Why the success of YA film adaptations isn’t a surprise

In the worldwide box office The Hunger Games film series made £2,045,010,956, a shocking figure when you realise that the first film alone made more than 4 out of 5 Mission Impossible films, the fifth only beating THG by $318,656 (not a lot in the world of movie making). This goes to show that at the moment YA adaptations are taking the film industry by storm, the Twilight series made $3,345,177,904 in the worldwide box office, the success of which started a chain reaction of YA film adaptations that would go on to include the Divergent series, The Maze-Runner, The Fault In Our Stars and the upcoming Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children (which is one of my favourite books, you can watch the trailer HERE).

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However many would argue that the biggest income from these blowing up in the box office is the effect it has had on book sales. I read The Hunger Games trilogy in 2011 when it was recommended by my school librarian, of course I recommended them to my friends and I noticed that most of the girls I would classify as ‘readers’ had all read the series, it was clearly picking up momentum amongst the reading community both in my school and the world – The Hunger Games was already a hugely popular book – and so when it was announced film rights had been bought no one was surprised, what is surprising is that when the film came out in 2012 book sales went from 9.2 million and almost tripled to 27.7 million.

For young people The Hunger Games was the follow up to Twilight in the respect that people went crazy over the books, the films, the soundtracks, the merchandise, the fanfics, the actors. Adults seemed to finally notice that a) YA literature was real and very popular and b) that if you want films to do well, don’t look at films that have done well before specifically, look at your audience. In 2014 the MPAA published a report about attendance and audience habits of movie goers, you can find it HERE and it’s very Picture5.pnginteresting because it shows that in all areas women go to the cinema more (although not by that much) but that the age ranges of 18-24  and 25-39 were the most likely to go to the cinema by far. Now in my opinion the reason teens (12-17) aren’t going to the cinema is for a couple of reasons, namely, the prices have rocketed up in recent years and teens don’t have their own income and the rise in illegal movie pirating on sites like Putlocker, however for films that tend to be aimed at teens such as the examples listed above, all have a huge amounts of teens bucking the trends to go and see them, not only that but considering the target demographic is supposedly teens, adults frequently go themselves too. While studios are under misguided beliefs that all movie goers love either a typical Michael Bay movie with explosions, violence and death found in typical action movies like Transformers, Fast&Furious or Mission Impossible or the other end of the spectrum of romantic (sometimes comedic) love stories about the trials and tribulations of 20 or 30-somethings in a big city like What If, How To Be Single or That Awkward Moment, (while these are still good movies) films that appeal to all ages will regularly fall under YA adaptations!

Studies have shown that over a third of YA readers are actually adults and will fall into the age ranges of the people that are bringing the most revenue into the film industry and shadowhunters-the-mortal-instruments.40364these adaptations will bring in younger audiences that will continue to spend money on cinemas and films when they grow up instead of carrying on avoiding them or illegally streaming and downloading. This clearly shows that YA adaptations are not only improving film sales in general but are also investments into maintaining a healthy, flourishing industry for years to come. So really while some YA films haven’t done as well like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones or Beautiful Creatures, they are finding homes in TV networks, Shadowhunters is currently doing incredibly well at the American channel ABC Family (helping a steadily declining TV industry) and Beautiful Creatures book sales went way up after the film was released, in fact YA literature sales has gone up by 150% in the last 6 years!

The successes of these films aren’t flukes and when looked at closely you can see why a younger demographic relates with them so strongly, common themes among YA films include:

  • Dystopian worlds
  • More strong female leads usually with strong female and male supporting characters
  • Character arcs and developments being central to the story
  • Wider representation (ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc)
  • Difficult philosophical decisions having to be made and
  • Search for self or identity
All of these qualities are what modern audiences (adults would say millennials) are able to strongly relate to. Young Adult is hugely populated by fantasy and dystopian which helps facilitate escapism; young people are faced with inevitably having to deal with issues that include global warming, population and energy crises and poverty and illness worldwide; none of which are pleasant, so young people saving worlds that have been screwed up by older generations is an idea that is inherently appealing. Girls of my age that were brought up on the very beginning of YA love finding strong female leads that they can relate too while girls older than me had to settle for boys that had side-kick girls and then currently it makes me really happy to find that girls younger than me are being brought up with characters that are openly gay or bisexual, of various races and ethnicities and also can be disabled without that preventing them from kicking ass and defeating the bad guy. When these eventually grow large enough fan bases for film studios to think about adapting, these tropes will extend to even wider audiences and that’s why it isn’t a surprise YA films are so successful – they truly and deeply connect with modern audiences and will do so even more strongly as they continue to be made into films.

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Emily Haddon

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