Young Adult books have been around for a while. Movies have been made based off books for even longer. However, in the past decade we have seen a huge burst in the number of genre young adult projects that have hit the screen. Some work and others do not, but it’s hard to deny it is a formula Hollywood is willing to take. With positive track records from franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight, and most recently The Hunger Games, it is hard to not see the writing on the wall. These stories are appealing not just to young kids and teens, it is drawing in a significant adult audience to also support the productions.
What works and what doesn’t?
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for discovering what the next big thing is going to be. It is like that with all mediums. However, one trend that seems to be relatively solid when it comes to the conversion from printed page to film is that the most popular stories tend to be genre. My guess is it has something to do with a drive for an escapist mindset. Not only are people able to delve into a beloved story, they are able to delve into a world that is not their own.
This doesn’t work for every young adult genre series. Take Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. There is a strong solid fanbase for the stories and from everything I’ve heard, they are at least decent. However, the film translation was subpar. Yes, this can at times be partially the production that causes the divide, but it isn’t always. The Mortal Instruments failed to make back it’s production budget, which doesn’t include the costs of marketing. By any studios standards it was a failure, but the studio’s hope for the series to find an audience is leading it to get it’s planned sequel anyway.
The Hunger Games on the other hand was a massive success. I would argue that this can be attributed to a solid story, a wonderful cast, and a good production. There is an art to the book to film adaptation and The Hunger Games seems to have mastered that. It kept the tone of the book and didn’t alter it to be goofy just for a wider appeal. The Hunger Games was a solid movie, with room for improvement. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did improve. We were treated to a stronger film that was undeniably entertaining. In fact, it opened with the 5th highest opening of all time. Had The Hunger Games: Catching Fire been released in 3D it would have toppled a few more from the list (The top 4 films all released in 3D).
In short, while there is no definite answer as to what makes a young adult adaptation work, I believe there is a similar trait. The story being told is a simple one. It is not overly complicated, but let’s its story shine through wonderful characters. By allowing the characters to transcend just being words in a book and coming to life on screen by an actor or actress, we get to experience the story again. It isn’t the crazy twists that make these young adult phenomenon’s so popular. It is entirely the characters. When a young adult film adaptation loses sight of that, it begins to lose it’s chances at success.
Studios are still clamoring for more young adult adaptation films to roll in the bank. The next attempt appears to be Veronica Roth’s Divergint, which similar to The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian universe. Early previews appear to be generating more buzz than The Mortal Instruments. It will be interesting to see if it can stand on it’s own and be the next phase.
What do you think are some factors that make young adult film adaptations work?