With the massive success of both the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises (not to mention Twilight), many studios believe that young adult book adaptations are the latest cash cow in Hollywood. Desperately searching for a ready-made film series with a built-in audience, they released several movies based on young adult fiction – and the results were largely underwhelming.
Besides the Hunger Games sequel, there were four major releases all trying to become the next big thing in the young adult genre. February’s Beautiful Creatures made only $19.4 million during its entire domestic run. In March, The Host, (which was also based on a Stephanie Meyer book) only did marginally better with $26.6 million. August’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters grossed $68.4 million and later that month, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones bombed with $31.1 million. Even the influential Ender’s Game failed to connect by making just $61.1 million.
Unlike superheroes, young adult novels don’t seemingly have success at every turn (even Green Lantern made over $100 million in 2011 – far more successful than any of the films listed above). While the novels are popular and have sold millions of copies worldwide, the film versions do not always have the same appeal. Marketing materials attempt to sell most of these new stories as the next Twilight, which could cause casual moviegoers to become disinterested. The critical response to several of the properties was also very poor and that element could influence moviegoers as well.
Also, there’s a chance that producers are overestimating the potential goldmine that is the young adult genre. The Caster Chronicles (the source material for Beautiful Creatures) has sold 1.3 million copies and The Mortal Instruments have seen 24 million copies purchased. Those numbers seem big, but contrast them with the whopping 450 million copies of the Harry Potter book series sold and they don’t seem nearly as impressive. If you’re going to base an expensive franchise around a young adult series, not only does a strong protagonist like Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter help – it’s also good if it already has a very large following.
In March 2014, Divergent will be the next young adult adaptation to try to break through. Looking to capitalize on the overwhelming success of The Hunger Games, Lionsgate has already given two sequels release dates. But as our own Hannah Shaw-Williams noted in that article, the first two books of the Divergent series sold 5 million copies, while The Hunger Games have sold 50 million. That’s a large discrepancy and it remains to be seen how successful Divergent can be with casual moviegoers (not just book series fans).