It would be tempting to think the words sequel and prequel are the creation of Hollywood marketers looking for new ways to describe old ideas. But the notion of a prequel, a movie that provides the backstory of an existing story, like this weekend’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is not a Tinsel Town contrivance.
The first prequel appeared in the late 7th century BCE. The Cypria, an epic of ancient Greek literature, is the story of the origins of the Trojan War and serves as an introduction to the Iliad even though it was written after the Homer epic was already in print.
The word prequel first appeared in 1958 in an article in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction but didn’t catch on until it was used to describe Butch and Sundance: The Early Days in 1979.
The Star Wars New Hope trilogy are the most famous movie prequels, but Hollywood has been looking back to extend the lives of their franchises for decades.
The 1966 Clint Eastwood spaghetti western The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the final film of the Man With No Name trilogy, is a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More.
It wasn’t billed as such, but by the time Eastwood assembles his iconic poncho outfit (which he wore in all three movies without replacement or cleaning) it’s obvious we are at the beginning of his journey, not the end.
The title of another movie was more obvious about its origins.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is the story of the roots of Leatherface, the human-skin-mask- wearing baddie of the original film. There’s all the cannibalism and murder you expect from a Texas Chainsaw movie, but the grisly birth scene kicks it up to another level.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the third of five films in the original Apes series, came after the Earth was destroyed by a nuclear blast in the second movie. To keep the franchise alive, a story was created that saw apes travelling back in time which sounds forced but Variety called it “an excellent film, almost as good as the original Planet of the Apes.”
The Godfather Part II manages to be both a prequel and a sequel at the same time. Flipping between the past and present, it’s a powerful story of one family’s descent into corruption.