The Best Prequel Films of All Time: ‘The Godfather: Part II,’ ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,’ and More

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 endpoints, 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 generally poor quality of these films has led 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.”

2023 gave us two prequels that seem to have defied popular wisdom and set themselves admirably apart from the films they follow. The first was “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” a prequel to the blockbuster dystopian YA “The Hunger Games” series focusing 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. The second is “Wonka,” a musical origin story for the titular chocolatier made famous by Roald Dahl’s iconic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” with Timothée Chalamet taking on the role and Paul King of “Paddington” films fame directing. Both movies faced some skepticism before release, but surprised with largely positive reviews praising them as unexpectedly fresh.

In honor of the newly released “Furiosa,” IndieWire decided to refresh our list of 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.

With editorial contributions by David Ehrlich.

[Editor’s Note: This list was originally published in November 2023. It has since been updated to coincide with the release of “Furiosa.”]

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