'The 5th Wave': What makes a YA movie franchise work?

The movie 'Wave,' which is based on the novel of the same name by Rick Yancey, is the newest attempt by Hollywood to make a hit out of a young adult book series. What has made some of these films succeed and some fail?

Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures/AP
'The 5th Wave' stars Chloe Grace Moretz.

“The 5th Wave,” which is now in theaters, is the newest movie to be adapted from a young adult bestseller. 

“Wave,” which is by Rick Yancey, tells the story of teenager Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz), who must learn to get by on her own when a series of attacks by aliens takes place on Earth.

The first book came out in 2013 and the third book in the planned trilogy is scheduled to come out this May.

The studio behind “Wave,” Columbia Pictures, is no doubt hoping “Wave” can join such film series as “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” as adaptations of books for younger readers that become huge hits at the box office. 

What separates movies like “Potter” and “Games” from movies that attempted to bring young adult books to the screen and didn’t win over audiences?

Being a literary phenomenon helps. “Games” experienced huge sales, becoming a pop culture-dominating force, as did the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer, and the “Potter” series are of course some of the bestselling books of all time.

When there is that level of awareness for your book series, chances are good that enough of those readers will decide to seek out the movie adaptation to translate into hit numbers.

Having something different also seems key. It’s difficult to remember now, but the dystopian future of “Games” was relatively new to a certain viewer. If a movie like “The Giver,” which did not do well at the box office in 2014, is just the newest in a long line of similarly themed films and isn’t a well-made film, viewers most likely won’t respond. 

Vulture writer Kyle Buchanan wrote of “Games," “It had the advantage of being first to a genre – YA adaptations focusing on a dystopian future with a female protagonist and valuable hints of romance – that is now becoming crowded.” 

Those making the movie not taking out what makes a book different can also be important. Critics and fans alike have complained of some of these young adult adaptations that the film’s creators have removed what made a story original and instead tried to make it fit a cookie-cutter YA mold. “’The Giver’ reaches the screen in a version that captures the essence of Lowry’s affecting allegory but little of its mythic pull,” Variety writer Scott Foundas wrote of the film, while A.V. Club writer Becca James wrote of a movie adaptation of the novel “The City of Ember,” “Director Gil Kenan’s rush to get through the material glossed over much of [Jeanne] DuPrau’s engaging and explanatory plot.”

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