The Maze Runner (2014), a film adapted from James Dashner’s young adult post apocalyptic sci-fi series, made a killing at the box office last year, earning a whopping $102 million in the US ($238 million internationally) with just a $38 million production budget. Yesterday, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, the second installment, graced big screens all over the nation, and its potential for success is great. This came to me as a surprise considering that it’s one of the young adult series with a relatively smaller following than say Divergent or The Hunger Games. Of course there are an infinite number of reasons for the success and failure of a young adult film adaptation. A solid fan base from the books help, but they are not entirely a guarantee. And as much as we have The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter, all YA series adaptations that have become massive money makers, we get those few who never really become the full-blown film franchise they were expected to be.
Criteria in selecting my 5 potential YA franchise film titles:
- Did not manage to release more than 2 films
- US box office earnings is significantly lower than the production budget
Probable reasons of failure: Despite the favorable reviews from critics, the movie only grossed $118 million in the US (and $90 million internationally). Mighty low considering its $140 million production budget. I have no clue as to why audience were less receptive to this movie, which I think is a pretty accurate adaptation of the books which sold more than 60 million copies and have been translated into 41 languages. If I were to hazard a guess, which I will, maybe the books are skewered too much on a young audience. Unlike say Twilight which has a pretty strong adult readership. And the adults are the ones who bring in the big bucks and fill the seats in the cinema. Although Daniel Handler, the scriptwriter and author of the books, blamed the delay for a sequel on the corporate shake-ups at Paramount, implying that the production studio actually had plans on making another film despite the low box office earnings.
Is there hope for this franchise: Yes! Netflix is said to be serializing the 13 books for streaming. But no new news yet since the announcement last November 2014. Meanwhile how about we enjoy this awesome I-thought-it-was-the real-deal-but-actually-a-fan-made-trailer trailer while we wait?
Probable reasons of failure: The Golden Compass (2007) had a $180 million production budget, and earned a meager $70 million in the US. But it actually did rather well internationally, raking in an estimated $300 million. So why the disparity? The director Chris Weitz blamed bad press, with Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights calling for a boycott on the grounds that the books and the film introduced children to atheism. And the media hot on its heels in perpetuating the movie as anti-Christian, making a lot of families jittery about taking their kids to see it during the Christmas season. But the film actually watered down Pullman’s theology, making the anti-Christian ideas and philosophies vague and/or confusing. And that in turn, did not sit well with the fans who criticized Weitz for selling the book’s soul to the constraints of the big bad production studio and the latter’s fear of religious controversy. So yeah, it was one heck of a conundrum.
The movie looks fantastic though. The Golden Compass won an Oscar for visual effects, and rightfully so because it is the component where the film excels, that and the great performances from a strong ensemble cast. But I can see how the film can get confusing real quick for non-fans of the books. The characters, ideas and the mysteries are dumped one after another, with little breathing room. Dust, alethiometer, parallel universes, daemons, witches, armored bears. The movie can get pretty overwhelming. That and because the movie is clearly a stripped down version of Pullman’s book.
Is there hope for this franchise: Sadly, no news has been heard as to whether a brave soul would dare tackle the complex content and word building in The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, not to mention all the religious brouhaha that will come with it.
Probable reasons of failure: Okay so here are the numbers – The Lightning Thief (2010) : US total gross of about $88 million on a $95 million production budget ($137 million internationally). Sea of Monsters (2013) : US total gross of about $68 million on a $90 million production budget ($131 million internationally). Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a hugely popular YA series with blockbuster potential stamped all over it. It’s an underdog story, an adventure story, a growing up story, a friendship story, a family story. It’s everything but the kitchen sink story. The books’ appeal cover young and old alike. So what happened to the movies?
I think the screenplay (and perhaps the direction) leaves much to be desired. Both films captures the jaunty tone of the books, but somehow the jokes and the banter in the film just aren’t as fun. The characters all have the personality of cold oatmeal. Annabeth is one of my favorite characters in the books. She is smart and willful and a great foil to Percy. But here she just ends up being “the girl”. And the action sequences are bland, middling at best. And what is great about Rick Riordan’s books is that it has this thing called: “emotion”. While it has been ingraned in these demi-gods that battling demons and going on quests is part of their lives, they still very much feel fear and anxiety and loneliness and pain and grief. And in the adaptations all of that get swallowed up by elaborate set designs and mediocre action scenes. In summation, the films are just too by-the-numbers boring.
Is there hope for this franchise: Yes and No. Last year, Logan Lerman revealed that he signed a contract for three films. But so far he hasn’t gotten a call yet, implying that while the original plan was to make three films, the third installment is yet to be green lighted.
Probable reasons of failure: Ender’s Game (2013) grossed only $61 million in the US ($63 million internationally). Clearly below it’s $110 million production budget. Well, the boycott possibly did some damage. As to what extent, that I cannot establish. Orson Scott Card has been known for his anti-gay views and he is extremely vocal about it. A group called Geeks OUT did a Skip Ender’s Game campaign, urging people to not let their money fuel Card’s anti-gay agenda. That and because the movie isn’t really that spectacular to begin with.
I had a feeling that the thought-provoking concepts from the book would be hard to transmute on film. All these philosophical and psychological notions would be missed. But who knows? I thought Gone Girl (2014) would make a terrible movie because its too much of an “inside the head” kind of thing, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on this one. And the whole idea of kids ripped from their families to be taken on some far away space battle school is a scenario that perpetuates tension and high emotions, but the film has very little of that. And the battle scenes never really hit their climax. Still I think it was a decent movie, but not an impressive one.
Is there hope for this franchise: Not very much. The movie’s ending clearly sets up a sequel but after its poor performance in the box office, it is highly unlikely we get to see another. And despite Harrison Ford referring to Card’s 1985 book as “ahead of it’s time”, his nerd god status just failed to bring in enough earnings.
Probable reasons for failure: The City 0f Bones (2013) took a bashing at the box office. It earned only $31 million ($59 million internationally) when it had cost $60 million to make. Even before the numbers started rolling in the production studio already gave the go-ahead for the sequel, The City of Ashes, perhaps confident in the already established fan base of the books. But once they saw the low figures, they chickened out and had the filming postponed and eventually canceled.
And here I thought Hollywood’s quest for the next Twilight is done. Heck I thought this would be more exciting than Twilight. But I’d go watch Twilight over this any day. The City of Bones throws itself into cliché territory real fast. The little elements that could have made it stood out from the other fantasy YAs were nowhere in sight, resulting in what seems like a Twilight-Buffy-Harry Potter pastiche. And perhaps the timing for a movie like this was just off. It seemed like 2013 was the year where the clamor for fantasy and paranormal YA finally fizzled out.
Is there hope for this franchise: Yes! Last year, Constantine Film, the production studio behind the adaptation, announced its plans of turning this series into a hit TV show to begin shooting this year. No news have come out since then. Have we got a Buffy for the new generation on our hands? Maybe, maybe not.
Clearly these aren’t the only YA franchises that sunk like stones. What else did I miss?