Prequels have a bad name for a reason. Here are ten examples of terrible prequels we should just pretend don’t exist…
As much as unnecessary sequels can be seen as greedy money-grabbing exercises by Hollywood studios, the greater travesty to the art of film may be the unmerited prequel. In terms of trying to milk as much money as possible out of a franchise, the unmerited prequel inhabits similar space. These are films where studios wanted to continue a franchise but doing so with another sequel was prohibitive in some way; either too much time had passed, or it would have cost too much money.
Unmerited prequels rarely have the same casts as the original hit films they are based off of. Their plots usually contain some sort of origin story, providing the back story to a character we are already very familiar with. They aren’t often directed by a high-profile director, and aren’t often written by someone who worked on the original film. Unsurprisingly, these types of films tend to fare poorly with critics and audiences. Lacking the originality and spark of the original, they tend to flounder at the box office.
And yet, Hollywood will continue to make them. As long as it seems like there is money to be squeezed out of a dying franchise, Hollywood will find a way to do so as economically as possible. Unfortunately for the rest of us we still have to live our lives with these tragedies blemishing the memories of some of our favorite films and franchises. Below I’ve outlined 10 of the worst examples of prequels we didn’t deserve….
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)
Premise: American high-school student Katey (Romola Garai) moves with her wealthy parents (Sela Ward, John Slattery) to Cuba in 1958. She encounters Javier (Diego Luna), a poor local who works as a waiter, and soon a relationship blossoms between them. At a nightclub, Javier teaches Katey the nuances of Cuban dance, which becomes her passion. As the young lovers grow closer, Fidel Castro suddenly rises to power. When her parents decide to flee to the United States, Katey must make a difficult choice.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 23%
What Went Wrong: Utilizes very weak tie-ins to the original film to try and attract an audience.
The only person returning from the original film is Patrick Swayze, and his character’s appearance in this film is the only reason it is labeled as a prequel besides both films focusing on a young couple who are drawn to each other through dancing. In this film, Swayze plays a dance instructor, the same one he plays in the 1987 original film, which takes place about 5 years later.
So, yes, this film released in 2004 tries to use Swayze in a role where he is supposed to be 5 years younger than in the first film, but is actually 17 years older! If you’re doing the math, that’s a miss by 22 years just for the sake of trying to make it a prequel to one of the most popular films released in the 1980’s…
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Premise: After witnessing the violent deaths of his parents at the end of World War II, young Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) flees to his uncle’s home in Paris. He learns his uncle is dead, but the man’s mysterious Japanese widow, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) welcomes him nonetheless. An aptitude for science helps Hannibal gain acceptance to medical school, where he hones the skills he needs to exact revenge for the atrocities he witnessed.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
What Went Wrong: Betrays the legacy of the original films for an attempt at easy thrills.
This film tells the origin story of one of the most notorious characters in film, but it does so in a way that seems contrary to the way he is depicted later on. While the screenplay of the film is written by the author who wrote the original Silence of the Lambs, it still reeks as unnecessary thrill seeking. It also tells a story that was completely unmerited. Hannibal Lecter works so well as a character in the earlier films because he is so strange and weird. Learning why he is the way he is doesn’t really improve the character. In fact, it weakens him!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
Premise: Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and her friends (Matthew Bomer, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird) set out on a road trip for a final fling before one is shipped off to Vietnam. Along the way, bikers (Lee Tergesen, Cyia Batten) harass the foursome and cause an accident that throws Chrissie from the vehicle. The lawman who arrives on the scene kills one of the bikers and brings Chrissie’s friends to the Hewitt homestead, where young Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) is learning the tools of terror.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 13%
What Went Wrong: Tries to be the origin story of a famous character who didn’t need an origin story.
If the title of your new prequel film starts with the title of the original movie and then adds a subtitle mentioning a time before now, chances are your film doesn’t have a very good reason to exist. If your film was interesting by itself, it wouldn’t need to make note of what it is a prequel for, and when it is taking place. That’s almost as lazy as adding a “2” to the end of the title of the first film to make a sequel.
This one is supposed to be a prequel to the remake, not the original film, but that doesn’t really matter. The film is chock full of horror movie cliches, and generally lacks any excitement or ingenuity. If a story about a character’s origin needs to be told, it should be interesting and captivating on its own merit. The origin of Leatherface is just an excuse to add another film to the franchise, a film which doesn’t leave many surprises because you already know who has to survive for the sequel.
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
Premise: After years of homeschooling, dim-bulb teen Harry Dunne (Derek Richardson) finally makes the leap to public school and meets the equally intellectually challenged Lloyd Christmas (Eric Christian Olsen). The duo land in a “special needs” class created by Principal Collins (Eugene Levy) in order to bilk money from parents to fund his condo in Waikiki, Hawaii. His corruption is discovered by Jessica (Rachel Nichols), a fellow student who asks Harry and Lloyd to help her prove Collins’ guilt.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 10%
What Went Wrong: Misinterpreted fan interest in the popular original film.
This is one of those films whose existence makes entirely no sense. I can sort-of understand a prequel to a film in a long-running franchise, or to a film that was immensely popular. Dumb and Dumber wasn’t really a franchise at the time this prequel came out. And although the original film was a hit at the box office, it doesn’t seem like the kind of film that people obsessed over and wanted more of. Just look at the mixed reactions towards the delayed 2014 sequel.
I mean, did studios really expect fans of the original to want to watch this film because of the characters by themselves? We loved the original film because of the performances of the actors, not because of the characters. Without Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, this prequel is a hollow shell of the original. Throw in the generic teen high school comedy element, and everything this film has to offer is something we’ve seen better elsewhere.
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Premise: Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) is haunted by his experiences in World War II, when occupying Nazi troops forced him to be complicit in their atrocities. In the aftermath, he has renounced his faith and begun working as an archaeologist. He travels to Kenya, where a fifth-century Byzantine church holds ancient relics. There he encounters Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), a doctor and concentration camp survivor. The strange occurrences that soon begin reunite him with the evil he sought to escape.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 10%
What Went Wrong: The studio knew it wasn’t going to be good from the beginning, and basically doubled down.
Oh boy, here we go again. Another “In the beginning” film title. This one even has the audacity to ignore parts of the timeline of the franchise in order to make its own plot work out. When has that ever fared well? This is an example of a prequel that isn’t just an unnecessary but mostly harmless origin story. This is an example of a prequel that is actually doing damage to the franchise besides the perception of being unmerited.
But worst of all, this isn’t even the only prequel to The Exorcist! The studio wasn’t happy with how the original prequel was being made, and so it was shelved and a new director was hired to make changes. The result was very disappointing Exorcist: The Beginning. But when this film failed, they revisited the original work again and then released it the year after as Exorcist: The Prequel which didn’t fare much better. Fans of the franchise were left with two ugly unwanted prequels instead of one. Yuck!
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Premise: When the wealthy and ambitious Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) funds an expedition to Antarctica, he hopes to find a mysterious source of heat that has been detected. Led by a tough guide, Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), Weyland and his team uncover a pyramid, but they also find malevolent parasitic aliens. Making matters worse, another extraterrestrial species, known as Predators, arrive to hunt the other aliens, with the humans caught in the middle of the conflict.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 20%
What Went Wrong: Studios tried to increase commercial appeal of two franchises for extra money instead of just one.
By the late 2000’s both the Alien and Predator franchises were basically dead. They needed a new direction, and with the recent interest in comic book movies at the time, Fox decided to throw the two fearsome franchises into the same ring and have them duke it out. It sounded like a good idea because a crossover like this had never really been done before.
Unfortunately, the resulting film was better defined by the compromises it took to make it happen than the content of the film itself. The writers adopted the idea from a 1989 comic book, but developed their own premise and plot which basically boils down to the lowest common denominator for both franchises: bloody violence. Except for the fact that the studio wanted the film to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so they made it PG:13. This is supposed to be the ultimate culmination of two franchises which never held anything back with a hard R-rating for violence! At least show us what we came for.
The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000)
Premise: Fred Flintstone, the boy from the wrong side of the rocks, courts the beautiful, young heiress Wilma Slaghoople. Along with best friend Barney Rubble, and his future fiancee Betty, Fred and Wilma head off for a romantic weekend in Rock Vegas, the hottest rock resort on the continent.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 25%
What Went Wrong: Studio confidence in a returning director repeating his success, but with fewer arrows in his quiver.
The only film on this list where the director of the original film is the director of the prequel. But beyond some continuity in the film crew, none of the cast returns from the original and none of the writers of the prequel worked on the original film. That’s a problem when you had so many A-list actors starring in the original film. The prequel, as a result, feels like a B-movie right away. And the only reason it is a prequel and not a sequel is for the studio to save money by getting to cast lesser actors.
And let’s not kid ourselves regarding the quality of the original movie to start with. It was, at best, a novelty to see a live-action version of a sunday cartoon that everyone was aware of. That would explain the film’s box-office success, and maybe the decision to greenlight a sequel. The studio thought that people would just want to see more of their beloved cartoon. They didn’t consider quality as part of the equation, and by subtracting some of that talent from the prequel it was set up to fail from the start.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Premise: Two mutant brothers, Logan and Victor, born two hundred years ago, suffer childhood trauma and have only each other to depend on. Basically, they’re fighters and killers, living from war to war throughout U.S. history. In modern times, a U.S. Colonel, Stryker, recruits them and other mutants as commandos. Logan quits and becomes a logger, falling in love with a local teacher. When Logan refuses to rejoin Stryker’s crew, the Colonel sends the murderous Victor. Logan now wants revenge.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
What Went Wrong: Interesting idea on paper, much more difficult to make it work in real life.
This film was supposed to be the first in a whole slew of new X-Men Origins movies. As the MCU was just starting to get off the ground at the time, it was a good idea to create a larger X-men franchise that wasn’t just defined by the central X-men trilogy. So, compared to all of the other films on this list this one is the least unmerited. If handled correctly it could have even been a worthy addition to the franchise…
But as is the problem with most prequels trying to tell an origin story, wanting to tell a origin story and actually doing so are two different things. You need to have a story that is good enough to tell if it wasn’t connected to the rest of the franchise, and that just didn’t happen here. The film is predictable, treads on familiar territory, and brings nothing new to the central character. Add in some of the most terrible special effects seen in a big-budgeted movie to date, and you have a recipe for audiences to shrug their shoulders and move on with their lives.
The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008)
Premise: After a swarm of enchanted scorpions kills his father, Mathayus (Michael Copon) flees and vows to even the score with ruthless sorcerer Sargon (Randy Couture). Upon returning home after years of combat training, Mathayus finds that Sargon has seized the crown and protected himself with a powerful spell. To retrieve the only weapon capable of destroying the tyrant — a mystical sword — Mathayus and lady warrior Layla (Karen David) set off for a labyrinth guarded by a deadly Minotaur.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 18%
What Went Wrong: They made this movie in the first place.
What happens when you make a copy of a copy? It doesn’t turn out well. You can apply the same logic to prequels. What happens when you make a prequel to a prequel? It ends very badly. This film is proof. The original Scorpion King was a prequel to 1999’s The Mummy, which itself was a remake. Despite being called Scorpion King 2, this film is a prequel to the original Scorpion King, rather than a sequel.
The original Scorpion King was already a step down in production and cast talent compared with The Mummy (this was before Dwayne Johnson had become popular as an action star). This prequel is an additional step down in talent from Scorpion King! Proof enough is the direct-to-video release, but if you actually watched it you’d find a TV-movie level generic action-adventure. There is no reason whatsoever to watch it.
Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979)
Premise: Prequel to the 1969 western `Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ in which a gang of bank robbers arrive in a small town disguised as preachers. However, their plot is confounded by the presence of a band of Mexican outlaws, and their incompetence at thieving soon shows through.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 40%
What Went Wrong: Tries to approximate “the good ‘ol days”, fails to understand what made them good in the first place.
Proof that unmerited prequels weren’t just a creation of Hollywood studios in the 2000’s. They were trying to make them work in the 70’s! This one has all of the terrible prequel trademarks: title referencing a before-time, cheaper cast to replace A-listers, writers/directors who weren’t involved in the success of the original. Most of all the film’s plot doesn’t bother to give you a reason to care. It mistakes the appeal of the original film as being related to the lore, rather than how the chemistry and excitement comes together onscreen.
This one was released 10 years after the original film. William Katt was literally cast because he reminded people of a “young Robert Redford”. If that doesn’t perfectly summarize what the problem of this film is, and similar prequels, I don’t know what does. These are films that studios wanted to make to mimic the original, but at a much much lower cost. The plan is that they are “close enough” that audiences won’t care.
Basically, these prequels are an effort to trick you into spending money because you liked the original film. Hopefully these examples have shown what you can look out for so that you don’t get duped into spending money on a sham. Consider it consumer advice.