It’s been a long-road, but I think Hollywood has finally learned that Young Adult Book Franchises do not good film franchises make.
It’s difficult to face a franchise failure, especially because the first films are usually set up with the next ones already in mind. In the first place, the creation of film franchises like these are because they assume they have an established audience already: the readers that made the books hits.
Oftentimes, the failure would be in investing no time for set up, assuming that you’re already catering to an established franchise. At other times, it is departures that leave fans cold in the dust — nobody wants to see a completely different story play out onscreen from the ones they already hold close in their heart. Some would also say that the audience is the problem — the mercurial young adult market jump from trend to trend far too quickly, and oftentimes the months or years spent making these films are enough times for young adults to grow up and out from the flavor or genre of the month.
The Harry Potter phenomenon of having an increasing or consistent gross as you go along just doesn’t seem to apply to most other serieses. Franchises like Divergent, Maze Runner and even the Hunger Games, usually start out quite strong, but see significant drop off in box office revenue as the films go along. These films are actually quite lucky to even see more than one film get made, compared to several of their peers that had their franchises aborted before even really getting a chance to get their foot in the door.
Below are some of these franchises, may they rest in peace.
A fantasy flick aimed at young adults, adapted from a hit novel series that incorporated elements of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars into an eclectic action-adventure story! What’s not to love?
Apparently a lot. While high-fantasy as a a genre is always a gamble, this film seemed to rely entirely on visual spectacle to draw in audiences — a wager that ultimately failed. That and bad reviews and word-of-mouth — especially compared to Lord of the Rings — resulted in a stillborn franchise.
Personal Thoughts I loathe this poorly-conceived, shallowly-written piece of fiction, and this was honestly the absurd film production it deserved. Jeremy Irons gave no fucks, and it was glorious in that respect
THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007)
The production house that had worked behind Lord of The Rings invested in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” this with the strong faith that it would produce similar results.
In this case, loyalty to the original story may have hurt selling the film to a wider audience. Pullman criticized the Catholic Church through his story, and when national media picked that up, reception was not pretty. There was also the marketing of this as an issue, as the story was deeper than assumed for children, but seemed too light and fantastic for the serious adult crowd. Finally without the benefit of time to build a highly complicated world, the film floundered on its’ own hinges. People were left to clunky introductions as to what daemons and dust are, what the various organizations running the show were doing, and why polar bears were meant to be taken seriously.
The film promised to be a stunner, especially with Nicole Kidman playing Miss Coulter and Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel. But it ultimately fizzled out, leaving this franchise dead in the water, with only a recently announced TV series reboot and Pullman himself writing a sequel series to keep it afloat.
Personal Thoughts Phillip Pullman created a stunning world that the film did no justice. However, the polar bears translated better than I thought, and Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig were literal gifts that we did not deserve
A man has a strange power — the characters he writes tends to come to life. With one of his eviller characters come back to haunt him, his daughter will have to live an adventure of her own to stop him.
A little difficult to explain in the long run, the book just didn’t have enough fandom push behind to carry its’ success. A stellar cast was not enough to let it strike the write tone of fantasy-adventure with younger audiences, and it seemed too light for older ones.
Personal Thoughts I mourn this film franchise’s abortion purely because Paul Bettany as Dustfinger was just too beautiful for the world to comprehend
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (2008)
This story about young children discovering a fantasy world full of fairies made very pretty books, but not very strong franchise material. While film critics and non-fans of the books were able to enjoy the solid piece of cinema regardless of its’ liberal departures from the source material, praising the young actors and that didn’t overreach with its’ ability to cinematically communicate the world, it failed to draw in money compared to its’ competitions at the time.
Personal Thoughts I have zero opinion on this, except that Freddy Highmore is truly gifted
CITY OF EMBER (2008)
Production-wise, the City of Ember was pretty great — the looks were great, the music solid, and the city came to life quite well under the dim glows of failing generators.
Unfortunately, stunning visuals won’t always get you the revenue you need. There was an inability to engage people with the world. Perhaps people were more curious about why people were underground in the first place — something not answered until the second book in the series, and therefore not in this first film. There was also a difficulty in describing the genre — fantasy? sci-fi? post-apocalypse? action? adventure? mystery? Combined with the darker tone compared to other young adult franchises being produced at the time and the mixed reviews at the time (its’ gotten better viewed with age), it made parents wary to bring their kids to see this. And without parental finance, young adult franchises are pretty much dead in the water.
Personal Thoughts: I thought it expanded on the book in a good way that made a series that had no right to be filmed filmable. Saiorse Ronan is a gift. I think both are reasonably enjoyable as stand-alones (seriously, do not touch the rest of that novel series)
CIRQUE DU FREAK(2009)
A boy becomes a vampire’s assistant, gaining vampiric powers himself. Unfortunately this puts him at odds with his former best friend, who now fancies himself a vampire hunter. It’s a simple enough concept, that was able to spawn a surprisingly successful and long-running book series.
Fans didn’t take too kindly to the haphazard condensing of the first three books of the series. That, and the bland characters, strange relationships, weirder visuals and lack of box-office draws in the cast failed to give this film any staying power.
Personal Thoughts: I hated the book a lot, so I actually liked the film in comparison to it. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and I appreciate John C. Reilly
I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011)
I don’t have much to say this film, because I don’t know what it’s about. I know there are other “numbers”. I know there’s a lot of action involved. I know there’s a love story. I know there are aliens. Otherwise, nothing much is revealed, and what is revealed isn’t compelling.
I am apparently no alone in this thinking: As far as user reviews on various websites go, there was a failure to grow out of the action movie box and establish this as something as a compelling mythology behind it. That, combined with some not-so-great acting between our leads and a predictable storyline laid out by previous YA franchises had people scratching their heads and staying away from theaters.
Personal Thoughts I’ve never read the novel, nor do I remember 80% of this film. Alex Pettyfer and Diana Agron are pretty though?
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2013)
Ethan and Lena fall in love. But Problem#1: Lena’s family is a bunch of wizards and witches. Problem#2: Mortals and “casters”, as they are called, aren’t allowed to be together. Problem#3: On her 16th birthday, Lena will either be claimed by the “light” or the “dark”, and should she go dark, she just might set the whole world on fire. Literally.
A charming enough film with a Twilight-esque concept, and a completely stacked cast (Jeremy Irons! Viola Davis! Emma Thompson! Emmy Rossum!), that failed to capture its’ book audience due to severe departures from the original storyline, and failed to capture a new film audience that was tired of steamy YA supernatural romance.
Personal Thoughts I’m going to admit, I don’t even hate Beautiful Creatures the film. I enjoyed it a lot. But I didn’t enjoy it enough not to admit that this was just a badly slapped together film, with a beautiful cast with no script to work with. That cast though! Future-Young-Han-Solo Alden Ehenreich’s charm though! Emma Thompson hamming the house down though!
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS (2014)
Whether or not you believe The Mortal Instruments was just a Ginny/Draco Harry Potter fanfic that was just elevated into a novel series, you have to admit it was a formula for success for the post-Twilight crowd: handsome but mysterious main man, a team he works with whee everyone has their own powers and abilities, a starcrossed love stories…
Unfortunately, this Lilly Collins vehicle never took off. Fans felt too much of the world was left out, and took issue over Collins not having character Clary’s signature red locks. As for the rest of movie viewing audiences, without the benefit of a good introduction and still reeling from Twilight’s memetic status as a bad film franchise, the similarities were just another signal to stay away.
The Mortal Instruments is now a hit television show, going on its’ third season. This is just further proof that if films pace their source material right, they may have a chance of actually succeeding on-camera.
Personal Thoughts Godfrey Gao was in this film, and that’s why I watched it. Everything else was cringeworthy. Also I never touched the book series and I never will.