Today sees the release of “The Hunger Games,” the much anticipated adaptation of the popular young adult novel series about a future in which children are forced to compete in a fight to the death for the entertainment of the upper class, and to help their district fight off starvation. The books have been bestsellers, and Lionsgate have pegged the film to be their own answer to another hugely popular teen-skewing franchise, the vampire romance “Twilight.” And it looks as if the gamble has paid off, with most prognosticators pegging the film to open well over $100 million in the U.S. this weekend.
But all things come to an end, and while “The Hunger Games” is only just hitting theaters, sequel “Catching Fire” is already set for release in November 2013, with final “Mockingjay” presumably following another eighteen months or so after that. And when you figure in that “Harry Potter” wrapped up its multi-billion dollar run last year, and that “Twilight” will end on its fifth installment this November, it becomes very clear why the studios are desperate to find the next property that could plug the young adult gap. The next year will see several attempts, from hopeful franchise “Snow White And The Huntsman” to zombie romance “Warm Bodies,” and “The Host,” Andrew Niccol‘s adaptation of “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer‘s book for adults (see the teaser trailer here).
With that in mind, we’ve dug around to find 15 young adult fiction books or series that studios hope might become the next major box office phenomenon. Which have a real chance at becoming massive franchises, and which are already faltering in development hell? Most if not all have been proven successes on the bookshelves, but as everything from “Eragon” to “I Am Number Four” have proven, that won’t necessarily translate to multiplex dollars. So what are the major hopefuls over the next few years?
The Pitch: Two teens in the Deep South are drawn together by a strange connection and supernatural secrets.
The Pros: Like “Hunger Games” helmer Gary Ross, Richard LaGravanese comes as a man with significant acclaim behind him: he’s the Oscar-nominated writer of “The Fisher King” and has “The Ref,” “The Horse Whisperer” and “The Bridges Of Madison County,” among others, to his name. He’s at the helm of this adaptation, and he’s got a pretty mean cast on board: Oscar-nominee Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Margo Martindale, Emmy Rossum and hugely talented rising stars Jack O’Connell and Alice Englert as the leads. Could this be the thinking teen’s franchise of choice?
The Cons: For one, the logline is hilariously vague, and backers Alcon Entertainment had better find a solid way to sell this to people if they want anyone to turn up. For another, the books are moderately popular, but certainly not the kind of blockbusters as some of these, so it doesn’t have the same built-in audience. LaGravanese’s previous directorial work (“P.S. I Love You” being the most recent) isn’t exactly something to give us a ton of confidence, either.
Status: Filming gets underway very shortly, and release is set for February 1, 2013.
“Blood Red Road“
The Pitch: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, 18-year-old Saba goes searching for her brother, who’s been kidnapped by the local warlord, who intends to sacrifice him.
The Pros: Every bookseller we talked to in the run up to writing this piece said that the hottest thing in the young adult fiction world right now, post “Hunger Games,” are stories set in a futuristic dystopia, and we’re sure the success of the film will make that follow on for the movies. As such, it was smart of Scott Free to snap up the rights to Moira Young‘s book last year, and even smarter to hire rising writer Jack Thorne to write the script. It seems to be the stuff of high adventure, has a strong female lead, and while it’s unlikely that Ridley Scott will find time to make the thing, as was once mooted, it seems to be a measure of the material.
The Cons: That’s what we’re assuming, anyway, as on paper there doesn’t seem to be much to distinguish it from other post-apocalptic tales. It seems to be quite tough material too, without the romance aspect that helps to widen the demographic reach, and without a high concept for the easy sell. It’s certainly one of the more intriguing projects on this list, but not the one we’d bank on being massive.
Status: In development
The Pitch: In the future, love has been recategorized as a disease, and everyone goes through surgery at 18 to remove the possibility. However, just before she goes under the knife, young Lena falls for a boy who helps her escape the city.
The Pros: One of the most talked-about young adult novels of the last few years, the book, by Lauren Oliver, has an irresistible high concept that could win over young girls, combined with a dystopian setting that could capitalize on “Hunger Games” mania, and enough suspense to win over those afraid of a soppy romance. Plus, it’s the first of a trilogy, with “Pandemonium” following last month, and “Requiem” in February 2013.
The Cons: Fox 2000 have had the rights since the book was published in 2011, but don’t appear to have done much with it; as far as we know, no writer or director is attached to the project. Furthermore, last year’s “In Time” proved that this kind of high wire concept can be a tricky sell, and the books aren’t yet household names, although that may change in the next year or two.
Status: In development
The Pitch: In a future where Earth is at war with an alien race known as the Formics, a group of children, including the titular Ender, are sent into orbit to train to be soldiers of the future.
The Pros: Orson Scott Card‘s “Ender’s Game” is one of the most beloved science fiction novels around, and Summit are hoping to do for hard sci-fi what they did for vampires with “Twilight,” with this long-in-the-works adaptation, directed by “Wolverine” helmer Gavin Hood, and produced by “Star Trek” supremos Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci. And they’ve got an impressive cast on board, with “Hugo” star Asa Butterfield and “Little Miss Sunshine” star Abigail Breslin leading the younger lot, and Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis among the adults. With “Prometheus” on the horizon, this could be the next epic sci-fi to cash in.
The Cons: To quote from ourselves just a moment ago, “directed by ‘Wolverine’ helmer Gavin Hood.” That aside, with space war and aliens, this is much harder science fiction than the relatively relatable, grounded stuff of “The Hunger Games,” and it may be trickier to capture the right demographics, especially as the book isn’t a recent bestseller. And on the flipside, will adults happily turn up to a film like this where the main characters are mainly kids? It worked for “Harry Potter,” but that was a bona-fide phenomenon already.
Status; Just started filming, and hits theaters on March 15, 2013.
“The Graveyard Book“
The Pitch: Riffing on Rudyard Kipling‘s “The Jungle Book,” this involves Bod Owens, a young boy raised by ghosts after the murder of his family by the mysterious Jack.
The Pros: Neil Gaiman is one of the biggest names in fantasy, and film adaptations of his work — “Stardust” and “Coraline” — have been moderately successful. And “The Graveyard Book” is one of his most acclaimed and popular works, is a rich, witty, thrilling, imaginative tale that could, if done right, hook kids, adults and everyone in between. Neil Jordan, a near-perfect choice, snapped up the rights, and has come close to getting the film made more than once in the last few years.
The Cons: For one, the book is quite episodic in form, spanning twenty years or so, and would likely resist an attempt to bang into the shape of a coherent feature narrative: like much of Gaiman’s writing, it might be better suited to television. Furthermore, Jordan’s adaptation is yet to get off the ground and the property might need a real studio on board. Another consideration is that while Gaiman plans a sequel at some point, he’s ludicrously busy, so backers may be a little disappointed that there’s no ready-made sequel to follow.
Status: Dead/In development.
The Pitch: A young woman from a long line of thieves and cat burglars is drawn back into the family business when her father is accused of stealing a gangster’s precious art collection.
The Pros: While unimaginative studio executives reacted to the young adult explosion by greenlighting everything with young-looking vampires, there’s plenty more to draw on, and Drew Barrymore spotted something else; a novel by Ally Carter that’s essentially a kind of “Ocean’s Eleven” for teens. She’s reunited with the writer of her scrappy-but-likable directorial debut “Whip It,” Shauna Cross, for this project, which could serve as the first of a franchise at Warner Bros — Carter has already penned a follow-up novel. A young-skewing heist flick seems like a licence to print money to us, and Barrymore showed with “Whip It” that she’s got a great sense of how to tell the stories of young women in a non-token way.
The Cons: Previous attempts at this genre, like the Scarlett Johansson-starring “The Perfect Score,” weren’t particularly successful, and there’s probably a demographic cap on this: it’s not going to be the next monster hit.
Status: In development.
“How I Live Now“
The Pitch: An American girl is staying with her cousins in the English countryside when World War III breaks out, and with the nation occupied, they must fight for survival.
The Pros: “How I Live Now” comes with more pedigree than most on this list. The novel by Meg Rosoff has won multiple awards, it has director Kevin MacDonald (“Touching The Void,” “The Last King of Scotland“) at the helm, the script is by Jeremy Brock (‘Last King…‘), Tony Grisoni (“Red Riding“) and Jack Thorne, and Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan is in the lead role. The book is really very good indeed, tougher and less escapist than the competition, so if any of these becomes a critical hit, it could be this one.
The Cons: Even if it does win over the critics, commercial success is far from guaranteed; it’s dark, uncompromising source material, more “Never Let Me Go” than “Breaking Dawn.” And as far as we know, there’s little-to-no chance of this becoming a franchise. Temper your expectations of this being a “Hunger Games”-style phenomenon and just hope that MacDonald turns out a good movie.
Status: Should go before cameras in the next few months for release in 2013.
“The Knife Of Never Letting Go“
The Pitch: Todd Hewitt is the only boy left in a settlement without women, and the men constantly hear each others thoughts, known as “the noise.” After escaping the settlement, he soon discovers a girl who’s able to create silence.
The Pros: One of the most acclaimed novels in the genre since its publication in 2008, Patrick Ness‘ “The Knife Of Never Letting Go” is the first in his “Chaos Walking” trilogy (continued by “The Ask And The Answer” and “Monsters Of Men“) and like “The Hunger Games,” its set in a dystopian world where a sinister overclass lord over everyone else with dark rules. Lionsgate have the rights, and may be hoping to rework their magic once ‘Hunger Games’ is established as a franchise.
The Cons: It also seems to be, as far as we can tell, extremely complicated, with a new mythology that would be tricky to sell in a 30 second TV spot. It also seems to be dark, brutal and violent: true of “The Hunger Games” too, but that was a phenomenon even before the movie was greenlit. As far as we can tell, Lionsgate haven’t made much progress on the film, although they only snapped up the rights in October, to be fair.
Status: In development
The Pitch: In an alternate Victorian England where mankind has been exploring space for a century, the Earth comes under attack by an alien race, setting Art and Myrtle Mumby on a quest to save their father.
The Pros: Philip Reeve is one of the more acclaimed writers in the field (his “Mortal Engines” series is being developed by Peter Jackson), and the “Larklight” trilogy promises to look like nothing else on screen. Especially as it has some serious talent on board: “Eastern Promises” writer Steven Knight penned the script, and Tomas Alfredson, director of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Let The Right One In,” is attached to helm the Warner Bros project.
The Cons: For one, nothing’s been heard on this film for two years, and Alfredson never brought it up during the ‘Tinker Tailor’ press rounds. For another, the film probably qualifies more as a sci-fi tentpole than as a potential teen phenomenon, and after “John Carter,” we suspect studios aren’t going to be chomping at the bit to greenlight pulpy, period sci-fi pictures, especially ones based on relatively obscure subject matter.
Status: Dead/In development.
The Pitch: In a future where the United States has been divided into two warring nations, wealthy June crosses paths with street criminal Day when her brother is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.
The Pros: Director Jonathan Levine (“50/50“) already has one attempt at a “Twilight“-style franchise on the way with zombie romance “Warm Bodies,” but even while that was in production, he also signed on to this, from first-time writer Marie Lu, which is set up at CBS Films. As we’ve discussed, dystopias are so hot right now, and this seems to hit right in that sweet spot, plus the plot sounds like it could actually be quite involving. That it comes from “Twilight” producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey can’t hurt either.
The Cons: The book doesn’t seem to have lit the bestseller charts on fire since it hit stores last November, and perhaps because of that, word has been very quiet on the movie. Since the rights were snapped up, CBS Films has shifted to a more acquisitions-based business plan, while Levine has a number of other projects lined up, and probably won’t want to go straight into more young adult fare, which suggests that by the time this hits, it could seem like old hat.
Status: In development
“The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones“
The Pitch: An ordinary New York teen discovers she is the latest in a line of Shadowhunters, a secretive society who battle demons. While battling, she falls for another Shadowhunter, Jace.
The Pros: Cassandra Clare‘s “Mortal Instruments” series is one of the most popular of the post-“Twilight” phenomenons, and a movie has been in the works for a while. Things didn’t look good, as a Scott Stewart (“Priest“)-directed version of the project was put into turnaround by Sony, but only last week, it was revived by Constantin Films, with “Karate Kid” Harald Zwart at the helm, and original lead Lily Collins still signed on (though it lost potential co-star Jamie Campbell Bower). Clearly someone thinks this has the chance to make a lot of money, and with a seemingly more action-heavy leaning, it could bring in as many as boys as girls, something that “Twilight” struggles with.
The Cons: We’re sure fans of the books will put us right, but this doesn’t seem to have a particularly unique take on things — “Twilight” meets “Buffy” maybe? — but just reading the synopsis makes us think we’ve seen it before. There must have been a reason Screen Gems pulled the plug on the project, and Harald Zwart doesn’t exactly make us think this is going to be something scintillating.
Status: Needs to recast its male lead, but should be before cameras later this year.
The Pitch: After a devestating nuclear disaster, the world has split into two: the “pures,” who survived untouched inside The Dome, and the “wretches” who were fused to whatever object they were touching at the moment of detonation. Partridge, a pure, and Pressia, a wretch with a doll’s head instead of a hand, are drawn together as the former searches for his mother’s killer.
The Pros: Well, if you’re going to bring some new life into the post-apocalyptic genre, having characters who are welded to car engines and animals is a pretty great way to do so. The unique pitch has grabbed Julianna Baggott‘s book a lot of attention since publication last month, not just for its storytelling but also its prose, and this could have the right mix of romance, mystery and spectacle to become a phenomenon. Fox 2000 snapped up the rights before publication
The Cons: It might be original, but we wonder if that premise is simply going to gross people out: are the tweens ready for a heroine with a doll’s head for a hand? Even if the story is powerful and engaging, the images might be too gross for wider consumption. Then again, if the book is a hit, that’ll be moot.
Status: In development.
“The Scorpio Races“
The Pitch: Once a year, on the island of Thisby, violent, flesh-eating water horses emerge from the sea, and every year, the inhabitants try to tame the beasts and compete in the terrifying Scorpio Races. Two teens, Sean and Puck, are in training and are drawn to each other.
The Pros: Based on Celtic lore, Maggie Steifvater’s novel picked up strong reviews and sales when it hit shelves last October, and the film rights were snapped up by Warner Bros and producers David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith, the latter being the so-hot-right-now writer behind “Dark Shadows” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” The premise features the requisite blend of romance and thrills, plus what would presumably a heavy CGI element for the wow factor.
The Cons: Is that “Seabiscuit“-meets-“Lord of the Rings” premise just a little too weird to cross over to huge audiences? For one, we’d assumed it was about people racing giant scorpions rather than water horses (and we sort of feel we’d rather see that…) And it doesn’t seem to have the same universal appeal and hook as some of its rivals. Plus the effects involved would mean it’d be far more expensive, and hence less profitable, than the relatively cheap “Hunger Games.”
Status: In development
“The Seventh Son“
The Pitch: In a medieval England plagued with supernatural creatures, young Tom, the seventh son of a seventh son, is taken under the wing of the legendary Spook to learn how to battle fearsome witches.
The Pros: Joseph Delaney‘s Wardstone Chronicles have been in the works over at Warner Bros for a while, in the hope that it might be able to step in for the Harry Potter franchise. “Mongol” director Sergei Bodrov is helming, at the film has an impressive cast, with Ben Barnes in the lead role, Jeff Bridges as the Spook, Julianne Moore as the villain and Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Kit Harrington also on board. The book series has stretched to eight novels so far, and the fanbase seems to be out there.
The Cons: Then again, they said that about “Eragon.” A medieval, “Witchfinder General” kind of setting is appealing to us, but can it hit the teen demographic the same way as vampire high schools or futuristic death matches? While there’s romance, it doesn’t seem to be so prevalent, suggesting that this is one that’ll appeal to genre fans more than to all four quadrants.
Status: Starts filming any day now, and hits theaters on February 15, 2013.
“Through To You“
The Pitch: Camden, a teen grieving the death of his girlfriend Viv meets a woman from a parallel world, in which Viv is still alive, and sets out to win her back.
The Pros: Emily Hainsworth‘s debut novel doesn’t come out until this October, but Paramount and Montecito have had the rights since last March. And intriguingly, they’ve set Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones and Jonathan Schwartz, the director, co-writer and producer of acclaimed indie “Like Crazy,” to make the film, suggesting that this could be something a little more nuanced than your average teen bait fantasy. Plus, the film could fall in the sweet spot between genre fare and weepies like “The Vow” and “The Notebook.”
The Cons: With Doremus working on another semi-improvised project, word has been deathly quiet on this. The concept may be a tough nut to crack to make it widely appealing, and the film doesn’t seem to hold the same franchise opportunity as some of its rivals.
Status: In development, we assume.
Any of your own favorites we’ve missed? “Gladiator” producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher snapped up the rights to the very “Hunger Games“-sounding “Divergent” for Summit, with “Snow White And The Huntsman” writer Evan Daughtery penning the script, and Jeff Bridges is working on one of his long-time favorites, “The Giver,” which he’ll also star in, while Taylor Lautner was set to star in futuristic prison tale “Incarceron” with Emma Watson, but the film seemed to stall after his vehicle “Abduction” tanked.