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Top 5 Best & Worst Movie Prequels

What is a movie studio to do with a profitable franchise when a sequel is impossible and a reboot won't work? These days, the answer is easy: do a prequel. With the recent release of Prometheus generating so much attention and with anticipation running high for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Monsters University, it seems we are hungry for the backstories of our favorite characters and events. Prequels are nothing new, but they certainly entered their heyday following the release of the first three "episodes" of Star Wars. However, prospective prequel filmmakers need to remember that treading on the past is like walking in a minefield: one little misstep could be unforgivably disastrous. Just ask Star Wars fans.

These are the five best and worst movie prequels, as I see it, but before I begin, some ground rules: (1) Either the movie or its predecessor(s) have to have been a full-blown theatrical release (alas, that disqualifies Transmorphers: Fall of Man); (2) The prequel has to have been out at least long enough to hit the home video market (so no Prometheus); (3) Reboots don't count, because a key aspect of prequels is maintaining continuity; (4) I have to have seen both the prequel and the original(s) (which is why The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly isn't on this list, even though a lot of people will denounce its absence); and (5) The Godfather, Part II doesn't count, because it's only about 30% prequel.


THE WORST
5. The Thing (2011)
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The Thing is not a terrible movie, and on the surface, it seems to do everything right in terms of placing its story directly in front of John Carpenter's The Thing. Continuity is honored without too many corny winks, scares are delivered, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a fantastic job pulling off the unlikely heroine of the picture. However, for every way in which it attempts to recapture the magic of the original film, it fails to deliver anything new or interesting. In short, it doesn't take any risks and is thus mere mimicry. This is an important point, because even if the maker of a prequel succeeds in sidestepping all of the mines, he still needs to justify the journey.


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THE BEST
5. Escape from the Planet of the Apes

You've got to admire the producers of Escape from the Planet of the Apes. They lived in an age where neither "prequel" nor "reboot" had yet entered the lexicon, but they knew they had a goldmine of a franchise in their Planet of the Apes series. Unfortunately, Charlton Heston effectively destroyed any chance of there being a sequel after the events of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, since he decided the best way to conclude a story about the dangers of nuclear proliferation was to blow up what little was left of the Earth. (In hindsight, maybe his NRA presidency isn't so surprising.) There was no rule saying they couldn't go back in time and further explain what seemed like a relatively straight-forward backstory, so that's what they did. They even managed to include two popular side characters by utilizing a time travel mcguffin (hey, they were scientists; it practically writes itself), inadvertantly turning their story into one big Ouroburos loop. Not only is Escape from the Planet of the Apes a prequel, but it's also a sequel, and that kind of cleverness deserves recognition.


THE WORST
4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
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The makers of the X-Men series faced a similar dilemma after X-Men: The Last Stand sabotaged any future entries. Luckily, they had a mysterious backstory to explore, involving arguably their most popular character: Wolverine. They tapped a deep and rich comic book history and came up with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that succeeds in including--and ruining--some of the most popular Marvel characters who hadn't yet appeared in the series. It's also a muddy mess full of obvious plot holes that decides to answer Wolverine's most baffling riddle--how he lost his memory--with a completely nonsensical plot development. After The Last Stand and Wolverine, fans of the X-Men can be forgiven for concluding that their movie legacy peaked with X-2.


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THE BEST
4. Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I firmly believe that Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith never received a proper hearing from most Star Wars fans. By the time it came out, too many people had already written off the prequels and were so angry and jaded that they were incapable of watching the third one with their objectivity in place. Sure, there are a couple of goofy plot points--including the embarassingly bad "NOOO!"--but the movie, taken as a whole, is arguably the best movie in the entire series. Yes, I said it. This is a movie with deep subtexts, incredible action sequences, a plot that leaves some explanations so subtle you won't catch them on the first viewing, amazing music, astonishing visual effects, strong emotional weight, and a tone that is much darker than anything else in the Star Wars canon (except for maybe that Life Day special). It does not deserve to be lumped together with Episode I or compared with the overblown expectations that unhealthy nostalgia and two decades of daydreaming can create. It is absolutely everything the fans asked for, but they still won't accept it.


THE WORST
3. Cube Zero
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Cube is a cult hit, a pressure-cooker-style horror flick full of gore, paranoia, and confusion. A group of strangers are trapped together in a fiendishly designed and deadly puzzle (this was well before Saw, by the way). They only have a chance to escape this maddening contraption by figuring out how to trust each other, even though it becomes clear as the story goes on that they can't. One of the biggest strengths of the movie is that there is no central antagonist; the eponymous cube was built by a collective of people who didn't know what they were building. The idea that group think can create something terrible without anybody planning it is central to the story's theme. However, the writer of Cube Zero, a prequel, decided to step outside the cube and give us a glimpse of the shady people who are running it and the nefarious puppet-masters behind the scenes. This is a blasphemy to the original concept, and it reduces what was an intelligent and challenging take on sci-fi horror into a cookie-cutter slasher that has about as much originality in it as William Shatner has hair.


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-e. magill 7/3/2012










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