Somewhere along the way, "prequel" became a dirty word for movie-goers. After all, it's hard to convince an audience that the stakes are high when it's guaranteed that certain characters will survive — or you know that they'll die — and that particular events will fall into place as expected. #Prequels inherently struggle with tension and surprise by their very nature. But sometimes, as was the case with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, they somehow manage to achieve these goals.
And then there are movies that somehow go unnoticed/unappreciated as prequels. Usually these are films that follow up movies you wouldn't think actually needed a prequel — namely, flicks without a massive mythology that needs explanation. Here are a few movie prequels that you might have forgotten about.
Amityville II: The Possession
- Release Date: September 24, 1982
- Directed By: Damiano Damiani
- Cast: Burt Young, James Olsen, Rutanya Alda
- Prequel To: The Amityville Horror
Where the original Amityville Horror focused on the controversial claims of supernatural activity that drove the Lutz family out of their Long Island home in 1976. However, the factual events that supposedly caused the events off 1979's Amityville Horror were the basis for the 1982 prequel.
On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family — his parents and four siblings — in the Amityville home they shared at 112 Ocean Avenue. Certainly it was a horrific event, and the probable fabrications of the Lutz family that spawned a horror franchise is primarily what the murders are remembered for.
The Possession aimed to tell the backstory of the Amityville house through a thinly veiled fictitious version of the DeFeos, the Montellis, although not without its own embellishments. There are elements of incest and (obviously) possession, none of which has ever been substantiated.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
- Release Date: February 27, 2004
- Directed By: Guy Ferland
- Cast: Diego Luna, Romola Garai, Sela Ward, John Slattery, Patrick Swayze
- Prequel To: Dirty Dancing, kind of
Havana Nights is a strange one. While the unforgettable romance of Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing is a love story for the ages, it wasn't exactly begging for a telling of events before Baby arrived at Kellerman's. And to be fair, Havana Nights doesn't do that — because it's not "officially" a prequel.
And yet, the Swayze appears in an extended cameo as a dance teacher that could very easily be Johnny in the years before ending up at Kellerman's (though he would've aged nearly twenty years IRL). It doesn't help that Havana Nights takes place in 1958, five years before the events of Dirty Dancing, all of which makes it hard to consider it less of a reimagining/remake than a prequel.
Fast & Furious, Fast 5, Fast & Furious 6
- Release Date: April 3, 2009/April 29, 2011/May 24, 2013
- Directed By: Justin Lin
- Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Jason Statham
- Prequel To: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Forget Game of Thrones, the family history of the Fast & Furious saga is far more complex. One might not consider that the seemingly simple tale of a bunch of street racing thieves could yield an Appendices worthy of Middle-earth, and yet the rebirth of the franchise as over-the-top bombastic heist movies post-Tokyo Drift forced the films to take a step backward in time and flesh out some history of "the family."
As someone who had only ever seen the original movie and then never thought twice about it, learning that the Fast & Furious franchise had weaved such a complex continuity blew my mind — and added another sleeper prequel to the list.
Final Destination 5
- Release Date: August 12, 2011
- Directed By: Steven Quale
- Cast: Nicola D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Tony Todd
- Prequel To: Final Destination 1-4
Horror films are one of the most frequent users/abusers of the stealth prequel, often going back to explore the origins of its evils (sometimes even called Origin of Evil, in the case of Oujia). In the case of Final Destination 5, the series went back in time before the 2000 original, concluding with a clever recreation of the opening moments of Final Destination.
What makes Final Destination 5 work is that its prequel-ness was actually a twist — the movie wasn't advertised as such and the fact that the characters wind up on Flight 180 was a total surprise. It's a great use of a prequel that has the pleasant side effect of shock value.
The Flinstones In Viva Rock Vegas
- Release Date: April 28, 2000
- Directed By: Brian Levant
- Cast: Mark Addy, Stephen Baldwin, Kristen Johnson, Jane Krakowski, Alan Cumming
- Prequel To: The Flinstones
On the flip side of Final Destination 5 is Viva Rock Vegas, wherein the trailers explicitly told us that the new Flinstones adventure took place in a time before the Fred and Wilma the people were Fred and Wilma the couple. Quality/necessity of Viva Rock Vegas not withstanding, it's easy to forget that a kids' flick like this has an intention to play around with established continuity — even if that continuity comes from a forgettable 1994 live-action adaptation of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
Friday The 13th Parts I-IX
- Release Date: 1980-1993
- Directed By: Various
- Cast: Various
- Prequel To: Jason X
This one is a little bit of a cheat. Technically speaking, Jason X is a sequel to all of these movies — but the fact that Jason X takes place so far in the future retroactively makes the other Friday movies feel like prequels to a space epic.
After all, Jason X leaps, like, 500 years into the future where a frozen Jason Voorhees winds up on a spaceship along with an android and a bunch of easy victims. I would argue that if you've never seen the Friday movies, you should watch Jason X first and then go back to the original and watch from there.
The Godfather Part II
- Release Date: December 20, 1974
- Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
- Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale
- Prequel To: The Godfather
Not all of The Godfather Part II is a prequel, but it still sheds an important light on the early days of Vito Corleone as he gains power as New York City's leading mafia man. The film is one of the rarities that arguably surpasses its original, impressively moving both forward and backward in time to show the parallels/differences between father and son.
As compelling a character as Michael Corleone is, it's Robert De Niro's scenes as a young Vito that really solidify the movie as an all-time classic. It's tragic and heroic, and reminds us that nothing is more important than family — a theme that is made all the more devastating when it comes time for Michael to deal with Fredo.
Gods And Generals
- Release Date: February 21, 2003
- Directed By: Ronald F. Maxwell
- Cast: Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall
- Prequel To: Gettysburg
Though not nearly as critically well-received as its 1993 counterpart Gettysburg (an 8% Rotten Tomatoes score vs. an 80%), Gods and Generals was an ambitious undertaking, chronicling the Civil War career of "Stonewall" Jackson and how the events up to and including his death led to the events of Gettysburg.
Though it's an official prequel, there are some major cast changes — Robert Duvall replaced Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee, Bruce Boxleitner replaced Tom Berenger as Lieutenant General James Longstreet, and Billy Campbell replaced Stephen Lang as Major General George Pickett, while Lang moved roles to star as Jackson. Talk about a Yankee swap.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
- Release Date: December 23, 1966
- Directed By: Sergio Leone
- Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
- Prequel To: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More
Though it's the final installment of Leone's famed Dollars Trilogy, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a precursor to the other adventures of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. Set during the Civil War, Eastwood's "Blondie" acquires the garments he wears throughout the earlier movies, not to mention that the earlier movies are definitively set after the Civil War.
The subtlety of this prequel is second to none, never explicitly stating it, but rather letting the viewers piece it together for themselves.
Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom
- Release Date: May 23, 1984
- Directed By: Steven Spielberg
- Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Jonathan Ke Quan
- Prequel To: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Even though Temple of Doom begins by telling us that the events take place in 1935 — one year before Raiders of the Lost Ark — the only other clue that this movie happens before the other Indy adventures is that Dr. Jones never mentions face-melting Nazis. Even the lack of Marion can't be considered a giveaway, since she doesn't appear in Last Crusade — set two years after Raiders — either.
Temple of Doom is kind of a strange beast though, since it presents a relationship between Indy and Short-Round that feels like it deserves some backstory; it kind of leaves us wanting a prequel to the prequel.
Puss In Boots
- Release Date: October 28, 2011
- Directed By: Chris Miller
- Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris
- Prequel To: Shrek 2
The shining light of the Shrek franchise, Badneras' adorable, swashbuckling kitty got his own spin-off in 2011 that depicted his adventures in the time before we first met him in 2004's Shrek 2. Alongside his companions Humpty Dumpty and Kitty Softpaws, we got to see Puss' smooth talking and sword skills in action against the villainous Jack and Jill.
It's not exactly enlightening or original, but Puss in Boots is still a welcome two hours spent getting to learn a bit more about an old friend.
- Release Date: October 4, 2002
- Directed By: Brett Ratner
- Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson
- Prequel To: The Silence of the Lambs
Though Thomas Harris' Red Dragon was adapted by Michael Mann with 1986's Manhunter — with Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter — Ratner's rendition is a direct prequel to the Lecter lore that we all know and love from The Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins is as delightful as ever as the good doctor, and more than makes up for the awful Hannibal that hit a year previous.
While the Francis Dolarhyde mystery is the crux of the plot, the relationship between Will Graham and Lecter is really the core of the character conflict. Plus, the ending leads into The Silence of the Lambs perfectly.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
- Release Date: August 5, 2011
- Directed By: Rupert Wyatt
- Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
- Prequel To: Planet of the Apes
Like most other films on this list, Rise isn't explicitly a prequel. It's only direct connection is the launch of the space shuttle Icarus, the ship that brings Charlton Heston to the titular planet of apes in the original film. However, it's also implied that the new Apes movies are their own timeline, exploring the general conceit of the franchise under a fresh lens.
Still, the mention of Icarus is an undeniable connection to Planet of the Apes that makes it easy to draw a direct line between this film and the original — until one of the sequels works to directly contradict it.
The Thing (2011)
- Release Date: October 14, 2011
- Directed By: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
- Cast: Mary Elizabeth Windstead, Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen
- Prequel To: The Thing (1982)
2011 must have been the year for stealth horror prequels, because The Thing surprised me as much as Final Destination 5. All signs pointed to it simply being a remake of John Carpenter's The Thing (itself a remake of Christian Nyby's The Thing From Another World), yet the end of the film showed its true colors with a shot that tied it directly to the start of the Kurt Russell classic.
Whether or not this prequel is successful — or even necessary — is up for debate, but somehow a prequel to The Thing feels more reasonable than a straight remake.