Back to the Future: Hollywood’s Fascination with Prequels

Published 3 years ago by

Prequels Back to the Future: Hollywoods Fascination with Prequels

The release date for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is looming, and the marketing materials won’t have you know it, but the film is a prequel to Scott’s 1979 film, Alien. The term “prequel” is something of a dirty word in Hollywood these days, and therefore, Scott refers to the film as having “strands of Alien‘s DNA”. Okay, so that clears things up.

The notion of the prequel doesn’t just show Hollywood’s dearth of originality – it also illustrates that they have little faith in their audience. We can no longer just imagine that characters had lives before they appeared onscreen – now those pre-lives also have to be shown. It’s the cinematic equivalent of meeting someone for the first time and then telling them your life story up until that moment.

The prequel isn’t a new phenomenon, though: Zulu Dawn (1979) predated the timeline of 1964 Michael Caine film Zulu, while Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (also 1979) was set before the events on the blockbuster 1969 western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (something of a necessity, considering the titular characters met their demise at the end of George Roy Hill’s film).

However, the prequel concept really took off in 1999 when George Lucas launched a prequel trilogy to his hugely successful Star Wars franchise. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Lucas dabbled with a prequel film: the second Indiana Jones adventure, Temple of Doom (1984), was set – for no obvious reason – chronologically before Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981).

Star Wars Prequels Episode I Anakin Darth Vader Shadow Back to the Future: Hollywoods Fascination with Prequels

Since the Star Wars prequels, no cinematic conclusion has been finite. Filmmakers can simply roll back the clock and begin before the events of the initial film in a franchise. Movies like Hannibal Rising, Exorcist: The Beginning and even The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas filled multiplexes in the 2000s, trading on name recognition and audience familiarity. If a star didn’t want to do a film, or was simply too expensive, they could be recast with a younger, cheaper actor (see 2003′s Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd).

Last summer’s X-Men: First Class is another example of a studio’s fiscal decision to “reboot” a franchise. While Hugh Jackman is still willing to play Wolverine in his own spin-off prequels, the original X-Men series became too crowded, with Halle Berry wanting onscreen (and financial) parity with Jackman after her Academy Award win for Monsters Ball in 2001. For Fox, it was simply cheaper to restart the franchise after three films, with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy taking over the roles made famous by Ian McKellen (Magneto) and Patrick Stewart (Prof. X), while costly headliners like Jackman and Berry were written out of the series.

x men first class spoilers Back to the Future: Hollywoods Fascination with Prequels

Few of these prequels have met the financial or critical success of the original film, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from continuing to churn out more of them. The prequel phenomenon continues unabated with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings precursor, The Hobbit, hitting screens this December; an X-Men: First Class follow-up is on the way, and a continuation of last summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is also in the pipeline. Warner Bros is even developing a prequel to the Will Smith-starring adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend - presumably titled Before I Was Legend (kidding?).

It remains to be seen if Prometheus can recapture the magic of Scott’s original Alien, a film which led to three sequels and two spin-offs in the form of the abhorred Alien Vs Predator films. However, the marketing of the Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi  has been building audience anticipation levels, and if the film is a success at the box office, then it would appear that there was indeed much more “space” left to explore.

Prometheus will be in theaters on June 8, 2012.

SIDENOTE: As if a never-ending list of prequels weren’t enough, check out all these upcoming Remakes and Reboots.

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  1. As long as it expands the universe due to demand or scope for more stories, I don’t mind prequels. What I hate are the shameless tie-ins that are obviously only there to grab more money and have no heart or thought put into them.

  2. Dont think The Hobbit qualifies considering that it existed before LOTR but just was filmed second, there was an animated Hobbit film first

    • there was an animated LotR trilogy also.

    • Agreed. The Hobbit doesn’t count. As far as X-Men First Class goes, I don’t think it’s a good example to use for this article either. Xavier and Magneto have always been two of the most compelling mutants in that world. It’d be a shame to never explore what they did in their heyday, or how they got their. I’m not too crazy about First Class myself, I think the concept would’ve been executed better had Fox given Vaughn more time. That being said, being able to see how Magneto became the powerful mutant leader he was in Singer’s series was well worth it.

      In general, the origins of great things are often fantastic stories themselves. People bash on origins nowadays because they feel it’s a retreat on what they already know, but every now and then you get something along the lines of Batman Begins that tells you that origins can still give us compelling new insights. Begins wasn’t a prequel, but I brought it up because it was an origin story, and many prequels are origin stories.

  3. “I Will Be Legend”

  4. Dazz i agree 100%. as long as they try to make something with a good qaulity with great story and charcter development they can continue to make them. I love a good prequel, sequel,remake,spin-off (etc) as long as the story is strong, and charcter grow, and have well placed action-comedy and the right effects practical with a blend of cgi i think they work.haveing said that i also love unique, and original films as well same thing applies.i would love to see a underworld origins prequel of marcus,william,corvinus,amelia,and victor turning into a vampire from a old man, and a sequel to awekening with a lycan female. also a remake,or sequel to island of dr moreau maybe diary of dr moreau, a sequel to splice, and a remake to creature from the blacjk lagoon and original stories like dino crisis, and steve altens the loch but i continue to want these and the likelyness of them actually happening are slim to none. but as long as films have great stories i will be watching.

  5. I liked the Tremors prequel, but what’s not to love with those worms.

    • @ Pitt Man

      I like ya, but you seriously liked Tremors 4?

  6. “while costly headliners like Jackman and Berry were written out of the series.”

    yeah….did you actually watch first class? Jackman did a cameo as wolverine in the recruitment “montage”…so no….he was not “written out of the series”…

  7. A brief cameo does not a millions of dollars lead actor make. So the original point is more than valid.

    • You’re right, they are giving him his own movie entirely… Wolverine 2. Stooge!

      • and being that it is within the time period of the First Class series of events, cameos are possible from that side of the fence too!

  8. jackmon being in first class as a cameo and rebecca romian show that all the films connect.

  9. I wonder how many articles have been written decrying the need for prequels, reboots, remakes and sequels. Even in denouncing these endeavors, the article serves the end means by publicizing those projects. So long as there is talk about them, these projects will live on. I don’t think it’s fair to lump them all in one big basket as some originals have paled in comparison to the subsequent films they’ve spawned. I can get behind the seeming lack of originality that has consumed all of Hollywood for much too long, but, we aren’t going to stop the machine with talk.

  10. As Patton Oswalt so elequently put it. “I don’t give a #$@! where the stuff I love comes from. I just love the stuff I love.”

  11. How about the latest “The Thing”, prequel to John Carpenter’s “The Thing”? I have the prequel sitting up in my study right now, waiting for me to watch it when I have a couple hours free (JC’s version was fantastic, one of the best sci-fi/horror flicks ever!).

    • You’re in for disappointment…they spend a good deal of time tying things (hehe) into the original, but it completely lacks the suspense and mystery of the original, and the ending is so cliche and unoriginal.

      Not saying it’s completely bad, it just does not compare to the original.

  12. Prometheus looks to be amazing. It’s not a direct prequel – as the double-jawed acid bleeding terrors of the Alien films will not be the focus (and may not be featured at all), but instead focuses on the alien pilot species seen in the first film. It’s more of a prequel/sidequel than anything else.

    Plus it’s Ridley #*%&ing Scott.

    • “Plus it’s Ridley #*%&ing Scott”

      Pretty much hit the nail on the head there. This isn’t George #*%&ing Lucas.

  13. and being that it is within the time period of the First Class series of events, cameos are possible from that side of the fence too!

  14. also a remake,or sequel to island of dr moreau maybe diary of dr moreau, a sequel to splice, and a remake to creature from the blacjk lagoon and original stories like dino crisis, and steve altens the loch but i continue to want these and the likelyness of them actually happening are slim to none. but as long as films have great stories i will be watching.

  15. *whines* Whhhyyyyyy? I feel like the more they come out with the prequels the more I want to hunker down over my old school movies and grunt “YOU NO TOUCHY!” like some cave dwelling slug. I don’t WANT to spend my money on something where I know the eventual outcome. It’s like a flashback montage in a series taking 7 to 8 episodes to tell the tale AFTER we’ve been introduced to other main characters. It’s not confusing perse it’s that I’ve been told to invest in another set of characters first and now I have to like these characters because they came before.

    It feels like shoddy story telling and weak ideas. It feels like a cash grab. I hate it when people grab my cash. :(

  16. The new Fast and the Furious movies are in a way prequels too.

    • Fast & Furious and Fast Five are sequel/ prequels lol. They are sequels to The Fast & The Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious. They are prequels to The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drft. So their chronological veiwing order as of right now is 1,2,4,5,3 kinda weird . . .

  17. I don’t know if you can put the Hobbit in the same category as other Hollywood prequels. I mean, technically it’s not a prequel. It was the original, and they just made the sequel into a movie first.

    I also think that’s why Ridley Scott has been avoiding calling Prometheus an Alien “prequel”. It has all new characters, and an all new story.

  18. I hated Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. That was a bad prequel imo.

  19. So the AVP spin-offs part of both Alien/Predator franchises? After thats what they were pretty much imo.

  20. While most prequels are met with a raised eyebrow at 1st I’m not always against them.
    IMO they wouldn’t be looked at so harshly if Lucas succeeded with Star Wars.
    The fact that they were so big yet at the same time so so bad people are still a bit scorned and bitter. And if you think there’s a lot of prequels now imagine the world if the Star Wars prequels were a critical success as well as box office? There would be a prequel to every successful movie ever made.
    Prometheus seems to be on track for success though. Even if you haven’t seen Alien I can’t imagine anyone seeing the footage for for it and not being intrigued. I’ve been avoiding new footage lately so maybe there’s a chance that it’s starting to look bad but I highly, highly doubt it. Even if I had no idea about the Alien connection and I just saw one of the 1st trailers I’d be excited.
    And like others have said it’s Ridley frickin Scott doing Sci-Fi again. I’m sold…

  21. I Am Legend prequel??? shoot me