The only thing that compares to a really great sequel is a prequel that gives delicious insight into the characters you’ve grown to love. Of course, when prequels are bad, they’re really bad — Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, anyone? — but in the best examples, these movies turn back the clock to forecast the fate of our heroes, and we fall in love all over again. Which prequel qualifies as the best of all time? Read on…
10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
It’s 1935, a year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Professor Jones is up to his usual tricks. Despite the nagging presence of a shrill Kate Capshaw, this movie cracks the top ten because it shows a side of Indy that all the other films seem to forget: He’s a nice guy who takes a stand against child labor! He saves the day, of course, but this time he doesn’t do it for the girl, he doesn’t do it for magic artifact, and he doesn’t do it to piss of his dad.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
In case you were curious about the dysfunctional family who made Leatherface the psychopath we first met in 1974, this prequel takes you back to the very beginning, singeing your retinas with Leatherface’s terrifying birth scene. This horror flick creeps its way in at ninth place thanks to co-star R. Lee Ermey. With a father like him, little Leatherface never stood a chance at normalcy.
8. Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)
Chuck Norris doesn’t revisit the past — the past comes to him. He karate chops his way into eighth place based on a single scene in this pop cultural oddity: the epic fight between the beloved actor’s mouth and one very unlucky rat. (Hint: The rat loses.) Hollywood lore maintains that they used a real rat in the final shot, making both the scene and Chuck Norris even tougher than previously thought possible.
7. Red Dragon (2002)
You may not have seen it, but that doesn’t mean it deserves prequel ignomy! This competently-made movie, released eleven years after America first put the lotion in the basket for Silence of the Lambs, revisits the beginnings of Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)’s love-hate relationship with the FBI. Juicy supporting turns by Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, and Philip Seymour Hoffman make this underrated prequel a particularly delicious number seven on the list.
6. Star Wars 1,2, and 3 (1999, 2002, 2005)
Sure, the prequel trilogy is a tangled mess of CGI characters, galaxies, and plotlines that only the most assiduous Star Wars fans could keep up with. What makes the six hours worth it, however, is the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) and his inevitable fall to the Dark Side, despite the love of a beautiful wife Padmé (Natalie Portman) and the backing of the Jedi Council. Some people wouldn’t know a good thing if it bit them.
5. Terminator Salvation (2009)
Salvation passes for both sequel and prequel: Terminators 1, 2 and 3 jostled merrily through time, and the whole series (including director McG’s threats to add two more installments) is a sort of big-bang expansion of James Cameron’s original. To wit: John Connor (Christian Bale) must find a way to protect a teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the Resistance fighter who will father Connor on a future trip to the past in a previous movie. Or something.
4. Batman Begins (2005)
Director Christopher Nolan, treading carefully on a well-worn path, is more interested in Batman’s origins here than in the size and placement of the nipples on his Kevlar. Taking the creation myth to its deepest and darkest levels yet, Nolan tackles Bruce Wayne’s mental unraveling and rebirth with an unflinching gaze, unafraid to expose his most human traits and flaws. For this, Batman Begins glides into number four.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
In an upset, that metal-on-metal noise you hear is the sound of Wolverine slashing into third place. The fourth movie in the franchise takes a good look at morality and the limits of brotherhood, and if the X-Men movies that preceded it hadn’t been so glossily alluring, this one would have gotten a better rap. Mutant abilities and unusual facial hair may not be the stuff of which great cinema is made, but they make for gangbusters blockbuster summer entertainment.
2. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
It’s not widely known that this spaghetti western is actually a prequel to the two previous films in Segio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy. Subtle clues, however, date the action of the movie as sometime during the Civil War. From its eerie soundtrack to the famous cemetary standoff to Clint’s Eastwood’s triumph as the lone gunman Blondie, this one easily claims it’s place as the second best prequel committed to celluloid. Second only to…
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Francis Coppola’s masterpiece is the ultimate portrayal of the dark side of the American Dream. While much of the movie picks up where things left off in The Godfather, we also get to jump back in time to Sicily in the first decades of the century, chart Vito’s rise from humble immigrant to mafia Don, and watch his son, angry and brittle, strain under the pressures of the family business. The greatest prequel ever, and one of the best movies of all time.