Prequels are a dangerous game. They’re the hardest type of story to pull off successfully. Sequels often suffer from just repeating the same beats from the original story, but prequels have much more complex issue. Audiences already know how a prequel is going to end. They already know where characters are going to end up. The story has to end a certain way. Audiences know how it’s all going to turn out, for the most part. That’s not say that prequels can’t be great. It’s just very hard to pull them off.
Despite all of that, Hollywood loves prequels. More often than not, however, they screw them up. Like sequels, prequels have a built-in audience, and the story is already in place. The problem is a bad prequel can hurt a movie more than a bad sequel. While a well done prequel can enrich a story, a cheap one can destroy it. They can fundamentally change a character’s motivations and relationships. Most often, they provide too much backstory. Audiences don’t need to see the origin of every little detail. Not every question needs an answer. Here are 8 prequels that ruined franchises and 7 that did things the right way.
15. RUINED: THE HOBBIT TRILOGY
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated the box office from 2001 to 2003. The films, based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, were massively successful in basically every way possible. Nobody was surprised when The Hobbit was announced as a two part film. Unfortunately, things quickly fell apart.
When Guillermo Del Toro left the project, Peter Jackson reluctantly stepped back in. Then, it was expanded into three films. While financially successful, the trilogy wasn’t as well received as The Lord of the Rings. The biggest complaint was the length of the series. It was clear that the story had been padded to stretch it to three films. Also, the film’s effects and odd frame rate annoyed fans. While “The Lord of the Rings” will go down as one of the greatest cinematic achievements, The Hobbit will best be forgotten.
14. RUINED: STAR WARS
When it was first released, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) was just called Star Wars. It wasn’t until 1981 that George Lucas added the Episode IV subtitle. Once that happened, fans naturally expected episodes one through three to be made at some point. They’d have to wait until 1999, however, for Episode I: The Phantom Menace to be released, followed by Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005).
The prequels told the story of Anakin Skywalker, and how he became Darth Vader. While the original trilogy was beloved, the new films were divisive. Many felt the story was overly complicated and too focused on politics. Lucas was also accused of being overly reliant on CGI. Mainly, Hayden Christensen’s acting was stiff and he had little chemistry with his costar Natalie Portman. Considering they were the main characters, this was a huge problem.
13. RUINED: THE THING
John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing (1982) combines gore with masterful suspense. An American arctic research team discovers the remains of a nearby Norwegian base. Among the mutilated corpses appear strange creatures. The Americans quickly are then attacked by a parasitic alien that can take any form and infect any living thing. Not knowing who to trust, the base quickly devolves into chaos.
In 2011, a prequel was released, confusingly also titled The Thing. This told the story of the Norwegian camp. It was criticized for essentially being a copy of the original, only with worse effects. While Carpenter relied on amazing practical effects for his aliens, the prequel used cheap and obvious CGI. It not only failed to live up to the original, it wasn’t even a good movie on its own.
12. RUINED: PROMETHEUS
When it was announced that Ridley Scott was making a prequel to Alien (1979), fans were overjoyed. Scott’s original film is considered a masterpiece, but the later sequels had turned into mediocre monster movies. In Alien, the crew of a spaceship comes across a derelict alien spacecraft, where they discover the remains of the pilot and the xenomorph eggs. Scott decided he wanted Prometheus (2012) to focus on the pilot and his species, which were now named engineers.
The xenomorphs were originally meant to appear in the prequel, but were removed late in production and replaced with generic monsters. The final film is a gorgeously shot, but confusing, mess. Characters make odd choices, and creatures that look like less interesting xenomorph knock-offs keep appearing. Ultimately, Prometheus answered a lot of questions from Alien that didn’t need answering. Worst of all, the answers were kind of boring.
11. RUINED: ANNABELLE
Based on the supposedly true case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring (2013) terrified audiences. The breakout star was Annabelle, a possessed doll that allegedly exists in real life. So naturally, a prequel was announced that would explain the doll’s origins. While The Conjuring claims to be based on true events, Annabelle (2014) was a complete work of fiction, which made it slightly less scary.
It would have been fine if the writers had at least come up with an interesting origin for the doll. Annabelle’s origin can basically be summed up as “a cult member died near the doll, now the doll is evil.” The rest of the movie is just a repeat of the same scares from Annabelle’s scenes in The Conjuring, only less well made. Annabelle: Creation (2017), a rare prequel to a prequel, had to be made to fix this film’s mistakes.
10. RUINED: THE EXORCIST PREQUEL
Considered one of the best horror movies of all time, The Exorcist (1973) didn’t really need a prequel. Based on supposedly true events, the film told the story of a young girl who becomes possessed by a demon. Two priests team up to successfully exorcise the demon, although they both die in the process. One of them, Father Merrin, had previously encountered the demon. That story was told in a 2004 prequel.
That’s where things get complicated. The movie was shot, and then almost entirely reshot. Exorcist: The Beginning was released to theaters and bombed. The studio then went back to the original cut and released Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist. Both movies were criticized for just not being that scary. The Exorcist is too good of a movie to get one bad prequel, let alone two boring ones.
9. RUINED: PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) contains one of the most famous scenes in movie history. When the main character, Marion Crane, was murdered in the shower during the first act, the film became an instant classic. Several sequels were made, focusing on the first film’s killer, Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. In 1990, Psycho IV: The Beginning was released to Showtime, and told the origin of Norman Bates.
The prequel was heavily criticized for being so poorly written. It almost completely ignores the second and third films in the series. The worst part is that it just seems unnecessary. Norman Bates’ history and relationship with his mother had previously been explored, and devoting an entire movie to this story didn’t add much, if anything, to the mythos.
8. RUINED: THE SCORPION KING
In 1999, Universal Studios released a remake the horror classic The Mummy. Starring Brendan Fraser, the remake was a surprisingly fun movie. The new film focused on adventure over horror, and breathed new life into the forgotten franchise. A sequel was released in 2001, called The Mummy Returns. It famously features the big screen debut of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who starred as the villainous Scorpion King.
Universal decided to cash in on The Rock’s rising stardom and released The Scorpion King in 2002. While the film itself was generally considered fine, it destroyed The Mummy franchise. The series shifted focus to the Scorpion King, who starred in several direct to DVD movies (The Rock didn’t return for any of these films). Basically, this movie destroyed all of the momentum that The Mummy had built, replacing it with mediocre fantasy films.
7. SAVED: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES TRILOGY
It’s become such an iconic scene that many people don’t realize that the ending to Planet of the Apes (1968) was actually a twist. When Taylor comes across the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, it was only then that he realized that he was on a future Earth. Since then, several attempts were made to tell the story of how Earth went from a human planet to an ape world.
Recently, the series was rebooted with the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which was followed by two sequels, Dawn (2014) and War(2017). These films focused on Caesar, the first smart ape. The movies show the slow crumble of human society, not because of apes, but due to a virus that they themselves created. These films successfully breathed new life the dormant franchise.
6. SAVED: RED DRAGON
Silence of the Lambs (1991) may have introduced audiences to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, but that wasn’t the character’s first appearance. Lecter had previously appeared in Manhunter (1986), but was played by Brian Cox. While his performance is well regarded, it doesn’t hold a candle to Anthony Hopkins’, who brought an otherworldly eeriness to the character.
In 2002, the film was remade, now being called Red Dragon. Hopkins returned to the role, which was slightly beefed up, considering the character’s popularity. The film was surprisingly well made, and brought a better continuity to the series. Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs always felt disconnected. Also, Red Dragon gave audiences another chance to see Hopkins in his most celebrated role, which is always a good thing. Compared to Hannibal Rising (2007), this film is a masterpiece.
5. SAVED: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Despite kicking off the comic book movie boom at the box office, the X-Men films had fallen apart by the late 2000s. While they were both financially successful, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) had underwhelmed audiences. It seemed like the mutants’ reign at the box office was over.
Luckily, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011) saved the day. While the movie wasn’t a huge hit, it was generally positively received. It also introduced James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence to the series. Each of those actors helped breathe new life into their character (Xavier, Magneto and Mystique). While First Class may not fit perfectly into the series’ continuity, audiences haven’t seemed to mind. X-Men continues to be a box office powerhouse.
4. SAVED: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 AND 3
Normally, prequels to horror movies are mistakes. Part of what makes ghosts and monsters scary is the mystery, and it’s usually unwise to shine too much light on them. When Paranormal Activity was released in (2007), the simple yet effective horror movie became a huge hit. It told the story of a couple documenting the supernatural activity occurring in their home.
When it was announced that the sequels would explore the history of the demon and family, it seemed like a mistake. Surprisingly, Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) and Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) explored the family history of the main characters and their relationship to the demon. This is one the few cases where the more audiences learned about “Toby,” the scarier he became. The prequels created a rich mythology for the series, while also generating new scares of their own.
3. SAVED: MINIONS
Originally appearing in Despicable Me (2010), the minions quickly became the breakout stars. The yellow, gibberish speaking creatures served the villainous Gru’s minions (obviously), but it was never explained where they came from. That question was partially answered in Minions (2015), set before the events of the first Despicable Me.
It turns out, the Minions have existed since at least the time of dinosaurs, and have always sought out an evil master. They’ve served vampires, pharaohs and even Napoleon. They eventually came to America in the late 1960s, where they discovered supervillains. After trying to impress, and then ruining, Scarlet Overkill, they meet Gru for the first time and devote themselves to him (regardless of how he feels about it). While it wasn’t the deepest of backstories, anything that delivers more Minions has to be a good thing.
2. SAVED: ROGUE ONE
Was Rogue One (2016) a perfect movie? No. It was still pretty good. Compared to the prequel trilogy, it’s gold. Set directly before the events of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), it tells the story of how the rebel alliance obtained the plans for the Death Star. It also explains why the space station was built with such a glaring weakness. Basically, its creator didn’t want his legacy to be untold murders, so he purposely built the flaw into the station.
Rogue One is the first cinematic side adventure in the Star Wars universe. Unlike the prequels and new trilogy, it’s meant to stand alone. That being said, it still filled in some blanks from the first film, and did a better job of expanding the mythos than all three of Lucas’ prequel films.
1. SAVED: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies have always had a rough timeline. Most of the sequels ignore everything that came before, and the continuity doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t matter, however, as long as the movies deliver what the title suggests: a massacre in Texas involving chainsaws. In 2003, the series was rebooted, but the result wasn’t great. While the film added some interesting aspects to the Leatherface mythos, it was overly produced and poorly written.
Luckily, a prequel was made in 2006, called Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It expanded on the elements from the remake that worked (like the sheriff), while maintaining the classic feel of the series. Critics hated it, but that’s most likely more to due with the title than the movie itself.
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