A look at ten popular films which have valid opportunities for prequels to either expand upon a favorite character, or re-energize the franchise for modern audiences.
Opportunities for prequels exist where films feature characters with significant backstory which is only alluded to, but never fully explained. These are characters who are introduced to the audience already in their prime. They have formidable skills and knowledge, but it is unclear to us how they obtained that knowledge and skill. In many ways, we take them for granted. Prequels are an excellent option to “fill out” those missing back stories and provide greater depth to those characters we all love and enjoy watching.
Films are often able to get away with little to no backstory for their characters if the skills of that character are interesting enough in their own way. We don’t question why James Bond or Ethan Hunt are who they are, we just accept that they are talented secret agents who can pull off impossibly dangerous missions. But, that mysterious background can also be part of the appeal. Maybe finding out who a character actually is would in some ways make them less impressive in our eyes. Sometimes it is best for those mysteries not to be revealed.
This is the delicate edge a prequel must walk on. It has to be able to fit within the feel and approach of the original film, and add to the story and allure rather than take it away. In this manner I understand prequels are not necessary, but I realize there are certain times when they could be useful. Below I have outlined ten films where a prequel could be of some interest. I’m not saying these original films NEED a prequel, but if a studio wanted to build on the franchise or start it anew, these are ways they could do it without harming the legacy of the original film. What other prequels could potentially work?
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The original Star Trek television series got its own reboot/prequel in 2009, so why not the crew of The Next Generation? If 2009’s Star Trek establishes an alternate timeline, it would be easy to set a Next Generation prequel in that same timeline to avoid the necessity of maintaining storylines and to limit the conflict with existing canon. As a prequel in a new timeline you could also get away with a whole new, younger cast – just like what they did with the 2009 film. Finally, with a renewed interest in Star Trek properties on the small screen, this would seem like a prime opportunity to venture to the big screen once again.
Potential Plot: I realize the pilot episode of The Next Generation shows the crew coming together for the first time, and so this film would be a play off of that episode, much in the same way that Star Trek Into Darkness was a play off of Wrath of Khan.
When we first meet John McClain, we figure out his marriage is on the rocks and that he is an NYPD Detective forced into action when a number of terrorists take his wife and her coworkers hostage. We don’t really get to see John McClain in action on his home turf until the third entry in the series, and even then he’s not working for the Police in official duty. Suffice to say, we never really get to know John McClain and understand why he is the way he is and why he’s traveling to LA in the first film to reconcile with his wife. Clearly nothing as interesting would have happened to him as what he experienced in the first film, but there is a story there with a beloved character worth telling.
Potential Plot: A throwback to an 80’s buddy cop movie. John McClain is a young detective but feels like his career is being held back by all of the rules and regulations he has to follow. As a cocky and smart-mouthed crime fighter, he attracts the ladies and angers his bosses.
We’ve seen Young Indiana Jones, and technically Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Arc, but there is so much potential for more. With the studios uncertain on how to proceed with the film franchise, maybe it is time to think about starting over? A prequel showing a young Indiana Jones would be homage to those original television series, but with modern production values and an opportunity to establish new actors in major roles. Even if the new film treads on familiar territory, I think audiences would be receptive and it could refocus the franchise.
Potential Plot: Like we see at the beginning of The Last Crusade, young Indiana Jones is an adventurous and eager artifact hunter, whose love of history is greater than his interest in selling valuables for personal gain. Perhaps the film could find him following along on one of his father’s expeditions that goes wrong.
Continuing the trend of kick-ass characters who seem to be well-known in their universe but maybe we don’t really know why…we have John Wick. In the original John Wick, there are flashbacks of his wife who passed away. Clearly this has had a profound impact on the character, so much so that he decides to retire from the organization of assassins which made him a legend in the criminal underworld. But I want to know about how John became an assassin. I want to know who he was and what motivated him, and of course eventually how he met a woman who inspired him to change his entire life for her.
Potential Plot: John Wick is a young punk with a knack for stealing cars. His criminal activities catch the attention of an assassin who takes him under his wing and shows him everything he knows. But when the assassin becomes killed, John Wick’s first assignment becomes revenge.
Guardians of the Galaxy
So the original Guardians of the Galaxy shows us how the namesake group formed, out of necessity rather than genuine appreciation of each other, there’s still more backstory which isn’t discussed. Like how did Groot start working with Rocket? What about Peter’s adventures in the care of Yando? And what about the motivation for Drax which we so often hear him talk about? Maybe all those stories are explained elsewhere, but the cinematic universe would have its own version.
Potential Plot: A young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens after the death of his mother. The aliens turn out to be a group of mercenaries and tell him they want to raise him to be one of them. But the real reason is they need Peter to help them on an important mission because he can fit into small places. When his usefulness ends, they try to leave him behind, but Peter, learning from their behavior, secretly establishes leverage to prevent them from doing so.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games may be the quintessential young adult dystopian adventure, but it lacks a back story to explain how its post-apocalyptic future exists in the first place. It is true that most of these types of stories purposefully don’t provide backstory so that they can use it as a plot twist later on, or as a part of some message about greed and human fallibility. But I say if we don’t know what caused the pain in the first place, the audience can’t really learn anything from it. So, a Hunger Games prequel has a lot of opportunity to weave a creative story about why the apocalypse happened and how the Capitol came to gain control over the survivors and create what becomes Panem, not to mention the reasoning behind the Hunger Games themselves.
Potential Plot: The story of the fall of District 13. Upon realizing the corruption of the Capitol, an armed resurrection begins to fight, hoping other districts will join in. But the Capitol controls communications and isolates the District, cutting them off from help and eventually causing mass destruction to quell the rebellion.
Like John Wick, Bryan Mills is a character with a particular set of skills but no real explanation of how he got them. We do learn that he was an ex-Green Beret and CIA agent, and the 2017 television series provides some back story into Mills’ acquisition of talent. But there is so much more potential to explore. In the original film, he has a family; a teenage daughter and an ex-wife. Juggling family life and status as an expert operative can’t be easy. That’s probably why he isn’t married anymore. Seems like it would make a good movie…
Potential Plot: Bryan Mills is in the prime of his career as a CIA agent who specializes in counter-terrorism and getting hostages out of difficult situations. When he falls in love with a woman he realizes he may have to decide between his career and a life with her. When a terrorist kidnaps her as revenge, Mills realizes he wouldn’t be able to live without her.
To be honest, we could have great prequels to all of Tarantino’s films. His characters often have interesting yet unsubstantiated back stories, and his plots generally happen with the important pieces already in play. But as much as I would like to know what is in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, or how Mr. Pink comes to get involved in the heist in Reservoir Dogs, or even the genesis of The Basterds in Inglorious Basterds, I think there is one character above all who deserves a more detailed study. While the main character in Django Unchained has his story told pretty well from enslavement to revenge, the secondary antagonist remains a bit of a question mark.
Potential Plot: Dr. King Schultz is a German dentist who comes to the Wild West looking to start a business focusing on gold fillings, but after he gets robbed he is left with nothing. He trains in fighting and guns, vowing to recover his lost possessions. When he does he finds out one of the men had a bounty, and comes to realize how profitable he could become operating as a bounty hunter.
Escape From New York
At the beginning of Carpenter’s 1981 masterpiece, protagonist Snake Plissken is a former special forces soldier who is convicted of attempting to rob the Federal Reserve. He is about to be sent into the massive prison that is future Manhattan, but is offered an opportunity for freedom if he can rescue the President of the United States who crash landed inside. If any film screams for opportunity of a prequel, this is it. Plissken’s background is completely unknown, and I’m sure I am not the only one who is curious about why he was attempting to rob the Federal Reserve in the first place…
Potential Plot: Disgraced former special forces soldier Snake Plissken is given an opportunity for redemption by a rebellious faction of the government of the United States. They need him to find evidence of bribes paid by the current administration and those records are hidden deep inside the fortified underground bunker that is the Federal Reserve. If Snake is successful, he helps usher in a new era of competent government, if not, the directors of his mission disavow any knowledge of it.
Apocalypse Now is basically a modernized version of Joseph Conrad’s seminal novel, Heart of Darkness. Like in that film, the plot revolves around the main protagonist on the tail of a man who went off into the jungle to seek wealth and fortune. In both the film and book, the sought-after man is Kurtz. In the film, Kurtz is an Army Colonel who has broken away from his command to wage war on his enemies with desperate tactics by a group of soldiers and locals who are isolated deep in the jungle. Both the film and the book approach the story from the perspective of a person who is following Kurtz’s trail as he descends into the jungle and his own insanity, but neither really follow the transformation of this character directly. I think a prequel from the alternate perspective, Kurtz’s own perspective, would add context to the character while enhancing the original film.
Potential Plot: Fed up with the ineffective combat tactics of his superiors, Colonel Kurtz defects on a top secret mission and begins building his own army of loyal men. He descends deep into the jungle to cut off any of his former responsibilities, but fails to realize how the war is taking effect on his mind and body until it is too late.