Are moviegoers suffering from young-adult franchise fatigue?
The final “Hunger Games” film opens in November and is expected to be a blockbuster, but the next crop of would-be YA blockbusters haven’t really caught lightning in a bottle the way “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” did.
The second installments in Lionsgate’s “Divergent” and Fox’s “Maze Runner” series both opened strongly but several million dollars under the first films, and this summer’s adaptation of John Green‘s “Paper Towns” severely underperformed compared to 2014’s Green-based breakout hit “The Fault in Our Stars.”
But Hollywood shows no signs of backing away from the genre, filmmakers and studio executives tell TheWrap, because the financial payoff from the box office, merchandising and licensing is massive if they do find the next Harry or Katniss. And the projects can still make significant money even if they don’t become megahits.
“There are very few movies that become real phenomenons the way ‘Twilight’ or ‘The Hunger Games’ did,” Wyck Godfrey, who with partner Marty Bowen heads Temple Hill Entertainment, producers of YA adaptations like “Twilight,” “Maze Runner” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” told TheWrap. “But there are a lot of movies that have been very successful financially and served their core audience very well.”
And the enormous success for “The Fault in Our Stars,” which grossed $307 million globally on a $12 million budget — shows why Hollywood will keep searching for the young-adult Holy Grail with upcoming projects like “The Fifth Wave,” “Ember in the Ashes” and the currently stalled “Looking for Alaska.”
Still, there are signs of plateauing domestic interest in the post-“Hunger Games” crop of YA movies.
Fox’s “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” starring Dylan O’Brien of MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” opened at No. 1 domestically with $30 million last weekend for Fox, good but not scintillating and a couple million dollars below the original’s debut weekend.
But “Scorch Trials” topped the foreign list as well with $46 million and is pacing to top the $340 million global haul of the first film, which would make it a major moneymaker given its $65 million budget.
The Shailene Woodley sci-fi saga “Insurgent,” the second film in Lionsgate’s “Divergent” series, followed a similar arc by opening a couple million below the original’s $54 million-plus and topping out at $295 million globally, a little better than the first film — albeit with a slightly larger budget.
More was expected of “Maze Runner” domestically, and “Insurgent” couldn’t shake its tag as a “Hunger Games” wannabe for many moviegoers.
But both drew upon their young, best-seller-driven fan bases to debut at No. 1 and fuel franchises that will deliver tens of millions of dollars for several more years.
While neither inspired the frenzy that “Hunger Games” did at the box office or culturally — remember the sudden surge in archery class enrollments by teen girls? — both will provide their backers with reliable revenue for several more productions.
“These are films for young adults,” Godfrey said. “And young people like things that are fresh, and new. If something does seem fatigued, or derivative, they’re going to let you know. On the flip side, they love being in on things early and when they start spreading the word is when these movies take off.
“That’s the key to success for us and our biggest challenge, to find something original and produce something that’s fresh,” he said.
It’s worth noting that prior to “Divergent” and “Maze Runner,” there was a run of young-adult adaptations that completely misfired at the box office, including the pricey “Ender’s Game,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host,” “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “The Giver.” All but “The Host” were based on multi-book series and produced in the hope of franchise potential.
“For years everyone tried to have the next ‘Harry Potter’ and no one managed to do so, but that didn’t stop companies from trying,” Craig Dehmel, who heads international distribution for Fox and is overseeing the foreign rollout of “Maze Runner,” told TheWrap. “And in a sense, the ‘Twilight’ and ‘Hunger Games’ franchises were both born out of that pursuit.”
Hollywood shows no signs of backing off that pursuit. Sony’s “The 5th Wave,” which stars Chloe Moretz, Ron Livingston and Liev Schreiber, debuts in January. “Allegiant,” the first in a two-film finale for “The Divergent Series,” arrives in March and a third “Maze Runner” is aiming for 2017 release.
But Paramount, which recently paid seven figures for rights to Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel “An Ember in the Ashes” about a young woman in an ancient fantasy world who goes undercover as a slave to join a revolt, has had some trouble with another John Green adaptation, “Looking for Alaska.”
The studio and Temple Hills pushed the shoot from this fall to spring 2016, citing the difficulty in finding the right actress for the title character, a woman named Alaska Young.
Casting can often be a tricky matter for films based on beloved book series. “You have to have tough skin,” Godfrey said. Even in the case ofKristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson of “Twilight,” he added, “the real fans hate the choices because they have such clear pictures in their minds and love these characters so much.”