Movie prequels are a bit of a hit or miss operation. You could encounter something truly special, like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, a sequel and prequel that partially depicts the beginnings of Don Vito Corleone’s reign in New York. Prequels have plenty of opportunity to expand upon a previous narrative and shed light on certain mysteries. But, there is equal chance of encountering a film like this year’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War; one that epitomizes perhaps the worst quality any prequel can have: its needlessness.
Would you want to see a fictional biopic about Jason Voorhees’ mother prior to his drowning? Probably not. Without further ado, here are The 17 Worst Prequels Of All Time.
17 The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999 – 2005)
This group of three films is arguably the lowest hanging fruit on the list. Star Wars fans and neutrals alike couldn’t have been more excited for a new trilogy at end of the millennium. Unbeknownst to them, their 16 years of waiting began with The Phantom Menace. There’s a lot that George Lucas’s prequel trilogy got wrong, but if anything, in terms of plot, the worst offense was that the overarching narrative was little more than a meandering, overly protracted origin story for Darth Vader.
An additional disservice was done by making the films more kid-friendly, which was especially a problem for Phantom Menace and its infamous Jar-Jar Binks. Between the prequel films and The Force Awakens, it became perfectly clear that the prequels never meant to capture that magical, authentic Star Wars aura that made fans fall in love and helped pave the way for blockbusters as we know them today.
16 The Scorpion King (2002)
The Scorpion King is a bit of an oddball; it’s a spinoff based upon a character introduced in the sequel to The Mummy, The Mummy Returns. In the film, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson reprises his role as Mathayus of Akkad and ascends to power as the Scorpion King after defeating ruthless warrior Memnon.
The film may have been Johnson’s fourth in his then-budding acting career, but it was his first as leading man, so naturally he was going to leave something to be desired. The on-camera charisma that audiences have come to expect from him had perhaps offered an early glimmer, but never fully shined on. Add to that some stiffly choreographed fight scenes and a thick slather of action movie cheese and you’ve got what is, admittedly, one of the more watchable prequels on this list. Only watch if you consider yourself a big fan of The Rock.
15 Dracula Untold (2014)
There’s no doubt that an origin story for Dracula would be rather compelling, given the colorful history surrounding his name. Rather than retell the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula Untold decides to lay out a backstory for the Irish novelist’s mythical beast. All Dracula Untold bears to offer, however, is a strange mixture of serious drama – quite often psychological – and silly CGI-laden action movie antics, two qualities that only serve to work against each other.
Despite being used to launch the new Universal monsters cinematic universe, the film failed to gain a foothold at the box office, perhaps foretelling of misfortune to come for upcoming movies about Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Mummy.
14 Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Just when it seemed like Sam Raimi had regained his street cred and escaped the failure of Spider-Man 3 by returning to his low-budget horror comfort zone with Drag Me to Hell, he threw audiences a curveball. After Oz the Great and Powerful, he has to start from square one once again. In Raimi’s film, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a mere carnival magician searching for greater heights, and when a storm takes him to land of Oz, he must defeat the Wicked Witch in order to become king of Oz and fulfill the prophecy.
The cast is pretty game, but they’re mired in a screenplay that is overlong and lacking in suspense. Additionally, Franco’s Oz is frequently insufferable, although intentionally so, and the film contains a few not-so-kid-friendly moments – a ‘sock on the doorknob’ joke near the beginning is only the start.
13 Final Destination 5 (2011)
Most fans of the Final Destination franchise would likely tell you that things started heading downhill with 3. And yet, it still managed to carve out new humiliating lows with The Final Destination, a film that couldn’t be counted on to utilize the 3D gimmick to even halfway entertaining effect. There was nowhere to go but up, but the heights Final Destination 5 scaled weren’t any more significant.
We all knew what to expect with a new Final Destination film; nameless people getting lined up for the unseen slaughter, along with a premonition that visually outlines who will die when. Like The Final Destination, 5 was shown in 3D, but proved that the franchise’s novelty had worn out its welcome. The film suffered from uninspired deaths, failed attempts at dark humor and a final scene that lazily, rather than creatively, identifies the film as a prequel. Having been five years since 5, it seems the franchise has finally succumbed to death itself.
12 Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979)
The oldest entry on this list, this prequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shows how these two notorious Western outlaws first met and teamed up for a life of robbing and thieving. The original film came out in 1969, not too long after the Hays Code ended and the MPAA began, and yet this 1979 prequel is about as benign as any movie released before 1960.
The duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was swapped out for Tom Berenger and William Katt, and because of that, not only is there a high standard of charm and coolness the latter two simply couldn’t live up to, but also the excitement level suffers. Additionally, it couldn’t be as captivating when suspense was nonexistent; peril cannot be sensed when the original comes up next in the chronology. Instead of watching a cutesy scene about how Sundance Kid is given his name, you’re better off with the original.
11 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
The third film in the Underworld franchise, Rise of the Lycans was everything you’d expect to see from an Underworld film after the first two. In terms of the plot, Rise is little more than a needless chronicling of the beginnings of the war between werewolves and vampires that adds nothing to the lore, so to speak.
Sure, the horror violence is pretty fun, at least until you realize that it’s all just a rehash of that same thing from the first two films. The heavily stylized, gore-filled set pieces, low-key lighting and steely blue hue were just a few of the expected aesthetics and ensure you can’t quite make out much of what is happening. The chronic overacting from much of the major cast and some laughably cheesy transformation sequences featuring a questionably cast Michael Sheen were the final nails in the coffin. Overall, Rise of the Lycans is a poor addition to a lackluster franchise.
10 The Hobbit Trilogy (2012 – 2014)
When The Hobbit was originally announced, people were reasonably excited, given how well director Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, the Hobbit trilogy represented to the original films what The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith did to Episodes IV through VI; a lifeless bastardization of what made the original trilogy so beloved.
The total runtime of the original trilogy is just above 11 hours; the runtime of a trilogy depicting a single book was just under nine. Naturally, the pacing of each film is quite deliberate, and too often each script plods rather than marches toward the most important plot points. Additionally, the rest of film includes insipid nonsense, specifically in its action sequences, representing the worst that modern blockbusters have to offer.
9 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
What’s worse than watching most Zack Snyder films? The answer: watching a bigger, dumber, more comically bloody Zack Snyder clone. 300: Rise of an Empire is little more than anything else you would expect from such a description. Snyder may have served as only a writer, but Noam Murro is effectively able to carry out Snyder’s particular cinematic vision with a carbon copy-like precision.
This particular chapter in the fictionalized story of the Peloponnesian War depicts the rise of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) as a God-King, declaring war on Greece as Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) tries to unite the rest of the country against the Persians. Apart from a standout performance by Eva Green and, arguably, a more humanized portrayal of the Persians than its predecessor, Rise of an Empire offers little more reason for its existence beyond slow motion set pieces and comically laughable gore.
8 Hannibal Rising (2007)
One of the biggest risks for depicting a horror villain’s backstory is that their aura, their mystique will be shattered. Such was unfortunately the case for everyone’s favorite cinematic cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, in 2007’s Hannibal Rising. The film follows Lecter throughout his youth; how he witnessed the deaths of his parents and the murder of his sister, Mischa, at the hands of a group of Nazi-collaborating Lithuanian soldiers. Growing up under the care of his aunt, Lady Murasaki, he discovers his bloodlust and hunts down the soldiers who killed and ate his sister. So by virtue of the plot, Hannibal Lecter becomes an anti-hero, which isn’t an easy pill to swallow.
Gaspard Ulliel tries his best for the role, but his stiffly calculated Lecter can’t hold up to Anthony Hopkins’ cunning and chilling portrayal. Not to mention, the shoehorned unrequited romance subplot between Hannibal and his aunt is incredibly uncomfortable.
7 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
At the time, few thought the X-Men series could dip lower than Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Few things, however, are as unnecessary or as obvious a cash grab as X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It would have been one thing to create a spinoff prequel about the X-Men’s most popular figure if the intent were to expand upon his character rather than tell us more about his backstory, but screenwriters David Benioff (Game of Thrones) and Skip Woods (Hitman) made it clear that the latter was their only intent, as well as creating some stupendously outrageous action set pieces.
Fans of Deadpool maligned this particular portrayal of Wade Wilson, as well. He may be advertised as the snarky wisecracker inherent to his comic identity, but for some reason, the filmmakers decided to sew his mouth shut in the movie. The Wolverine may have fared better with critics and audiences, but whether it was worth the cost of Origins is questionable.
6 Annabelle (2014)
James Wan’s The Conjuring was one of 2013’s nicest surprises. Harkening back to the supernatural/possession films of yesteryear, Wan’s successfully, charmingly old school approach to horror brought with it some genuine scares that fully earned the film an R-rating. As one of summer’s biggest earners, it seemed only natural that a sequel would be greenlit. Unfortunately, so was Annabelle.
If The Scorpion King was odd in concept alone, Annabelle is arguably stranger. It, too, is a spinoff prequel, but instead based upon a creepy doll from The Conjuring that bore relevance for a total of two scenes. To make matters worse, the old school terror that made The Conjuring so enjoyable was swapped out for dime-a-dozen jump scares and some shoddy shaky-cam. A sequel is in the works, set to be released next year. Hopefully we can revel in this summer’s The Conjuring 2 before the time comes.
5 The Thing (2011)
If there were ever a blueprint as to how not to make a prequel, 2011’s The Thing satisfies every checkmark. Following the events that led to the destruction and abandonment of the Norwegian Antarctic research base from the beginning of John Carpenter’s film, this version of The Thing was never going to live up to the "original" (itself a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World)
By recycling numerous plot points from the previous film, giving the ‘Thing’ too much screen time and covering up the film’s practical effects with subpar CGI, this Thing only added insult to injury. Additionally, like Final Destination 5, its flimsy status as a prequel is merely held together by one quick final scene; in this case, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate is seen shooting at a dog as her helicopter takes off.
4 Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power (2005)
Even a Brian De Palma crime drama needed an origin story, apparently. Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power depicts exactly that, when Carlito Brigante, this time played by Jay Hernandez instead of Al Pacino, enters the heroin business with prison pals Earl and Rocco, only to deal with drug lord ‘Hollywood Nicky.’ As well as Hernandez, Rise to Power features a solid cast including Mario van Peebles, Luiz Guzmán and Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Unfortunately, their talents are wasted on a script that lacks clear direction.
De Palma’s original film was two hours and 25 minutes in length, whereas given how often Rise to Power jumps forward in time, it could have stood to be longer than its hour and a half runtime. Actors unable to live up to the predecessors is a common theme with this list, as Hernandez can’t quite match Al Pacino’s Carlito.
3 Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Yes, there were, in fact, two Exorcist prequels: this film, Exorcist: The Beginning, and Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Interestingly, they both tell the same story, but producers decided to remake the entire film after finding themselves unhappy with Schrader's version, which was released a few years later to little fanfare. While both films deserve a spot on this list, Exorcist: The Beginning needs special recognition. Directed by the colorful Renny Harlin, Beginning takes us back to Lankester Merrin’s life after World War II, when his experiences with the Nazis force him to abandon his faith. But on a trip to Kenya as an archaeologist, he encounters a different sort of evil.
There is no reason more misguided to make yet another Exorcist film, prequel or otherwise, than just adding more violence, more gore, and more CGI, especially because the original was so masterful as both a dramatic musing on faith and a tense, shocking horror film. William Peter Blatty, author of the novel and screenwriter of the original, referred to watching Beginning as “the most humiliating professional experience of [his] life.”
2 Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
Why did we need an origin story for two of cinema’s biggest bozos? Well, the original film brought in nearly $247.3 million globally while only costing about $17 million. Nine years, however, was too long a wait for New Line to make a move on another film, as Dumb and Dumberer could only muster just over $39.2 million.
A movie that had ‘unnecessary’ written all over it from the start, Dumb and Dumberer tells the beginning of Harry and Lloyd’s odd friendship as they help a fellow student expose the corruption of their high school principal and get involved in hijinks as wacky as that premise along the way. Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey had clearly popularized their respective roles, and their successors, Derek Richardson and a Jim Carrey-impersonating Eric Christian Olsen, couldn’t fill the shoes. Dumb and Dumber To, a "true" follow-up to the original came out in 2014, bringing Carrey and Daniels back to their roles, and fared much better.
1 The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000)
The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus for The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas calls the film a “surprising improvement” over the 1994 original. When you consider Viva Rock Vegas’s score of 25% was only four percent above the original, however, you realize that improvement was only marginal enough to be practically nonexistent.
The film depicts popular Hanna-Barbera buddies Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble as two eligible bachelors, until they meet their respective significant others, Wilma and Betty, and take them on a trip to "Rock Vegas." While the film is chock full of Jurassic-era puns and lowest common denominator slapstick humor, it is virtually bereft of anything else. Audiences may have responded to the original, but Viva Rock Vegas was one of 2000’s biggest flops, only returning less than $59.5 million worldwide on an $83 million production budget.
Were there any other god awful prequels we failed to mention? Let us know in the comments below!