As we start the summer season, studios begin trotting out the biggest of their big releases – the sequels. Last summer, sequels in the Indiana Jones, Batman, The Mummy and Hellboy franchises all descended on the multiplex and this year, a new Harry Potter, Transformers, and Night and the Museum attempt to make their mark. But what to do when you’ve exhausted the sequel storylines? Take your box office ball and go home? No, you do what the creators of the X-Men franchise are doing on May 1 with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine –a prequel! We pose the question, is it worth asking “how did it all start?”
by Grant Thompson
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The first X-Men comic book adaptation opened to rave reviews and commercial success in the summer of 2000, so X2 in 2003 and X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 followed. You’re boxed into a corner a bit when the series’ last installment claims to be “The Last Stand.” Now they’re going in the other direction, with a prequel that details the background of Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine character and how he got those pesky adamantium claws. We're betting an action-packed prequel is a better way to give us that info than a surgery-channel show.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
George Lucas’s reboot of the Star Wars trilogy has to be the most famous series of prequels in movie history. And by famous, meaning almost universally vilified. Episode II: Attack of the Clones is largely forgettable. The third, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, got a little better with the introduction of young Darth Vader, but still fell far short of the three originals. No wonder the original Star Wars was subtitled “A New Hope” – as in, hope to never again have to watch Hayden Christensen attempt to emote.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
The second Godfather film is the only movie on our list that is simultaneously both a sequel and a prequel. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece that took home the Best Picture Academy Award for 1974 details two parallel storylines, one following Al Pacino’s increasingly powerful Michael Corleone, the other following Michael’s father, Vito, played by Robert De Niro, and his ascent to power in the first place. Flashbacks are used brilliantly by the hit show “Lost” -- but long before there was Jack and Locke, there was Michael and Vito.
Red Dragon (2002)
What’s interesting about this film is not that it took place before the events of Silence of the Lambs, but that it had already been made -- as Michael Mann's Manhunter in 1986, starring William Peterson and Bryan Cox as the FBI agent and killer, respectively. Mann's piece was a solid thriller but flew largely under the radar. When Silence of the Lambs took the world by storm five years later, the producers (rightly) determined Manhunter was ripe for a remake.
Butch and Sundance: The Early Years (1979)
Tom Berenger and William Katt take over for Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the title roles, which is a little like if you went to a U2 concert and Color Me Badd showed up instead. Whenever you see 10 years pass between the original and the prequel, picture some studio exec suddenly jumping up like he was struck by lightning: “Wait a second, people loved Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, let’s make some money and sequelize…wait for it…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!” Then said studio exec smokes dope and meets Robert Evans at the Polo Lounge (hey, we’re picturing the ‘70s).
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
The first two installments of the vampire vs. werewolves franchise Underworld were both highly stylized and enjoyable action pics starring a severely bad-ass Kate Beckinsale as the Death Dealer Selene, whose penchant for blasting two guns at once was matched only by her affinity for tight leather outfits. For this prequel producers clearly had one thing in mind – how can we convince everyone that Kate Beckinsale is still in this franchise? Hire another raven-haired British actress (Rhona Mitra). It worked – I saw it. And I thought, hey that isn’t Kate Beckinsale! But she’s hot too. And there are werewolves. And vampires. Cool. Well played, producers, well played.
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
In yet another recast prequel, Eric Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson take over for Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels with the results being, well, even dumber. But that’s not necessarily bad. When you’re dealing with an epic like Star Wars, the prequel better be pretty fricking epic as well. This one is basically telling you, “if you don’t like it, it’s your fault for seeing a movie with ‘Dumberer’ right there in the title.” Is the original funnier, better acted, more memorable? Yeah, of course. You come in to this film not expecting much…and then it totally redeems itself.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
This is the sneakiest prequel in the book, as nearly everyone thinks it’s just a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had come out three years earlier. The film is actually set in 1935, a year before the events of Raiders. George Lucas has said that he decided on a prequel instead of a sequel because he didn’t want the bad guys in the film to be Nazis again. Maybe because the reviews of the film were decidedly mixed at the time the film came out, Lucas went back to Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Oops.
Horror Flicks (pick a year!)
No genre embraces the prequel more than horror. This is a genre that has produced 12 Friday the 13th movies, 8 Nightmare on Elm Streets, and 5 Saws (and counting). Take Amityville II: the Possession. Same house, different family, earlier. Or Exorcist: the Beginning (2004), with Father Merrin battling an African demon, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning (2006), about the origin of Leatherface. It’s either fascinating to learn why characters want to whack people’s heads off, or it gives horror producers another excuse to make movies about people’s heads being whacked off.
Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s first foray into the realm of Gotham stands as a particular subset of the prequel genre, a franchise restart. This means that the film details not only the events of how Bruce Wayne first becomes Batman, but its mythology is, at times, at odds with the other movies of the series; 99 percent of Batman fans believe that this was a very good thing. Batman Begins gave us Christian Bale as a new, bad-ass Batman as well as a revamped Gotham City, and a freaky Cillian Murphy as the villain, Scarecrow. This sequel/prequel/sequel spawned the most successful comic book movie of all time, 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Star Trek (2009)
It’s not called Star Trek Begins, but it certainly could be. This is a franchise that not only has populated 10 feature films but also 5 different TV series. That’s a lot to keep track of. You run the risk of alienating your fan base in all sorts of ways. Solution? Go backwards. Abrams starts his Star Trek story with a young Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) entering the Star Fleet Academy, where he meets Mr. Spock and the rest of the central Star Trek crew. With this new Star Trek, as well as with any movie that aspires to be a successful prequel, we know where the story is going to end up – the question is, do we care about the beginning?
Well, do you? Let us know what you think of Hollywood's endless prequels at firstname.lastname@example.org.