The Road Always Taken—The Fall of YA Movie Franchises
Imagining your own world versus observing someone else’s—that is the key difference between a book and a movie. What happens when a book is turned into a movie? Words begin to blur and the two worlds collide. Young adults (YA) are quickly becoming one of the most popular audience demographics for the film industry. A group of individuals between the ages of 12 to 18, they are easily impressionable but hard to impress. During the past decade, we have seen an influx of content catering to this age group. Owing to this, franchises based off of successful YA books have become a popular choice for movie makers. Spurred on by numerous successes of the same, many producers and authors were eager to jump on to the bandwagon. However, the movies that followed barely made it to their conclusion, if at all.
One of the earliest book-to-movie franchises was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the brainchild of J. K. Rowling. Although none that followed managed to match the gargantuan success of Harry Potter, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Hunger Games, based on the books by Suzanne Collins, gained a massive fan following when it was released and the lead, Katniss Everdeen, became an inspiration for young girls all around the world. The controversially judged Twilight Saga, built upon the books by author Stephenie Meyer, can be credited for the vampire-romance craze that followed its release.
Veronica Roth’s, Divergent began with a lot of promise but lost its hold on viewers in subsequent movies. Attempts were made to convert it into a television show, however, when the director and the cast backed out, the franchise was scrapped. I am Number Four, Enders Game, Fifth Wave, and countless others never even saw a sequel. Others such as The Selection, based on the book by Kiera Cass, did not receive the green light for its release, meeting its end during the production.
So, the question is—Why did this trend begin to wane? One of the major reasons is repetition. Dystopian settings, secretive government organisations, and teenagers saving the world are just some of the elements that are commonly seen across the board. This has been addressed and even made fun of repeatedly by Honest Trailers, a production of the YouTube channel Screen Junkies. Character arcs are often mimicked in these movies as well. The lead is usually a misfit or an outsider who gains attention for a unique trait/power they possess over the rest of the world. Common supporting roles include the loveable character who inevitably dies, the character who betrays the hero, and finally the character who turns a new leaf. Perhaps the books themselves are to be blamed for these recurring tropes. If one really thinks about it, how many movies can actually be made featuring these similarities?
Another simple reason making the movie unpopular among fans and critics alike is divergence from the source material. Percy Jackson is a painful example of this. The two movies released, The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters, were critiqued for their poor delineation of the plot and characters. Few were surprised when the third movie did not even make it past pre-production. Not quite a fan-favourite, Eragon was one of the earlier films to commit this mistake.
YA franchises do not comprise a great amount of ethnic diversity amongst their cast, especially when it comes to the lead roles. In a world where gender and sexual orientation are becoming more fluid, straight and white still seems to be the norm for YA movies. The Wizarding World has also faced criticism for this. The YA class is not alone in facing this issue though. Nonetheless, in the year 2018, there were major attempts to make this genre more inclusive. A Wrinkle in Time featured a racially diverse cast while the film Every Day subtextually showcased a pansexual lead. Netflix is also taking the lead in breaking the glass ceiling, by being more comprehensive in the content that it produces.
Most of the above-mentioned issues are not faced by television shows. Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries were immense triumphs while they were on the air, even though they greatly deviated from the books in matters of plot and cast. Netflix has once again proven to be a massive player in appealing to the young adult demographic. The controversial yet lauded show, Thirteen Reasons Why has been renewed for a third season, despite there being only one book. Shadowhunters, derived from The Mortal Instruments, by Cassandra Clare, is currently going through the third and fourth book whereas, the movie City of Bones never saw a sequel.
Stand-alone films based on YA books such as The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower were comparatively favoured in the industry. Many such YA movies released recently have met the standards set by audiences as well as critics, while at the same time becoming a commercial success. The Hate U Give addressed the matter of violence against African-Americans. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before had an Asian-American lead without portraying any stereotypes. Love, Simon, depicted the coming out of a high school boy and managed to completely miss the clichéd “high school movie” tag. These stories explored new concepts, dealing with reality instead of creating a new fantasy world.
Even after many failures in this area of the industry, filmmakers have not yet given up on milking money out of franchises. Among upcoming feature films is Artemis Fowl, written by Eoin Colfer, which has already had major changes made to the cast and minor ones to the plot. Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush is being converted into a movie that is currently in its pre-production stage. It still remains to be seen whether these, and any other future movies, will fall victim to the failed YA franchise curse. Fans of the books can only pray that the movies are hits and hope that the odds are ever in their favour.