The YA market has become a little… over saturated as of late, to say the least. First, kicking it all off, we had Harry Potter, which was an undeniable sensation that still has a massive impact to this day. I’ve never seen a franchise that moves people so much, or brings them together – and that is commendable.
Next up to bat was Twilight – and no matter how you felt about it, no one can deny that it was a global phenomenon. The fandom was out of this world, and that franchise also still dominates to this day. Then we had The Hunger Games, which went the darker, more serious route – and suffered for it at the box office with the final two films, though its first two entries were very strong. These were all back-to-back successes, some of them going on at the same time.
Every film and potential franchise after that has tried to duplicate the success of these three – and has failed. The Mortal Instruments. Ender’s Game. Divergent. I Am Number Four. Warm Bodies. The Giver. The Fifth Wave. All tried to launch franchises and strike the same lightning of the Holy Trinity – and all were left hopelessly grabbing at the air, begging the movie gods to send them even half of the money made by these franchises.
In my opinion, not only is a lack of diversity a problem, but also similarities to the Holy Trinity. If YA is going to make a comeback, then it needs to branch off and do its own thing – and I think that’s possible.
Here is a list of five young adult book series that Hollywood has attempted to adapt or picked up the rights to – books that I think have true franchise potential in the current market.
1. Percy Jackson & the Olympians
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Percy Jackson. For me, it had the effect that Harry Potter had on so many people – a coming-of-age franchise about children learning their place in the world, surrounded by magic and wonder, and forced into circumstances much too large for them to deal with at their age. But as we all know, Hollywood already tried this out – and it didn’t work. The first film had decent numbers, but the second film completely fizzled out and was a horrible flop both critically and commercially.
Of all the franchises I’m going to list here, I think this one has the most potential to return – and I think it could considerably shake up the marketplace if it did. With the success of Stephen King’s IT and the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix hit Stranger Things, Hollywood has proven that older actors are not needed to tell a dynamic story. Often, they bog things up and make the proceedings less fun. So give Percy Jackson a moderate budget, a little-known but diverse cast that’s the appropriate age range, and tell a funny, exciting story with action and visual spectacle.
Given the recent success of Wonder Woman, audiences have proven they’re still receptive to stories about Greek mythology. And speaking of Wonder Woman, in my mind Percy has her tone, her visual flair and badass theme music similar to hers – but with the sassy humor of Iron Man, the incorruptible heart of Captain America and the determined conviction of Batman.
Come on. Doesn’t that sound awesome?
2. Cirque du Freak
More than likely, many of you probably haven’t heard of this franchise – which is a complete shame, as I think it’s one of the best novel series’ ever written. Cirque du Freak follows Darren Shan, a young boy who’s drawn into a world of warring creatures of the night known as vampires and vampaneze. When he visits a circus, he steals the spider of a performer – and gets into a lot of trouble.
This was already attempted as a film in 2009, and it was a horrible failure at the box office. And the movie’s pretty bad. Not only is it nothing like the book, but once again, Hollywood felt child actors couldn’t pull off the lead roles, and so they cast older – and the movie suffered for it. Not only did they whitewash Darren’s love interest, who is a Black girl in the book, but they completely took everything away that made the story unique, and pretty much turned it into Twilight but at a circus.
I think a Cirque du Freak adaptation could succeed – maybe not as a movie (though I do think five films, each one based on three of the twelve books in the series with the last film based on the final two, which are both pretty long, could work) but as a television series. If anything could repeat the success of Stranger Things, this could be it. They could delve deeper into the mythology, ramp up the mystery and horror elements, and really go to town and faithfully adapt the books.
3. The Mortal Instruments
I know some of you are probably thinking that they’re already trying this again – on Freeform as a TV series. And it’s pretty popular. But is it any good? Even fans of the show have complained that it’s gone completely off the rails. So why not try it again in a few years, again as a television series but with a bigger budget and more respectable behind-the-camera talent? This is a fantasy series of books that started out decent, but get better and better with each entry. Cassandra Clare is a wonderful writer, and I think her world could translate beautifully to the small screen.
I’d put the series on HBO, Netflix or Starz and cast some big names as the adult characters, but go younger and unknown with the leads and really try to get to the heart of the teen drama, which is one of the most compelling elements of the series. Then, I’d flesh out the fantasy world and dive deeper into what makes Shadowhunters (the central focus of the series) tick.
If you’re wondering what this is similar to – think Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, but darker, edgier and for kids. This is also very similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For fans of Harry Potter, there’s some elements of that in here as well.
4. Vampire Academy
Come on, many of you are likely exclaiming. Really? But no, I’m serious. Hear me out. Just like The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy is a teen series that was never taken seriously on the big screen, and I know why – because a television adaptation is much more fitting. This series follows Rose Hathaway, the half-vampire guardian of a vampire princess, Lissa Dragomir. Rose has to protect Lissa with her life – and if she doesn’t, she’ll be stripped of her guardian identity.
This series really touched me. Not only does it have an amazing romance between Rose and her instructor, Dimitri (who’s Russian and a heartthrob you can get behind), but there are some really complex themes about age difference in relationships, friendship, teen death, and more. Think Pretty Little Liars meets The Princess Bride and Sabrina the Teenage Witch – and that’s essentially what you get here.
The film adaptation, of course, bombed – it earned a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an opening so low it was almost historic. I thought the movie was so-so, and I completely understood why critics didn’t enjoy it – it tried much too hard to be funny and lost a lot of the compelling nature of the books. While Rose is a snarky character, she never tries too hard – and that’s exactly what killed this film. Much like The Mortal Instruments, TV is the next step in my opinion. The six books would make a killer CW series. Vampire Diaries writer Julie Plec has talked about wanting to get her hands on it, so maybe we’ll see that happen someday.
5. The Giver
The Giver is one of the most revered young adult novels of all time, and it’s for a reason. This book really moved and touched me when we read it in middle school. It’s so iconic that I can’t imagine you wouldn’t know the story, but here it is: a young boy, Jonas, lives in a society where everything is essentially the same. People can’t see color; everyone lives in the same kind of house and wears the same kind of clothes. The world has lost its individuality, what makes us different. Jonas is tasked with being a Receiver, someone who knows and understands the memories of the world when everything had individuality and identity.
As someone who champions and celebrates diversity, this book really hit me hard. The idea of a world with no individuality scares the crap out of me; it’s essentially taking away everything that I believe in. I think The Giver had tremendous potential to break out and be a huge success. Unfortunately, it came after The Hunger Games (which I love, don’t get me wrong) so it felt much more like a ripoff than it should have.
But to be fair, they certainly played into that – adding a romance that wasn’t in the book; aging up the characters; and many more weird creative choices that I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around. I’d reboot The Giver, not as a film but as a TV miniseries. I know these don’t really happen anymore, but I think it would be amazing. Showtime or Starz could knock this out of the park. Cast kids, have gorgeous visuals and a compelling, intriguing script. Think Westworld meets The Twilight Zone.
Hollywood, there you go; your young-adult market is dying, and here are five ways you can fix it. (Don’t do Percy Jackson, though, unless you’re going to have me direct. * wink *)