22. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
directed by Irvin Kershner
Middle child syndrome does not affect the second Star Wars film. It knows exactly what it is, and often gets the most attention. Benefiting from a band of characters we already know and love, and by giving the world the most-quoted cliffhanger in film history, Empire is a typical favorite of the entire series. Things that shouldn’t work (a puppet as guru; kangaroo-horses) do work, and things that always work (rites of passage; Freud/Campbell templates) work even better for being surprise elements in what is really only comic book sci-fi writ large. Visually and thematically richer and darker, it is everything that entertains minus anything that bores.