo from Christopher Lee, and an amazing rendition of New York, New York at the end of the film. But most of all, Gremlins 2 deserves to be recognised as one of the most subversive, creative and downright entertaining sequels that Hollywood has ever produced.

See also: Zach Galligan interview, Joe Dante interview, Underappreciated movies: Gremlins II

4The Dark Knight

Batman Begins’ sequel has, with some justification, been called The Godfather Part II of superhero movies, and it’s not tricky to see why. Based on a fiercely ambitious screenplay from brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, The Dark Knight takes the Batman cinematic franchise into its darkest territory, finding time to explore its underlying theme of us getting the heroes we deserve in a dense, immaculately directed film. It also helped that in Heath Ledger’s Joker, it presented Batman with an unhinged, unbeatable foil, that turned the mirror on the Dark Knight instead.

What ices the cake is a superb, intelligent ending, that even manages to trump the emergence of a certain playing card at the end of Batman Begins. And while it does have a couple of problems, The Dark Knight is not only one of the very best blockbuster sequels, but one of the best blockbusters full stop.

No wonder director Christopher Nolan seems uncommitted to even attempting to follow it. We all remember what The Godfather Part III was like, after all…

3Toy Story 2

The film where everything that Pixar does and stands for gelled spectacularly. Originally mooted, as most already know, as a direct to video sequel, it was the quality of footage that Pixar was putting together that convinced Disney to upgrade it to a cinematic release. Hundreds of millions of dollars later, it did not regret the decision.

And what a film. Based on a script that really should have been Oscar nominated, this is as exciting, witty, pacey and downright enjoyable a family movie as you could legitimately hope for. Still standing up exceptionally well a decade later, it broadens its scope by relocating Woody to Al’s Toy Barn, and leaving Buzz to coordinate a rescue. Then? It gives these characters more charm and scope than most animated – and live action – movies could even think of managing, and it’s gone before it even thinks of outstaying its welcome.

Here’s hoping Toy Story 3 keeps the standard so high…

2The Empire Strikes Back

There’s that revelation. There’s the heroes spending two hours getting a good kicking. There’s the attack on the ice planet of Hoth. The walkers. There’s one of the heroes getting captured and frozen. There’s Cloud City. There’s Lando. There’s some outstanding space battles. There’s Yoda. There’s the training in the woods. There’s the sheer evilness of Darth Vader, here at his dastardly worst. There’s Han Solo chucking out quotable lines. There’s Boba Fett. There’s the foreboding figure of the Emperor. There are the snowspeeders. There’s arguably the best lightsabre battle of the entire franchise. And that’s just a flavour of what George Lucas and Irvin Kershner manage to cram into under 130 minutes.

It’s hard to believe that The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t much of a critical hit on its initial release, given the regard in which it’s held now. But let’s be clear about it right now: this is an epic sequel, chock-full of ideas, excitement and the kind of action, along with a sense of fun, that was simply hard to track down in the recent prequel trilogy.

It is, simply, George Lucas’ masterpiece, and the highpoint of the entire Star Wars saga. And were it not for what’s coming next, it would be the finest blockbuster sequel on the planet…

1Aliens

Sequels, in an ideal world, are supposed to build on the original and flesh things out a little. Not in the world of James Cameron. He took on the job of directing an Alien sequel, and managed to stay both reverential to original director Ridley Scott, while expanding on the storyline and thinking of the first film substantially. No half measures here, this is a full-on, outstanding sequel, and the most respectful passing of a franchise between two directors in cinema history.

It’s often said that Cameron took the franchise in the only logical way a sequel could go, by throwing in lots of aliens rather than just one. But that does him a disservice. Here, he gives a master class in putting a sequel together. He fleshes out the character of Ripley considerably, and doesn’t contrive a reason to get her to a point in the world where logically she wouldn’t ever want to go. Instead, there’s a logical, structured narrative that makes sense, and plays havoc with her own personal chronology.

What Cameron then does is add fresh, interesting and fully rounded characters. Try and name a character from any other Alien sequel, and we’d wager you can’t. Then realise that Cameron has ingrained the names of Hicks, Hudson, Burke, Vasquez, Apone and Bishop in our heads over two decades later. That’s no small feat.

After diligently spending time – around an hour in the director’s cut – setting up his story and characters, it’s only then that Cameron leads us to the aliens of the title, and even then, he manages to ratchet the tension through the roof. And when the attacks came? Few action directors can hold a candle to Cameron on top form, and that’s exactly what he’s on here.

Aliens, as a standalone movie, is a remarkable piece of blockbuster cinema, that in many ways simply hasn’t been equalled since. That it’s a sequel is even more incredible, and for our money, it’s the film that every other follow-up should be aspiring to, and be inspired by. Assholes and elbows indeed…

See also: The 75 best movie spaceships

 

Honourable mentions:

Those That Could Have Been Included But Didn’t Make The Top 25:Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged MeStuart Little 2 (it’s surprisingly good!)Shrek 2 (but only really for Donkey)Die Hard sequels (none are great, but all are fun)Hellboy IIJames Bond movies (we’re at the point with 007 where it’s a series rather than a collection of sequels. Quantum Of Solace was arguably a sequel, it just wasn’t very good…)The Color Of Money (not really a blockbuster)Final Destination 2 (a real guilty pleasure for us)Kill Bill Vol 2 (arguably part of the same film, although LOTR still got in. But even so, just bubbling under)Batman Returns, The Bourne Supremacy etc (it’s the one sequel per franchise rule, sorry!)A Very Brady Sequel (loved it, but heck, it went straight to video in the UK)

Those That Missed Out By Not Being Blockbusters:

The Godfather Part II: arguably the greatest sequel of all time, and a huge hit for Paramount. But it wasn’t a blockbuster in the sense that we know them now, hence it’s on the sidelines here.

Before Sunset: A brilliant sequel to Before Sunrise, and one of this writer’s favourite films. But it’s a small indie movie, really, hence it can’t take its place.Clerks 2: Some of us here love Clerks 2, but it’s still a comparably low profile film playing to a small-ish target audienceEvil Dead 2: Ditto, really…

Okay, those are our choices. Do your worst in the comments…!