This 4th of July a new horror prequel, “The First Purge” hits theaters but it’s far from the first movie ever to take a franchise back to the beginning. It’s not even the first to do it in 2018 nor will it be the last. Prequels are often utilized to expand on a standout character’s story or to fill in gaps from the original film for a better understanding and increased world building. While predictable, many of these movies turn out to be pretty decent projects in their own right and today I’m going to look at the ones that stood out the most. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Prequels.
For this list I had to set some very specific rules because there were many prequels out there to consider, twenty of which made my short list for this countdown. Obviously a prequel’s events have to take place prior to the other installments in the series. The prequel must also be released after the original film because if it’s the first film in the series or franchise then it’s not a prequel, it’s the starting point.
I defined a prequel as any movie that flows directly into the events of its predecessors so movies that reboot a series by telling an original story or resetting the timeline were not considered. To that end series like the “Star Trek” reboot and “X-Men” prequel films won’t be seen here because those movies might be connected to their predecessors but eventually went on to ignore the previous timeline in favor of a completely new story unique to themselves.
Finally prequels can, in some way, take place in the present day as long as a great deal of their story is focused on exploring what happened before the original film. Many movies include present day events with flashbacks for storytelling as the “prequel” portion of the project and that’s alright in my book.
That’s a lot to take in, but with a list like this I had to set the limit somewhere. What’s your favorite movie prequel? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “The First Purge” tomorrow.
The second film in Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, “Mallrats” was released in 1995, a year after Smith’s breakout cult classic “Clerks”. Set the day before the previous movie, “Mallrats” takes place in the same exact world and even features characters that were part of the first movie before their boring, dull day at work. I almost didn’t include this movie on this list because it doesn’t truly lead into the story that made up Smith’s original film, but “Mallrats” serves as a fine example of world building to take the film adaptation of New Jersey beyond the confines of the Quick Stop and show that the dull nature of the world and those who inhabit the neighborhood isn’t just limited to the clerks. There are plenty of other slackers in this universe as well and they are all interconnected. Sequels don’t always have to specifically involve characters from the original. Sometimes their purpose is simply to expand on the previously established world and “Mallrats” accomplishes that in more ways than one.
While not as highly respected as its predecessors, 2012’s “Prometheus” was Ridley Scott’s initial attempt to explore the origins of the famous Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. Focusing on a group of explorers seeking out a race possibly responsible for their own human existence this film was long rumored to be an “Alien” prequel but you have to wait until the end of the film to get true evidence of this and the sequel, “Alien: Covenant”, finally made the unquestionable connection. While the Xenomorph and face huggers only play minor roles at best in the narrative it’s still interesting to see a movie explore how the creation of these predatory creatures and humans are connected by their birth at the hands of the same exact race. Filled with body horror and science fiction clichés done to perfection, “Prometheus” earns its place in the “Alien” cannon even if it doesn’t fully embrace the spirit or terror of the films that came before it.
8. “The Thing” (2011)
A 2011 sci-fi horror offering, “The Thing” shares its name with its predecessor and rightfully so as watching them back to back gives you a full, non-stop story of an alien creature able to change its form that prays on unsuspecting victims in the arctic. This film tells what happens to the original crew that came in contact with the creature before it first terrorized victims and cinema viewers, back in 1982. While not as critically lauded as the previous entry, “The Thing” of 2011 never feels unwarranted or uninteresting considering that the first movie left many wondering about the fate of the previous crew for so many years. It is entertaining to see how the first crew comes into contact with the being and we get an even more in depth understanding of its capabilities. When the final scenes hit the screen it’s revealed that this film does, in fact, bleed right into the first movie. While their quality and filming styles might be different it’s still pretty neat to now be able to watch both films as one whole “The Thing” with a complete depiction of the alien’s terror unleashed.
7. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”
After “Raiders of the Lost Ark” took the world by storm in 1981 action-adventure fans got a new Indiana Jones story in 1984 with “The Temple of Doom”, a film that takes place well before the original adventure. Harrison Ford returns to portray a younger Jones on one of his earlier adventures along with a love interest and sidekick who weren’t present in the original film. In many ways this movie allows us to see how Indiana matures into the explorer we originally met and puts the adventurer through a traumatic experience that helps define his more sarcastic and carefree perspective of the world. While the third film, “The Last Crusade”, does open with a brief introduction to Indy as a young man and shows us how he got his hat and whip, this movie focuses less on Indy’s purest origins and more on how his earlier escapades shaped the man he would become in his elder years. I mean after going through the mind control stuff in “The Temple of Doom” it’s not hard to see how a rolling giant ball and the Ark of the Covenant aren’t too intimidating to Jones.
6. “Annabelle: Creation”
It’s not uncommon for a horror prequel to surpass the first movie. The “Ouija” movies are a fine example of that. But for a prequel of ANOTHER prequel to be superior, now that’s something worth bragging about. “Annabelle: Creation” was one of the best horror movies of a loaded 2017 playing off of the titular doll made famous in the opening scenes of “The Conjuring”. This film explores how the possessed doll came to be and directly connects to the original “Annabelle” movie which tried and failed to explore the dolls connection to the “Conjuring” franchise a few years earlier. Every bit of potential this creepy doll had to become an iconic possessed item of horror is utilized to perfection in this prequel of a prequel and seeing the origin of the doll, as fictional as it is, adds a whole new layer to a cinematic world seemingly filled to the brim with paranormal happenings. “Annabelle: Creation” has just the right balance of storytelling, scares and atmosphere and even has a nod to Annabelle’s real life counterpart with the appearance of a Raggedy Ann doll. What’s that old saying? If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
5. “Paranormal Activity 3”
The “Paranormal Activity” franchise is filled with timeline jumps between films. The second movie was actually a prequel to the original found footage classic after all. However it’s the third movie in the series that takes us back even farther that makes this list here. After being introduced to the demon Toby in the first movie and establishing a long-standing connection between Toby and sisters Katie and Kristi throughout the first two movies fans finally got to see how it all began in the third film which takes the action back to 1988 as the young sisters and their parents are haunted by Toby for the first time. With an old-school setting and a delightfully effective use of atmosphere and suspense to drive home the scares “Paranormal Activity 3” added a fresh touch to a franchise in desperate need of something new and gives viewers an inside look at the traumatizing events that led to the previous films. It also adds new story elements that are built on in later installments making it a core entry that ties together every film in this five-feature series.
4. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” might not be a traditional trilogy in story and continuity, but they all revolve around the same man, a loner gunman played by Clint Eastwood. This third film in the series is actually the first chronologically taking place during the Civil War in America. The story sees Eastwood’s legendary Man With No Name race against two others for a cache of Confederate gold. While we already know a lot about the character going in from the previous movies, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” shines more light on this mysterious gunslinger and reveals to fans how he obtained his classic attire. It also includes older firearms thus exploring the character’s ability as a marksman more fully while also showing the subtle growth of his personality into the man he was in the previous entries. While disrespected upon its initial release, this film and its brothers are now cinematic legends and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was one of the first great examples of a prequel adding to a series effectively even becoming the most well know of the three films in the trilogy.
3. “Monsters University”
Over the years Pixar has fallen into a sequel rut, but for the long awaited follow-up to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” they decided to take things to the beginning and released “Monsters University” in 2013. After falling in love with Sully and Mike and their monster friends years before, fans finally got to see how these two unlikely palls met and how scarers learn their trade to harvest the power needed to run their world from the screams of children. The movie doesn’t just explore the origin of Sully and Mike however. It also reveals the origin of the villain Randall Boggs and even makes a sly reference to the banishment of the Abominable Snowman who was also featured in the first movie. Several other popular monsters from the first movie are also featured from different schools making “Monsters University” more than just a look at the origin of our favorite heroes. In the end though the story is about the budding friendship of Mike and Sully who learn from each other and evolve into the more confident, capable and humble monsters we loved from their original adventure.
2. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
There have been several prequels in the “Star Wars” franchise. Hell there was a whole trilogy of them in the early 2000s and another lackluster offering focusing on Han Solo earlier this year. But when comparing all of them together the one that stands out the most is “Rogue One”, the 2016 film that tells the story of the titular crew that steals the Death Star plans putting the events of the original trilogy into motion. “Rogue One” manages to be among the best in the series without leaning heavily on any of the major stars of the original films although it does include appearances from some major characters including Darth Vader. Filled with plenty of action, heart, comedy and great acting bringing to life new memorable characters “Rogue One” surpassed expectations while filling in major plot holes from the original film. For a movie that was created specifically to justify the simple manner in which the Death Star was destroyed it actually adds a lot more than was probably needed to the franchise and provides a fantastic standalone experience that leads directly into the iconic original that changed the world of cinema so long ago.
1. “The Godfather Part II”
Actually both a sequel AND a prequel, the Oscar winning “The Godfather Part II” from 1974 presents parallel narratives, one that focuses on the events following the original Best Picture winning film and a second that reveals the origins of Vito Corleone that earned Robert De Niro a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The parallel looks at the Corleone crime family’s present and past offers insight into the origins and growth of the organization and provides interesting and insightful character development for Vito Corleone that allows for a better understanding of the crime boss we first met in “The Godfather”. Considered by many to be one of the best sequels and effectively among the best prequels ever made “The Godfather Part II” cemented itself in history as the first sequel to win the Best Picture Oscar and, to date, the only prequel to do so. While it doesn’t fully conform to the rules of a prequel, it does more than enough in only half a narrative to not only qualify for a list like this but also rise above the competition as one of the most riveting, appropriate and beloved prequels of all time.