Young-Adult Adaptations: Are They Dying And Should You Care?
Some of the biggest movie franchises of the past couple of decades are based on popular young-adult fiction. Properties from Harry Potter to the Twilight series have been brought to the silver screen and stormed the box-office. For years, these have been event films, with peak summer or holiday releases breaking box-office records and lining the coffers of studios of all sizes. But is this equation changing? Are young adult adaptions not the surefire bet they once were and what might be the implications?
This article comes in response to the news that the latest entry in the Divergent series bombed this weekend. Allegiant, the third entry in the series, made just $29M in its opening frame, compared to $52M and $54M for its predecessors. Given its production budget of $110M, this is a major disappointment. This steep drop has caused Lionsgate to slash the budget for the final entry in the series.
Quietly, Allegiant represents the norm for this sub-genre in recent years. Even the mighty Hunger Games franchise could not avoid steep declines as audience excitement waned and box office revenues dried up. Why is this? Well, like anything else, the answer is complicated, but it is likely due, at least in part, to the "Peter Jackson Method." That is, taking one book and breaking it up into more than one movie, as Jackson did with his adaptation of The Hobbit--one book turned three movies.
While it would seem like more movies would lead to more money, the outcome is actually twofold in the other direction. First, more movies means more marketing muscle is needed to keep the franchise afloat. Like a television show with high ratings, eventually things will settle. The trick is to finish up before that happens. The other negative outcome is that audiences reject the dilution of these stories. When you take 100 pages of a longer book and turn it into a two-hour movie, quality suffers. Few such efforts have been well-received by critics or fans.
While most of these stories are generally pretty lightweight and movie history is unlikely to change whether more of these movies are made or not, here are a couple of reasons it matters:
One potential ramification to these movies not being made is that kids everywhere might read less. Movies are everywhere and when a franchise is popular at the box-office, it can lead to feverish demand for the books. The Harry Potter series was immensely popular before the movies, but once the movies were released, each new book release in the series became an even bigger event. If these economics change, there could potentially be millions of kids who are never brought into the fold of the series of books that might spark a love of reading.
Another potential downside to these movies going away is that they have been giving us some of our strongest female characters. I have talked a lot about why representation on the big screen matters and this is no less true for young girls. Seeing characters like Katniss Everdeen overcome obstacles is empowering. A cinema landscape where young girls have fewer and fewer characters to look up to is depressing.
Like everything else, this will likely ebb and flow. Years from now, there could be a series of books that become an unprecedented success and get converted into a string of wildly successful movies. If that does happen, hopefully everyone involved will note some of the pitfalls discussed here and think about how to not become the next Divergent.
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