12 Casting Decisions That Hurt YA Adaptations (And 12 That Saved Them)

Casting can make or break a young adult or YA franchise.

With so many adaptations following a similar premise – usually a group of hormonal, diverse teenagers banding together to fight an oppressive government or supernatural evil – the interest lies not within the plot, but in who the studio casts as supporting characters to surround their primary cast of newcomers.

Harry Potter, for instance, perfected this, filling Hogwarts’ walls with British thespians to balance the shaky, earlier performances of Daniel Radcliffe and co. with gravitas, wit, and trademark English villainy.

It’s since been a benchmark for several YA successors. Many of the biggest stars and finest acting can be found, not within the young leads and new heroes, but among the mentors, authority figures, and villains of our favorite franchises.

It's time to take a look at some of YA adaptations’ most ingenious casting calls and egregious mishaps.

Here are the 12 Stars Who Ruined YA Adaptions (And 12 Who Saved Them).

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24 Hurt: Taylor Swift (The Giver)

Taylor Swift's role in The Giver is  one of only a handful of performances that proves the young pop sensation should stick to her day job.

Swift is the top of a pile of reasons of why the much anticipated adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver was so disappointing.

Somehow even making the great Jeff Bridges boring, the adaptation featured a promising supporting cast, including Meryl Streep and Katie Holmes.

However, the movie fundamentally missed the mark when it came to the book’s eerie themes, and the casting of a country girl turned pop star only drove the mishap home.

23 Saved: Stanley Tucci (Percy Jackson)

Percy Jackson could have been the next Harry Potter, or at least the US equivalent. Twentieth Century Fox even hired Christopher Columbus, director of the first two Hogwarts epics, for The Lightning Thief.

Unfortunately, due to sloppy effects, poor acting, and a failure to accurately adapt Rick Riordan’s books, the series was never completed.

This doesn’t mean that no one was trying to save it, however. Many of the supporting performers, albeit with some over-acting, gave it their all for this Greek disaster.

The best of which was Stanley Tucci, who did his best to salvage his role as Dionysus for Sea of Monsters.

22 Hurt: Jamie Campbell-Bower (The Mortal Instruments)

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series is a shameless amalgamation of everything YA. The hidden magical world of Harry Potter, the brutal violence of The Hunger Games, and the questionable fashion of Twilight.

The adaptation had the odds stacked against it. The only way to salvage the scraps was with an A+ cast but, sadly, they had about as much chemistry as two demons on a date.

One of the worst offenders was the eternally wooden Jamie Campbell-Bower as the movie's supposed heartthrob, Jace.

Frankly, he looked more demonic than the demons themselves, and his acting can only be described as hellish.

21 Saved: Andy Serkis (Inkheart)

A motion-capture pioneer, Andy Serkis brings passion to every role, and nothing featuring the British special effects wizard can really be all that bad.

He became well-known after portraying The Lord of the Ring’s Gollum, and has since become a star with or without the use of mo-cap.

Taking a rare break from his Lycra and ping pong balls for Inkheart, Serkis wiped away the CGI for one of his earlier prominent live action roles, playing the movie's villain, Capricorn.

Though the love letter to fantasy literature failed to ignite the box office, the always watchable Serkis came close to salvaging the fictitious flop.

20 Hurt: Jeff Daniels (The Divergent Series)

Jeff Daniels in Divergent Series Allegiant

Remember when we talked about actors slumming it through dispassionate roles for an easy pay check? Jeff Daniel’s dull turn in the Divergent series’ last adaptation, Allegiant, is surely the definition.

Normally an astounding actor, Daniels portrayed David, a megalomaniac genetics leader who conducts sinister experiments, with all the same fervour he’d exhibit during his morning breakfast routine.

Doing nothing to piece together the ruined scraps of a franchise, the whole project was scrapped with just one movie to go, in favour of a TV series that may not even air.

19 Saved: Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Move over J.K. Rowling. Before Harry Potter entered the scene, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series was the pinnacle of fantasy for kids, his own answer to the bloody battles of his friend J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth chronicles.

Given the epic source material, the movie had every chance to rival the YA fantasies that came before it, but, with every release, popularity dwindled.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remains the most popular instalment, due in no small part to the shapeshifting Tilda Swinton’s icy performance as the White Witch.

18 Hurt: Michael Gambon (Harry Potter)

We can’t completely blame Warner Bros. for this unfortunate blunder, as their hands were forced when the first Albus Dumbledore, Richard Harris, tragically passed away following completion of The Chamber of Secrets.

However, that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about what the series could have looked like if Michael Gambon had not needed to step in.

Alfonso Cuarón was onto a winner when he cast Gambon for Prisoner of Azkaban, who played the Hogwarts Headmaster with sufficient wit and mystery.

However, his portrayal grew far more growly and temperamental in The Goblet of Fire, leaving many fans disappointed with his unfaithful portrayal.

17 Saved: Michelle Pfeiffer (Stardust)

Stardust is already an underrated near-masterpiece, thanks to charming direction from Matthew Vaughn, and an array of magnificent performers, including supporting turns from Robert De Niro, Mark Strong, and Peter O’Toole.

It also features earlier performances from current stars Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Henry Cavill (Man of Steel).

A stellar ensemble at face value, but it would be all for nothing if they didn’t have an enigmatic, glamorous, and evil nemesis to face off against.

Michelle Pfeiffer fills this role wonderfully. After a five year hiatus from acting, Stardust, alongside Hairspray, was a glorious comeback for the iconic star.

16 Hurt: Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four)

We admit, we could look at Alex Pettyfer’s chiselled physique all day. However, hinging a potentially fire property on the charisma-void star of Stormbreaker was never going to be the best move.

If anyone was going to save I Am Number Four from its derivative misery, it was Timothy Olyphant, but trying to draw a semblance of good performance acting alongside a block of wood proved too much of a challenge.

With an optimistic title implying several movies in a potentially ongoing franchise, with the one-two career punch of this combined with 2011’s Beastly, it was clear that Pettyfer’s career as a YA star wasn’t going anywhere fast.

15 Saved: David Thewlis (Wizarding World)

Alfonso Cuarón’s entry in the Harry Potter series, the stark and inventive Prisoner of Azkaban, introduced a number of key new players for the Harry Potter universe that display his talent for working with casting directors.

The inclusion of David Thewlis is one of the most genius casting calls for the franchise, and one that made him a deserving household name.

Previously known for unnerving films from Mike Leigh, and now continuing that tradition by playing Ares in Wonder Woman, and the foul V.M. Varga in FX’s Fargo, Azkaban is a rare outlier.

As Professor Lupin, he is bashful and charming, a rare source of light in the film that saw the series go dark.

14 Hurt: Naomi Watts  (The Divergent Series)

Naomi Watts Insurgent Factionless

Perhaps even more egregious than casting Jeff Daniels as a decidedly limp antagonist, is the Divergent series’ mistake in casting the brilliant Naomi Watts and giving her absolutely nothing to do.

At least, nothing that showcases her proven performance abilities.

Previously known for stunning work with David Lynch and Alejandro González Iñárritu, Watts’ role in the disastrous franchise not only failed to save Divergent from tanking at the box office, but struck a blow to her own career.

She’s most recently appeared in certified stinkers such as Shut In and The Book of Henry. At least she always has Twin Peaks.

13 Saved: Sam Elliot (The Golden Compass)

Phillip Pullman’s startling trilogy for more accomplished child readers, His Dark Materials, is destined for great things, but sadly the 2007 adaptation of Northern Lights (renamed The Golden Compass) definitely wasn’t it.

With the characters sailing away towards an indeterminate future, the following instalments seemed guaranteed, but the fumbled translation of daemons and polar bears failed to grab an audience.

Although newcomer Dakota Blue Richards tried her best, the supporting cast of Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig were practically sleepwalking.

The only salvageable moments feature the on-point casting of Sam Elliott as adventurer Lee Scoresby, but they’re tragically few and far between.

12 Hurt: Mickey Rourke (Alex Rider)

Mickey Rourke enjoyed a brief comeback to the high life in the mid-2000s after being cast as Marv for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City in 2005.

However, his career almost came crashing back down again after portraying Stormbreaker’s eccentric villain, Darrius Sayle, the year after.

We’ve got to hand it to Rourke - it looks like he’s having a great time.

However, with his eyeliner, goatee, and garish three-piece suits, his appearance is less Bond villain and more in line with a steampunk circus performer. At least he redeemed himself with The Wrestler.

11 Saved: Hailee Steinfeld (Ender’s Game)

One of the more underrated younger actors. Hailee Steinfeld earned herself an Oscar nomination for her first ever movie role in True Grit, though unfortunately her other roles haven’t quite reached the same level of prestige.

She recently impressed in teen comedy Edge of Seventeen, and will next be seen in Transformers spin-off Bumblebee.

Although Asa Butterfield did a lot of the heavy lifting for the tiresome adaptation of Ender’s Game, he couldn’t quite match the heart and passion Steinfeld brought to the role of Petra.

As Ender’s most trusted Dragon companion, Steinfeld once again proved that she’s usually the best thing in whatever she’s in.

10 Hurt: Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga)

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) becomes a vampire in Breaking Dawn Part 1

Kristen Stewart is now widely accepted as one of the most interesting independent movie actresses around, even earning herself multiple awards and nominations during festival circuits.

However, during 2008-2012’s period of Twilight hysteria, many didn't believe in her talents - not that the bland, passive, and waifish character Bella Swan was giving her much to work with.

Although both Stewart and her co-star, Robert Pattinson, have moved on from the vampire stare-fest to much higher prospects, her minimal efforts for the Stephanie Meyer adaptation didn’t do anything to lift the franchise beyond teenage trash.

9 Saved: Kate Winslet (The Divergent Series)

Before Jeff Daniels and Naomi Watts got their hands on the Divergent series, we have to admit, the first one did show a little bit of promise.

The year 2014’s Shailene Woodley double bill of Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars was building her up as a superstar to rival Jennifer Lawrence, and the movie's intriguing supporting cast quelled some of our fears regarding its derivative plot.

Most exciting of all was Kate Winslet, who was finally given the chance to play a villain.

While it was by no means one of her most iconic roles, it’s very telling that the series took an immediate nosedive the minute her character was out of the picture.

8 Hurt: Aiden Gillen (The Maze Runner)

The Maze Runner franchise is a rare example of a YA adaptation in which the younger leads outshine their older co-stars.

The first movie plunged a group of teenagers, Lord of the Flies style, into a dangerous situation with no adult guidance.

The likes of Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster were already established winners for the series and, if anything, the introduction of adults in The Scorch Trials only made matters worse.

Aiden Gillen perhaps tops the list of the worst offenders. Hot from his role as Littlefinger in Game of Thrones, his over-acting was shameful next to Breaking Bad alum Giancarlo Esposito.

7 Saved: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games)

From the most successful Young Adult fiction franchise after the completion of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games was praised for overcoming its rather overdone premise with political intrigue, expansive world-building, and a love triangle that was actually rather interesting.

The film adaptations were so-so, especially when we got to the two-part completion of the franchise, Mockingjay.

However, the star-making casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen ensured that the films’ releases were genuine must-watch events.

So powerful was her performance, Lawrence became such a hot A-lister that other franchises suffered to give her more of the spotlight (looking at you, X-Men).

6 Saved: Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures)

Han Solo Movie: Alden Ehrenreich in Beautiful Creatures

Depending on who you ask, the young up-and-coming star may have ruined a different popular franchise earlier this year.

However, before Alden Ehrenreich was befriending Wookiees and shooting first, he had his lowly beginnings in a Young Adult fantasy romance, Beautiful Creatures.

Much like The Mortal Instruments, the source material is nothing special. A rural blend of Harry Potter and Twilight, it didn’t do enough to warrant a sequel, but managed to be an interesting enough modern spin on witchcraft.

Were it not for Ehrenreich proving himself as an instantly charming leading man, however, the whole thing would have crashed and burned.

5 Hurt: Harrison Ford (Ender’s Game)

From one Han Solo to another, Harrison Ford has recently been making history by returning to not one, but two of his earlier roles without seeming like he’d rather be literally anywhere else.

Sadly, before The Force Awakens and Blade Runner 2049, Ford was in a huge slump, appearing as "Gruff Supporting Character" in a number of average to bad genre flicks.

One of the worst offenders was Ender’s Game, rendering the brilliant work done by younger actors Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld to nought.

Rather than the thrill of seeing Ford back in a sci-fi movie again, most audiences felt literally anyone else could have done a more enthusiastic job.

4 Saved: Gary Oldman (Wizarding World)

Gary Oldman as Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Last time we gush about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we promise. Alfonso Cuarón’s biggest challenge for the third entry in the series was casting Sirius Black.

The character needed to be dark and unhinged, but also with the range to become Harry’s biggest source of love and inspiration as the series went on.

Going against type, Cuarón decided on Gary Oldman, bringing him out of a typecasting slump that saw the brilliant actor more often than not cast in villainous roles.

After shaking off the baggage of Dracula and Leon: The Professional, the following year, Oldman also landed an integral role as Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series.

3 Hurt: Jim Carrey (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Count Olaf Series of Unfortunate Events Netflix

Lemony Snicket’s wickedly intelligent and crafty series of books A Series of Unfortunate Events frightened and inspired kids all over the world.

Following the tragic exploits of the Baudelaire orphans as they’re pursued for their vast inheritance by the nefarious Count Olaf, the books were bestsellers, and an adaptation was inevitable.

Unfortunately, the first go round was almost as excruciating as the experience of reading about the three poor orphans.

Embracing a Tim Burton style and trying to cram three books’ worth of material into a feature-length film, it became less a faithful translation, and more of a vehicle for the body-twisting, voice-changing, improvisational antics of a Jim Carrey at the end of his tether.

2 Saved: Neil Patrick Harris (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

In 2017, Lemony Snicket’s series took an uncharacteristically positive turn when Netflix released their long-form adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and it was everything fans of the original series had dreamed of.

With each novel practically given its own feature-length runtime to stretch and breath, it was also no longer bound to the comedic stylings of the irreverent star known for characters like the Mask and Ace Ventura.

Instead, Netflix opted for Neil Patrick Harris, who retained much of the comic ridiculousness of the character, but also brought a new sense of much needed dread and theatricality to the iconic role.

1 Hurt: Johnny Depp (Fantastic Beasts)

Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 2

Nothing ruined the potential for the currently ongoing Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts, faster than the sudden, unwanted appearance of Johnny Depp.

First of all, the casting of such an internationally renowned actor overshadowed any possibility of the series retaining its quaint charm.

Following his recent slew of accusations, it’s anyone’s guess why the actor still has a career in the first place.

The sooner Grindelwald’s booted from the series, the better.


Are there any other casting decisions that hurt or saved YA adaptations? Let us know in the comments!

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