What If… is a self-indulgent look at how things could have been. I take an event or a rumour and let my imagination run wild. It’s rarely based on fact and completely based on guess-work and conjecture.
With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continuing the prequel to the classic Planet of the Apes series, now seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the other prequels that have been released. I’m going to examine four of the more well-known prequels and speculate at the success of the series had the prequel actually been the first film that was released, with nothing to precede to draw in an initial audience.
Prometheus was released as a prequel to the Alien franchise. It put a group of astronauts on a planet similar to the one in the first Alien movie and pitted them against an alien substance that could transform and adapt depending on what it had infected. It’s at least one removed from the Alien franchise it precedes, with a sequel expected to start filming within the next couple of years.
This one could have actually started a solid franchise on its own. Without the links to any previous franchise, the marketing was fantastic and was enough to draw audiences. The film was also a grand spectacle and without the link or burden of the Alien franchise, would probably have been forgiven many of its flaws. Without any of the links though, some of the references would fall flat, particularly the final scene and it’s “reveal.”
Verdict – Success!
X-Men: First Class
This would have actually been a very novel approach to a new superhero franchise. Instead of beginning with a well-established roster, you go back to the sixties and start a different style of superhero franchise. You tell the origin story of the heroes, particularly Professor X and Magneto, using less recognisable superheroes, leaving one of the key X-Men to a pure cameo.
I don’t think it would have worked though. It is a very good movie but the lack of identifiable heroes, coupled with the uproar that would come from the fans who want to see the X-Men on-screen “properly” would also kill this franchise from the beginning. You couldn’t have an X-Men movie without Wolverine as a “main” character and this alone would scupper any plans for a more ambitious start to the franchise.
One of the more successful prequels because it distances itself from the trilogy it precedes, namely Lord of the Rings. I doubt that, without the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy before it, Peter Jackson would have tried or even considered the movie to be a trilogy. Two movies at a push but definitely not the bloated series he is currently creating.
This would still be a success though. It would have a huge fan base that loved the books as children and the way Jackson has brought the characters to screen would please fans and newcomers alike. It would also serve to build a huge anticipation for the epic trilogy that followed it, probably making those movies even more successful than they were.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The story of two ancient “wizards” who kidnap a “special” boy in an attempt to stop the invasion and destruction of a small planet ruled by an annoying Queen. Epic fights with laser swords and cool race in the middle though…
This movie has its haters from all over the Star Wars fandom (and beyond). Without the original Star Wars movies to help catapult and support the movie, a lot of what is going on will be lost on newcomers. The movie is too slow, too shallow and doesn’t have the same attraction or feel of mysticism and wonder that the first movies did. It will also have to compete with another space-based series, and next to Star Trek, the Phantom Menace would suffer. I think if this movie was the first of its series, there may not have been a Star Wars franchise at all!
Overall, two successes and two failures but not necessarily based on quality. The Hobbit can use a book and established fanbase, as well as the quality on show, to launch a franchise. Prometheus probably has enough about it to continue onwards but I doubt that Alien would be the result. X-Men is possibly too ambitious and different to be the start of a franchise and The Phantom Menace is probably too weak and underwhelming to launch the Star Wars franchise, cool lightsaber fight aside.