A-List: Best Movie Prequels

By J. Don Birnam

June 4, 2014

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The summer is upon us, which means it’s time for blockbusters. In other words: prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots, and re-adaptions of old stories. This has been the pattern at the U.S. box offices for essentially a decade - don’t expect it to change any time soon.

Having just seen and enjoyed Maleficent myself, and finding myself looking forward to the next Planet of the Apes prequel, it seemed appropriate to ponder good movie prequels. I’ll try to keep it simple: a movie has to take place completely before the movie it is meant to precede to be considered a true prequel. Thus (spoiler alert), Maleficent does not count, as it’s more of a re-imagination of Sleeping Beauty. Nor does, I am sorry to say, The Godfather Part II count. Although some of the story does take us to the origins of Vito Corleone, a significant part of the action takes place after the events of the first Oscar-winning flick.

Another note: Prequels engender strong feelings from fans of the original movies who tend to feel disappointed that a story they love is getting thrashed. And, more generally, it is hard for prequels to live up to the greatness of their originals. Thus, generally speaking, few prequels are really great movies, so making a list of great sequels is somewhat of an oxymoron. And, before you get scared, don’t expect to find any of the Star Wars prequels here either.

I did have to cut from the list a number of prequels that I enjoyed, including Prometheus, a prequel to Alien, and Exorcist: The Beginning, a surprisingly good prequel to the classic horror movie. It was harder than I realized to boil this down to just five.


The Rainbow

Perhaps the lesser known of the entries on the list is a prequel to a 1960s favorite of mine, Women in Love. Both loosely based on novels by D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love tells the story of two sisters exploring love and the complexity of relationships in post-World War I England. The prequel, which is only a prequel because it was made after Women in Love despite the fact that Lawrence wrote The Rainbow and Women in Love in sequential chronological order, is worth seeing because it features Glenda Jackson (who won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of one of the sisters in the original) as the mother of her character in Women in Love.

Jackson nails the role perfectly - sufficiently varying the personality of the character while at the same time tying enough hints to her daughter’s future adult personality to constitute satisfying throwbacks to the original movie. The Rainbow is also a strong contender for best movie prequel because it credibly explains some of the two sisters’ future quirks and love-related shortcomings as being rooted in family issues. The fact that D.H. Lawrence set these things up in the novels sequentially helps, of course, but the strong direction of Ken Russell should not be discounted, either.

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