Prey, the prequel to the 1980s action movie Predator, is going from success to success, and the reason it has gotten so much praise is that it perfectly reimagines the original movie instead of being a lazy reboot. Though it was a Hulu exclusive, there’s no doubt that Prey would have been a box office hit if it was theatrically released.
However, Prey is one of the rare prequels that are actually critically acclaimed and successful, but many other prequels aren’t as fortunate. Prequels seem like a good idea to studios because they’re a part of existing properties, which means they have guaranteed audiences, and that also means they’re also low risk. But there’s still a risk, and these movies know that better than any other.
Lightyear is technically a movie within the Toy Story universe, but it still takes place before Toy Story. And the confusion surrounding what the 2022 movie is and how it fits into the universe/timeline is exactly why it bombed, or at least a big part of the reason why. Even though the film is by no means bad, and it’s full of the expectedly beautiful Pixar animation, it’s still by far the worst Toy Story movie.
Between the confusion, the subpar narrative, and the lack of cameos from Toy Story cameos, that led to a worldwide gross of $225 million (via Box Office Mojo), and though that might sound like a lot, it’s only a fraction above its production budget. That’s an especially bad result considering that the previous two movies in the series both made over a billion dollars.
The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas (2000)
1994’s The Flintstones was a huge hit, as the four-quadrant movie made over $340 million (via Box Office Mojo), but the studio failed to strike while the iron was hot. After six years, Universal finally released a sequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and it was a huge box office bomb. With an increased budget of $83 million, the 2000 release barely even reached $60 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo).
However, that result wasn’t just because of the long gap between the movies. The studio seemingly traded in the original all-star cast that included John Goodman, Rosie O’Donnell, and Halle Berry for Stephen Baldwin and a cast of unknowns. And even despite having a larger budget, the prequel somehow looked much cheaper than its predecessor.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
Dark Phoenix might be a sequel to X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s still a prequel to every X-Men movie released between 2000 and 2010. The franchise wasn’t exactly in the greatest place in 2019, as the film was following one of the most underwhelming movies in the series, Apocalypse. So, part of Dark Phoenix’s poor performance is based on the negative reception of its predecessor, but it can’t pass all the blame.
Dark Phoenix was just as negatively received, as it botched the Dark Phoenix Saga for a second time. And it didn’t even feature a Quicksilver-based sequence, which had been the best scene of each of the previous two movies. It’s especially disappointing, given that the movie was directed by Simon Kinberg, who had written Days of Future Past. The film made $250 million, but with a budget of $200 million (via Box Office Mojo), the 2019 release would have still been deep in the red by the time it left theaters.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
While most of these prequels bombed partly because they were negatively received, that isn’t an issue with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. The 1992 David Lynch-directed movie delivers on exactly what fans expect of a Lynch film, as it’s weirdly supernatural, has a mystery that isn’t fully resolved, and it has such an eerie aesthetic.
Though the film isn’t a prequel to a hit movie, it is a prequel to a hit TV show. But the two-season series was already fairly niche to begin with, and it no way had the audience that justified a $10 million budget for a prequel movie (via Inverse). Anybody who hadn’t seen the series in full would be totally lost if Fire Walk with Me was the first Twin Peaks-related release they saw, and that’s why it made less than half its budget back at the box office (via Box Office Mojo).
The Thing (2011)
On the face of it, it seems like The Thing is a remake of the 1982 movie of the same name, as it has the same title, the movie posters are so similar to the point where they’re interchangeable, and it was even marketed as a remake. However, it isn’t a remake but a prequel, as the film ends right where the original begins.
It was a great creative choice and a shocking plot twist, and the studio should be commended for not spoiling the surprise in the marketing, but maybe they should have. The marketing wasn’t good enough, as the film only made $31 million, which wasn’t even enough to cover the $38 million budget (via Box Office Mojo).
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Given that A New Hope made $3.7 billion when adjusted for inflation, it’s quite a fall from grace that Solo: A Star Wars Story made just $393 million (via Box Office Mojo). Though many didn’t see Solo, at least compared to the other Disney Star Wars movies, which all made over a billion dollars, everybody knows the story behind the making of the 2018 prequel.
The reason behind the inflated budget is that the original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were fired after making the movie too goofy, and they were replaced by the always reliable Ron Howard, who had to reshoot a lot of what was already shot. As the movie is considered a box office bomb despite making almost $400 million, it makes people wonder if budgets for Hollywood movies are getting out of control, as a $400-million-grossing movie should be a huge success.
Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist (2005)
Nobody thought that the writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull could make such an underwhelming movie, but when it comes to Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, “underwhelming” is putting it lightly. Paul Schrader directed the 2005 film, and it isn’t exactly in the top tier of his filmography, as it was criticized for being a more aimless version of the classic movie.
However, even though it was critically ridiculed, being part of an existing IP and being connected to one of the most iconic horror movies ever should guarantee a good-enough audience. But the film made a shockingly $251,000 in total worldwide (via Box Office Mojo). According to Stella Online, that’s in part due to how it only received a limited release when the studio was worried about it failing.
Gods And Generals (2003)
Gods and Generals is a prequel to the 1993 war epic Gettysburg, which had an underwhelming performance at the box office but quickly became a cult classic in the time since. Unfortunately, the 2003 movie repeated its predecessor’s box office failure but didn’t repeat its cult classic status. Generally, the longer the movie, the fewer screenings that can be shown in multiplexes, which also means fewer tickets sold. And Gods and Generals wasn’t just two and a half hours or even three hours, but the film was an excessive three hours and 20 minutes.
Releasing a movie that long that’s a prequel to a movie that wasn’t even successful in the first place is one of the most nonsensical decisions a studio executive has ever made, and that was reflected in its box office gross. And while most cinephiles and critics love three-hour-plus epics, the 2003 movie has a miserable 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that less than one in 10 critics recommend the film, which couldn’t have done much good for the movie’s box office either. The film made only $12 million worldwide, which was catastrophic given the movie’s $56 million budget (via Box Office Mojo).