“Divergent” & The State of Young Adult Adaptations

Ever since the release of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone over 10 years ago, Hollywood has seen a resurgence of young adult novels being adapted into movies. Up until 2008, Rowling and company seemingly owned the genre, releasing 5 of the 8 films with each racking up hundreds of millions of dollars and receiving acclaim from critics and fans alike; that was, of course, until Twilight’s release. Making a moderate splash onto silver screens, this vampire romance novel tetralogy quickly became a mega-phenomenon, providing competition in the young adult adaptation genre and seemingly ruling pop culture. While opinions on the films are very harshly divided, no person can deny the impact this string of five films had on the future of film and film fans.

With the Hunger Games now paving the way, at first glance it seems like the young adult adaptation genre is still prospering and will continue for the next couple of years. However, looking below the surface it seems like there’s trouble brewing for this consistently prosperous genre in the future. Over the past few years, Hollywood has done its best to try to replicate the success of the franchises mentioned above in order to sustain the success and create mega-franchises as they move into the future. But flash forward with releases like Vampire Academy, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Host, and Beautiful Creatures flopping hard at the box office and receiving mostly negative reviews, executives are realizing the inability to capitalize on the franchise successes of its predecessors and the increasingly difficulty of bringing YA-adaptations to the big screen.

This is why the release of Divergent this upcoming weekend is very important for movies of this genre and where they’re heading into the future. With two sequels already planned, Summit Entertainment (the same studio behind the Twilight series) is putting a large amount of faith in this potential franchise. With a somewhat different science-fiction premise and the acting talent of Shaliene Woodley and Kate Winslet, among a few others, Divergent hopes to be a potential breath of fresh air in this stale sub-genre. However, early reviews are trickling in and the response is not too positive (currently it has a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, but could potentially move up as only 12 reviews have come in). With what looks to be another failed franchise-starter, one needs to ask: who or what is responsible for the failures of these young adult adaptation films?

The easy answer to go to is obviously the studios. Like many genres that have come before and many that will come after, Hollywood has an obsession with taking a trend and squeezing the most amount of profit out of it before running it into the ground. In the young adult adaptation genre, the first signal of this trend was the decision to take the last book of the three successful franchises (Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games) and stretch it into two separate films. While many believed it worked in Harry Potter due to its dense content, with Twilight it seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to release the most amount of films possible, which some Hunger Games fans believe is exactly the same thing they are doing with the last book in that series.

In their desperate attempt to capitalize on teenage audiences, it seemed like studios began drawing names of these popular novels out of a hat. By trying to rush these products out as quickly as possible to make sure the intro film is out by the end of the existing franchise (which will be the Hunger Games for the next two years), audiences have received sloppily written and directed films that look to have absolutely no passion or creativity whatsoever (we’re looking especially at you, The Host). While most, if not all, people realize that moviemaking is partly a business as well, this was a prime example of the studios removing any creative ambition from the filmmaking process, as what resulted was a string of horrid attempts at franchises that audiences wizened up to and decided against spending their money on.

With how many of these films have been released in the past few years, many point to oversaturation as the main issue. Countless times audiences have been given these young adult premises that contain similar, if not the exact same, premises and themes throughout: dystopian setting, female main character who falls for the shy, dangerous  man, hint of science-fiction/fantasy, etc. Reading through some of the early reviews of Divergent, one of the main complaints is how similar it feels to movies that have come before it and its inability to stand out. Within these studios there seems to be a desperate need to fulfill the shoes of the current dying franchise, but what many of them do not realize is that the willingness to carbon copy the more successful predecessors is killing the new projects they are making, with audiences comparing the new films to past ones that were simply made much better. And let’s face it, if you’re going up in a comparison with the Hunger Games chances are you won’t be able to compete.

It’s very difficult to speculate where the young adult adaptation will go from here. With the success of the first two Hunger Games films and two more to come, it doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime in the near future. However, with no current follow up being successful critically or financially, like with many trends that flow in and out of the business, it might be time for this genre to take a back seat for a while.

All eyes are on Divergent this weekend to see if the genre can be saved.

Article by Nick Franco

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One thought on ““Divergent” & The State of Young Adult Adaptations

  1. Pingback: Review: “Divergent” | Reel Reactions

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