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As ‘Twilight’ Fades, A Guide to Hollywood’s Young Adult Franchise Bets, from ‘Angelfall’ to ‘Divergent’

As 'Twilight' Fades, A Guide to Hollywood's Young Adult Franchise Bets, from 'Angelfall' to 'Divergent'

The last of the “Twilight” movies has now reached theatres, and “Catching Fire,” the second book in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, is in production.  But Hollywood is by no means finished making movies about powerful teenagers.

At least a dozen young adult novels – featuring girls who must fight werewolves, vanquish evil angels, discover why they are immortal, evade cannibals and, in one case, fall in love with a shape-shifting tiger — have been scooped up by major studios and minor production companies.  What makes these young adult novels even more alluring is the fact that their audience is not limited to teenagers. They are avidly read by large numbers of adult women.

This week, director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) and Good Universe, a financing and production company formed last May, grabbed the rights to “Angelfall,” in which angels of the apocalypse create havoc on earth and 17-year-old Penryn must try to rescue her younger sister with the help of an enemy – the warrior angel Raffe who has been injured and is wingless.

“Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” won by Universal in a bidding war with three other studios, adds demons to its angels when the devil runs low on human teeth and Karou, an art student, is caught in the conflict between immortals.

Unlike Katness Everdeen of “The Hunger Games,” many of the teenage girls in these novels discover that they are not-quite human.  In the “Trylle” trilogy, (purchased by Media Capital  Rights), Wendy Everly turns out to be a troll princess, while the heroine of the five book series “Wicked” (DreamWorks) is the descendant of a powerful coven of witches who falls in love with a boy from a coven that has vowed to destroy her family.  In “Origin” (Scott Pictures), the teenager who has been created to be immortal escapes from the lab to search for her origin.  And in “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (Sony),  Clary Fray, an ordinary teenager, discovers that she is a half-angel, one of the shadowhunters in an alternate New York City of werewolves, warlocks, vampires and demons.

There are, of course, any number of completely human young women caught, like Katness, in a dystopian future.  In “Delirium“ (Fox 2000), love is considered the root of all evil and girls are cured of it on their 18th birthdays.  In “Divergent” (Summit/Lionsgate), 16-year-old girls must make the choice of the group with whom they will have to spend the rest of their lives.  Shailene Woodley, whose breakout role was as George Clooney’s younger daughter in “The Descendants,” will star as Tris.

What is absolutely certain is that not all of these movies will be successful.  A few of the books may never even make it to the screen.  What is uncertain is which one will be Hollywood’s Holy Grail — the next “Harry Potter,” the new “Twilight,” the future “Hunger Games.”  Most of the novels are the first in a trilogy or a longer series, so commercial success can last for years.

And commercial failure can be a bone-chilling end.  20th Centuiry Fox’s “Eragon” (2006) was to be the first of a series.  But the sword and sorcery movie about a boy and his dragon was trashed by the critics, and, with a cost of $100 million before prints and marketing, the $75 million “Eragon” made in the United States did not give Fox an appetite for a second film.

“The Golden Compass,” the first book in Philip Pullman’s award-winning “His Dark Materials” trilogy, cost over $200 million.  Flawed but by no means an artistic failure, the New Line film did well abroad but had a mediocre domestic boxoffiice gross of $70 million in 2007, despite starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.  Its story of a girl living in an alternate Oxford University in an alternate universe where people’s’souls take the shape of small animals–witches can be good and polar bears are amored– was too intellectual, too philosophical, too steeped in theology to work well on the screen.  And, although the anti-religious elements that permeated the trilogy were scrubbed away in the movie, their shadows remained.  The silver screen demands something simpler and less rigorous.

So, for a wonderful afternoon, read the books.

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