Are Young Adult Movie Franchises Dead in the Water?

cityofbonesThis past week Publisher’s Weekly linked to an article by Tara Aquino on the web site about the failure of three YA movie adaptations this year: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures and The Host.

While she doesn’t exactly come to the conclusion that young adult franchises are a dead commodity, she does seem to be dismissing the YA movie franchise trend as a passing one.

It’s true the movies she cites have all underperformed at the box office. Yes, it was recently announced that The Mortal Instruments sequel has been put on hold indefinitely—which may be code for “on hold forever.”

But some movies based on YA books not attaining the popularity of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight franchises doesn’t mean all, or even most, YA franchises are doomed to failure. This would be like saying that superhero movies are on the way out because The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern bombed.

Even more to the point, YA is not a genre the way that superhero movies are a genre. YA is simply a category based on the age of the main characters. Young adult books can be any genre—sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, historical, suspense—there are very few genres that are not represented in YA fiction.

It’s obvious Aquino has a condescending attitude towards young adult fiction. She compares YA books to mediocre pop music bands, and assumes that the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games is at least in part due to audiences being obsessed with the real-life love lives of their stars.


Is every YA book a masterpiece? Far from it. The Twilight series is the Da Vinci Code of the YA world—wildly popular yet also despised by many.

But there’s a reason why so many adults are reading young adult fiction—there is some serious talent writing some terrific books. Assuming most are cheesy, poorly-written romances exposes a serious ignorance of the subject.

However, Aquino has a point when she says the aforementioned box office failures were rushed into production. This is the way of Hollywood. It latches onto what it thinks is the craze of the moment and starts buying up books to make into movies, and sometimes the results leave a lot to be desired.

One theory I have for why The Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures flopped is because they fall into the urban fantasy genre, which seems to do much better on television than on the big screen. True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf all flourish on TV. The newly-minted TV series Sleepy Hollow, though not YA but definitely in the same general category (real world meets fantastical elements) just achieved outstanding ratings for its premiere.

Other reasons they may have failed? The same reasons any movie might fail: poor execution, casting mistakes, badly thought-out marketing campaigns, openings scheduled at less than optimum times of the year. It’s really quite easy for movies to fail.

And even though all three movies cited were based on best-sellers (the Mortal Instruments just completed two years on the best seller list), unlike Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight, none of them were pop culture phenomenons in the way those three series were even before they hit the screen.

My predictions for the movie adaptations coming down the pipeline? I think Divergent, based on the series by Veronica Roth, will do very well. Divergent has a lot of crossover from The Hunger Games fandom and an excellent cast. Dystopian/sci-fi tends to attract larger audiences than urban fantasy and its love story is more of a subplot, so it will probably attract more male movie-goers.

It’s harder to say with the other two projects Aquino mentions, The Maze Runner series, based on the books by James Dashner, and the Chaos Walking series, based on the books by Patrick Ness. Personally, I think the Chaos Walking series (the first book is called The Knife of Never Letting Go) faces a lot of challenges going from page to screen. That’s not to take anything away from the books, but not everything translates from one medium to the other that easily.  With a director and screenwriter the caliber of Robert Zemeckis and Charlie Kaufman, it stands a good chance of overcoming the challenges. Also, Lionsgate is the studio behind it. They have done a stellar job of marketing and making fans happy with The Hunger Games—they should do as well here. The Maze Runner should have no trouble translating, and it’s a series that appeals to both boys and girls.

Should Hollywood be pickier about which YA books to adapt? Absolutely. Should they take more time to carefully nurse book adaptations into outstanding movies? Sure.

But we’re talking about Hollywood here.

When everything shakes out, and they realize what most of us already realize (that not everything should be made into a movie) they will become pickier and more successful YA franchises will be born.

It just takes Hollywood a little while to learn.

3 thoughts on “Are Young Adult Movie Franchises Dead in the Water?

  1. I blame the marketing for the failure of Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures. I think they seemed too derivative and “nothing special” so they didn’t have any crossover appeal at all to the general public not familiar with the books. And The Host was just a bad movie based on a weak book. It’s all cyclical when it comes to movie adaptations — if Hollywood had given up on YA titles after the box office underperformance (failure) of Lemony Snicket, The Spiderwick Chronicles or The Golden Compass, we wouldn’t have seen the eventual success of The Hunger Games, Twilight, and to a lesser extent (but still an extent) Percy Jackson. It’s like when people cry about the death of Westerns — they’re not really dead, just waiting for a hit to come along, which will reinvigorate the genre again.

    1. Agree the marketing campaigns didn’t do those movies any favors. They probably also counted too much on Meyers’ fans crossing over to The Host, without taking into consideration that it’s a different genre from Twilight.

      Good point about those earlier YA failures. We’re going to see more flops, I’m sure–but also more successes.

  2. I agree with you 100%, not all good books could turn into good movies. I really don’t believe that the movie for Fifty Shades of Gray will do justice to the book. My opinion… we will see.

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