What’s with the popularity of making prequels?


Promotional images for The Tournament at Gorlan, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Captain Marvel, The Rings of Power, House of the Dragon, and Revenge of the Sith

Ellie Petrick, Editor

There’s a history in each fictional story that shapes the modern story being presented to the world. That in-universe history is most often left to some interpretation, given vague information to get the point across. However, expanding on this history and creating a new story out of it has become a trend. Prequels are becoming more and more popular, with many major franchises being expanded upon with them. This begs many questions: Are they popular enough to warrant this? What makes a good prequel? Why is making a prequel the trend?

One of the most recent prequels to be released is The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, an Amazon Prime original series. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was released from 2001-2003, and from 2012-2014, the prequel trilogy The Hobbit was released. Now, 8 years later, comes a prequel series, taking place thousands of years before The Hobbit

“Amazon spent $250 million for the rights alone, and the first season cost $465 million to make,” said Travis Clark in a Business Insider article on Rings of Power viewership numbers. Amazon spent over $700 million on this series. But, why? Why would Amazon spend so much money to make this prequel when there was no guarantee that it would succeed? 

In a world focusing more and more on money, it should be no surprise that the reason for this focus on prequels goes back to money itself. “By taking advantage of the prequel angle, production companies can capitalize on their films without needing to be particularly original,” said Siobahn Lyons in a The Conversation article on prequels. For companies, prequels are a safe project moneywise, because you have an almost guaranteed audience. 

“Prequels are popular because…we are already connected to characters and enjoy understanding a bit more [of] the past of the character or world,” said senior Sierra Ford. People who have already grown attached to the characters and world of the original story will be interested in a prequel immediately. 

Prequels, in this fashion, tend to prey off of already existing interest in the relevant media. “Much like our obsession with the lives of celebrities ‘before they were famous’, we’re naturally curious about the past of characters,” said Lyons. Bonds with characters can be preyed upon by authors and studios to make some easy money. This often manifests not only in prequels, but prequels that include heavy references to the main elements of the original media. 

“[A good prequel] ties into a point…way at the beginning [of the media],” said junior Sarah Simmons. Prequels that tie into the media and truly make them feel as if they are in the same world and timeline tend to be better received than others. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, a prequel novel and movie to The Hunger Games, exemplifies this. 

Samantha Bergeson of Indiewire wrote about the movie, saying “You will obviously get a lot of the background of Snow, the history of the Games, the history of some of the music, where songs like ‘The Hanging Tree’ actually come from. To be able to show a different side of Panem at a different time in its history has been really exciting.” In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Collins writes of the fictional country of Panem from The Hunger Games, but long before the timeframe of the original trilogy. In the rest of the article, Bergeson expands on the cast of the movie adaptation with characters that should catch the eye of anyone familiar with the original trilogy. From Lucky Flickerman, ancestor of Caesar Flickerman, to Coriolanus Snow, the eventual president of Panem, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is chock full of connections to The Hunger Games.

This is not to say that a prequel can be effortlessly good. “When prequels are weak, it often seems as though they are simply there to make money for production companies,” said Lyons. Guaranteed interest can be an excuse for laziness in writing. Unimaginative takes on prequel concepts continue being expanded upon, not because of a genuinely good idea gone wrong, but for the expressed purpose of bringing in money. 

“[Prequels are bad] when it is a quest that is just filler and not really necessary in the grand scheme of things,” Prequels that are creative and expand on the story can be wonderful, but too many fall prey to just existing in the universe rather than actively adding something to it. Imagination is left behind in favor of milking a universe dry.

“…popular culture, once a thriving field of experimental storytelling, risks becoming ever more derivative as it heads into the next decade, ” Lyons said. Prequels are not inherently bad, but they can be damaging to the original media and pop culture itself. It’s time we award the stories that are truly imaginative, prequel or not, to protect the future of creative media.