By Katie Stockdale and Ivy Velazquez
When J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book came out in 1996, the rest of the series, as well as the films, became the franchise that started a boom in the young adult genre. Ever since those movies started doing well, production companies began flooding the screens with young adult adaptations. At first this seemed to be a great idea, The Hunger Games followed and grossed over $40.8 million.
Ironically, it’s also with The Hunger Games that we see the fall of this genre. Mockingjay, which was lauded to make the most of the franchise, dropped with Part One to $33.7 million and even further with Part Two which grossed only $28.1 million and has a 70 percent rating on RottenTomatoes. This is a dramatic drop, especially with the fan base of the franchise increasing with every movie.Yet in 2012, the year the first movie came out, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy sold 27.7 million copies, tripling the sales from the year before. The movie’s failure could have been a fluke, if not for the fact that other young adult franchises are failing too.
The Divergent franchise is hurting. Allegiant went down 44 percent from Insurgent’s box office premier and 46 percent from Divergent’s $54.6 million. The disappointment with Allegiant is obvious as its rating on RottenTomatoes is only 11 percent. This was a shocking surprise for Lionsgate, especially since they split Allegiant into two films and have yet to release the next, now named Ascendant. But seeing how Lionsgate’s stock actually dropped 3 percent, making the film might not be in their best interest.
The Maze Runner franchise, which planned to follow The Hunger Games and Divergent as the next post-apocalyptic hit, may be facing difficulties as well. The Scorch Trials opened less than its expected $35 million and even less than its predecessor’s $32.5 million, and with only 48 percent on RottenTomatoes. And with Dylan O’Brien recently injured during the filming of The Death Cure, which will likely cause a delay in filming, the audience may lose interest.
So what’s happened to make all these films suddenly drop? For one they’re all quite similar, dystopian societies with the main character starting a rebellion against the corrupt government. With the similarity of this premise flooding the market, it could be that people are simply losing interest.
For Mockingjay and Allegiant, that’s definitely the case as the final installments have been drawn out into two movies, when one would have been more than enough. Critics have noted that the momentum of Mockingjay was off, with the first part full of high action and the second, the real battle, oddly interspersed with slow moments that killed the momentum of the film.
Allegiant’s ending was fury inducing, making it a difficult book to transfer to screen already, but splitting it into two movies did Lionsgate no favors. There simply wasn’t enough happening in Allegiant to warrant a split, so it’s obvious that the film corporation did it only for the extra money. The whole franchise seems to have been treated as a replacement for The Hunger Games.
The Maze Runner franchise was also treated as a patch to help Lionsgate with the loss of The Hunger Games, instead of being made fully for its own sake. And worse, the movies suffered from large plot divergences, which as any Percy Jackson fan will remember, is a surefire way to kill a movie adaptation. Worse, The Scorch Trials appears to have been treated as a venue for multiple action scenes, with no character or plot development.
Even taking into account non-dystopian adaptations, the movies have still fallen short of fan expectations. Percy Jackson is a perfect example of a failed young adult fiction adaptation. Upon the release of The Lightning Thief in 2010, most fans who had grown up with the book series were about midway through middle school, maybe even high school. Once again, the announcement of the movie was met with much excitement, only to be replaced by disbelief at how the producers could possibly get it so wrong. Both The Lightning Thief and its sequel, Sea of Monsters (2013), strayed from the original plot. Met with negative reviews from critics, the production companies involved soon cancelled plans for the third movie, Titan’s Curse.
In order to try and please fans, some franchises have tried other ways of adapting books onto the screen. In 2011, HBO became the first television program to successfully adapt a book series into a TV series. Game of Thrones has been able to satisfy fans all around, whether they started with the books or the show. With each book made into a season (or two), most of the details have stayed within the show. Granted, George R.R. Martin is a very descriptive writer who works very closely with the show producers.
What with all the success that Game of Thrones had garnered from this novel idea, another franchise decided to give it a go, this time with The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. With an attempt at a movie series having already been made back in 2013 (and failing miserably), a TV series seemed like a step in the right direction. Indeed, many fans were quite excited at the news when ABC announced it in March of 2015.
But even before the first episode aired on ABC Family, now Freeform, something seemed off about the new series. Not only was it falling short of expectations, it was like the producers hadn’t even given the books more than a cursory glance. Besides the main plot points, everything about the series was changed; it’s hardly recognizable as the same story. One would think that at least the author would have been consulted but Clare was given little to no input.
Almost immediately, ratings began to drop, with just a 46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Even for those who aren’t fans of the books, the show has been deemed “dull” with “convoluted plots.” They even added characters, just for the effect of adding more drama to the show. Anyone who read the books can say why this is very much unnecessary. At this rate, the show will not be able to gain enough ratings to continue with a second season, let alone an entire series based on six books (this is not including the prequel and sequel series’). Constantin Film, the franchise behind the movie and show, definitely botched an excellent opportunity.
With so little success being garnered from these poorly thought out adaptations, the age of bringing YA novels to the big (or television) screen may very well die out altogether. And soon. With each release, there is less and less fan satisfaction. If franchises hope to save the future of these adaptations, they better get their act together quick. Perhaps they should take some fan advice and start hiring “book slappers,” i.e. people whose sole purpose is to smack the screenwriters and producers with a copy of the book (hardcover recommended) every time they even think of stepping too far from the original plot line. There’s little doubt that there would be a line of people eager for that job.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ivy Velazquez can be reached at email@example.com.