“Harry Potter” changed the movie industry. That may be obvious, but fourteen years since the first movie landed, it’s become much more clear. Before the first J.K. Rowling adaptation arrived in 2001, the idea of the YA movie (that’s “young adult,” meaning a movie based on literature aimed at teens or pre-teens, broadly speaking) wasn’t really a thing. Classic children’s literature had been brought to the screen previously —“The Princess Bride” or “The Indian In The Cupboard,” to name but two— but such adaptations didn’t really become phenomenons and didn’t spawn sequels.
But the enormous success of the Hogwarts adventures cinema (just as they did the publishing industry), and every development executive started chasing the next youthful-skewing, four-quadrant book series that they hoped could become a monster hit and lead to further monster hits. More mega-hits did arrive eventually, but in unlikely forms: a teen vampire romance in “Twilight” (which then spawned various high school horror love triangle rip-offs), a post-apocalyptic take on “Battle Royale” with “The Hunger Games” (which in turn inspired the current trend for teen dystopia movies).
There’s been a spate of YA franchises in the last decade-and-a-half, and more are to come: Chloe Moretz alien occupation pic “The 5th Wave” and Juan Antonio Bayona’s adaptation of Patrick Ness’s prize winner “A Monster Calls” hit next year, alongside various sequels. There’s no sign of the next new mega-franchise on the horizon as yet, and the biggest, “The Hunger Games,” bows out this week with the release of its final installment, “Mockingjay Pt. 2” (read our review here). Whether or not we’ve reached peak YA at the movies, this seemed like a good time to take stock, so below, we’ve ranked every YA franchise (or would-be franchise, as it turned out to be the case most of the time) released since the first ‘Harry Potter’ movie was released.
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We had a few criteria. A movie had to be based on a book or series of books. It had to be PG-13 or a more mild rating, aimed at and featuring a cast of teens or tweens. And to fit that true post-Potter world, and to stop things being overwhelmed with other teen movies, we required some kind of genre element in the mix. Check out our ranking of all 36 franchises or movies below, and let us know what you think in the comments.
36. “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” (2007)
Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” sequence of novels are regarded as classics of the genre, endlessly influential on ‘Harry Potter’ et al. But despite a script by “Trainspotting” writer John Hodge and the always-welcome presence of Ian McShane, this movie adaptation is utterly botched. Pointlessly fucking with the source material, Cooper’s investigation of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse mythology comes across as deeply generic, lead Alexander Ludwig (a future “Hunger Games” bad guy) is bland, the writing is clunky and the direction cheap and awful. Unsurprisingly, it sank without a trace.
35. “Eragon” (2006)
Famously, writer Christopher Paolini was just 15 when he began writing “Eragon,” the story of a young boy trying to save an elf princess from an evil king with the help of his dragon. In the movie version, his inexperience really shows: it’s an almost impossibly derivative tale, not least because it has the literally the exact same plot as “Star Wars,” but with some generic fantasy trappings. A hefty budget and some decent FX can’t hide that this film is entirely going through the motions on every level, from the identitkit Czech backlot locations to a cast of impressive talents with a long history of taking material that’s beneath them (Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Djimon Hounsou).
34. “Beastly” (2011)
The first in a trilogy of YA movies starring Alex Pettyfer, who became a sort of bland, hateful embodiment of the genre in the last decade or so, this was a “Twilight”-ish spin on “Beauty & The Beast,” based on Alex Flinn’s book, seeing Pettyfer as a rich asshole high schooler cursed by a witch (played by an Olsen twin) into being bald, tattooed and broody, until Vanessa Hudgens falls for him. It’s a crashingly obvious, dull, tepid and poorly-acted affair (Pettyfer’s no more likeable at the end than at the beginning, really) that, ironically given its stated theme, proves to be utterly shallow.
33. “The Giver” (2014)
Is Philip Noyce’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s YA classic the worst movie on this list? Perhaps not. But it squanders its potential more than most. A long-time passion project for Jeff Bridges, who starred and produced (and managed to get Meryl Streep and, uh, Taylor Swift involved), this suffers a bit from “John Carter” syndrome: the book had been pillaged by so many other sources that it reaches the screen looking like it’s ripping off the stuff that ripped it off. But that’s in part because the movie version is attempting to look as much like an off-brand “Hunger Games” as possible, and ends up falling between two very boring stools: it’s neither as exciting as its competition nor as thought-provoking as the source material.
32. “Blood And Chocolate” (2007)
A sort of proto-“Twilight,” based on a book by Anne Curtis Klause, “Blood & Chocolate” has a great title, but not much going for it beyond that. A werewolf romance about a Bucharest-dwelling lycanthrope (Agnes Bruckner) who falls for a dreamy American artist (Hugh Dancy) as the pair become a target for Olivier Martinez’s Eurotrash pack leader, this film approaches the genre without any kind of point of view or voice. It might as well have been a movie called “Werewolves,” where every character just says the word “Werewolf” over and over again for all the metaphorical weight it brings. It also looks cheap (mid-’00s Eastern European tax breaks striking again), and is consistently, impressively dull, enough to make you wish for Jacob and Bella.
31. “Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones” (2013)
It’s easy to see why the powers that be thought that the “Mortal Instruments” series might make a decent movie: Cassandra Clare’s series of books, an exact mix of “Twilight” and “Buffy,” are fast-paced, breezy, and containing much more incident than many of its competitors. They did not make a decent movie, unfortunately. Lily Collins’ uninterestingly-written heroine gets drawn into a world of ‘Shadowhunters’ —a secret world of demon battlers— but Harald Zwart’s film makes it feel like a throwback to 1990s action-fantasy, all black leather, vampire brooding and miscastings, like the pilot for a low-rent TV show. Still, it could have been worst: it’s now an ABC Family series directed by McG.
30. “The Host” (2013)
Based on a book by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer (an 800 page book, at that), “The Host” is at least marginally move inventive than its predecessors —it’s set in a world where humanity has been conquered by parasitic aliens and seeing what happens when Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) makes peace with her alien controllers. With Ronan in the lead, and “Gattaca”’s Andrew Niccol directing, this theoretically had promise, but Meyer’s story fails to do much beyond yet another love triangle, and the world we’re shown is identikit dystopia by way of laundry ad, with virtually everyone, Niccol included, seeming to sleepwalk through the whole affair. All that, and it sullies the good name of Bong Joon-Ho’s identically-titled monster classic too.
29. “The Seventh Son” (2015)
When originally going into development, it was hoped by Warner Bros. that Joseph Delaney’s “Wardstone Chronicles” would fill the vacuum left by the end of the “Harry Potter” movies. When it was released, it was at an entirely different studio, three years after Potter wrapped up, and it was rubbish. Directed by “Mongol” helmer Sergei Bodrov, it sees Jeff Bridges’ grizzly witch-hunter trying to apprentice Ben Barnes’ charisma vacuum of a hero into taking down Julianne Moore (who, in the same month she won her Oscar, is pretty awful). There’s some cool creature designs in places, but it’s less a story as a collection of set pieces and generally feels sub-standard throughout.
28. The “Divergent” Series (2014-2017)
Like “Eragon,” “Divergent” and its sequels were penned by a prodigiously young author (the then 23-year-old Veronica Roth), and like “Eragon,” these films feel like they were made less by a single authorial voice or by committee, but by some kind of machine designed to crank out YA property. Referred to semi-fondly in Playlist HQ as the Detergent series, it sees Shailene Woodley and various other teens fighting for their individuallity in a world determined to give them only one characteristic: how ironic, given that the scripts seemingly want to do the same even in the sequel. The films have attracted some high-quality slumming-it cast members —Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels— but so far, it’s never been anything other than utterly generic. Let’s hope that the instalments to come are more interesting.
27. “I Am Number Four” (2010)
Adapting from a novel by ‘Pittacus Lore’ (actually James Frey’s vaguely sinister novel-producing factory), this Michael Bay-produced film was meant to meld “Transformers” action and “Twilight”-esque romance, and launch Alex Pettyfer as Hollywood’s next big thing. It did neither. The exquisitely cheekboned Brit plays an alien refugee from another world hiding out as a teen with guardian Timothy Olyphant, and falling in love with human Dianna Agron as he’s tracked down by the race that wiped out his people. So yeah, kind of “Superman” with added teen angst and little superheroics. D.J. Caruso and DoP Guillermo Navaro make it look handsome enough, the action’s decent, and Olyphant’s a welcome presence, but it’s mostly forgettable, and again sunk somewhat by the Pettyfer Factor.
26. The “Twilight” Saga (2008-2012)
The franchise that launched a thousand mostly shittier franchises, “Twilight” is perhaps better remembered as a phenomenon than as an actual series of movies: a giant-grossing behemoth that turned Hollywood on its head. Charting the romance between vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and non-vampire Bella (Kristen Stewart) across four books and five movies, the series was stuffed with problems: a regressive view of women, some hilarious dialogue, a werewolf falling in love with a baby, three movies in which basically nothing happens. But looking back, there’s sort of a winning sincerity to the whole thing versus some of its cash-in rivals, and later installments —the leaner David Slade-directed “Eclipse,” the decapitation-happy mayhem of Bill Condon’s series finale— improved signifcantly from earlier ones.
25. “The Golden Compass” (2007)
As a legitimate classic of the genre, a movie version of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy should have been, and was expected to be, a “Lord Of The Rings”-style phenomenon. But that turned out to be part of the problem. Set in a parallel universe as young orphan Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) tries to track down her missing friend in a quest that takes her to the North Pole and puts her in the crosshairs of both adventurer Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) and the sinister Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), the movie was heavily tinkered with in post-production (including adding Ian McKellen as the voice of an already-cast character for a more Tolkien-ish feel). The finished film toned down the book’s anti-church themes enough to anger fans while still drawing the ire of the religious right, but frankly, we’re not sure Chris Weitz’s approach would have ever been the movie this deserved: there’s good stuff here, namely Sam Elliot, but it’s flatly lit and shot, Craig seems disinterested, and the story feels disjointed in this hacked-down form.
24. “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006)
This adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s book series, a sort of proto-“Kingsman”/teen Bond riff, must boast the most schizophrenic, oddly starry casts in the YA movie era: Ewan McGregor, Bill Nighy and Sophie Okonedo on one side, Mickey Rourke, Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Fry on the other. A not-yet totally obnoxious Alex Pettyfer plays the title character, a 14-year-old schoolboy who becomes an MI6 agent on the death of his Bond-esque uncle (McGregor), and the film’s fun in spots (Andy Serkis, Damian Lewis and Missi Pyle giving good henchman), but it’s puerile in a would-be wish-fulfillment way (including some egregious Nintendo DS product-placement), and it doesn’t add much to the genre beyond a more youthful protagonist.
23. The “Percy Jackson” series (2010-2013)
If you’re going to launch a “Harry Potter’ knock-off (with Greek mythology rather than magic), you might as well hire the person who got that particular movie phenomenon off to a start, namely director Chris Columbus. Unfortunately, “Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief” is similar to Columbus’ Potter films in that it’s an utterly perfunctory adaptation (of weaker source material) strung along by some star power —Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario make likeable demigod leads, Steve Coogan, Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman get to have some fun as greek gods. Still, it’s better than unasked-for sequel “Sea Of Monsters,” which is cheaper (including swapping out much of the better-known cast) and even more derivative.
22. “Jumper” (2008)
Doug Liman’s indie-world looseness proved to be a boon to the action movie for “The Bourne Identity,” and more recently “Edge Of Tomorrow,” but he came unstuck with this would-be franchise-starter based on a book by Steven Gould, about a young man able to teleport around the world and the religious maniacs trying to track him down. Liman has some fun with the global scope of the story, the action sequences, and villain (Samuel L. Jackson’s haircut!), but it’s surprisingly lacking in flair given the director’s previous credits, has a script bearing the mark of many rewrites and is crippled by the blandest leads possible, Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson (though Jamie Bell does his best to fill the hole where their charisma should be).
21. The “Maze Runner” series (2014-2016)
There’s still one movie to go, but nothing here squandered its potential between the first and second movie the way the “Maze Runner” franchise did. The first film, based on James Dashner’s book, and directed by talented newcomer Wes Ball, found some new territory to mine thanks to a contained premise, some nifty design, a strong cast (including fast-rising standout Will Poulter) and a story with a little more “Lord Of The Flies” DNA than most. But the sequel, this year’s “The Scorch Trials,” seemingly saw things merge with “Divergent,” creating a disappointingly interchangeable future dystopia beyond the maze, displaying little narrative momentum and adding only an overacting Aidan Gillen. Let’s hope the third installment can set the ship right.
20. The “Chronicles Of Narnia” series (2005-2010)
A surfeit of vision is one that plagues the YA genre, and the “Chronicles Of Narnia” stands as one of the best examples as such. C.S. Lewis’ fantasy classics might be naggingly moralistic and sometimes sloppily plotted, but there’s potential for greatness therein. Walden Media’s movie adaptations sometimes brush against them —Tilda Swinton as one third of the title line-up in “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe,” Peter Dinklage warming up for “Game Of Thrones” in “Prince Caspian,” Will Poulter again shining in “Voyage Of The Dawn Treader.” But in the hands of first Andrew Adamson and then Michael Apted, the films end up feeling workmanlike at best, overlit and rife with inconsistent CGI. The films did well, but there was never a sense of appointment viewing to them, more of church-groups trudging to their biannual outing, and the franchise stalled after the third entry.
19. “Tuck Everlasting” (2002)
Ok, maybe this wasn’t strictly intended as a franchise, though if it had taken off, you can be sure they’d have found a way. “Tuck Everlasting” saw Disney adapt Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 classic about the young Winnie (Alexis Bledel), who falls in love with Jessie (Jonathan Jackson), who hails from a family that are immortal thanks to a magical spring. In the hands of “My Dog Skip” director Jay Russell, the sickliness is turned up and decades of familiar-ish immortality tales have lessened its impact, but it’s handsomely mounted, tear-jerking and well-cast, with William Hurt, Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley bringing a touch of class.
18. “Ender’s Game” (2013)
Overshadowed on release by protest by original author Orson Scott Card’s prehistoric views on homosexuality, this is, when looked at in isolation, not a bad little movie, though perhaps not the version that the book’s fans would have wanted. Bringing a hard sci-fi edge to the YA genre, it’s set in a future where humanity is at war with an alien race and are training young people like the titular Ender to become the next generation of soldiers. Director Gavin Hood mostly redeems himself for “Wolverine’ with impressive production value and a good handle on tone, and the cast (also including Hailee Steinfeld, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley) are committed, but the film also loses any subtlety that might have been present in the original text, righting roughshod over it with CGI and explosions.
17. “Vampire Academy” (2014)
The idea of a YA genre movie from “Mean Girls” director Mark Waters and his “Heathers”-writing brother Daniel is an undoubtedly promising one, but “Vampire Academy” ended up getting poisonous reviews and awful box office when it opened last year. It certainly doesn’t live up to the promise of its creators and mostly feels like watching half of a CW series on fast-forward, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its reputation. Yes, it’s shamelessly just “Harry Potter with vampires,” but it has a real love for undead lore running through it and has a far better feel for female adolescence than many of these movies do, plus a welcome sense of humor in a genre that’s often po-faced to a fault, much of it thanks to likeable lead Zoey Deutch and some enjoyable ham from the likes of Gabriel Byrne and Olga Kurylenko.
16. “Stardust” (2007)
Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” is one of the better source material books on this list, and Matthew Vaughn’s hopes to turn it into a sort of 21st century “Princess Bride” seemed like the right way to go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, though there’s enough here to make it worth a couple of hours of watching. The story of a young man (Charlie Cox) who sets out to capture the personification of a fallen star (Claire Danes) to woo his love (Sienna Miller), it features some very strong villainy from Michelle Pfeiffer and Mark Strong, touches of Gaiman’s imaginative brilliance, and a legitimately sweet romance, an element that few of these movies have gotten right. But Vaughn struggles to capture the book’s tonal deftness, so we’re left with something that’s half “Monty Python And The Holy Grail,” half “Willow,” but without a cohesive vision to match the book’s world.
15. “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (2009)
Adapted from Darren Shan’s books, Paul Weitz’s “Cirque Du Freak” is frankly a mess. But it’s at least an interesting mash of tones that never really works, yet proves to be more fun than anything Tim Burton, whose films it’s obviously riffing on, has made recently. The film sees Chris Massoglia’s lead (once again, bland: it’s seemingly a requirement of the genre) fall under the thrall of a supernatural circus led by John C. Reilly’s Larten Crepsley. Whenever it has to do something like a plot, it becomes tedious, and the mythology’s a bit half-assed, but there’s real pleasure to be found in the look of the thing, and the cast —Reilly, Salma Hayek, Patrick Fugit, Willem Dafoe, Michael Cerveris, Ken Watanabe — are clearly having enormous fun playing various freaks.
14. “Warm Bodies” (2013)
It seemed easy to dismiss “Warm Bodies,” based on Isaac Marion’s novel, from a distance as a “Twilight” knock-off —instead of a human falling in love with a vampire, we have a human falling in love with a zombie. But Jonathan Levine’s movie adaptation turned out to be rather more interesting, a surprisingly deft genre-blender that both George Romero and John Hughes would be proud of. In a well-realized post-apocalyptic world, we see lurching zombie R (an excellent Nicholas Hoult) suddenly find consciousness thanks to falling in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer). Sure, it’s a little fairy-tale-ish, but there’s a genuine sweetness, and Levine leavens the romance with pitch-black comedy and some decent action, making it an unexpected pleasure.
13. “Inkheart” (2008)
Little loved either on release or after, “Inkheart,” an adaptation of Cornelia Funke’s novel, is far from perfect, but has a little more charm than quite a lot of its Potter-aping competition. Based around a father-daughter pair of Silvertongues (who are able to bring what they read to life, so long as it’s out of copyright, anyway…), it’s pacy, good-natured and steeped in a love of literature. The story itself doesn’t always live up to the promise of the premise, but an immensely likeable cast sells the MacGuffin-chasing (particularly a soulful Paul Bettany and Andy Serkis, channeling David Warner in “Time Bandits” as the villain), and director Iain Softley makes it a more visually enjoyable spectacle than most.
12. “Nancy Drew” (2007)
The beloved girl detective got a 21st century reboot in a “Veronica Mars”-ish manner in this 2007 film from “The Craft” director Andrew Fleming, not doing much business with the teens of the day but proving disarmingly likeable when viewed today. Taking a leaf from “The Brady Bunch Movie” et al, Fleming’s film makes Drew’s small-town can-do spirit a fish out of water in present day L.A., and Emma Roberts (who still deserves to be a bigger star than she is now) does a lovely job at making the teen detective not quite an anachronism, but not quite fitting in either. The central mystery, a noirish tale of a murdered movie star, isn’t that compelling and feels more of a TV pilot than a full-blown movie, but it’s still more fun than it had any right to be.
11. The “Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants” series (2005-2008)
Sneaking past our criteria thanks to the titular magical flattering pair of jeans that fit the four protagonists exactly despite their differing sizes (by Hollywood standards, at least), you might scoff at “The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants” series, based on the books by Ann Brashares, but they’re eminently watchable coming-of-age pics, far more so than most of the self-important dystopian stuff we’re talking about here. Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel are all more talented actresses than have often been given opportunity to show, and they get some meaty Judy Blume-ish material to deal with here, from pregnancy scares and cancer to, in a surprisingly mature and well-excecuted move, depression. The original’s better than its followup, and they can still be uneven, but shouldn’t be dismissed.
10. “Goosebumps” (2015)
The most recent movie here, “Goosebumps” should have been a disaster —it’s a broad family comedy giving a Charlie Kaufman-ish meta twist to the popular tween horror series by making R.L. Stine a character and bringing his literary monsters to life. But Rob Letterman’s film proves unexpectedly engaging —it’s a little over-frantic in places, but captures the much sought-after Amblin spirit more effectively than most, with fun monsters, good scares and a good sprinkling of wit, providing Jack Black his best role in years as Stine. It’s even got some surprisingly affecting pathos, including a legitimately surprising twist that gives the film more depth than you’d imagine.
9. “Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events” (2004)
Widely expected to be the next “Harry Potter” on release but proving to be much stranger, Brad Silberling’s pleasingly faithful take on Daniel Handler’s books resisted CGI battling and giant armies in favor of a strangely intimate picture that was just a little too dark for the public imagination. Telling the story of three orphans whose actor guardian (Jim Carrey in heavy prosthetics) plots to kill them to win his inheritance, it builds up a rich, amusingly glum-faced mythology, closer to Charles Addams than Tim Burton, gorgeously realized in a nearly-theatrical manner, and with a Carrey performance that gives him enough space to be a comic virtuoso without breaking the film around him. Sequels never followed, sadly, but a Netflix series is on the way soon.
8. “Holes” (2003)
This adaptation of Louis Sachar’s best seller is a film that caused one of Shia LaBoeuf’s happiest reactions during his recent marathon, and we can see why: one of the actor’s earliest movie roles, it’s a beguilingly strange kind of Disney movie, an unexpected high for “The Fugitive” director Andrew Davis, and one of the better YA movies. LaBoeuf stars as the seemingly-fated-to-be-unlucky Stanley Yelnats, sent to a prison camp where the authorities (Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Blake Nelson) force the inmates to dig holes in the desert all day. The film occasionally tips towards fart gags a little too often, but it’s still a fascinatingly structured, soulful and even exciting adventure that somehow maintains control of the various genres and tones that it’s wrangling.
7. “City of Ember” (2008)
A whopping great flop on release, this adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau’s novel was swiftly forgotten, but deserves swift reappraisal. Prefiguring the current apocalyptic dystopia trend, the film’s set in an underground city built to survive 200 years after a disaster. The 200 years are up, and two kids (Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway, both winning) set out to find the box left by the founders and save their community before they starve or they’re eaten by giant moles. It sounds familiar now, but writer Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands”) and director Gil Kenan (“Monster House”) create a gorgeously realized, distinctive dystopia, somewhere between Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and populate it with excellent actors —Bill Murray, terrific as the villainous mayor, is first among them. For once, it almost feels too lean at 90 minutes, but is otherwise well worth a look.
6. “Beautiful Creatures” (2013)
Tanking hard at the box office on release and dismissed undeservedly by critics for whom this may have been one YA adaptation too far (it hit at the sort of peak of the post-“Twilight” genre), “Beautiful Creatures” was actually a more lovely and distinctive take on the magical romance than much of its competition, and better acted at that. Following the romance between Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and young witch Lena (Alice Englert), Richard LaGravanese’s adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s novel has a cohesive vision rare for a YA movie, bringing a welcome touch of Southern Gothic, some book-burning political subtext and a heap of melodrama. It’s made with real craft and showcases a pair of fiery young leads in Ehrenreich and Englert, but also some more established names having a ton of fun, with Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Margo Martindale, Eileen Atkins and a particularly chewy Emma Thompson all doing terrific work.
5. “The Spiderwick Chronicles” (2008)
If Paramount are desperate enough for franchises to have a dedicated “Transformers” writers’ room, the studio could at least start considering the idea of filling out the “Spiderwick Chronicles,” which picked up good reviews and a handsome profit seven years ago, but seems to have otherwise slipped into history. Adapted by writers including John Sayles (!!!!!), and directed by “Mean Girls” helmer Mark Waters with a killer team (including DP Caleb Deschanel and editor Michael Kahn), it sees a pair of twins (Freddie Highmore) and their sister (Sarah Bolger) discover a field guide to local faeries, unleashing a horde of goblins and ogres, led by a creature voiced by Nick Nolte, to attack the house. The film’s script builds a rich mythology (from the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi) while also staying winningly contained, a sort of splattery, “Gremlins”-esque take on the siege movie. It’s a legitimately thrilling, properly funny adventure (there’s good voice work from Seth Rogen and Martin Short too) that has enough emotional backbone to stop it from feeling slight.
4. “Coraline” (2009)
The first of two animated movies in the upper reaches of our list, “Coraline,” like most Henry Selick movies, should not be mistaken for a cartoon. Based on Neil Gaiman’s novella, the gorgeous stop-motion tale, the first movie from Laika, sees the young title character (Dakota Fanning), ever feuding with her parents, move to an old house where she discovers a secret apartment leading to a parallel world where her parents are joyous and perfect, but have buttons for eyes. It’s essentially Gaiman’s riff on “The Wizard Of Oz” and “Alice In Wonderland,” and Selick builds a fantasy world just as compelling and distinctive as those films, but the beautiful animation means that the ‘real’ world is great as well. Thematically rich, scarier than many horror films and full of wonder, it’s both Laika’s best film to date and the best Gaiman adaptation.
3 The “Hunger Games” series (2012-2015)
The odds were in its favor from the get-go: arriving just as “Twilight” was wrapping up, “The Hunger Games” immediately took over as the new YA phenomenon, ending up four movies later with this week’s “Mockingjay Pt. 2,” with a string of its own imitators, and likely as the biggest grossing YA franchise besides “Harry Potter” (it’s a billion or so behind “Twilight” at present on two fewer movies, but could close that gap with the fourth). It’s also been easily the best of this current wave: smartly made, perfectly cast, surprisingly brutal popular entertainment that doesn’t pander, with a great performance by Jennifer Lawrence at its centre. And more pleasingly, it was fiercely politically-minded, more so than any blockbuster in memory and unapologetically so. It arguably peaked with 2013’s “Catching Fire” —“Mockingjay” is the least of the books, and splitting it into two didn’t help— but this feels like one that’ll stand the test of time.
2. The “How To Train Your Dragon” series (2010-2014)
The Cressida Cowell books they’re based on might skew a little younger than the Divergents of the world, and the movies might be a little more, well, animated, but there’s little doubt that Dreamworks Animation’s “How To Train Your Dragon” movies are YA movies through and through. Teen protagonists in fantastical worlds, proving to be smarter and more open than the adults? Check, check and check. Few YA adaptations have been made with as much love and care as Dean DeBlois’ two films (the first made with Chris Sanders) involving young Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), and his lightning-fast dragon pal Toothless. The films might include spectacular action, some surprisingly effective romance, and jokes (of admittedly mixed results), but at their core is a deeply moving story about friendship and not judging those you’re told are your enemy, and it works like gangbusters. The sequel, where Cate Blanchett joins the fun (if you can call a movie where something as traumatic as what happens two-thirds of the way through here “fun”), isn’t quite the match of its predecessor, but it’s close enough that this reaches our penultimate rank.
1. “Hugo” (2011)
Too young for fans of its director, too old-fashioned for kids, “Hugo” was a movie greenlit only because of the prestige of its helmer: a hugely expensive period piece without much in the way of action or explosions. Like “The Age Of Innocence” and “Kundun,” it’s likely to forever remain underrated in the eyes of mobster-loving Martin Scorsese fanboys, but the director’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s part-illustrated YA novel is a wonder, a swoonsome love letter to cinema that used up-to-the-minute technology (few films have used 3D better) to homage the very beginnings of the medium. Asa Butterfield stars as the title character left orphaned and alone and living in a train station, who soon befriends a cantankerous shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) who may be a pioneering filmmaker. Sometimes feeling like the cinematic version of a pop-up book in the best possible way, it’s a delightful, captivating film that feels among the director’s most personal films, even while it sets out to entertain on every level.
To prevent this getting completely out of hand, we tried to keep to a strict-ish criteria: Protagonists who were teenagers, or near being teenagers. Being based on a book, or looking like it might have been. Some kind of genre-y element. A PG-13 rating at best. And the potential, at least, to be franchised, realized or not. This means that we’ve excluded various films, good and bad, including more grown-up teen pics like “Whip It,” “The Spectacular Now” and “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower,” plus the John Green adaptations, which are admittedly rapidly becoming a franchise to themselves.
Some films also had characters that were too young —“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” or the great, tear-jerking “Bridge To Terabitha,” while others were based on TV series like “Thunderbirds” or “The Last Airbender,” or were based on fantasy classics that aren’t quite YA, like “Lord Of The Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice In Wonderland.” But if there’s anything else you think really deserved to make the cut, you can shout it out below.