Across the Universe: Are young adult genre movies getting old?
Ugly box office for 'Beautiful Creatures' raises red flag
Ever since the success of "Twilight" -- both the best-selling books and the blockbuster film series -- publishers and studios have been scrambling to find the "next" one: A combination of teen romance and supernatural or sci-fi mythology that could lure teens, especially girls, to bookstores and movie theaters the way that Stephenie Meyer's overwrought soap opera did.
(Don't believe us? The last movie, "Breaking Dawn, Part 2," just cleaned up last week at the Razzie Awards, which "honor" the worst in film, by earning no less than seven prizes, including Worst Movie, Worst Director and, yes, Worst Actress.)
But, as has been proved many times before (see the trail of failed fantasy films that followed in the wake of "The Lord of the Rings"), "more of the same" doesn't necessarily mean "more butts in the seats."
We have not kept up with the sales success of the various genre YA novels and series that have been published over the last eight years since "Twilight" first came out. But we can speak about how film versions of those books are working out, and the signs point to a troubling trend if you're in the business of bringing more of this kind of thing to the screen.
There has been one legitimate, no-question hit on the level of "Twilight" during this time, and that has been "The Hunger Games." The first book in Suzanne Collins' gritty dystopian trilogy became a roaring blockbuster on the screen, making a star out of Jennifer Lawrence and being a genuinely good film besides (which can't be said about any of the "Twilight" entries). Three more "Hunger Games" films are on the way, and their continued success seems assured.
Somewhere in between "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games," however, we had "I Am Number Four," the saga of an alien teen hiding on Earth (and falling in love, of course), that was not only a huge misfire with critics (and deservedly so) but a major miss with audiences, earning just $55 million at the U.S. box office. The book spent seven weeks at the top of the New York Times' young readers best-sellers list, but that was not enough to turn it into a franchise.
And now since the beginning of 2013, we've had two more genre films based on young adult novels surface: "Warm Bodies" and "Beautiful Creatures."
The film rights to the first -- about a zombie who falls for a young woman in a post-apocalyptic future -- were snatched up even before Isaac Marion's novel was published. The movie, which came out Feb. 1, has had a lukewarm-to-good response from critics and audiences, with the $30 million film earning $58 million to date at the box office -- decent enough for a film with no big stars yet hardly the kind of money that screams "phenomenon."
"Beautiful Creatures" -- adapted from the first of a four-book series by two women from Los Angeles who first gave the book to their kids' friends to read as they wrote it -- has unfortunately fared much worse.
Narratively more similar to "Twilight" than any of the others -- except with the genders reversed -- the movie is a complete disaster at the box office, pulling in just $16 million in two weeks of release and almost ensuring that the other books won't go anywhere near a movie screen unless someone just happens to be carrying them around. A shame, really, since "Beautiful Creatures" does a much better job than "Twilight" in almost every regard with the same kind of material.
Here's our guess at what the problem is, and, yes, we've come at this in a completely unscientific manner: While we know plenty of people -- not just kids but adults -- who have read the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" books, we have yet to meet anyone who's actually read "Warm Bodies" or "Beautiful Creatures."
It seems as though the audiences for those books have stayed squarely in the young adult/teen niche, and while the books may prosper there, turning that into box-office success is like making a $100 million "Star Trek" hit out of that obscure second-season episode that's a cult favorite among die-hard Trekkies.
In other words, unless the books break out of the young adult market, no matter how well they do there in publishing terms, the movies may be looking at an even shorter shelf life.
So what does that mean for "The Mortal Instruments" (out this August) or "Divergent" (which begins shooting soon) or "Arclight" (a post-apocalyptic fantasy that doesn't even come out in book form until April yet has been snapped up for film by Ron Howard)? The simple question is, has anyone you know read these books or do they plan to read them?
That may hold the key to whether they become the next "Twilight" or the next "Beautiful Creatures."
I almost never like the movie version of a book I've read, especially if I like the book. I absolutely feel in love with The Hunger Games books, but was probably one of the few people that was disappointed in the movie. I read The Beautiful Creatures specifically because the movie was coming out and, while the books were a decent read (not great, but entertaining enough), the movie was spectacularly horrible...the worst book adaptation ever to make it to a movie screen.
Divergent is an incredible series, and The Mortal Instruments & The Infernal Devices is PHENOMENAL. I am very much looking forward to the MI movie.
In my opinion, all of the books I mentioned, expect for Beautiful Creatures maybe, completely blows Twilight out of the water.
I have read the 4 Twilight books. At that time I was pretty much intrigued about the Edward and Bella situation when it first started. But when I began to read more of the series... Bella just grew sour and very unlikable for me. But, I trudged through. When the movies arrived however... I saw them. Purely for entertainment. When the first part of Breaking Dawn arrived on screen. I did not. SEE. IT. AT. ALL. The last book... it just wasn't right at all. Like a joke. The second part though I did see. Only to see how they created Bella's new vampire life.
As for Mortal Instruments... I did read the book, but it wasn't something that really peaked my interest and made me want to buy the next books. Divergent. I read it in a day. Insurgent. I read in 2 days. Patiently waiting for the next one by Veronica Roth which is roughly suppose to be out by this Fall.
All in All I wouldn't say that YA movie adaptations are old and over used. The movies just have to be done remarkably well and other times they come out so poorly that it makes me think the people didn't even read the book. (Like the Golden Compass and Eragon. Those were just AWFUL...).
YA fiction has always provided source material for very good movies. (Wizard of Oz, Holes, Tuck Everlasting) The movie's success or failure always comes down to 4 things: the story, the writing, the directing, and the acting. To achieve wide success the story must be about broader issues that can appeal on multiple levels to a wide audience. The writing has to capture the core of the story and enough of the details of the story to gain the support of the existing fans. Put a good story in the hands of a bad director and it will be mediocre at best. And finally, your movie can only ever be as good as the actors you cast. This my friends is why Twilight failed and the Hunger Games succeeded. As for the upcoming movies - if they meet the criteria, I'll be happy to pay and I don't give a hoot if the source material is YA fiction.
Short answer.... Yep! I would like to see more adult themes with high drama. I think of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen." Now that was a movie, Todays movies are getting way too fanciful for my tastes. For the most part I have outgrown cartoons and kiddy stories and desire some substance in my story lines. Sure I enjoy the action type movies but the story line has to be at least plausible or it is kind of a waste of time.
"Saving Private Ryan" was another good contemporary flick that I enjoyed. Movies that are based on some kind of actual events have a good chance of being believable and finding a loyal audience. E. Howard Hunt's supposed death bed confession about the assassination of the Kennedys and MLK would make a terrific movie I think if done right but I doubt anyone has the chutzpah to write the screen play. It could get them killed.