YA Dystopian Adaptations: The Downfall Of A Genre

Daria Paterek

The early 2010’s film industry was dominated by adaptations of young adult dystopian fiction. Producing classics such as The Hunger Games (2012), The Maze Runner (2014), and Divergent (2014) alongside less popular adaptations such as The Giver (2014), The 5th Wave (2016), and Ready Player One (2018)- the genre skyrocketed in popularity. Young adult dystopias demolished box office targets and attracted massive audiences worldwide. 

Despite the apparent success of the movies mentioned above, why did young adult dystopias disappear from the film industry and experience a sharp decline in popularity? It seemed to disappear almost as soon as it appeared, and I will outline the reasons why below. 

the movies were pumped out too quickly for audiences to develop an emotional connection to the characters and crave more

Firstly, the genre lacks originality. YA dystopias contain a few tropes that became overdone, and in the process, lost their uniqueness. By dissecting the titles discussed above, a few shared tropes emerge:

  1. The Chosen One – The narrator, or the protagonist, is always the person with the gift, questioning the existing social hierarchy, and they become the rebel. They are the ones that cause the downfall of the current society and ultimately save humanity.
  2. The love triangle – The love triangle became a way to distract the audience from a flawed storyline and instead filled in time with pointless romance.
  3. Adults as useless – Within the genre, adults are regarded as useless or as holding no importance. They are often killed off, have little impact on the protagonist, or only exist to be the enemies.
  4. The novel ends with a ‘Brave New World’ – Ending with a happily ever after, with the protagonists either destroying the current world or escaping into a new one, YA dystopia’s attempts to portray hope comes off as cliché.

While The Hunger Games (2012-2015) were fresh and revolutionary, it was hard not to separate future dystopia films from The Hunger Games since they followed the same overused and unimaginative tropes. 

the market became oversaturated, and audiences became disinterested

Secondly, the movies were pumped out too quickly for audiences to develop an emotional connection to the characters and crave more. As a result, the market became oversaturated, and audiences became disinterested as they realised that the genre had nothing new to offer. 

The first Hunger Games film came out in 2012, with the sequel Catching Fire released just a year later. Accumulating  694,4 and 865 million US dollars in box office respectively, the success of these films quickly prompted producers to join the YA bandwagon.

The goal was not to achieve longevity but rapid monetary gain

As a result, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and Mockingjay Part 1 came out in 2014. 2015 saw the release of the second Mockingjay instalment, Insurgent (sequel to Divergent) and Maze Runner sequel The Scorch Trials. Production was quick, lazy, and rushed. The goal was not to achieve longevity but rapid monetary gain. 

However, production and writing issues were not the only issues that caused the downfall of the genre. Many POC and LGBTQ+ teenagers would have felt unwelcome to the genre due to lack of representation. A study highlighted that white characters are the most represented within YA dystopian literature, making up 32% of all titles, representing Eurocentrism within the genre. While African Americans were represented 5% of the time, there were no Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, or Middle Easterners present.

However, the lack of diversity is not only limited to race but also sexuality. Only 10% of the titles surveyed contained characters that were not heterosexual. The lack of diversity sent a message to young, underrepresented teenagers that they are not worthy of such representation, which is highly problematic.

In an article by Alexander Pan,  Divergent  is blamed for the downfall of the genre. He claims that the series ‘killed YA Dystopian adaptations for good’, with the subsequent release of Allegiant (2016) only further highlighting the problems within a genre, overshadowed by the rapid succession of movies, the overdone tropes, and the poor writing choices. While the Divergent series is not responsible for the death of the genre, it accelerated it. 

Ultimately, YA dystopias did not fail because of the genre – they died because they did not evolve. Producers relied on the assumption that young people are mindless consumers- and had to suffer the consequences of this misconception. 

Daria Paterek

Featured Image courtesy of vagueonthehow via  Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article images courtesy of thehungergames and thedivergentseries via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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