Prequels, prequels, prequels. The conventional wisdom? They don’t work.
In modern IP culture, anything that’s remotely successful deserves(?) a follow-up. But sometimes, franchises bring themselves to perfectly logical end points, with absolutely no reason to move past the happy or not-so-happy ending we get. So, the solution is not to move forward but instead to move back, looking at the journeys that brought key figures from the original movies to where they were when the beloved original films began. That’s how we got movies like “Harry Potter” spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” or gritty “Wizard of Oz” riff “The Great and the Powerful,” or all those very convoluted “X-Men” movies. The general poor quality of these films have lead many to write-off prequels as a whole, deeming them unnecessary world-building exercises that suck the mystique out of the movies they’re based on.
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But prequels don’t have to be bad; sometimes, a look at what made the original characters we know and love who they are can work gangbusters, like Ti West’s slasher prequel “Pearl.” Others succeed by going back in time but otherwise telling a standalone story, like the second “Indiana Jones” movie, “Temple of Doom.” Some particularly ambitious films mix prequel with sequel to tell two separate storylines that build on each other gracefully, like “The Godfather Part II” or, of course, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”
This month gives us a prequel that seems to have defied popular wisdom and set itself admirably apart from the films that followed. Based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins, “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is a prequel to the blockbuster dystopian YA “The Hunger Games” series, which ruled the box office from 2012-2015 and is best remembered for establishing Jennifer Lawrence as a household name. Set 64 years before the events of the first movie, “Songbirds & Snakes” focuses on the rise to power of Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland in the originals, Tom Blyth in this film) and the growing popularity of the titular child death games. Also starring Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis, “Songbirds & Snakes” has been widely praised by critics as an enjoyable standalone in its own right, one that builds on the themes of the original trilogy while charting a new path for itself.
In honor of “Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” IndieWire decided to round up the times that prequels managed to stick the landing, working as both additions to the movies that we love and as separate films unto themselves. To qualify as a prequel, a film needs to (1) be released after the first movie, obviously, and (2) take place before its events, without completely rewriting them in their entirety. So reboots, like how “Casino Royale” reset the world of the “James Bond” franchise, don’t qualify for this list. With that in mind, read on for our list of the best prequel films of all time. Entries are unranked, and listed in order of release date.
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