Cowboys & Aliens Walked So That Prey Could Run

When Disney+ launched in 2019, most of us probably thought we would use it for little more than watching Pixar movies and the MCU over and over. You know, back when it was only 20 movies you needed to watch back-to-back and not an intricate web of blockbusters, TV shows, and shorts about Baby Groot. However, Disney knew going in that even a back catalog stretching back almost a century isn't enough all by itself. It has made various acquisitions, something that appears to be all the rage these days, and off the back of those acquisitions, it has been the platform on which we watch very non-Disney movies like Prey.

As someone who watched Predator for the first time at far too young an age to be watching that sort of thing, and loved it instantly, you would think news of a new movie in the series would excite me. If you have seen even one of the Predator movies that has come since, you'll understand why it didn't. I had very little intention of watching Prey until glowing praise for it filled my timeline. It was labeled the best Predator movie since the original. Admittedly a low bar for Prey to hop over, but when I saw Jesse Ventura heaping praise on it and its lead Amber Midthunder, I gave it a chance.

Thankfully, my thoughts on Prey lined up with everything I read online. Far better than any other movie featuring Predator for more than three decades, and honestly, if it had come along at a different time, there may well be a version of me who thinks it's the best one of all. Nostalgia is always a hard foe to topple though. The memories of sitting there watching something I knew I shouldn't have been, listening to Arnie utter iconic lines I can fire off to this day, it was never going to be a fair fight.

Even though both are Predator movies, they are also tricky to compare. Prey drops the alien into a different time, pitting it against a group of Native Americans. The novel concept has been praised, and rightly so. It's one that hasn't been used much at all in cinema. In fact, the last big example I can think of is Cowboys & Aliens. If you've not seen it, the movie does exactly what it says on the tin. Aliens invade Earth, but rather than have them clash with the human race in the present day like we've seen a thousand times before, the extraterrestrials have to tussle with the inhabitants of the wild west.

Cowboys & Aliens had the exact opposite effect Prey had on its audiences when it first hit cinemas more than a decade ago. Despite its innovative idea and star-studded cast, the reviews weren't nearly as glowing. So much so that it had the exact opposite effect on me too. A slight desire to see it, but once I heard what people had to say, I decided to give it a miss. I eventually saw it on DVD (remember those?) and thought it was great. Not amazing, nor groundbreaking, but I think it deserved better.

I proceeded to spend the next few weeks wondering why this hadn't been done before, at least not on the same scale. Taking aliens or zombies or, as Prey has done, a famous character and plonking them right in the middle of a different era. That feeling faded but has popped back into my head from time to time. That's why I was so happy to find Prey had not only had another crack at the formula, but it had improved upon it and made a long overdue great Predator movie to boot.

I've seen a number of posts and tweets questioning why this isn't done more often. Half joke, half serious suggestions like Final Destination on a pirate ship, or how Henry VIII would have handled a zombie invasion. I'm assuming he would have married and then beheaded one of them. I briefly jumped on this bandwagon, but then I quickly hopped off again, because that's exactly what I don't want Prey to become. A bandwagon that every studio in Hollywood hops aboard.

The positive reaction to Prey runs the risk of exactly that happening in the coming years. Whenever anything enjoys a modicum of success, people have a tendency to do it to death, especially when that success is backed by the loudest voices on social media. Those voices convinced Sony to re-release Morbius in cinemas after all. There's a very real risk that the next few years are filled with those studios dropping their IP into various time periods in an attempt to replicate Prey's success. Sure, the next one might idea might be good, and maybe even the one after that, but eventually, as is the case with superhero movies for a lot of people right now, the novelty will wear off.

Cowboys & Aliens being good and not great allowed for that not to happen in 2011. It took more than ten years for Prey to follow in its footsteps, and now that we have it, I no longer crave more of the same. I realize that a decade-long gap between movies like this is why I love them so much. If we reach a point where we get one every six months, or even just one a year, they will quickly bleed together and no longer be as special as the two movies we have so far in what remains an incredibly niche genre.

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