Image credit: Canva edit
by Akvile Naruseviciute
The dystopian genre has been around for nearly a hundred years. Everyone knows the bleak versions of the future imagined by George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Ray Bradbury. Only recently has the genre taken a slightly different turn towards young adult (YA) fiction – the road of self-discovery guided by the “chosen one” principle. Suzanne Collins’, bestseller The Hunger Games, not only had a major influence on the rise of YA dystopian literature sales, but more importantly, it brought a new genre to Hollywood.
A genre that disappeared as swiftly as it appeared.
The heartbreaking ending of the Harry Potter film series in 2011 and not so sorrowful ending of the Twilight Saga in 2012 left a void in the film industry that needed to be filled. That is when the YA dystopian adaptation era found its way into the studios. Nearly ten years ago the first Hunger Games movie was released. It was a smashing success, making it the highest-grossing Lionsgate movie of all time. The “tributes” (that’s what Hunger Games fans called themselves if you had forgotten) build a worldwide fandom base. No wonder that, following the immense success of The Hunger Games franchise, more studios picked up YA novels for adaptation.
The answer to why the era ended is simple. Rapid production, ie. too many young adult movies coming out at once.
In the period between 2012 to 2018, more YA dystopian movies were produced than could be digested. Over 20 YA dystopian adaptations came out, overfilling the market. Instead of gradually enjoying the escapism of YA fiction, we were overwhelmed. And, that was only with movie adaptations. Let’s not even talk about the amount of YA dystopian novels that were published in that period.
Within a couple of years of The Hunger Games being released, YA dystopia became somewhat cliché. The narratives seemed repetitive, almost every work followed the principle of the ‘chosen one’. I mean, how many Katniss Everdeen’s can be out there?
Most of the trilogies failed to reach the box office numbers that the first movie set and most of them received no ending, like the Divergent series. Even the Mockingjay Part 2 was a successful finale, but an unsuccessful film, partly due to the belief that splitting the last book into two movies was a good idea. Not every adaptation can repeat the success of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows II. The entire genre pretty much died in 2015, with the release of the last Hunger Games movie and with the cancellation of Ascendant the Divergent finale – the second part of the Allegiant book.
But does this mark the end of the YA dystopian era?
The YA fantasy genre, however, might not have died out just yet. In 2021, Leigh Bardugo’s adaptation of the Grishaverse reached Netflix with substantial success. Netflix adapted two of Bardugo’s novels, Shadow and Bone and The Six of Crows, into interconnected narratives – shaking away the curse of ‘the chosen one’ narrative account. Oh! And remember Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series? We were promised a movie back in 2015 which never happened, but it is making a comeback as a tv series, hopefully next year.
With YA fantasy’s promising return to the screens, there is hope for YA dystopian adaptations … as long as they manage to step outside of the ‘the chosen one’ narrative. After the Shadow and Bone success, my hunch is that Netflix might just manage to bring back the YA dystopian era.
Fingers crossed, and may the odds be ever in your favour.