The Trouble with Bringing YA Books to Film - Selling Out Week


By Molly Freeman

Photo by Michael Morrow.

Ever since the major success of the Harry Potter and Twilight films, producers have involved themselves in a massive push to adapt beloved young adult novels to the big screen. Though some found success, like The Hunger Games and Divergent, not all these books-turned-movies hit box office gold.

In 2013, adaptations such as Beautiful Creatures, The Host, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones were poised to become the next big hits. However, their cinematic versions failed to impress both fans of the books and casual moviegoers. Though The Host was a standalone novel, Beautiful Creatures, Sea of Monsters, and City of Bones were meant to either continue or launch franchises similar to The Hunger Games and Twilight.

Sea of Monsters was a follow up to 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and adapted from the second of five novels written by Rick Riordan. After Sea of Monsters barely scraped in a profit at the box office, production on its follow up, The Titan’s Curse was stalled (and likely will never resume).

A similar situation arose with City of Bones. Even before the film hit theaters, producers had plans to adapt City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare’s second novel, into another movie. Originally, they wanted to start production for City of Ashes just a month after City of Bones premiered, to then release the second movie in 2014. After a lackluster opening weekend for City of Bones paired with less-than-stellar reviews from critics and fans alike, the following project was pushed back. Though executive producer Martin Moszkowicz still claims a sequel is in the works, it’s unclear when (or if) a City of Ashes movie will ever manifest.

However, these failures have not deterred Hollywood. So far in 2014, Vampire Academy premiered–after Richelle Mead’s successful supernatural series–as well as Divergent. Though Vampire Academy seems to be going the way of Percy Jackson and The Mortal Instruments, Summit Entertainment, the studio behind Divergent, announced Veronica Roth’s entire trilogy will be adapted to film over the next three to four years.

More is in store this year in terms of movies based off young adult novels. The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s book of the same name, premiers in June; Newbery Medal winning The Giver by Lowis Lowry will hit theaters in August, as will Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. In September, an adaptation of the first book in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series will be released to theaters. Plus the third installment of The Hunger Games franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is sure to be a holiday box office hit with its November release date.

It may seem like film studios are buying up the rights to all major young adult literature, but the television industry is also exhibiting a similar push to turn such books to shows.

The CW, a network whose programming is geared primarily toward 18-34 year olds, is leading the charge in the genre. Among the books the network has adapted are The Carrie Diaries (though the series was canceled after its second season), The Vampire Diaries (which spawned its own spinoff, The Originals), and The 100.

ABC Family has also seen major success with Pretty Little Liars, which was created after the book series by Sara Shepard. The teen-geared subsidiary of ABC also ran two seasons of The Lying Game, another series based on the work of Shepard.

Like cinema, TV has also seen its fair share of failed young adult adaptations–though these cases rarely make it past the pilot stages. The CW attempted to bring Kiera Cass’ The Selection to life on the silver screen, but to no avail. After two pilots failed to impress network execs, a TV series based on the book is unlikely to happen. Similarly, though Fox commissioned a pilot of Lauren Oliver’s New York Times best-selling novel, Delirium, the network failed to pick it up for series.

Apart from what’s occurring in the young adult genre, adaptations of books have been wildly successful for as long as Hollywood has been around. Many of the biggest movies in history are based on books: Die Hard, Jurassic Park, the James Bond franchise, Forest Gump, Goodfellas, The Birds, Rambo: First Blood, The Shining, and The Graduate, just to name a few.

Nevertheless, Hollywood seems to be struggling with a correct formula in bringing young adult novels to life. Perhaps the studios are underestimating the quality of adaptation that will draw in audiences, or maybe directors focus too much on cheap action and not enough on story.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a success in terms of ability to bring the book story to life as well as box office sales, and it has set a precedent. Whether these other upcoming films will be able to learn from The Hunger Games is a question that remains unanswered.