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The Perils of Prequels: As Tinseltown Bombards Us With Sequels, Prequels, Remakes and Requels, It Feels Like No Franchise Is Ever Truly Over

There’s a problem with releasing a great movie that tops the box office, a TV series that breaks viewing figures, or a project that blows away critics — ultimately, studios and fans alike will always want more. Imagine if Star Wars ended with the second Death Star blowing up, or what if The Godfather Part II never fleshed out Vito Corleone’s story with Robert De Niro?

As Tinseltown continues to bombard us from every direction with sequels, prequels, remakes, and requels, it feels like no franchise is ever truly over. Prequels are a lucrative corner of the market that is only growing in popularity, but unfortunately, for every Better Call Saul and Wonka, there’s a Young Sheldon and Oz: The Great and the Powerful just around the corner. It seems that no matter what, we’ll never learn from the perils of prequels. 

Back to the start

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore. Warner Bros.

 

For many, your average prequel is a story that fails to raise the stakes and simply doesn’t need to be told. Despite Ewan McGregor’s lauded performance in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role in A New Hope clad him in plot armor and ensured he was never in any real danger. The same can be said for Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts movies and Corelanius Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. Done right, though, prequels can expand on lesser-known characters or fill in the gaps, like what happened to Padmé as Luke and Leia’s mother. Also, look at the tragic trajectory of Anakin Skywalker from happy lil’ podracer to the metal menace of Darth Vader. 

Disney is particularly guilty of prequel perils, with us questioning who asked for the slew of Direct-to-Video movies like The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning and The Lion King 1 1/2. The House of Mouse has similarly become obsessed with taking iconic villains like Maleficent and Cruella de Vil and trying to humanize them through sympathetic origin stories. Having clearly not learned from Universal’s TWO Huntsman movies that focused on Snow White‘s Evil Queen, 2024’s Mufasa: The Lion King looks like it will be much the same as an outing that is completely unnecessary.

 

Mia Goth in Ti West’s Pearl, a prequel to X. A24/Universal.

If there’s one genre that’s renowned for plundering prequels, it’s horror movies. Even if it’s cheaper to throw a bit of corn syrup around than craft a Planet of the Apes prequel like Rupert Wyatt did with the brilliant Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there’s many bargain basement bin slashers out there. Hannibal Rising, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, and the abysmal Exorcist: The Beginning are just a few, although we’ve got to hand it to Final Destination 5’s shock ending for inadvertently making one of the best prequels of all time. 

Unfortunately, you sometimes can’t tell how these things will go. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is effectively a band of Rebels stealing the plans to the Death Star, and given that we all know how that goes, it was a big risk to make a 134-minute movie about it. Aside from some uncanny valley CGI on Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, Rogue One is about as perfect a Star Wars movie as you can imagine. These days, it’s remembered as a heart-wrenching war epic rather than a prequel. 

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The same can’t be said for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Even though there was enough interest in how Han Solo became the scruffy Nerf herder we can’t help but love, Solo flopped where Rogue One flew. As well as being the first Star Wars movie to bomb at the box office, Solo‘s failure saw Lucasfilm largely shift its focus to an expanding Disney+ slate and led to plans for more anthology movies to be scrapped.

Importantly, Rogue One taught us you don’t need to necessarily slap on the moniker of a prequel to work. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was a bold reinvention of the Alien franchise that soared, whereas Alien: Covenant flopped for trying to be too similar to the 1979 classic while expanding the franchise law. Similarly, Ti West’s Pearl fits the bill of being an X prequel but also feels like a wildly different movie. If you’d asked us a decade ago whether a Native American-led Predator prequel would’ve worked, we’d have laughed. Now, look at the success of Prey

The struggles of the small screen

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in Better Call Saul. AMC.

 

It’s not just munching popcorn in the dark of the local cinema that makes prequels big business, with TV also being a prequel paradise. Better Call Saul took the fan-favorite Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and explained how the law-abiding Jimmy McGill became the slippery lawyer. Yet, taking the events beyond Breaking Bad to continue his story as Cinnabon Gene, there was something else that Better Call Saul had going for it. Giancarlo Esposito pitched his own Gus Fring prequel to Variety, but aside from Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan saying he’s done, we know one good prequel doesn’t always lead to more.

More often than not, prequels run before they can walk and try to fast-track an expanded universe. Fear The Walking Dead started out as a humble sister series to The Walking Dead and took a more unique approach. While we loved the addition of The Walking Dead’s Lennie James as Morgan, multiple time jumps and confusing continuity saw Fear catch up to the main series. Amidst complaints AMC’s series jumped the zombified shark, it started to face the same critiques as The Walking Dead and ultimately limped to its finale.

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A scene from Fear the Walking Dead, Season One. AMC

 

Where Gotham was a fresh twist on the Batman IP that focused on Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon, Pennyworth following Bruce Wayne’s stiff upper-lipped butler reminiscing about his time in the SAS wasn’t something anyone asked for. If a sequel genuinely adds something to an established world, it usually gets a free pass. Game of Thrones might’ve ended on a clanger, but by tracing back through the Targaryen family tree and picking up throwaway lines from the sister series, House of the Dragon spread its wings while feeling like peak Thrones. We’ll remain sceptical about whether all the other planned spin-offs will see the light of day, let alone be a success. 

The problem is that the bigger IP, the bigger you fall. Star Trek: Discovery introduced a wholly different crew away from Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but with the tractor beam of the USS Enterprise pulling us in, it couldn’t help but lean on legacy characters like Spock. Continuing to dilute the brand, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a series that revolves around The Original Series characters, including Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One. More series are planned, meaning it’s surely a matter of time until the Trek-Verse caves and unites a young version of the Enterprise crew under young Kirk. This in itself feels like a middle finger to Star Trek: The Original Series

 

Star Trek: Discovery cast poster. Paramount.

 

One of the biggest gambles in recent memory was Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Having shelled out a whopping $250 million for the rights to the Tolkien estate, the streaming giant then locked itself in for a further $750 million to film six series. Being the most expensive TV series of all time is even more daunting when The Rings of Power boasts a lukewarm reception and (according to The Hollywood Reporter) was finished by just 37% of domestic viewers. The Rings of Power showrunners told