At MusicalExpert, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Prequel?

A prequel is a narrative that takes us back in time, unveiling the origins and backstories of characters and events that shape a story we've already encountered. It enriches the tapestry of a fictional universe, offering depth and understanding to the tales we thought we knew. Curious about how prequels can transform your favorite stories? Let's dive deeper.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Sometimes when a movie, play, concept album or novel becomes exceptionally successful, the creator of that work will create a follow-up work known as a sequel. A sequel generally picks up where the original work ended, as in the case of the blockbuster sci-fi movie The Empire Strikes Back or the novel Scarlett, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. Some authors, however, choose to create a new work which begins before the setting of the original movie, play or novel. A work which explores the early lives of established characters is called a prequel. An example of a prequel would be the 2008 movie Star Trek, which explores the early history of the original characters from the television series Star Trek. The prequel Batman Begins also predates the successful Batman movie franchise released years earlier.

A prequel can be a single work created to explain the back story of popular characters, or it may become the first in a new series of prequels. The new Batman film franchise, for example, may spawn several sequels according to its own story arc, but they will all be considered prequels to the original series which featured Batman as an adult. Sometimes an author will create a prequel after taking the original storyline to its logical conclusion. Author JK Rowling, for example, may choose to write a prequel to her Harry Potter series instead of taking the original characters into adulthood. A prequel would either explore the early lives of the main characters, or else be set a generation or two earlier and use characters only mentioned briefly in the original series.

Prequel films are a way for movie companies to explore the backstories of popular franchises or characters.
Prequel films are a way for movie companies to explore the backstories of popular franchises or characters.

The term prequel is considered to be a portmanteau, or new word, much like splashdown or cyberspace. Until recently, few authors or scriptwriters produced prequels as part of a series of works. Quite often, an original work would prove so popular that publishers or movie studio executives would commission sequels from either the original creators or a new set of writers for hire. These sequels may or may not be based on original source materials, but they would incorporate the characters and general setting of the original movie or novel. Such sequels may succeed or fail based on their faithfulness to the original work or other factors. A prequel, however, often demands that the commissioned writer have a solid understanding of the mythology surrounding the original work, as well the ability to create realistic younger versions of established characters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a prequel?

A prequel is a literary, cinematic, or other form of narrative that is created after the original work but is set before the events of that original story. It aims to provide background, context, and deeper understanding of the characters or world by exploring events that lead up to the main narrative. Prequels can enrich a story's universe by revealing origins and setting the stage for the existing plotlines.

How does a prequel differ from a sequel?

While a sequel continues the story after the events of the original work, a prequel goes backward in time to explore what happened before the original story. Sequels often build upon the outcomes of their predecessors, advancing the narrative and character arcs. In contrast, prequels delve into the past, offering insights into character motivations, historical events, or foundational elements that shaped the narrative presented in the original work.

Can a prequel be successful without having seen or read the original work?

Yes, a well-crafted prequel can stand on its own, providing a complete and engaging story for newcomers. It should introduce characters and settings in a way that doesn't rely on prior knowledge. However, for those familiar with the original work, a prequel can offer a richer experience by deepening the understanding of the story and its characters, often with moments of revelation or foreshadowing that enhance the overall narrative.

What are some famous examples of prequels?

Famous examples of prequels include "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," which is set before the original "Star Wars" trilogy, and "The Hobbit," which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote after "The Lord of the Rings" but is set earlier in the same fictional universe. These prequels explore the origins and backstories of characters and events that play significant roles in the subsequent stories.

Why do creators choose to make prequels?

Creators may choose to make prequels for various reasons, such as to explore a character's backstory, to flesh out a fictional universe, or to answer questions raised by the original work. Prequels can also revive interest in a franchise by introducing new storylines and characters while leveraging the established fan base's familiarity and nostalgia. They offer a creative avenue to expand a narrative without moving forward in time.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular MusicalExpert contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular MusicalExpert contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


@hanley79 - I think with prequels about characters that eventually die, the marketing people play up the sentimental aspects to get people to want to watch. Say your favorite character died in the original movie.

To market it in a way you would still be curious about, the trailer might hint that you'll get more scenes of the character you loved doing what makes you love them, and also that you might learn something new about their pasts. Now there's something to guess about again, and since it's a favorite character, you care enough to pursue it!


@malmal - I don't know if knowing whether everybody's going to live or die is such a great thing from a sales perspective, no matter what your personal opinion is. I mean, one of the big selling points of a new movie is that it offers excitement by keeping the viewer guessing. Knowing who lives and dies doesn't leave a whole lot of guessing, you know?

Now, prequels that have a whole different cast but use the same world are neat to me. Those are cases where the world-building was too good to leave in just one movie. In horror movies' cases, conveniently, the monster tends to come back even if they killed it in the end of the last film. Doesn't make much sense, but it does make for good-selling prequels!


@SailorJerry - Prequels about characters that eventually die are the ones I love the most! You know why? Because the original story was the only part of these people's lives you ever got to see, and now you get a whole new plot with them.

Not only that, if if they die in the original story, it's assured that they won't die in the prequel. This might take away suspense for some people, but for me, knowing a beloved favorite character won't die is nice because it was heartbreaking enough the first time they died in the original.

Of course, in horror movies like the prequel to Exorcist, that means there need to be some new people just so somebody can die.

Luckily in the case of horror movies, usually the writers can get away with whole new casts. That lets them use the same monster or scary concept to terrorize a whole new crowd of people who will react in new and unpredictable ways -- even after the monster was eventually vanquished in the original movie. A fun use of prequels, I think!


@rugbygirl - Agreed, the "Star Trek" 2008 movie feels less like a prequel and more like a reboot. I think it's clever how they did the time travel plotlines to maneuver the canon beginning of the plot so that it was considered acceptable to the fans without canceling out the original canon beginning storyline. Amazingly, they managed to make everybody happy.

Now the Starwars prequel movies, those were textbook examples of prequels. They had young versions of the characters, showed how the plot got to the point it was at in the original Star Wars: A New Hope film, and in general presented lots of neat "old" style technology.

I once read a book about Star Wars: Episode I that explained that the ships on Naboo were designed to look like classic hotrods, so they added lots of chrome and such. That was a cool way to look at giving the new technology designs people had never seen before an old feel like they actually came before the Star Wars: a New Hope ships despite having better special effects to show the "old" ones with.


@rugbygirl - I don't know - sometimes with a prequel it's nice to see where characters came from. With the Star Wars ones, for instance, you got to see how Luke wound up on the desert planet, why the Storm Troopers all look the same, etc. I liked them a lot, but I could have done without Jar Jar. He was a mistake!

But I couldn't get interested in Caprica, the prequel to Battlestar Galactica. I mean, you knew they were all going to die! And with none (as far as I know) of the characters I had enjoyed, I just didn't see the point.


I don't usually care for prequels, because you already know where the story is going. The Star Wars prequels, for instance - well, I don't think I'm the only one who was disappointed by those. (I did like the end of the third movie, when Annakin Skywalker awakens from his horrible burns inside the Darth Vader suit and howls his emotional agony.

But I did like the Star Trek movie, which wasn't exactly a prequel if you think about it. I kept seeing it described as a "reboot" of the franchise. With all the timeline-messing-up going on, they really wound up being free to do whatever they wanted with the movie. And with sequels to that movie, which now won't be Star Trek prequels at all, but a whole new storyline (as I understand it).

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Prequel films are a way for movie companies to explore the backstories of popular franchises or characters.
      By: gstockstudio
      Prequel films are a way for movie companies to explore the backstories of popular franchises or characters.