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Photo: ‘Hunger Games’
2014 – The Year of Young Adult Dystopian Franchises
The year is 2014, the Oscars release a selfie of the world’s biggest movie stars, Justin Bieber’s mugshot surfaces, Emma Watson speaks at the United Nations for gender equality, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ popularizes the infinity sign; just about everything seems right in the world. As someone who lived and breathed the culture of 2014, everything in the world of pop-culture just seemed easy.
There is a bitter-sweet existence in knowing that decades have passed since the beginning of ‘Harry Potter’ with eight films from 2001-2011 earning 7.7 billion USD from the box office. Or the next successful franchise, ‘Twilight’ with five films from 2008-2012 earning 3.3 billion USD from the box office. Both YA franchises were the kick-start to a rapid incline of young adult dystopian films centered around political impact, connections, love, and loss. Ultimately the success of pop culture, income, and fan-bases from the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ franchises became the reason as to why studios reached out to the most popular young adult novels in order to try and gain that same impact for more films. So much so that the number of franchises that were successful compared to the ones that failed before their sequel is rather devastating. At the same time, some films give off the apparent reason as to why they failed with lousy acting, even poorer attention to storyline adaptation, timing, and in cases simply didn’t work for audiences.
What do all of these films have in common? A dystopian universe of destruction claiming one person is less valuable than another, causing a rampage of political action to reverse the damage along with that, love, relationships, death, and suffering. And with all of that, they are but young adult characters in a universe that is damaging and close enough to home to feel realistic to our current reality. In a way, these young adult dystopian films are hypnotizing of their true effect of hitting a nerve within us that feels like a universe of separated “factions” dictating our personalities that could truly exist.
The YA Dystopian Adaptation Films That Failed
When looking at successes to failures, you might notice that casting, storytelling, and overall aesthetic are essentially part of whether the film will be successful. And, many people, including myself, might say that some of these films on the list of “failures” were relatively successful in our eyes, and it was a grave disservice to know that we will never know how our favorite characters’ lives will ultimately end.
I’m sure recalling some of these titles might unearth that part in some of your hearts that wished they had gotten a sequel to their favorite characters’ story, as this certainly occurred within myself. But sadly, studios do not care about the cut-off storyline or cliffhanger but rather the numbers. Ah yes, money, the ultimate tell on whether a film will get a sequel or be erased from history and labeled with “failed.” With the successes came the downfall of many adaptations that ended on a note requiring more explanation but never received a sequel, such as:
2007’s ‘The Golden Compass’
Budget – 180 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 370 million USD
2011’s ‘I Am Number Four’
Budget – 60 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 150 million USD
2013’s ‘Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones’
Budget – 60 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 95 million USD
2013’s ‘The Host’
Budget – 40 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 63 million USD
2013’s ‘Ender’s Game’
Budget – 110 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 125 million USD
2014’s ‘The Giver’
Budget – 25 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 66 million USD
2014’s ‘Vampire Academy’
Budget – 30 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 15 million USD
2016’s ‘The 5th Wave’
Budget – 38 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 109 million USD
2018’s ‘The Darkest Minds’
Budget – 34 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 41 million USD
2018’s ‘Mortal Engines’
Budget – 100 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 83 million USD
2019’s ‘Alita: Battle Angel’
Budget – 170 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 405 million USD
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Looking at this list, you might be thinking that some had quite a success in revenue, so why was there no sequel? Apart from ‘Alita: Battle Angel,’ whose possibility of a sequel is still being determined, these films simply did not work. Whether that had been because of an actor’s scheduling, a director losing interest, a fan’s displeasure with adapting their favorite novels, or the wrong timing of the release, some minor detail or incorrect timing can ruin the entire franchise. For ‘Alita: Battle Angel,’ most people I had spoken to never even heard of the film before I recommended it to them, and the people who already knew of it said they were displeased with it. In my opinion, I loved it, but I adored most of the films on this list, so my opinion might be trash in your eyes.
Most of the films on this list had some of the world’s biggest actors and actresses, such as Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, Teresa Palmer, Lily Collins, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and so many more. So, the choice of actors could have been the cause, but more than likely, it always falls to the fans of the novels who cherish the story and will raise hell if it is tampered with or not completed correctly.
‘Percy Jackson’ – A Semi-Success That Met Failure
20th Century Fox gained the rights to Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ novels and made 2010’s ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’ starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario. As with most adaptations, fans of the novels were greatly disappointed by the recreation, but the love for the youthful, good-looking cast and the heartthrob that is Logan Lerman was the saving grace for the franchise.
This pop-culture love earned a sequel in 2013 with ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’ with the same cast but with previous concerns now outbalancing the love for the cast, the final venture to create the third installment, ‘Percy Jackson: The Titans Curse’ was canceled. Fans have expressed their discontent with the portrayal of their beloved story but are open to recreation with more attention to the novels. This has been surfacing around even with the idea of a TV limited series, but the finalization is all up in the air. In my opinion, with such a strong storyline coming from the novels and the massive fan base made from the first installments along with the novel fans, I would not be surprised if a studio took it into consideration.
2010’s ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’
Budget – 95 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 226 million USD
2013’s ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’
Budget – 90 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 199 million USD
‘Divergent’ – More Successful Than ‘Percy Jackson’ Yet Still Failed
After the success of the ‘Twilight’ franchise, Lionsgate acquired Summit Entertainment and made 2014’s ‘Divergent’ starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, and Ansel Elgort. As with most YA dystopian films, separating groups of individuals is a big hit, as was seen with ‘The Hunger Games’ and the division into twelve districts. In ‘Divergent’ people are separated by their personality into five different factions; Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intellectual), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honest), and Amity (peaceful). Speaking for myself, the first film was a major success and had me visiting the movie theater numerous times in the same week just to experience the magic all over again. With this success, the sequel, ‘Insurgent’ came in 2015 along with the same popular cast. This cast, in particular, was 2014’s biggest stars with films such as ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ ‘The Spectacular Now,’ ‘Men, Women, & Children,’ and ‘Whiplash.’ When you think of 2014, you think of Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller; that’s just the way it is.
With a semi-success from the second installment came 2016’s ‘Allegiant,’ which would mark the end of the franchise with its failure to keep audiences entertained. In all honesty, the magic from the first film was no longer there as the pop culture between the first film had already shifted when 2016 arrived. Using ‘The Hunger Games’ as a reference, that franchise knew how to stick to its roots knowing that the magic from the first film was the successor in gaining fans. For ‘Allegiant,’ the magic that was previously made was thrown out the window, and we were placed into an entirely new world, never considering the love we had for the separation into “factions.” The franchise was planned to make four films, but when director Robert Schwentke chose not to return so that he could get a break from the back-to-back filming, the entire thing was disregarded.
Budget – 85 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 288 million USD
Budget – 110 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 297 million USD
Budget – 110 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 179 million USD
‘Maze Runner’ – Successful But Not “Great”
After the failure of ‘Percy Jackson,’ 20th Century Fox took on the adventure for another YA dystopian adaptation with 2014’s ‘The Maze Runner’ starring Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Kaya Scodelario. Throughout the franchise, reviewers were mixed about their feelings, with most of the young adult audience in love with the youthful, good-looking cast, once again. The first film’s budget was a mere 38 million USD and grossed around 348 million USD worldwide; however, as with the other franchises, each new installment earned less than the one before. As a fan of this franchise myself, there are minor details I would have liked to have been different, but overall, this still stands as a strong series. In 2015 came ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,’ which successfully earned another film, but with Dylan O’Brien’s near-death injury, the third installment would come three years later in 2018 with ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure.’
With the final film ending in 2018, this would prove ‘Maze Runner’ to be the last successful YA dystopian adaptation franchise to date.
2014’s ‘The Maze Runner’
Budget – 34 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 348 million USD
2015’s ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’
Budget – 61 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 312 million USD
2018’s ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’
Budget – 62 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 288 million USD
‘The Hunger Games’ – The Ultimate Success
In 2012, Lionsgate gained the rights to Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ starring Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Elizabeth Banks. This franchise would become the biggest success since the first two successors, ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight.’ In 2013, came ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,’ most of which is claimed to have been fan’s favorite installment of the four films. In 2014 came ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,’ this one being fan’s least favorite and finishing in 2015 with ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.’ The strength of this franchise is incomparable to other YA dystopian adaptations simply because of the strong connection between novel and film. With Lawrence’s insane acting capabilities matched with the powerful storyline that perfectly syncs with current events, success was bound to happen.
Unfortunately, ‘The Hunger Games’ would also be the cut-off for future successes, but only time will tell if this will hold true. After the release of Jennifer Lawrence as the cold-stoned Katniss Everdeen, studios produced YA dystopian adaptations one after another, trying to get the magic that so many young adults fell for. Although, as you know by now, that has not happened.
2012’s ‘The Hunger Games’
Budget – 78 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 694 million USD
2013’s ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’
Budget – 130 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 865 million USD
2014’s ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’
Budget – 125 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 755 million USD
2015’s ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’
Budget – 160 million USD
Grossed Worldwide – 658 million USD
Is There A Future For Young Adult Dystopian Franchises?
With the success of the previous films mentioned, studios began to create anything they thought would be comparable or better than the previous successors. But, with the heavy amount of failures as opposed to the successes, the amount of YA dystopian fiction adaptations diminished into almost nothing. Nowadays, studios are choosing to create YA films targeting important meanings or values such as gay relationships, movements such as Black Lives Matter, or the realism of cyberbullying.
Although, just recently, a YA dystopian adaptation was released, ‘Chaos Walking’ starring Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen. Unfortunately, the probability of a sequel has been deemed unlikely, and when I tell you my soul is crushed…my soul is crushed. It is almost a disservice to produce a film that requires a sequel for more explanation and yet, never receives one. All of these cliffhangers that we will never know the end too, and at this point, it is insanely frustrating with the volume of incomplete narratives.
More obvious than not, I think it is clear that studios are aware that YA dystopian adaptations can be successful. Still, it takes correct timing, novel interpretation, casting, and dedication to the fans and their opinions. Fans heavily support these franchises, so if a studio wishes for a successful sequel, you must learn to pay attention to what the fans want. Look to ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ all franchises with massive fan bases that still to this day write fan-fictions, cosplay, and live and breath the stories. With a fan base, the chances of your art being successful are raised to the extent of their dedication.
In all, do not underestimate the young girl with a Pinterest board and the talent to conjure up some fan-fiction. These girls, boys, and non-binaries are the support system of franchises, and if we wish for future YA dystopian franchises to arise again, you must get some fans in on it. And if there is anything I know about being on social media is that fans are ready and looking for another franchise to fall in love with.
By Isabella Brownlee
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Isabella Brownlee is an experienced writer, video editor and filmmaker. She is currently a writer for Hollywood Insider, focusing on detailed and thought-provoking film reviews and articles discussing truth and impact in the film industry. Driven by self-awareness and unique perspectives, she takes utmost pride in providing others with emotionally impacted knowledge about the film industry. As a writer, her main goal is to connect with the audience and those who find themselves in the back of the bleachers unknown to anyone but beautifully aware of the world. In addition to her primary job functions, Isabella creates and edits videos/films personally and professionally. Aligning with Hollywood Insider’s mission of sharing impactful and influential content, Isabella hopes to enrich her readers with positivity and truth.