The Five Best Prequels That Have Nothing to Do with Star Wars

If you want to turn a pleasant quest through the sunny hills of Azeroth into an all-out, Night-Elf-on-Dwarf rumble, mention prequels. 

In American popular culture, the prequel is still most strongly associated with the Star Wars prequel trilogy - those films we waited decades for while technology caught up to George Lucas's imagination. And while critical reception was mostly positive, audience and fan reception ran wildly through the five stages of grief. Some have come to know Acceptance; others are still on Anger (for Ewan McGregor, it will always be Denial).

But as Hollywood's latest, favorite trend, prequels are coming into their own, and climbing out of the trenches of theatrical bombs and straight-to-DVD mistakes (see Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd). 

Coming soon are prequels Paranormal Activity 3 and Puss in Boots, and someday - 2012 we hope - The Hobbit will finally hit theatres.

Opening nationwide today, The Thing - a science fiction thriller starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead - made the right call in fashioning itself as a prequel to the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic of the same name by director John Carpenter

The buzz so far is promising, but it won't be the first prequel to get it right. Here are five prequels - with no Star Wars in sight - that don't disappoint:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Rundown: This second film in the Indiana Jones series is actually a prequel to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. And while for many (including director Steven Spielberg) it will never live up to the much-beloved Raiders, Temple of Doom has only continued to grow in critical esteem. Campy, imaginative, and action-packed - and yes, a little ethnocentric - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is still a great way to spend a weekend afternoon.

Fun Fact:
Rated PG at the time of its theatrical release, Temple of Doom was lambasted by some critics for its violence. This led to Spielberg lobbying the Motion Picture Association of America to create what we now know as the PG-13 rating.

Memorable Line:
"Are you trying to develop a sense of humor or am I going deaf?"

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Rundown: One of the recent prequels to significantly raise the bar, X-Men: First Class (now available on DVD) tells the story of the creation of the group of mutant superheroes we've come to know and love. With an incredible cast featuring Michael Fassbender (Magnet) and James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), this film puts another franchise prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to shame. The only real letdown is "Mad Men's" January Jones as an Emma Frost who is neither frosty nor sparkling.

Fun Fact:
Hugh Jackman's hilarious cameo as Wolverine officially made him the first actor to play the same superhero in five films. Now if only we could get the same guy to play the Hulk in more than one film.

Memorable Line:
"I suppose I am a real professor, aren't I? Next thing you know, I'll be going bald."

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Rundown: This third film in the Dollars Trilogy is actually a chronological prequel to the other two, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Following the Civil War-era exploits of lone gunman Blondie (Clint Eastwood, in a defining role), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the quintessential spaghetti western. It's also the origin of the immortal movie theme, by composer Ennio Morricone, that you probably have as a ringtone.

Fun Fact:
Included in Time Magazine's 2005 list of the "All-Time 100 Movies," The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was one of few films on Rotten Tomatoes to boast a 100% critical rating - until, that is, one bad review made its way onto the site. The review's origin? Time Magazine. Since then, a negative review from Variety has joined its fellow.

Memorable Line:
"You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rundown: A little bit prequel and a little bit series reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes - still in theatres - took on one of the most iconic stories told on film and lived to tell the tale (unlike, say, that Mark Wahlberg-starring remake). The battle for the planet begins after a scientist - played by James Franco, on a break from writing the Great American Novel, leading the free world, and whatever other hobbies he has - tests a possible cure for Alzheimer's on chimpanzees, vastly increasing their intelligence. The film co-stars Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame.

Fun Fact:
This is not the first time the weird and wonderful Andy Serkis - known to do the Gollum voice on command for fangirls - has played an ape, having also starred in 2005's King Kong remake.

Memorable Line:
"Stupid monkey! He'll learn who's boss soon enough."

Red Dragon (2002)

Rundown: So it's not The Silence of the Lambs, but next to sequel Hannibal and fellow prequel Hannibal Rising, it's as close as you're going to get. Red Dragon features an all-star cast, including Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, and, of course, Anthony Hopkins, who reprises his Oscar-winning role as Hannibal Lecter for the last time. And while it did earn critical praise as a decent prequel, as a remake of Manhunter (1986, starring Brian Cox as a very different kind of Hannibal) Red Dragon fell far short of the original's reception.

Fun Fact:
Before director Brett Ratner got the job, Michael Bay was offered the director's chair. On the downside, a "South Park" parody of a Hannibal Lecter film by Michael Bay would have been pretty spectacular.

Memorable Line: "If I tell you, I'm afraid you won't even try it."

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amanda Kehrberg
Contact: Amanda Kehrberg