In cinema, does a prequel ever actually help the story?

So, with Fantastic Beasts 2 on the horizon, and the various concerns people have about it, I got to thinking about other attempts at cashing in on a successful franchise by adding prequel films.
Specifically, thinking of the Star Wars prequels and Hobbit films in addition to the new Potterverse entries. Not movies w flashbacks in them.

I have decided I strongly dislike them. The tone mismatch, opportunities for plot nonsense and discontinuity, and general feeling like they are designed by committee really sets me on edge. Curious as to others’ thoughts, and whether there are any that break this mold.

As always, usual caveats about mileage varying and such if you enjoyed them.

I can’t think of any; however, I also can’t think of any reboots that improved the story significantly either.

But in order to actually add something to the conversation, I will put forward a prequel which I believe actually does significantly add to the story-- in literature. Ender’s Game adds significant complexity to several characters in Speaker for the Dead. Both books stand alone very well and are different stories, but the “prequel” provides huge character motivations to the 2nd.

I think the Robert DeNiro storyline in The Godfather Part II added to the overall story.

Start of Darkness definitely added to The Order of the Stick but that’s not a movie.

:confused: That’s not a prequel, is it?
One big problem with prequels: When filming sequels or later-in-the-series followups to successful films (or books, but especially films), there’s a natural tendency to want to go bigger: higher stakes, better technology, more extreme action, a more impressive world, etc. But when that happens in a movie set chronologically earlier, it feels wrong, as if “progress” or escalation is happening backward.

Ender’s Game: 1985. Speaker for the Dead: 1986. No, it’s not a prequel; the latter is a sequel.

Is Fantastic Beasts a prequel? It seems to be more like shared universe. Like how First Avenger was in the same universe as the IronMan, Incredible Hulkand IronMan 2, and not a prequel despite being set earlier.

Not cinema, but TV, I thought that Spartacus, Gods of the Arena, the prequel to Spartacus, Blood and Sand was excellent.
Rouge One is a movie I would cite, but, it’s again a case of sams universe as opposed to a classic prequel.

I think the A&E Horatio Hornblower series starring Joan Gryffud, based on the C.s. Forester novels about Hornblower as Midshipman and Lieutenant are certainly no offense to the movie Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) that starred Gregory Peck, even though the film (and the novels it was based on) about Hornblower as a true captain preceded the novels and the A&E series set earlier in his career.

you could argue that the A&E series didn’t really help our understanding, since Forester’s conception of the character changed over time (for instance, according to the books making up the sequence that was the basis for the 1951 film, Hornblower didn’t know Bush until they served together with Hornblower as captain. In the books written later and the A&E series, they met when both were lieutenants, and Bush was senior to Hornblower.) On the other hand, the A&E series definitely gives you insight into what made Hornblower the way he was, so I’d argue that the prequels definitely helped.

I’d agree that Fantastic Beasts doesn’t really qualify as a “prequel.” Yes, it was set in an earlier time frame within an established cinematic universe, but should that be the entire definition? It was really a stand-alone story, without any overlapping characters or attempts to set up the events of the original series. Of course, the upcoming film may change that; I have no idea. But I thought the first one was quite entertaining, and worked well on its own.

To answer the OP’s question, I’d say Rogue One. It’s not a perfect movie, but I really liked it. And I think it provided some useful context that helped bring the motivations of those fighting for the rebellion into sharper focus. And yes, I do consider it a prequel.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly takes place before A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More and is technically a prequel. It is arguably the best of the trilogy and certainly expands Eastwood’s character.

Looking at the list of prequels on Wiki, that and Godfather II are about the only good candidates I could see for cinema.

On TV, Better Call Saul is a well done prequel that adds depth to many of the characters later seen in Breaking Bad.

Also on TV, I think Endeavour is a worthwhile prequel to the Inspector Morse series. It helps us to understand how Morse was the way he was later in life.

I love Endeavour. But I think it’s getting hemmed in now. He needs to marry Miss Thursday yesterday.

Execution can be an issue as well, of course.

The Star Wars prequels, while justly lambasted, were a good idea. They changed the nature of the story. The original trilogy was a classic heroes journey as we’ve heard. Essentially about a young man finding himself and overthrowing evil. Well and good.

What episodes one through three tried to do - and failed - was expand the story. It was no longer about Luke. It made the entire six movies about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Also a classic narrative arc and one worth telling.

However, the execution was so clumsy and the writing bad that it never came together. That doesn’t mean, however, that it couldn’t have been great. Put Michael Chabon in the writers seat and maybe Edgar Wright or someone in the directors chair and it might have been.

Solo: A Star Wars Story gives good background to the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian characters and their relationship.

It’s very rare for a prequel to be worth much. If it is, by definition the original did not do a good job of creating the character. Giving background rarely tells us anything more about a character than what we already knew.

Also, you have the problem of knowing how things turn out. When Obi-Wan squared off against Darth Maul* there wasn’t the slightest doubt who was going to win that.

Now it’s not fair to pick on Star Wars, since all its prequels were awful (Yes, I include Rogue One, whose only reason for existence was to answer a fanboy nitpick that came from the fanboys not being particularly smart).

The Godfather II at least was not a total waste of film, but it told us nothing about Vito we didn’t already know. But it’s one exception to the very tiresome rule.
*Still my candidate for the lamest villain in film history.

I’m pretty sure the A&E series wasn’t intended to tie-in to the Captain Horatio Hornblower continuity at all. They’re separate versions of the same story/character. Kind of like Ang Lee’s Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk movies.

It is TV and not film, but I think Better Call Saul was a worthy “prequel” to Breaking Bad. It probably helps that it is about a character who wasn’t the central protagonist in the original, and that it is possibly an accident of casting that the character in question became so interesting in his own right to justify filling out his backstory. It is a prequel in the technical sense, but in a way stands alone as a separate series. A completely different story in the same universe.

The X-Men prequels are hit or miss, but I think overall a net positive to the franchise. The first one, X-Men: First Class, was decent, and Days of Future Past was quite good.

It certainly gave us dimensions of Vito that we didn’t see in Godfather I. In the original film, Vito operates through his henchmen. He is ruthless, but doesn’t get his own hands dirty. In the second film, we see him as a man of action who is quite willing to kill with his own hands. Clemenza is the one who gets Vito into shady business, but Vito is the one who takes on leadership of the gang. And we see how Vito learns how to become a power in the neighborhood through both violence and benevolence. In Godfather I we see Vito as he is now. In Godfather II we see how he got there.

Ring 0: Birthday was, in my opinion, the best of the Japanese Ring series.

Piers Anthony’s Question Quest is probably the last decent book in the Xanth series, and largely takes place before most of the series that had come before it.

Isn’t the entire Godfather series just an adaptation of parts of the same book? I’m not sure that it would really be a prequel if it’s just that the first movie jumped to “somewhere in the middle” and later they determined that they needed to include some of the earlier material, in order for things to keep making sense.