Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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When screenwriter Dan O’Bannon sat down to write the science-fiction monster movie he’d been itching to create since working on John Carpenter’s Dark Star, it’s fair to assume he had little inkling just how successful his idea would be. Entitled Star Beast, O’Bannon wanted to ‘pay homage’ to the space monster movies of the 50s. In his own words, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” There’s certainly no denying that the basic premise of Star Beast was far from original. Even with several rewrites from other writers and a new title, Alien, it still seemed to be nothing that hadn’t been seen before.

However, sometimes it’s not the idea but the execution that makes all the difference, and after the introduction of a young, English director (Ridley Scott) and a slightly unhinged Swiss artist (H.R. Giger), Alien became far more than the sum of its parts. Scott was determined that Alien would be more than just a cheesy B-movie. He wanted something dark, moody, gritty and most of all, scary. Not so much Star-Wars-with-a-monster as The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-in-space.

Realising that a huge part of the movie’s success hung on the monster, Scott turned to Giger to bring his psycho-sexual nightmare imagery to life in the creation of what has since become the most iconic and inventive monster in cinema. Part human, part skeleton and part penis-with-teeth, Giger’s creature truly is the stuff of nightmares. From its mouth-rape impregnation to its chest-bursting birth and brain-eating maturity, this is about as far removed from the rubber-tentacled invaders of 50s hokum as possible.

Together, O’Bannon, Scott and Giger created something special. James Cameron later added his own brand of lunacy to proceedings, but continued success was not to be. The Alien franchise is the perfect example of how easily a great idea can be milked to exhaustion. It is also a great example of an idea coming full circle. What started as a low-budget, B-movie script was elevated beyond its apparent potential by a superb direction and inspired design. However, thirty years and six films later, the franchise ended up right back where it started. With talk recently turning to Scott’s return to the franchise with a possible prequel, Prometheus, Celluloid Zombie takes a look back at the Alien saga’s sliding scale, from excellent to dreadful.

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Alien

Ridley Scott – 1979

The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo land on a remote planet after receiving a distress call. They discover a derelict vessel on the surface and when one of the crew is attacked by an alien parasite, he brings aboard a nasty life form.

You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

The original and still the best. Ridley Scott could have made an all-out, rampaging monster mash, given the material, but instead gives us an atmospheric and terrifying horror movie. Almost a haunted-house-in-space flick, where the focus is on suspense as much as shock. Hyper-realistic performances, and much ad-libbing, from an accomplished cast give proceedings a believability which makes even the more outlandish events far more convincing. Alien also features some of the finest design work seen in any genre, with Scott’s decision to use completely different artists for the human environments and the alien environments paying rich dividends. The contrast is stark. Giger’s work on every aspect of the alien’s life cycle gives the title a rare veracity. Rarely has horror been quite so beautiful.

The Alien: Tall, vicious and utterly… well, alien. Despite all the CGI and model work that has been employed in subsequent interpretations of Giger’s creation, Scott’s man-in-a-suit still remains the most imposing, chilling and effective incarnation. The creature never quite seemed this menacing again.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Aliens

James Cameron – 1986

57 years after the events of Alien, Ripley is found drifting through space in hypersleep. She awakens to find that the planet where the alien was found has been colonised and returns with an army to determine why the colonists have stopped transmitting.

Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.”

Perhaps only James Cameron would have the chutzpah to attempt a sequel to one of the most successful horror movies of all time, seven years after it was released. His answer? Simple, don’t even try to make another horror movie. It’s an inspired decision. Although there are aspects of horror to Aliens, it is essentially an action flick. And a damn good one, too. This was the movie where the character of Ripley became as big a star as the monster, and Sigourney Weaver rises to the occasion admirably. But all-in-all the performances are a lot more comic-book this time around. In many ways, this is the rampaging monster mash the original never wanted to be. Rarely has a sequel had so much respect for its progenitor, developing its own magic rather than trying to recreate the original’s.

The Alien: Cameron employed effects guru Stan Winston to put his own spin on Giger’s alien, making them smaller and more insect-like than before. And while Aliens adds to the life cycle of the creature by introducing us to the thing that lays all those eggs, the mighty Queen, it suffers a little by diminishing the original creature. Because there are more of them this time they become somewhat more disposable, and in turn a little less frightening. However, Cameron does wonders with the facehuggers, and the battle between Ripley and the Queen at the end is very, very cool.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Alien 3

David Fincher – 1992

Ripley, now the sole survivor of the Sulaco, crash lands on the prison planet ‘Fury’ 161. Finding herself the only woman in a prison full of men, Ripley also finds that an alien has landed with her. However, this is a prison and there are no weapons with which to fight it.

“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

This is where it all started to go wrong for the franchise. A troubled production from the very beginning, the script and story went through way too many changes, even during shooting. That, coupled with budget restrictions and studio interference, left first-time director Fincher with an almighty mess on his hands. Alien 3 was an attempt to return to the single alien threat of the original, but it just doesn’t measure up. The script is awful, with too much pointless running around and very little for the characters to do. In the hands of a lesser director this could have been truly dire but Fincher injects enough mood into proceedings to rescue it. There’s no doubt that Alien 3 is the most depressing, bleak and uncompromising episode of the franchise and ultimately it is this which prevents it from falling into total mediocrity.

The Alien: The first time the creature emerges from something other than a person. Born of a dog, this alien runs around on all fours and only occasionally stands up. While it’s a novel idea, it doesn’t really work. Also, the early CGI used for the dog alien fits so badly with the guy-in-a-suit used for the standing poses that you have to keep reminding yourself that there aren’t two different aliens running around.


Rating - 3 Stars

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Alien: Resurrection

Jean-Pierre Jeunet – 1997

It has been 200 years since Ellen Ripley died, but scientists on a military space ship manage to clone her in an attempt to clone the alien Queen within her, too. While the scientists begin experimenting on the freshly born aliens, Ripley finds that she is not quite human anymore.

“There’s a monster in your chest. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours you’re gonna die. Any questions?”

French director Jeunet continued the franchise’s comfort with maverick directors, but even his unique style couldn’t save this next-step-down for the ailing franchise. Anyone who has some familiarity with Joss Whedon’s writing will search in vain for his trademark snappy dialogue as the rather weak, confused story creaks along. Ripley and a group of tough-by-numbers mercenaries try to escape the vessel after the aliens break free, but the threat is now predictable and tired. The only real saving grace is Weaver’s turn as the new, slightly psychotic Ripley, now with added alien DNA. The movie’s attempts to add new angles to the alien merely serve to reinforce that this is a franchise with nowhere left to go.

The Alien: Same old, same old for the most part. The aliens are rendered with improved CGI, we even get to see them swimming for the first time, and there’s another appearance from the Queen. But by now the novelty has worn thin and the grace and dark beauty of Giger’s original is all but lost. Worse, however, is to come with the introduction of Ripley’s half-human, half-alien baby… thing. It’s crap. And ridiculous. And looks like a really bad Muppet.

Rating - 2 Stars

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Alien vs. Predator

Paul W. S. Anderson – 2004

Present day earth, and a research team travel to Antartica to investigate an ancient structure buried in the ice. Once inside, they discover a bizarre temple containing alien eggs. When some of the team become hosts to the aliens, a group of Predators in orbit arrive for the party.

“When that door opens, we’re dead.”

So, just when you think it can’t get any worse, some studio exec has a bright idea. Why don’t we mix franchises? Huh? Huh? After all, the comic books have been doing it, why not the movies? Well, here’s why. Alien vs. Predator. It was a dumb idea way back when Universal decided to put Frankenstein and the Wolfman in the same picture and it’s a dumb idea now. Coming off like a cross between Tomb Raider and Alien: Resurrection, AvP (as it likes to be known) ends up being worse than both. Not even the great Lance Henriksen, reprising his role from Aliens (sort of), can save this movie from being far too occupied with cool to remember that we’re supposed to be scared. Or at least thrilled.

The Alien: Nothing surprising, imaginative or creative here. Aliens, a Queen, Facehuggers and some Predators (who are also aliens, so why isn’t this called Alien vs. Alien?) all make an appearance, but none retain a semblance of the dread they evoked in previous outings.

Rating - 1 Star

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Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Colin and Greg Strause – 2007

Following on from the events of Alien Vs Predator, the Predator’s ship crashes in the forests outside the small town of Gunnison, Colorado. A group of Facehuggers, and the newly born Alien/Predator hybrid, escape and overrun the town. Another Predator arrives to stop them. Yawn.

“Her stomach… It was gone.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than worse… well, brace yourselves. The once innovative, proud and glorious creatures finally find themselves picking off teenagers in a small, American town. The equivalent of horror movie retirement. There is pretty much nothing to recommend this train wreck of a movie. The dialogue is dreadful, the acting on par and it’s so badly shot that you’re hard pressed to see what’s going on for the most part. Among the fantastically original characters are the reformed bad boy returning to town, the small-time Sheriff out of his depth, the weedy kid with a crush on the hot blonde and the bully jock. The franchise returns to the B-movie dross that gave birth to it, finally becoming the very movie it so successfully avoided being back in 1979.

The Alien: The aliens run around, the Facehuggers do their thing, the Predator follows them and throws things at them periodically. That’s about it. And then there is the ‘Predalien’, which is neither Predator enough to be cool, or Alien enough to be scary. It just looks like what it is, an alien with dreadlocks. Dumb.

Rating - 0 Stars

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New post on Celluloid Zombie! Come and read!

Top Ten: Alien Invasion Movies

 

Monsters

Starring: Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

Director: Gareth Edwards

The alien invasion movie is as much a staple of modern cinema as the rom com. Usually they are big-budget, fire and brimstone affairs, complete with the destruction of one or more major cities and a sky full of fireworks. Gareth Edwards first feature eschews the usual pyrotechnics and instead uses the presence of aliens on Earth as the backdrop to a simpler, more human story.

Six years after alien creatures have arrived on Earth, specifically in an area which separates Mexico and the United States, photojournalist Andrew is ordered to deliver his employer’s wayward daughter, Samantha, across the border and back into the US. Since the border consists of an ‘Infected Zone’ where the creatures now reside, despite constant attempts by the Mexican and American military to cleanse them, the journey is a perilous one. As the couple embark on a trek across the zone, their relationship develops.

Monsters has been compared by many to last year’s District 9, another low-budget debut concerning alien invaders. It’s not a wholly inaccurate comparison; both movies use the aliens as an allegory and both begin at a point at which the aliens are a well established presence on the planet. However, where District 9 was a tongue-in-cheek romp, Monsters is more sombre and haunting. Movies of this ilk, made on a dime, hinge on convincing with their performances and the two leads are more than up to the task. Andrew, stealing phone calls to the son who doesn’t know he’s his father, and Samantha, engaged to a man she doesn’t want to be with, are both lost souls. Essentially aliens in their own lives, neither are keen on returning home. Able and McNairy, a couple in real life, have great chemistry and develop their romance softly. And while their story is a fairly standard one, Director Edwards tells it without burdening the narrative with the usual signpost moments that mark many screen romances. This is an approach that Monsters employs in its handling of the aliens themselves. Exposition is kept to a minimum, with only a brief insight into how ‘the creatures’ arrived. We are left to decide for ourselves what the huge, bio-luminous, tentacled life-forms actually want, although the overriding impression is that they just want to be left alone. Budget constraints mean that the aliens are glimpsed very rarely, but when they do appear on screen they are exceptionally well done, both beautiful and menacing.

He finally found the guide, but he still couldn't find the toilets.

Monsters is the alien invasion movie with an Indie sensibility. And, like Signs, the presence of the aliens is a backdrop to a far more human story. There are moments of carnage, but these only occur whenever the military make an appearance, which begs the question of who the title of the movie really refers to.

 

Rating - 4 Stars

Now, this really was a difficult one. I could have made this a top 50 and still struggled with who to include and who to leave out. Ah, the agony of choice. But, the fact that I have other things to do means I’ll just have to stop agonising and post the damn list.

Enjoy, and please feel free to add your own suggestions.

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Allison Reynolds – Ally Sheedy

The Breakfast Club

The basket case. Allison is moody, withdrawn, a compulsive liar and by far the most fun member of The Club. She has the fewest lines but says a thousand words with each scowl from her hair-covered eyes. Allison is the perfect teenage enigma; she wants to be found but there’s no way she’s going to make it easy for you. Fact: she looked better before Claire’s makeover.

Greatest moment: The Cap’n Crunch cereal sandwich followed by defiant chewing.

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Amélie Poulain – Audrey Tautou

Amelie

Everyone needs an Amélie in their life. The self-appointed guardian of the hopes and dreams of those around her, Amélie avoids her own life by repairing the lives of others. If you could get near her without her freaking out, hanging out with Amélie would be a blast. Shy, imaginative and unbelievably cute, there are few characters in the world of cinema that deserve their happy ending as much as she does.

Greatest moment: The garden gnomes.

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Dory – Ellen Degeneres

Finding Nemo

Okay, so she’s a fish but she’s a female character, isn’t she? And fish or not, Dory is just lovable. Yes, she’s absent-minded and she talks a little too much. In fact, she’s the kind of character who would probably drive you insane eventually, but contained within this hour and a half of Pixar magic, Dory is golden-hearted, wilfully optimistic and totally endearing. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Greatest moment: Speaking fluent whale.

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Ellen Ripley – Sigourney Weaver

Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien Resurrection

Quite possibly the toughest woman in the history of the universe, Ripley has watched a succession of men fall prey to the alien creature which then falls prey to her. Four times over. Not content with facing down the ‘perfect organism’, Ripley also busies herself tearing multi-national corporate power a new asshole. And she still finds time to satisfy her maternal instincts.

Greatest moment: Grabbing a power-loader and opening a can of whoop-ass on the Alien Queen.

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Laine Hanson – Joan Allen

The Contender

Senator Hanson is an example to all politicians. When her confirmation as Vice President is hampered by accusations of sexual indiscretion from an opponent, she chooses her principles of privacy and good politics over a defensive cry, refusing to deny or confirm the accusation in the face of overwhelming pressure to play the game. Hanson wins the day.

Greatest moment: Putting the President himself down when he asks her for the truth.

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Marge Gunderson – Frances McDormand

Fargo

Marge Gunderson is pure magic. At first glance she may come across as a simple, heavily pregnant, small-town policewoman but underneath that docile and well-mannered exterior are the instincts and tenacity of a bloodhound. Sharp as a razor, she sniffs out guilt with a mixture of amiable conversation and stern politeness. Underestimate Marge Gunderson at your peril.

Greatest moment: Telling off killer Gaear Grimsrud as he sits sulking in the back of her car.

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Marion Ravenwood – Karen Allen

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

From the moment we meet her, running her own bar in Tibet, Marion is the only one keeping up with the Jones. Frankly, the adventuring archaeologist never stood a chance. Over the course of two movies she saves his life, machine guns a truck full of soldiers, survives a 50-foot plunge and the wrath of God, drives an armoured car off a cliff, has Jones’ son and then finally marries her man. You go, girl.

Greatest moment: The drinking contest.

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May Canady – Angela Bettis

May

She doesn’t mean to be weird, she just hasn’t had much practice socialising with anything other than the doll her mother gave her when she was a lonely child with a lazy eye. May tries hard to find a true friend, but makes all the wrong choices and it always ends badly. She doesn’t take the rejections very well. What was that her mother said? If you can’t find a friend, make one. Look on the bright side, at least May is creative.

Greatest moment: May gets dressed up for Halloween.

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Muriel Pritchett – Geena Davis

The Accidental Tourist

She’s a little eccentric and has a questionable sense of fashion, but Muriel Pritchett is the kind of woman who understands exactly what’s important in life. And she’ll always be there to remind you that you’re taking yours too seriously. Even it if it means following you halfway across the planet to do so. Also great with dogs.

Greatest moment: Condensing her entire outlook on life into the simple act of adding extra pickles to her Burger King Whopper.

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Sarah Connor – Linda Hamilton

Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

From diner waitress to the saviour of mankind in two movies. Not too shabby. Okay, that’s via the psychiatric ward, but when you start spouting off about the time-travelling, killer robot that chased you through the 80s, you’re bound to get a negative reaction. Mind you, by the second movie, it’s a brave man who gives Sarah Connor a negative reaction to her face. Just look at her. Would you tell her she needs to lighten up a bit?

Greatest moment: Escaping the asylum.

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Entertaining piece from my friend Margaret concerning her terrifying experience with M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Signs, Whitley Strieber and a mylar balloon. Trust me, it all makes sense when you read it.

It is Friday night and the movie Signs is on TV. I settle in to watch it with my ten-year-old son at my side, snuggled under a throw. I’ve seen the movie before, years ago, but all I remember of the story line is that it involves extraterrestrials. This will be my son’s first, official scary movie. A bit over-protective, you say? Perhaps, but Jaws ripped a bloody hunk of wide-eyed innocence out of my childhood, so deal with it.Maybe I’m a wuss by … Read More

via Conjuring My Muse

As a confirmed movie fanatic, I naturally like to keep up with cinema’s upcoming features. Man, there’s nothing like having a movie to look forward to. So, last night, I went to some of my favourite movie sites to see what will be hitting the screens in 2010. A few treasures and a lot of shit, as it happened. Same old, same old, to be sure. But what really struck me was the sheer quantity of movies heading this way with numbers in the title. More specifically, movies with numbers after the title.

Here’s what I found. I’ve included the sequel number in brackets for those films that think they can dupe us by using a subtitle instead. Fools!

Piranha 3D, Hatchet 2, Cabin Fever 2, The Descent Part 2, Rec 2 & 3, Mirrors 2, Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil (10), Zombieland 2, Saw 7, 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days (2), Blair Witch 3, Cloverfield 2, Silent Hill 2, Friday The 13th Part 2 (technically Part 13), Jeepers Creepers 3, The Strangers 2, Hostel 3, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Sex and the City 2, Shrek Forever After (4), Predators (5), Hairspray 2, Step Up 3D, Nanny McPhee 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2), The Howling: Reborn (8), Paranormal Activity 2, Tron Legacy (2), Hoodwinked 2, Free Willy: Escape From Pirates Cove (4), Little Fockers (3).

That’s an awful lot of digits, folks. The winning lottery numbers for this week are probably in there somewhere.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and rage about sequels. Not really. Well, maybe a little bit. I have nothing against sequels as a concept, okay? In fact, a few of those sequels are on my list of movies to see. Of course, the rest of them simply pull a weary sigh from me. I mean, do we really need a thirteenth Friday 13th movie, for fuck’s sake? The truth is, I can’t help but feel a pang when I remember that every single one of those movies represents an original idea that didn’t get made. And that’s sad, isn’t it?

The sequel is hardly a new phenomenon. The first movie sequel goes back to 1916 and Fall of a Nation, the film made to cash in on the success of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. And cashing in has usually been the single reason for the existence of the sequel. Although there are those which are presented more as instalments than sequels, such as the James Bond, or Indiana Jones movies, these franchises would never have made it past the first episode if they hadn’t made piles of money.

It’s simple maths for the people holding the purse strings. This made money, so it will make money again, and again, and again. Ba da bing, ba da boom. The problem is that, more often than not, it leads to an increasingly dreadful string of repetitive drivel, which gradually sheds whatever magic made the original such a success in the first place. Steven Spielberg, only too aware how awful the Jaws sequels were, made damn sure that no E.T. sequel was ever, or will ever be made.

There doesn’t even seem to be a time limit on the cash-in philosophy. 46 years elapsed between The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Return to Oz (1985), 25 years between The Hustler (1961) and The Color of Money (1986), and 23 years between Psycho and Psycho II. And then there’s the Disney factor. Not content with making sequels to their own ideas, Disney takes it upon itself to create sequels to movies which were based on classic literature; The Jungle Book II, The Little Mermaid II, 101 Dalmatians II, even The Hunchback of Notre Dame II! One can only imagine that Disney would make The Bible II, if they thought it could get away with it. Perhaps it’s no accident that Spielberg’s worst movie was Hook, an attempt to make a sequel to Peter Pan.

Sequels have a place in our viewing pleasure. Some of my favourite movies are sequels. But while you’re enjoying Iron Man 2, or (if you have no discernment at all) Saw VII, spare a thought for what could have been a great, original, movie made in its place, if only some producer out there had decided to take a risk.

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Five First Sequels That Worked

Aliens

Seven years after Ridley Scott’s original Alien, and fresh from the success of The Terminator, James Cameron decided, for the second time in his career, to make a sequel to someone else’s movie. Fortunately, this time he did a far better job than he had done on Piranha 2: Flying Killers. But let’s be honest, he had slightly better material to work with this time around. Fucking flying piranhas, I ask you.

Cameron’s masterstroke was to take the basis of Alien, which was to all intents and purposes a horror movie, and switch genres to an action movie. Rather than retread the monster-stalks-humans set-up that made Alien so scary, Cameron introduced soldiers, multiplied the monsters, and gave us humans-stalk-monsters-stalk-humans instead. In addition, he took the character of Ripley and, with Sigourney Weaver, evolved her into one of cinema’s most iconic female characters. I defy anyone not to hoot with joy when Ripley marches up to the alien queen in the power loader and barks, ‘Get away from her, you bitch!’ Yay Ripley!

Debate rages over which movie is the better, Alien or Aliens, but since they are such different movies it’s really a moot point. But Aliens is that rare beast, a sequel that can stand on its own as a great movie in its own right.

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The Bourne Supremacy

In 2002, Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity came out of nowhere and single-handedly managed to revolutionise the espionage movie, leaving the James Bond franchise to play catch-up. Taking the title of Robert Ludlum’s book, a few characters, but little else, The Bourne Identity introduced an amnesiac government agent as far removed from 007 as possible. Where Bond was all swagger, playboy looks and total lack of remorse, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne (same initials) was a dressed down blank page who could blend into a crowd, and felt shame and guilt as he came to realise who he was. The movie was a hit and we wanted more.

Liman, disinterested in making a sequel, stayed on as producer and handed the reins to British director, and one-time documentary maker, Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Supremacy surpassed its progenitor in every way, emerging as far more than simply a rerun of the same story. Ruthlessly killing off a major character in the first 10 minutes, introducing the excellent Joan Allen as CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy into the mix, and culminating in one of the best car chase sequences put on film, The Bourne Supremacy is a thrilling piece of cinema which never forgets it has a heart. Greengrass uses handheld cinematography expertly, putting us right in the middle of events, and Matt Damon anchors the movie with very human hero. It’s a credit to all concerned that the franchise ended on such a high note, with the equally accomplished The Bourne Ultimatum. Talk of a fourth instalment persists but it’s hard to see where it could go, The Bourne Ultimatum ending as perfectly as it did.

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The Empire Strikes Back

1980, and Star Wars 2 (or 5, whatever) is due for release. We were excited, but apprehensive. There was no way Star Wars could be bettered, right? The movie had been a phenomenon, had launched a thousand space ships. How could you top that?

Well, if you’re George Lucas, you simply step back and let someone else do the hard work. Having written and directed Star Wars, Lucas came up with the story, handed over scriptwriting duties to Leigh Brackett and (in the wake of Brackett’s death) Lawrence Kasdan, and gave the helm to veteran Director Irvin Kershner. As a result, The Empire Strikes Back is the most mature and accomplished movie of the series. For all his ideas and creativity, George Lucas simply cannot write dialogue. So why he didn’t repeat this method for his recent prequels is a mystery, especially since the dialogue is one of the latter trilogy’s greatest weaknesses. In the words of Harrison Ford, ‘You can write this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it’.

However, there is no such weakness in The Empire Strikes Back. And this is the film that gave us Yoda, Boba Fett, our first glance of the Emperor, and the immortal line, ‘I am your father’. And the AT-AT walkers are super cool.

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The Godfather Part II

The success of The Godfather in 1972 practically guaranteed a sequel. Ka-ching! However, Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo clearly took the task seriously, and rather than churn out a rerun of the original, they built upon it. What they delivered was a rich, layered epic, which contrasted Michael Corleone’s rise as Don of the family with his father’s rise, a generation earlier. Taking unused parts of the original novel, together with new material weaved around historical events in Cuba, The Godfather Part II is a masterpiece. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are mesmerising, and carry their respective stories completely. Every bit the celebration of the Italian American family, and ruthless deconstruction of the American dream, as the original, The Godfather Part II is required viewing for any student of the cinematic arts.

The much maligned Godfather Part III followed 16 years later and, while not as good as the previous two films, is certainly a lot better than its reputation suggests.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

In the wake of the success of Star Wars, and with a huge following built up from re-runs of the TV show, Star Trek finally returned in 1979 with The Motion Picture. It received a critically lukewarm response because, while it carried the series’ themes of exploration and discovery, it had none of the humour and fun of the original show. As a result, series creator Gene Roddenberry was ousted from production of the follow-up, and Nicholas Meyer was brought on board to finish the script and direct.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was not only a sequel to the first movie, but a sequel to one of the original episodes, Space Seed. Ricardo Montalban returned as the deliciously hammy superhuman, Khan, seeking revenge on Admiral Kirk. Exploration was abandoned in preference to military engagement, which made for a far more exciting picture, and the chemistry between the lead characters was restored. To top it all off, a major character death at the end, although he was revived in the subsequent sequel, still stands as one of the most moving scenes in any of the Trek movies to date. With J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek movie counting as number 11 in the series, it still never got better than this.

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And Five That Really Didn’t

Blues Brothers 2000

Why, oh why, oh why? The Blues Brothers was one of the greatest comedies of all time, successfully mixing music, action and laughs in a way that few others have ever managed. Its success hinged on many things, but one of the most important aspects was the presence of John Belushi. His death in 1982, two years after the release of The Blues Brothers, should have ruled out any thoughts of a sequel. It would be like making a sequel to Lethal Weapon without Mel Gibson. Worse, in fact. It just couldn’t work, right?

Right. It couldn’t and it didn’t. Writer Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis, unable to replace John Belushi with his brother, James, due to scheduling conflicts, decided to introduce a new character, played by John Goodman. It doesn’t work. There’s a convoluted plot involving a third ‘brother’, the Russian mafia and a new ‘mission from God’. Which doesn’t work. Most of the actors from the first film return. But it is all very desperate stuff, with none of the charm, wit, pace or fun of the original. Simply put, it doesn’t work. And the introduction of a precocious child into the mix doesn’t do it any favours either. Get him out of here! He’s annoying me!

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Jaws 2

According to Richard Dreyfuss in the untouchable Jaws, the great white shark ‘swims and eats and makes little sharks, and that’s all it does’. Well, according to Jaws 2, and the increasingly ludicrous series of sequels that followed, they also come looking for their mates, they hold grudges, and they manage to identify and hunt down family and friends of the people who kill their kids. Rubbish! Boo!

Director Jeannot Szwarc, who is no Spielberg, does the best he can with a lame script, which includes a laughable scene where the shark manages to drag a helicopter under the water, but Jaws 2 is severely lacking the chemistry between characters that so drove the original. With a very similar storyline, only with added annoying teenagers and no Dreyfuss or Robert Shaw, Jaws 2 is basically Jaws without any of the magic of Jaws. It leaves you with a montage of fat people in 70s bathing costumes and a crap looking shark. Funny how you can forgive those things when you watch the original.

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The Matrix Reloaded

When The Matrix arrived, in 1999, it was one of the most fresh and original science fiction movies for years. Like all good sci-fi it had brilliant ideas, which were well executed, and it stirred the brain cells as well as the adrenaline. Then The Matrix Reloaded arrived and the franchise promptly disappeared up its own asshole. And then some. If there was one thing the original suffered from, and apart from Keanu Reeves this was the only complaint, it was an overblown pomposity and a complete lack of humour. Reloaded took that malaise to the nth degree and crafted a triumph of plodding self-importance.

For all its grandeur, The Matrix Reloaded is ultimately a tedious exercise in style over content. Show without the tell. Everyone looks very swish in their long coats and cool sunglasses, but someone forgot to include a coherent plot. By the time the old guy in the white hat turns up to ‘explain’ what’s going on, you just want to put Star Wars on. Matrix Revolutions followed, and was a better stab at continuation, but when you look back at the ending of the original, what else was really needed?

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Ocean’s Twelve

Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie of the same name, was a star-studded piece of entertaining fluff. It didn’t take itself too seriously, had a great chemistry between the big names onscreen, and remembered to allow the audience to have as much fun watching it as the cast clearly had making it. It was better than the Frank Sinatra original because it avoided the smug, self-indulgence which made that movie simply an exercise in Ol’ Blue Eyes and his mates having a lark.

However, the follow-up, Ocean’s Twelve, somehow manages to repeat the mistake of Sinatra’s movie, leaving us feeling as if we’ve been invited to someone else’s party, and no-one wants to talk to us. It’s like watching Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Roberts and their pals go to Europe for a holiday and send us their snaps. They all have as much fun working together as they did in the first film, but somehow they forget to include us. The story ambles, pretty much going nowhere, with none of the tension that the heist scenes of the original delivered, and the movie ends coming across as cynical, self-satisfied and inaccessible. Ocean’s Thirteen was an improvement, but the spark from the first outing never really returned.

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Speed 2: Cruise Control

Who would have thought that the absence of Keanu Reeves from a movie would be a bad thing? That’s how dreadful Speed 2: Cruise Control is.

There have been some sequels that were never intended as sequels at all, they were merely original scripts reworked as sequels. The ultimate cash-in. Speed 2 comes across as one of those movies. Without the lead character from the excellent Speed, played with wooden abandon by Keanu Reeves, Speed 2 simply has Sandra Bullock’s returning character Annie hitched up with someone else, Jason Patric’s cop. She looks hot, he looks hot, they go on holiday together on a big ship which is taken over by Willem Dafoe (who may or may not look hot) and the big ship goes really fast. That’s about it.

Bullock runs around doing very little, but makes a few referential jokes, to remind you this is a sequel. Poor Jason Patric, who is better than this tripe, is saddled with a dullard of an action role, which could have been filled by just about anyone, even Keanu Reeves. And everyone gets wet in thin clothes, making them all look a bit hotter. Speed 3 never arrived. Can’t imagine why.