Turning young adult novels into feature films has been all the rage this decade. Never has the prospect of adapting a YA novel to the big screen been so profitable for Hollywood. Just this past month Paper Towns came out to decent reviews, and the more-action-oriented young adult fare, like the upcoming Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, is raking in huge amounts of money. And that’s not the only YA movie coming out this fall: an adaptation of R.L Stine’s hugely popular Goosebumps series is on the way, as well as the final chapter to the Hunger Games Franchise: Mockingjay – Part 2.
There are much more to come, but here are a few that got it done right and helped the YA film movement advance into the 21st century. Here is Screen Rant’s list of the 10 Best Movies Based on YA Novels.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
It’s not surprising that the best, most expertly-made movie of the Harry Potter franchise is The Prisoner of Azkaban. All credit must go to the best director who ever helmed a Potter movie: Alfonso Cuarón. The director of Children of Men, Gravity and Y Tu Mama Tambien used his visual wizardry in this 2004 movie.
This movie goes dark and gritty where Chris Columbus’ previous two Potter films went light and whimsical. Azkaban has Harry and the gang trying to deal with Sirius Black, frenetically played by Gary Oldman, a man whom they believe is out to get revenge on Harry for his imprisonment. Cuarón’s visual imagination is a perfect match for the third film in the series, which gets darker as the children age and their problems get progressively more serious.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
Adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s darkly giddy novel of the same name, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist plays like a young adult version of Martin Scorsese’s underrated 1985 picture After Hours. Just like Scorsese’s picture, this film takes place in a very hip New York City throughout the wee hours of the night. Michael Cera and the adorable Kat Dennings play strangers who have just met, but share a taste in indie-rock.
Nick is trying to figure out where his favorite band’s secret show will take place, while Norah is searching for her missing drunken friend. Director Peter Stollett makes sure the film lives up to its stylish source material by infusing it with – as he stated – “the best music you haven’t heard yet.” The result is a compulsively likable movie that romanticizes the city and its inhabitants.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
The Hunger Games is like Battle Royale but tampered down for the YA crowd. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Proof can be found in the second installment of the movie franchise, which was a clear improvement from the first one and upped the ante in terms of drama and action.
Author Suzanne Collin’s mega-popular series of novels benefited from the casting of Jennifer Lawrence, an indie queen at the time who stunned critics in the film Winter’s Bone. In Catching Fire, Lawrence seems to finally be comfortable with her new-found mainstream popularity by embracing the role of Katniss Everdeen. In the film, Everdeen, having won the Hunger Games, returns home but realizes the battle for a democratic state has just begun and that another set of pivotal games is about to happen.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2011)
Stephen Chobsky’s novel about a shy, wounded, introverted high schooler named Charlie is a singular achievement in its own right. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a staple of the YA form and a well-written ode to young outcasts everywhere. It helps that Chobsky actually wrote and directed the film (with an uncredited John Hughes helping him out!). The words come out like fine wine, as does the tone of the movie, which retains the dark, melancholic feel of the source material.
The cast was also thoughtfully chosen: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller invest so much into their roles that they have no problem whatsoever fully fleshing out their characters. The friendship these three form in the movie is refreshingly real: Every detail and every line of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is sheer perfection.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
If there is a theme that we keep running into with the films on this list, it’s that they are almost all “coming-of-age” tales, a staple narrative of the YA novel. The Spectacular Now is a coming-of-age tale, but it’s also so much more. Based on Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name, the story’s protagonist, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), is a national book award finalist. He is also the guy you want at your party, a charming teenager so high on living for the moment that the viewer might be tricked into thinking all is right in Keely’s life. It’s not.
He has no plans for college, no clear career path, carries a flask filled with alcohol everywhere he goes, and seems content with his job folding clothes at a retail store. Of course his girlfriend breaks up with him, but soon after he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley) and a new relationship begins. Teller and Woodley are phenomenal in showing us the ups and downs of a relationship that was doomed to fail from the start, and director James Ponsoldt – right now on a career high with The End of the Tour – keeps the novel’s moral reality check intact.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Having won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl came out this summer with a slew of expectations. The film deals with a teenager who has stage IV cancer and focuses on a friendship that was doomed to fail because of the diagnosis. If that plot description isn’t reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars, then what is?
But that’s where comparisons should end. Jesse Andrews wrote the novel and ended up writing the screenplay for the movie adaptation, and the film plays out almost like an anti-Fault in Our Stars. It skips the love story and decides to concentrate on the oddball characters that populate the story.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
Speaking of which, The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s blockbuster novel, is narrated by Hazel Green, a 16-year-old girl suffering from stage IV thyroid cancer. Hazel meets Augustus Waters, an osteosarcoma patient, at a support group. The rest reads like many coming-of-age stories, as both try to come to terms with themselves and develop feelings for each other.
It’s a touching, tremendously draining story that doesn’t promise a happy ending. It means to give us truths, and only truths, about illness and mortality: These are teenagers dealing with cancer that have the possibility to fall in love even with death knocking at the door. Heavy stuff, but done marvelously well thanks to its two leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.
The Princess Bride (1987)
One can understand why Rob Reiner’s movie adaptation of William Goldman’s fantasy novel was such an enigma when it first came out in 1987. Supposedly aimed at young people, it ended up pleasing all ages with its deadpan, Monty Python-esque humor and a bold, satirical narrative that never took itself too seriously.
The love story deftly told by a grandfather to his ill grandson about a beautiful princess called Buttercup who gets kidnapped is a touching one. What works in Reiner’s tale – just like in the novel – is that every character is a delight, and there isn’t a dull one in the bunch. Most importantly, the true heart of the story is Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya as a heroic swordsman with a secret and a debt to settle – “Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)
A magical wardrobe is discovered and Aslan, the lion messiah, guides four children towards a destiny that is bewitchingly magnificent, but where they find themselves on the run from the wicked White Witch.
The big screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis popular fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia reached its peak with the first installment of the franchise. The world of Narnia and its inhabitants are brought to life with immeasurable imagination: Fawns, ogres, beavers, magical horses, eagles, and mermaids get mixed into the adventure, a who’s who of fantasy creatures beautifully captured in a film directed by Andrew Adamson, that had us all reliving an imagination-filled childhood.
The Outsiders (1983)
In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola adapted this classroom staple, which dealt with the trials and tribulations of being teenage gangsters in the 1950s. The Outsiders follows Johnny and Ponyboy, two greasers who run away from home after the death of a “Soc” (short for “social”) in a rumble. This sparks a whole chain reaction as a West Side Story-esque gang rivalry is born. Indeed, the original novel is probably one of the inspirations behind that campy Broadway classic, but it’s rooted in an altogether serious examination of teen violence.
The movie has a flawless cast reenacting the iconic Hinton roles: Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez. A recently released “re-cut” version of the film on DVD improved upon the original by being more faithful to the book and its YA fans.
These aren’t the only movies to adapt a YA novel to the big screen and make it an artistic success. Did any of your favorite YA novel based movies not make it into this list? Let us know in the comments below!