Why Prequels Are The New Sequels

By Sean O'Connell 2011-10-18 11:30:40discussion comments
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For decades, Hollywood’s go-to move when it came to extending the life of a popular franchise was greenlighting a sequel. But with lackluster installments like Lethal Weapon 4, The Matrix: Revolutions and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-- among many, many others-- methodically killing the strategy over the years, something had to change.

Remakes of vintage properties were attempted, and we don’t appear to be out of those woods just yet. Craig Brewer’s Footloose, the most recent, performed admirably at the box office last weekend, and updates on such films as Dirty Dancing and National Lampoon’s Vacation are on the horizon, whether we want them or not. But the recent trend on studio production slates actually suggests that prequels – not remakes – are the new sequels. Get used to it.


 Between now and this point next year, there are roughly 8 to 10 prequels heading to theaters to join the likes of last weekend's The Thing, a lead-in for John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a back story for exactly the movie it sounds like. We’ll have two new prequels -- Paranormal Activity 3 and the animated Puss In Boots -- in theaters before October’s over!

Revisiting a beloved character’s early years isn’t a fresh concept. As early as 1955, author C.S. Lewis turned back the clock on his Chronicles of Narnia series to explore the story’s beginnings in The Magician’s Nephew. Though it was the sixth book in the ongoing series, it was the first chronological chapter in the story. Others have followed that lead. Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t bring back Marlon Brando’s deceased Don Corleone for his Godfather: Part II, but he did cast a young Robert De Niro for a subplot that allowed him to explore Vito’s rise to power. Steven Spielberg, who gets chastised for whiffing on Crystal Skull, gets bonus point for introducing us to young Indiana Jones in the opening sequence of The Last Crusade. (The late River Phoenix even deserves an induction into my imaginary Hall of Fame for his spot-on Harrison Ford impersonation.) And who could forget the most animated prequel of all time, the Muppet Babies?

Animated prequels will continue. Unsure where to head with the Monsters Inc. story, Pixar animators are heading back to school with Monsters University to explain how Sully (John Goodman) met Mike (Billy Crystal). The beauty of only needing those actors’ voices means you can devise younger versions of beloved characters without having to digitally de-age a popular performer (which usually comes off looking creepy).

Other franchises aren’t so lucky. Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott have had to repopulate their series with fresh faces as they tell The Hobbit and Prometheus, respectively. Both are prequels to classic movie franchises in The Lord of the Rings and Alien, and both will attempt to expand on the existing story with chapters that occur before the action we’ve already seen.


 Prequels aren’t replacing sequels and remakes altogether. We still have Men In Black 3, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Dark Knight Rises, Step Up 4, The Bourne Legacy, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, a new Total Recall, The Expendables 2 … you get the idea. But now, when people want to complain that there are no new ideas coming out of Hollywood anymore, they can add “prequels” to the list of reasons they’re disappointed in the industry’s weekly output. Or maybe I’m wrong. Do you like prequels? Are they a legitimate excuse for re-entering a particular franchise? And if prequels are inevitable, which existing series would you like to see a filmmaker explore? Let us know in the poll below and in the comments, and come back tomorrow for the CB Staff's take on the prequels we'd actually like to see-- including some of the real ones mentioned in this story already.

Do you like prequels?

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