It’s extremely difficult to make a good sequel. It’s even more difficult to make a good prequel. More often than not, prequels are a sign of creative desperation. They often come about when producers or studios want to keep a hot franchise chugging along but have run out of fresh ideas. To compensate, they opt to go back and tell viewers what happened before the story they initially fell in love with. Let’s be honest — if that stuff really mattered, it would have been included in the first place.
This is not to say that a good prequel doesn’t come along occasionally, but cinematic history is littered with bad prequels, though. For better or worse, they seem to be proliferating, too. This summer alone, we’ve gotten Solo: A Star Wars Story, which shows us what life was like for Han Solo before meeting Luke Skywalker in a seedy Tatooine cantina, and The First Purge, which explains how the whole “all crime is legal for one night a year” concept came into existence. From the looks of it, prequels won’t be going away anytime soon.
There are so many, in fact, that we’re betting you’ve completely forgotten about some of them. That’s why we compiled this list, which contains twenty underwhelming examples of movies telling the story before the story, so to speak. In each case, we’ll tell you what the film tried to do and offer up a little perspective on why it failed to make an impression. These pictures have largely faded from public consciousness for a reason.
Here are 20 Forgettable Prequel Movies Only Superfans Remember.
20 Marley & Me: The Puppy Years
Remember Marley & Me; the heart-warming — and tear-jerking — film adaptation of John Grogan’s best-selling book? If so, you might have wondered at some point what the mischievous dog was like when he was a puppy. But honestly, you probably didn’t, because it would be completely irrelevant to the story.
That didn’t deter 20th Century Fox from releasing Marley & Me: The Puppy Years to DVD.
Because it’s a prequel, stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are nowhere to be found.
In their place, we get much lesser known actors Travis Turner and Sydney Imbeau. Not exactly impressive star power there.
The plot, revolving around a dog contest, lacks the heart of the original, which detailed the developing bond between a man and his canine. Worse, in a truly bizarre twist, Marley can now speak. Yes, really.
The story of Peter Pan has been told many times in various formats, most famously in Disney’s 1953 animated film. It’s a beautiful tale, and Peter is one of the all-time great fictional characters. It’s highly unlikely that anyone ever felt the story was lacking because we don’t understand how he met Tinkerbell or learned to fly.
Pan decided to answer those questions, and more, anyway. This origin story explains everything about Peter Pan that never needed explaining. It’s also a fundamentally weird movie. Hugh Jackman plays the evil pirate Blackbeard who, at one point, sings Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, despite the story taking place during WWII.
These things considered, it’s no surprise that Pan was a major box office turkey, earning just $35 million in North America, despite a $150 million price tag.
18 The Scorpion King
In 1999’s The Mummy Returns, professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had a supporting role as Mathayus the Scorpion King. The movie was a huge hit, and Johnson proved that he had as much appeal outside the ring as he did inside it. Three years later, Universal gave him his own film, The Scorpion King, that told the story of how Mathayus rose to power.
Although it did respectably at the box office, the movie was nowhere near the cash machine that the two previous Mummy pictures had been. Critics pointed their thumbs down, leading to a 41% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Interestingly, there is a straight-to-DVD prequel to this prequel.
The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior focuses on Mathayus as a teenager avenging his father’s defeat.
17 Hannibal Rising
Hannibal Lecter is one of the screen’s greatest villains. The brilliant, psychopathic criminal was memorably portrayed by Brian Cox in Manhunter and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
When you have a character as evil as Lecter, the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t do is try to make an audience feel sympathy for him. That’s exactly what the 2007 prequel Hannibal Rising does. The film casts Gaspard Ullliel as Lecter, and it’s safe to say that he’s no Cox or Hopkins.
Along the way, young Lecter sees his parents perish during WWII. Even worse, some starving Russian soldiers eat his sister when they are unable to find food.
The whole point is to tell us how Lecter became a villain. By making his evil the result of tragedies he’s endured, he becomes much less scary.
16 Van Wilder: Freshman Year
The main joke of the 2002 comedy Van Wilder is that the central character, played by Ryan Reynolds, is in his seventh year of college because he’s more content to party than to grow up. The 2009 prequel Van Wilder: Freshman Year explores what he must have been like upon first arriving at Coolidge College. In other words, it removes the very thing that’s supposed to be funny about him.
It doesn’t help matters any that Ryan Reynolds is replaced by Mean Girls’ Jonathan Bennett.
He doesn’t exactly have his predecessor’s crack comic timing or undeniable charisma. Without those things, which helped the original cultivate a cult following, the raunchy humor feels even more gratuitous than it is.
It’s no wonder Van Wilder: Freshman Year went straight to DVD.
15 The Lion King 1 1/2
Sidekicks are called sidekicks for a reason. Their job is to show up intermittently, juice up the energy of a film, and then saddle off for a while. Putting them at the center of the show generally only proves that a little of them goes a long way.
Case in point: The Lion King 1 1/2. This made-for-video animated Disney feature tells the story of how The Lion King‘s scene-stealers — meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa — met, became friends, and ended up becoming key figures in the life of Simba. Since they’re just sidekicks, their tale isn’t as interesting as Simba’s, though.
While not perceived as a terrible film, The Lion King 1 1/2 certainly made nowhere near the cultural impact that the original did. At best, it’s viewed as a minor Disney effort.
14 Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a landmark horror film that spawned several sequels, none of which came close to matching its impact within the genre. In 2002, someone got the bright idea to remake it with Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermey in the lead roles. Neither critics nor audiences thought it could hold a candle to Hooper’s original.
Nevertheless, the studio, New Line Cinema, was eager to keep its franchise going, so they green-lighted a prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. This 2006 slasher is all about how Leatherface became the crazed monsters we all know him to be.
The problem here is that someone like Leatherface should never, ever be explained.
He’s far scarier when we don’t know why he stalks. Giving us his backstory makes him less menacing.
13 Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd
Jim Carrey is one of the most talented and distinct comedians of the modern area. For that reason, the worst thing any movie could possibly do is to cast another actor in a role that he made famous. Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd cast Eric Christian Olsen as Lloyd Christmas, and it went about as well as you’d expect.
This prequel shows how Lloyd and Harry — now played by Derek Richardson instead of Jeff Daniels — met as teenagers. Why? Likely it’s because the studio wanted a follow-up to the smash hit Dumb and Dumber, but couldn’t get the original stars to sign back on.
The irony here is that Carrey and Daniels did end up playing these characters again. Their 2014 sequel, Dumb and Dumber To, was similarly panned by critics and audiences alike.
12 Vacancy 2: The First Cut
In the 2007 chiller Vacancy, Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale check into a seedy motel. They soon discover video cameras hidden in their room. Through some poking around, they realize that evil films are made in the rooms, and they might be the next victims if they aren’t careful.
That’s a fairly eerie premise. The prequel Vacancy 2: The First Cut exists to inform audiences of how this practice began at the motel.
When you stop and think about it, not knowing is actually far scarier because it makes you paranoid about who might be watching you the next time you stay in a motel.
The film features a serial criminal and a twisted manager manager who realize they have compatible interests. All of it is silly, which serves only to remove the sting from the franchise’s core concept.
11 Cruel Intentions 2
Cruel Intentions, based on the classic French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is one of the best-loved teen movies of the 1990s. It helped catapult Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, and Sarah Michelle Gellar to stardom.
In 2001, Cruel Intentions 2 was unleashed upon the world. It tells the story of how Kathryn (now played by the then-unknown Amy Adams) and Sebastian (Robin Dunne) met and began their shared practice of toying with other people.
Cruel Intentions 2 actually began life as a FOX drama called Manchester Prep that was conceived as a prequel to the hit film. When the network decided against airing it, the three existing episodes were cut together and released as a straight-to-DVD feature, with some spicy R-rated shenanigans thrown in and a new title that more closely tied it to its predecessor.
10 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
The Underworld series is about a vicious war between vampires and werewolves. Things like this are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours, there’s a whole lot of awesome in there. That’s what makes Underworld: Rise of the Lycans so perplexing.
Instead of focusing on the werewolf vs vampire war, this movie spends 93 long minutes explaining its genesis.
People come to these movies to see vampires and werewolves fighting to the bitter end, not for a dull backstory that states things any astute viewer probably figured out from the previous installments. It doesn’t help matters that star Kate Beckinsale appears only briefly at the end, robbing this particular Underworld chapter of one of the franchise’s biggest assets.
Astonishingly, Rise of the Lycans didn’t end the series, but Underworld: Blood Wars smartly left the past in the rearview mirror.
9 The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
Casting live actors as cartoon characters is always a dicey proposition. The performances inherently have to be larger-than-life and, well, cartoonish. Released in 1994, The Flintstones marginally succeeded thanks to some creative casting – specifically having John Goodman play Fred Flintstone.
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas wasn’t so lucky. It found British actor Mark Addy playing the caveman and Stephen Baldwin as his pal Barney. Nothing against the men, but there’s not a lot of inspiration there. Nor is there any in the story, which shows how the guys meet their eventual wives, Wilma (Kristen Johnston) and Betty (Jane Krakowski). Because every forgettable prequel needs unnecessary detail, we also learn how Fred comes into possession of dinosaur pet Dino.
Whereas The Flintstones earned $130 million in North America, Viva Rock Vegas only made $35 million.
8 Psycho IV: The Beginning
Norman Bates has been giving movie fans nightmares for more than fifty years now. The villain of 1960’s Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho was played to cringe-inducing perfection by Anthony Perkins. During the movie’s finale, we discover that Norman had some kind of twisted relationship with his now-deceased mother, since he wears her clothes and has conversations with himself using her voice.
That’s plenty creepy, so there was really no need for the 1990 prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning, which features Henry Thomas as the young Norman.
The movie, which came on the heels of two traditional sequels, provides all the specific details about how Mama Bates psychologically messed up her son.
The old saying “some things are better left unsaid” applies here, as having it all spelled out takes away from Norman’s eerieness.
7 Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure gives us a tale involving the cute furry creatures before the events depicted in Return of the Jedi.
The hero is Wicket, the Ewok who helped Luke Skywalker and the gang defeat the Empire. When a ship carrying a human family crash lands on Endor, the two children become separated from their parents. Wicket and his fellow Ewoks help them reunite.
This made-for-television movie debuted in 1984 and was designed to capitalize on the popularity of the Ewoks. While it received an Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects, the storytelling is nowhere near as ambitious as Jedi.
Caravan of Courage feels geared specifically for children, which makes it sluggish viewing for older Star Wars fans.
6 Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power
Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power is a perfect example of how prequels can take the cheap route and suffer for it. The movie was made as part of an effort by Universal Pictures to produce low-budget straight-to-video companion pieces to some of otsmore notable hits.
As the title suggests, it explains how criminal Carlito Brigante became a kingpin during the 1960s.
The original Carlito’s Way is a 1993 crime drama, directed by Brian De Palma, and starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn. In contrast, the prequel was directed by Michael Bregman, a filmmaker with only one previous feature to his credit — and none since. Gone are Pacino and Penn. The stars this time are Jay Hernandez and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs.
Without the artistry of the original team, Rise to Power didn’t attract much attention.
5 The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning
The Dukes of Hazzard was one of the seminal TV shows of the late ’70s and early ’80s. In 2005, Hollywood did what it often does, concocting a big-screen re-imagining of the property. Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, and pop singer Jessica Simpson starred.
Although it only grossed $80 million, the picture spawned an inexpensively-produced made-for-television prequel with the creatively empty title The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning. Randy Wayne, Jonathan Bennett, and April Scott took over the lead roles. In this utterly pointless production, we learn how the Duke clan came to Hazzard County and first crossed paths with longtime nemesis Boss Hogg.
Despite being made for the ABC Family Channel, R-rated and unrated cuts with raunchy humor added were later released to DVD. In the end, though, fans are better off just watching reruns of the original series.
4 Amityville II: The Possession
One of the big selling points of The Amityville Horror was that it was “based on a true story.” That wasn’t exactly true, but it sure made for a great marketing hook. The film tells the story of a family terrorized by their new home, which is haunted after another family perished there.
Amityville II: The Possession is all about that other family. Although there are some moments of traditional paranormal terror, the movie more frequently relies on different kinds of horror, like an abusive father and the not-so-subtle suggestion that the relationship between a brother and a sister is much too close.
In a weird way, the movie is relatively effective. That said, the way it lingers on those dark elements is also deeply uncomfortable, which has long made it a picture viewers are not eager to revisit.
3 Missing in Action 2: The Beginning
When is a prequel not really a prequel? When it’s Missing in Action 2: The Beginning. The first Missing in Action is a 1984 action picture starring Chuck Norris as a former prisoner of war who returns to Vietnam to rescue other American soldiers being held in same camp he escaped from. The prequel details how he made that escape.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
Both movies were actually made at the same time. Missing in Action 2 was intended to be released first.
However, Cannon Films felt that the other one was significantly better, and wanted to kick the franchise off with a bang.
By adding the number 2 and the subtitle The Beginning, Cannon turned what had been the original into a prequel.
2 Messengers 2: The Scarecrow
The funny thing about Messengers 2: The Scarecrow being forgettable is that the original is every bit as forgettable. For those who don’t recall, it is a 2007 horror movie in which Kristen Stewart plays a teenage girl dealing with strange goings-on at a sunflower farm where a crazed farmer once eliminated his family. No, we didn’t just make that up.
The prequel, released in 2009, stars The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus as that farmer, John Rollins. Desperate to save his crops, he places a mysterious scarecrow in his field, not knowing that it carries an ancient curse. The scarecrow then begins targeting John and his family with all manner of evil, leading to a gruesome climax.
Did the very small group of Messengers fans really need to know what happened to John? The answer is “no.”
1 Exorcist: The Beginning/Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Buckle up for a crazy story. Morgan Creek Productions wanted to make yet another installment of the Exorcist franchise, so the writers devised a prequel about Father Merrin’s life before meeting little Regan MacNeil. When director Paul Schrader turned in his cut, the executives were horrified, feeling it was too cerebral and didn’t deliver the requisite scares.
They then did something unprecedented — they shelved Schrader’s version and completely remade the movie with director Renny Harlin. Exorcist: The Beginning had more of the expected horror tone, yet failed to draw audiences or earn critical raves.
Meanwhile, Schrader convinced Morgan Creek and Warner Bros. to give his version a shot. Now dubbed Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, it opened in 11o theaters. Reviews were only slightly better, and box office business was virtually non-existent. Both iterations were colossal flops.
How many of these prequels do you remember? How many have you actually seen? Tell us in the comments.
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