Once upon a time, in a post-apocalyptic world filled with vampires, psychics, magicians, time travelers, and werewolves, teenagers were forced to join specific factions while being told who they could marry, even as love was outlawed and they had to fight to the death on national television against other teens.
OK, maybe that’s not all in one story, but sometimes it sure feels like it in the world of young adult (YA) fiction. The biggest-selling book series these days are ones that feature teens—often with otherworldly powers—in extraordinary circumstances, the fate of the world often at stake. You might scoff at that, but think about it: you need not look any further than Twilight or The Hunger Games, not to mention the stunning success of the Harry Potter series, to see that YA is king.
There’s a myriad reasons why these books become so enormously popular, and it certainly has something to do with the fact that the stories themselves are metaphors for teenaged life. Either way, fan devotion to these series is unparalleled to anything in recent memory, and since movie studios are not generally run by dummies, they’re quickly optioned and turned into (hugely successful) cinematic fare.
Fans, so distraught over the casting of the three Twilight leads, nearly shut down the interwebs in protestation. Yet amazingly, the finished product ended up pleasing millions of people and in the process turned Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner into international megastars. The five Twilight films went on to gross over $1.3 billion domestically and earn two billion more worldwide.
As we mentioned Tuesday, there was an uproar when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, even though she had already earned an Oscar nomination for her turn in Winter’s Bone (which is more than can be said for any of the Twilight trio). Lawrence’s Hunger Games performance was similarly lauded, as the movie cleared $400 million domestically and made close to $700 million worldwide. Not only is that more than any individual Twilight movie made, but it showed us once again just how shortsighted and reactionary the movie-going public can be in the weeks and months leading up to a film’s release.
It’s fair to say though that the seven Harry Potter books, and the eight movies adapted from them, are what started this whole thing off, and that’s not just because it’s currently the highest-grossing film franchise in history. The Harry Potter series is literally the first YA franchise to have had any kind of box office success at all. The fact that so many series have come in its wake is testament to the power of JK Rowling’s work and the film adaptations that followed.
The attempt to wring out every last dollar by extending the series for as long as humanly possible was not a one-time phenomenon with the eighth Harry Potter film. The Twilight series, made up of four books, contained five films; while The Hunger Games,a mere trilogy as a book series, will be made into four movies. In each case, the last book in the set was split into two films, something we can expect to be the norm for any successful future franchise.
Which franchise will that be is the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn’t it? If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that not all YA franchises are created equal. In February, Warner Bros. released Beautiful Creatures, based on the immensely popular four-book series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Warner’s hoped to ape the success of Twilight, if not Harry Potter, but sadly, Creatures was an epic fail, and the movie died at the box office without coming close to making back its money, even after foreign numbers were factored in.
The Harry Potter series is literally the first YA franchise
to have had any kind of box office success at all. The fact that so many series have come in its wake is testament to the power of
JK Rowling’s work and the film adaptations that followed.
Likewise, the August release of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, didn’t give Screen Gems the hit it was hoping for; making just over $30 million at the domestic box office on a $60 million budget. A sequel, that had already been greenlit before the first film’s release, is now on hold as the studio re-evaluates the property.
Twentieth Century Fox certainly fought the good fight with the Percy Jackson series, but that one ended up a losing battle as well. The six book set, known as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, produced two films. The first, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, was a $95 million movie that made $88 million domestically, but after it made an additional $137 million in foreign box office, Fox greenlit a sequel. The August release of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters was such a disappointment though, that a third film is not yet in development.
Going back further, the landscape is littered with failed attempts to capitalize on the YA market. The Golden Compass trilogy never got off the ground after its first movie failed; the same can be said for Lemony Snicket, Eragon, Inkheart, City of Ember, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. All produced a single movie and nothing more, losing millions of dollars for their respective studios in the process. But no matter how many times a new franchise might fail, the potential numbers are too enticing for any studio to not try again.
It’s safe to say that the Hunger Games movies are going to be phenomenally profitable for Lionsgate/Summit. Hell, the grosses of the first one alone probably paid for the entire series, meaning anything the next three make would be found money. That means that a grand total of three of the nine YA adaptations mentioned here will have seen successful completion of their series. If you have a batting average of .333 in the major leagues, you end up in the hall of fame; but if you do it in Hollywood, you’re brushing up your resume. Still, considering how many YA titles are in some form of development, it’s clear that the trend isn’t ending any time soon.
Doubt it? Take a look at the release schedule over the next six months. First up is Ender’s Game, which hits theaters in November. There’s been controversy surrounding the film because of the political beliefs of author Orson Scott Card, but the five-book series is incredibly popular, and Lionsgate/Summit has high hopes that audiences will flock to the grand space adventure.
Then in January, they start coming rapid fire. Universal gives us The Seventh Son, based on the six-book Wardstone Chronicles, featuring Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. February has Fox’s The Maze Runner, based on the eponymous trilogy; and The Weinsteins’ Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, from a six-part series.
The big one, though, will hit theaters the following month. Summit’s Divergent has received by far the most press, thanks especially to rising star Shailene Woodley, who’s featured in the lead role. Based on the bestselling trilogy, the first installment has the prime March release date that served The Hunger Games so well in 2012. The second book, Insurgent, is already in active development, and the final book in the series, Allegiant, hits bookstores in a couple of weeks.
So that’s five more shots the studios are going to be taking even before next year’s summer silly season begins on May 2. And with no less than 25 YA projects in some form of development, from script stage to preproduction, there’s no end in sight. At least one, The Giver, already has a tentative 2014 release date. Based on a quartet of books by Lois Lowry first published in 1993, it’s a co-production between the Weinsteins and Walden Media that stars Bridges, Meryl Streep, and apparently, Taylor Swift.
And that’s just one example. There are at least two dozen more, including the Artemis Fowl, Matched,and Maximum Ride series, which means that YA movie adaptations are pretty much going to be like punk rock. As the saying goes, “Hey, you don’t like this song? Just wait two minutes and you’ll get a new one.”
More from the Books to Film Series:
Books to Film: The YA Development List
Books to Film: Top 10 Production Companies Developing Literary Adaptations
5 Fall Books We’d Like To See On Big (Or Small) Screens
Books to Film: Turning Bestsellers into Blockbusters