Each and every year, it seems as though Hollywood is releasing a new young adult movie with the hopes of creating a successful franchise. The demographic makes up a large percentage of the movie-going population, and they’re also known for their ability to share their love of a film via social media and purchasing expensive merchandise. So when a studio attempts to recreate the magic of series like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
But not every movie can have the incredible connection with its audience like the Potter franchise, or the phenomenal lead performance of Jennifer Lawrence like Hunger Games had. In fact, more often than not, young adult (YA) movies are forgettable duds, or worse, memorable atrocities. With the latest entry in the Divergent series currently bombing in theaters, this has never been more true.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Worst Young Adult Film Adaptations.
Based on a novel written by a 19 year-old, Eragon is at times hilariously bad and other times mind-numbingly dull. The novel was impressively lengthy; that is to say many middle-schoolers impressed their friends with their ability to read a dictionary-sized book about a dragon. On paper, Paolini was able to hide the obvious similarities to Star Wars, but the same cannot be said of the film.
The film opens on a princess running away from some evil with an artifact. Said artifact winds up at the doorstep of a young farm-boy who longs for a more exciting life. It only gets more New Hope-y from there. The movie isn’t helped by the fact that it stars an unknown and entirely uncharismatic actor and is helmed by a first-time director. Screen veterans John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons try their best to salvage this movie, but even they look silly surrounded by bad CGI and spewing out poor dialogue.
14. Spiderwick Chronicles
The Spiderwick Chronicles are more young and less adult than the other adaptations on this list. The film combined five short chapter-books about kids that discover fairies into one mess of a movie about a hobgoblin played by Seth Rogen.
Starring Freddie Highmore, the film also featured Nick Nolte as an ogre and Martin Short as a creature called a brownie. In an odd studio choice, the movie was directed by Mark Waters, of Mean Girls fame. Three writers worked on the movie, all with varied credits, including Elf, Over the Hedge, and The Howling. The movie was financially successful, despite its mishmash of creative sources and limited source material.
That said, the film is only enjoyable to the youngest of its audience members. To adults, watching Highmore interact with CGI creatures is only entertaining for about 9 minutes of the 95 minute runtime.
13. The Giver
Based on Lois Lowry’s beloved novel of the same name, The Giver‘s film adaptation was a long-time coming. Prior to release, the cast additions of Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges rose expectations to unwanted and undeserved heights.
One of the most widely-read books in middle and high school, The Giver portrays a dystopian/utopian future where all emotions and memories of the past are held by one person in the community. This way, the other citizens can live without the burden of sadness or regret. The novel beautifully expands on this unique premise, depicting a young man who rejects his society’s rules and tries to share irrationality and free-thought with his fellow man.
There is some heavy stuff in The Giver, and that is one of many reasons the film adaptation received such mixed reviews. Lowry’s gift for visual storytelling did not translate well to the screen, and the magic and horror of the novel was largely missing in a film that felt too derivative of previous YA entries.
12. Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card is notorious for his beliefs, but beloved for writing one of the preeminent sci-fi novels of the 20th century. The novel was always considered impossible to adapt to the screen, but director Gavin Hood (aka the guy who did this to Deadpool) wanted to prove naysayers wrong.
Hood assembled an all-star cast, including Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld, and Asa Butterfield. His good directorial choices stopped there. The movie is clunky, poorly-paced, and overly-long. The actors, despite obvious talent, seem unsure of their characters and the world of the film. Most notably, the ending is mishandled beyond recognition from the novel’s infamous twist dénouement. It was a predictable fate for the film; Hood’s previous directorial effort was the widely-despised X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
11. City of Ember
Some YA films have a less foreseeable fate than that of Ender and his Game. City of Ember featured a script penned by Caroline Thompson, who brought us Edward Scissorhands and Homeward Bound, among others. Gil Kenan of the enjoyable Monster House stepped in to direct. It starred the now Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan and featured the always enjoyable Bill Murray. There was certainly potential.
The novel and film follow a young girl named Lina Mayfleet who lives in a dystopian underground city…of ember. She finds a way to escape, battles with the evil mayor (Murray) and eventually does in fact, reach the surface. That is pretty much the entire plot, and the reason why the movie grossed less than half of its budget. City of Ember was a movie that promised a mystery, but the answers are solved almost instantaneously. Despite some impressive production design, the world feels about as interesting as watching a lightbulb slowly burn out.
10. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Greek mythology seemed the next logical step of classic storytelling to draw on after wizards and vampires had dried up their wells. There are a plethora of stories, all relatively appropriate for young adults — a certain Zeus-swan fable notwithstanding. Having a teen interact with the gods and relive the famous tales seemed like a home run.
Throw in director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and a cast that featured Uma Thurman as Medusa, Sean Bean as Zeus, and Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, and…young adults just really weren’t as into Greek mythology as the studio had hoped.
The movie did fine financially and critically, enough to warrant a sequel. The sequel fared about as well, receiving mixed reviews and decent viewership. The studio has yet to move forward with a third film, and though it is still possible, the films are too derivative for news of production to result in anything more than apathy from most rational moviegoers.
9. The Golden Compass
Based on one of the most controversial and famously banned novels of all time, Golden Compass was a risk from the start. Phillip Pullman’s book was anti-religious and complicated, both morally and textually. Instead of embracing the nature of the book, New Line diluted the messages and themes to make for a wholly (read: not holy) pedestrian experience.
New Line made further mistakes by hiring Chris Weitz, director of Twilight Saga: New Moon. Though Weitz blames the studio for the unfinished quality to the film, even scenes pulled directly from the book fall to pieces in his hands. With serviceable performances from some of the greats: Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Eva Green, one would hope there would be a redeemable moment in the special-effects extravaganza that is Golden Compass. But in a movie where a polar bear with armor gets more screen-time than Sauron and Gandalf, a salvageable minute is hard to find.
8. Beautiful Creatures
In this February’s Hail Caesar! Alden Ehrenreich proved that he is a talented up-and-coming actor, one worthy of consideration for a young Han Solo. Unfortunately if you missed the Coen Brother’s latest, you probably know Alden from the strangest American Civil War fan-fic ever written: Beautiful Creatures.
Yes, you read that correctly. The entirely confusing romantic fantasy centers around a curse placed on lovers during the Civil War. There are demons and witches and reenactments of famous battles. It’s certainly original.
The film barely recouped its production budget of 60 million and was considered by critics as a Twilight rip-off at best. Warner Bros. decided not to continue with the Caster Chronicles series that the film depicted the first of. Good call, guys.
In a final attempt to pollute audiences across America with the sight of Brendan Fraser, New Line released a film adaptation of the beloved Inkheart series in 2009. Oddly enough, according to author Cornelia Funke, Fraser was the inspiration for the character he plays in the film.
Inkheart is a story about stories and the power of reading, featuring characters from mythology and classic novels alike. Adaptations of novels that are thematically tied to reading tend not to be as enjoyable as the source material (i.e. The Book Thief), and Inkheart was no exception. Despite some fun performances from Andy Serkis and Paul Bettany, the movie was a massive disappointment to fans of the series.
6. I Am Number Four
There are seven novels in the Lorien Legacies, and somehow I Am Number Four is the first, not the fourth. The books are about aliens with super-powers, so it makes a lot of sense that producer Steven Spielberg hired Smallville creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough to co-write the script with Marti Noxon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame). Spielberg, hoping to draw in the Twilight crowd, cast up and coming pretty boy Alex Pettyfer as John Smith/Number 4. He hired D.J. Caruso to direct due to the success of his Shia Labeouf vehicles, Disturbia and Eagle Eye.
The result was something even co-producer Michael Bay would have to admit was mostly just noise. Pettyfer displayed even less leading man charisma than Eragon star Ed Speleers, a feat previously believed impossible. The film was largely forgettable special effects-heavy affair that has since faded into obscurity, like so many other sequel-less YA adaptations before and since.
5. The Divergent Series
The Divergent Series can only be called a direct response to The Hunger Games. From its inane world-building of citizens being admitted to factions for life based on an aptitude test taken when they are teens, to twists and political allegory that miss the mark set by Katniss Everdeen and friends, Divergent is the inspiration for this list.
The penultimate film in the series released this past weekend to negative reviews from critics, collecting an abysmal 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Allegiant’s two predecessors didn’t fare much better, though they were financially successful. Only time will tell if the third installment does well for Lionsgate, but it hard to feel like the money grossed correlates in any way to the quality of the movie.
Despite starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Miles Teller, all solid young adult actors in other films, their two-dimensional characters are a complete bore to watch. Even the incredible Kate Winslet doesn’t seem to have any fun as the villainous Matthews. As far as YA films go, Divergent is an example of how to follow the model to a tee and be successful, even when the actual product is garbage.
4. The Host
After author Stephenie Meyer took it upon herself to ruin vampires for adults everywhere (more on that in a moment), she decided to move on to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers trope. Her novel The Host was not nearly as popular as the Twilight series, but that didn’t stop Universal from jumping on the YA train. All aboard!
Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious film on this list, The Host is a story about a girl who befriends the parasitic alien living in her brain. We’ll let that one sit for a moment.
The man at the head of production, Andrew Niccol — director and writer of films like Gatacca and The Truman Show — was seemingly out of town for the duration of filming. That is at least one plausible explanation as to how the film ended up so muddled with political messages, social commentary, tedious romance, and scenes where Saoirse Ronan talks to herself.
3. Twilight Saga
Not much can be said about this quad-rilogy that hasn’t already been said. It is impossible to argue the four Twilight movies were unsuccessful. The series’ three leads have gone on to successful careers (for the most part) and the movies broke a ton of box-office records at the time. The films are even part of the reason why San Diego Comic-Con is now so prominent in the media. For a time, the convention featured mostly comics and shows/films on the fringe. Twilight brought in a large group of young fangirls and boys that popularized the ‘nerdy’ event.
Yet despite their fame, the films were far from critical darlings. Most of the performances were shelled by critics, and the screenplays and directing choices never strong enough to elevate the films above the admittedly schlocky novels.
The films seemed to only get worse as the series progressed, resulting in some of the worst YA fair you could ever hope to see, albeit with incredibly high production values. In Breaking Dawn: Part Two, there is a large battle between werewolves and good vampires versus bad vampires. They spend about five minutes killing every single character and then *FLASH.* It was all some vision that a psychic vampire was showing Michael Sheen’s character so that he would stop the fight altogether. So Michael Sheen leads his army of evil vampires away and the story concludes with happy endings all-around.
2. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Hollywood tried their best to make Lily Collins a thing, from Mirror Mirror to Mortal Instruments. She has yet to find her break-out role. But Collins isn’t particularly untalented, and despite help from co-stars Lena Headey and Jared Harris, Mortal Instruments fails to be a showcase for anyone’s abilities.
Collins plays a girl named Clary who discovers she belongs to a line of warriors who fight demons in a place called the Shadow World. The resulting mess is about what you would expect from a film based on that description, and it might have actually been a fun time if a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer hadn’t pulled off a much better version of the premise years before.
1. Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
Alex Pettyfer’s second appearance on this list, Alex Rider was pitched as James Bond for teenage boys, a premise which immediately morphed the pupils of every studio exec into dollar signs. Author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz was so confident in the film that he was writing the sequel Point Blanc before Stormbreaker’s release. He expected the movie to spawn a franchise, and already had a series of books about Alex Rider written, ready to go.
Of course, Point Blanc or any subsequent sequel was never made. Stormbreaker was not nearly the success that Horowitz had predicted commercially or critically. The film operated an entirely unbelievable premise that MI6 would hire a 16 year-old spy, featured gadgets that even Inspector Gadget would consider ridiculous. Even a cast that included some of Britain’s best (Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry) couldn’t save this movie from being one of the most unwatchable YA films ever.