Fans don’t want their favorite movies to end. Hollywood knows that and it’s more than happy to provide them with sequels. But sequels can go only so far before the law of diminishing returns sets in. One solution around this problem is to set the new story before the events of the first film, which is a novel way of, say, returning to a character after his death.
Although prequels have a long history, they’ve become especially prevalent in the last fifteen years, as risk-adverse producers stick more and more with successful, sometimes decades-old franchises. Some of the movie prequels are disappointing and some are merely mediocre. Others are surprisingly good.
Here are the 10 Best Movie Prequels of All Time.
10. Mallrats (1995)
You can love him or loathe him, but for a while back in the 1990s, Kevin Smith’s low-on-budget, heavy-on-dialogue movies encouraged a generation of aspiring indie directors to create films of their own. Smith’s first movie Clerks was filmed on a shoe-string budget, presenting a day in the life of convenience store clerks Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson).
Filmed a year later in 1995, Mallrats takes place in the same fictional universe of bland New Jersey locations populated by young slackers. Happening a day before the events of Clerks, the story follows Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) and T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) as they hang out around the shopping mall after being dumped by their girlfriends (Shannen Doherty and Claire Forlani). Mallrats was released in October of 1995 and, despite mixed reception, it still has its share of devotees among Smith fans. The sequel is scheduled to be filmed in 2016.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
By the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes – the second entry in the Planet of the Apes series – former astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is so disgusted with apes and humans alike that he destroys entire planet with a thermonuclear device. Having no way to plausibly continue the story and unwilling to let go of a lucrative franchise, producers had their next three Planet of the Apes films (as well as the unsuccessful TV series) simply take place before the events of the first movie.
Four decades and one failed Tim Burton remake later, Rise of the Planet of the Apes also has its story set before the events of the original movie. It chronicles the ape rebellion as their intelligence gets increased through medical experiments. Directed by British director Rupert Wyatt and starring James Franco, John Lithgow and Brian Cox, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was somber sci-fi drama acclaimed by critics, who praised Andy Serkis’ motion-captured performance of Caesar, chimpanzee leader of the rebellion.
8. X-Men: First Class (2011)
When it came out in 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men reinvigorated the superhero genre. It was a worldwide success, not least because it managed to skillfully juggle about a dozen distinctive super-powered heroes and villains. Singer repeated the feat three years later in the sequel X2. However, when Brett Ratner directed X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, it was somewhat underwhelming, to say at least, and left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.
Therefore, fans of the franchise had good reasons to be wary of the X-Men: First Class. Yet the film had couple of things working in its favor. It had some crazily-talented actors playing younger versions of famous X-Men characters: Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and James McAvoy as Dr. Xavier. It also had a fine director in Matthew Vaughn who, in 2010, adapted Mark Millar’s comic book Kick-Ass. Released in May of 2011, X-Men: First Class turned out to be rock-solid prequel to an X-Men series.
7. Monsters University (2013)
Released in 2001, Monsters Inc. was a story about Mike (John Goodman) and Sulley (Billy Crystal), professional monsters who helped produce power for their city by scaring children in our world. Made by Pixar, this computer-animated film was yet another among their many critical and commercial successes.
In 2010, four years after Disney purchased Pixar, plans for a new Monsters Inc. film were announced. Monsters University was to be a prequel to the original film – a first of its kind for Pixar. The story followed the early days of Mike and Sully’s friendship while they were still at college. The dilm was directed by Dan Scanlon and most of the original cast reprised their roles. Monsters University was released by Walt Disney Picture in June of 2013, earning more than $700 million at the box office.
6. Star Trek (2009)
When the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise aired in May of 2005, it seemed like the end for the venerable sci-fi series. Since its creation by Gene Roddenberry in late 1960s, Star Trek spawned five TV shows as well as ten very uneven movies, ranging from excellent (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) to terrible (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).
J.J. Abrams made a name for himself on TV with shows like Alias, Lost and Fringe as well as a director of movies such as Cloverfield and Mission: Impossible III. His involvement on the new Star Trek movie was a cause for excitement. Abrams kept and expanded origin stories of the original Star Trek characters such as Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), but he also introduced a whole new timeline to Star Trek universe, thus allowing the franchise to break away from decades of established continuity. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in May of 2009, the result was a fast-paced, entertaining thrill-ride.
5. Casino Royale (2006)
Published in 1953, Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. By 2006, it had already been adapted twice – not that the casual follower of 007’s exploits would know! The first adaptation of Casino Royale was made in 1954 as an episode of a CBS anthology series Climax! with Barry Nelson as James Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. The second one was made in 1967 as a farcical parody starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles.
Nevertheless, making Casino Royale into a James Bond prequel worthy of the series was somewhat controversial among the fans. Director Martin Campbell (who also made GoldenEye in 1995) and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis aimed for a more grounded version of Bond, ditching most of the clichés that had accumulated over the decades. Combined with Daniel Craig’s unusually blunt James Bond, Casino Royale made for a unexpectedly poignant origin story of the most famous secret agent in the world.
4. Batman Begins (2005)
For a short while in early 1990s, it seemed that director Tim Burton would bring the superhero genre back in vogue as both Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) were worldwide hits. However, all that good will was squandered by Joel Schumacher’s campy sequels Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), so much so that Warner Bros. studio canceled its plans for another sequel.
By 2005 the situation has changed. With the current era of superhero blockbusters in full swing, Warner Bros. producers decided to ignore earlier movies and focus on Dark Knight’s origin story. Christopher Nolan, already known for such noir thrillers as Memento (2000) and Insomnia (2002), was chosen to direct. With its cast including such heavy-hitters as Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, and Gary Oldman, Batman Begins was almost as much of a character-driven drama as a superhero adventure. Released in 2005 to critical acclaim and box office success, it led to Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), both directed by Nolan.
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Star Wars. Jaws. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg brought movie industry into an age of blockbusters. One of them, Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed adventures of a maverick archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a nostalgic tribute to the movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Released in 1981 by Paramount Pictures, it was one of the most successful movies of its time.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom followed three years later. It is often mistaken for a sequel to the first film, but its story actually takes place a year before Raiders. In it, Indiana Jones and his companions – Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) – have to fight Indian death-worshipping cult. Temple of Doom drew criticism due to its dark and violent story (which led to creation of the PG rating) and its stereotypical depiction of south Asian people, but it was still hugely popular and remains today as a solid second entry in a long-lasting franchise.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” consists of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. All of them feature Clint Eastwood, who was relatively unknown at the time, as well as the amazing film scores by Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the third and final installment in the “Dollars Trilogy,” but it is actually a prequel. Its story takes place during the American Civil War, years prior to the other films, when Eastwood (“The Good”), Lee Van Cleef (“The Bad”) and Eli Wallach (“The Ugly”) race against each other to find a hidden cache of Confederate gold. Leone’s westerns were frowned upon by the critics during their initial release, but are now considered to be classics of the genre.
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on a novel by Mario Puzo, the 1972 epic crime drama The Godfather is widely-considered to be one of the best movies ever made. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won three of them and, for a while, was one of the highest-grossing movies in cinema history.
In 1974, Coppola made The Godfather Part II – a movie that’s simultaneously a sequel and a prequel to The Godfather. One storyline follows struggles of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to protect his family’s interests in the aftermath of the events from the first movie. The second story is about the early days of the family patriarch Vito Corleone (played by Robert de Niro in this film and by Marlon Brando in the first one) as he arrives to New York from Sicily in early 1920s.
Released by Paramount Pictures in December of 1974, The Godfather Part II was a huge critical success, with some reviewers claiming it was even better than the first film. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six.
What are your favorite movie prequels? What are your most hated movie prequels? Share them with us in the comments!
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