This past weekend, Divergent opened in the States to a pretty stellar first weekend of box office delights, making nearly $55 million in just three days. But while the accountants are rubbing their hands together with glee, movie-goers must’ve felt short-changed.
Currently running at 41% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can read our own 2-star review of the movie right HERE, the movie is far from great. The people going to see Divergent on its opening weekend are obviously fans of the massively popular Young Adult series of novels that the movie is based on, and looking back over the not-too-distant past, we can see a remarkably negative trend developing.
In the last year alone, cinemas were inundated with YA adaptations, and more pressingly, some shockingly bad ones. Beautiful Creatures, The Host, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, Ender’s Game, Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire were all released in 2013. How many of them made their production budgets back? All of them. How many of them were actually good? One.
The Hunger Games sequel is part of a trifecta of Young Adult adapted movies that are probably solely to blame for the current splurge in the sub-genre. Between Katniss, Harry Potter and Bella Swan, regardless of quality, YA is where the money was at. Catching Fire made over $860 million. The last Harry Potter movie passed the billion dollar mark at the worldwide box office. Combined, the Twilight Saga made over $3.3 billion. And not to belittle their eventual accomplishments, but some of these movies weren’t all that great. The first Hunger Games movie was above average, but not exactly stellar. The first two Harry Potter movies are so out of step with the quality of the rest of the series that most people just choose to forget they exist. And the Twilight movies… We know better than to aggravate that particular fanbase, but let’s just say the aggregate Rotten Tomatoes review score across all five movies is 36%. Not exactly top of the class stuff.
So is that the problem? That the entire sub-genre (if we can even call it that) of Young Adult movies is based on three series that weren’t all that great to begin with? Well, no, it can’t be that either, because Catching Fire was genuinely great, and the Harry Potter series got exponentially better once The Prisoner Of Azkaban arrived. The problem would appear to be that these new movies are merely trying to copy their format, rather than their quality.
Take Divergent for example; you can literally play Young Adult Adaptation Bingo with that movie. Strong lead female character living a vague post-apocalyptic world like in The Hunger Games? Check. A process of picking a particular group to go with like in Harry Potter? Check. Totally fawning over the hot lead guy like in Twilight? Check. Doing most of your work and training in an underground cave like in The Host? Check. We could go on, but honestly, playing Spot The Obvious Influence is most of the fun you’ll have watching the movie.
Young Adult adaptations are now neck-and-neck with Comic Book adaptations in their sheer volume of late, but whereas the Marvel and DC are ensuring quality via original storytelling, nobody in the YA film-making business seems to be of the same mind-set. Young Adult novels are being churned out and having their rights bought up by Hollywood before they’ve even hit the shelves. If it has a teenager involved in some kind of magical world with mythical creatures, or a teenager in a post-apocalyptic setting, then that’s enough to ensure its instant popularity and eventual movie adaptation, regardless of quality or complete lack of originality.
But while soon-to-be-released Vampire Academy – which can quite literally be described as Harry Potter meets Twilight – is yet another failure waiting to happen here (it made barely $7 million in the States, and critics tore it to shreds, meaning it may well be the first bonefide YA flop), there is hope in the not-too-distant future.
The Giver (Oct 2nd) sounds quite unlike anything else in the YA sub-genre, and features a fantastic cast with the likes of Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. The Maze Runner (Oct 24th) at least looks to be taking influence from somewhere else, even if it is The Lord Of The Flies, potentially the grand-daddy of Young Adult novels. Then there’s still The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Nov 21st) and Part 2 (Nov 20th 2015) to look forward to, as well as the potentially improved upon sequels to The Mortal Instruments and Divergent.
While it might be too soon to write-off the entire subset of Young Adult adaptations just yet, as it has sprung forth a few excellent movies, hopefully the producers of these movies will notice a trend in audience reactions to these movies. Yes, films like The Host and The Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game all made their production budgets back, but just barely. None of them were a hit in the same way that Twilight or Harry Potter were when their first movies hit the big screens. The audience for these movies expect the same level of love and quality from the adaptations as they received from the novels they were based on, and if they don’t get it, they simply won’t go to the movie. And if the movie is a quality adaptation, then they will, which is why Catching Fire was such a runaway success.
Like comic book adaptations, there is huge amounts of potential to be found in the Young Adult section, and like the recently successful comic book movies, they just need to be treated with respect by a talented hand, as opposed to just being seen as a way to make a quick buck.