'The Choice': How movies based on Nicholas Sparks books have become a cottage industry

'Choice,' which stars Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer, is the eleventh movie to be based on a novel by Sparks. The film is now in theaters.

Dana Hawley/Lionsgate/AP
'The Choice' stars Teresa Palmer (l.) and Benjamin Walker (r.).

“The Choice,” the latest film based on a novel by author Nicholas Sparks, is now in theaters.

“Choice” stars Benjamin Walker of “In the Heart of the Sea” and “Point Break” actress Teresa Palmer. The film tells the story of Travis (Walker), who is working to become a veterinarian, and a woman, Gabby (Palmer), who is a medical student and who moves in next door. The two soon hit it off.

The film co-stars Tom Wilkinson, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, and Maggie Grace.

Critics are far from won over by the film, with Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times calling it “a mediocre, well-photographed, undeniably heart-tugging, annoyingly manipulative and dramatically predictable star-crossed romance,” while Variety writer Andrew Barker called it “the latest, and quite possibly worst, tissue-thin weepie to issue forth from the Nicholas Sparks page-to-screen assembly line … ‘The Choice,’ which mimics [fellow Sparks movie adaptation] ‘The Notebook’ in everything but meaningful conflict, believable characters, style and emotional honesty, is a very unsuccessful story.” 

Meanwhile, New York Times writer Jeanette Catsoulis called it “almost repellently synthetic.” 

“Choice” is the eleventh movie to be adapted from a Sparks film. What makes these adaptations work? 

Smart scheduling may be one factor. While Sparks’ biggest hit, the 2004 film “The Notebook,” came out during the summer, his other highest-grossing films, 2010’s “Dear John” and “Safe Haven,” came out around Valentine’s Day (“Haven” came out on the day itself), most likely the time when audiences would be looking for a romantic film.

(In the last few years, those releasing Sparks movies have no doubt learned to stick to the Valentine’s Day release time, as the lowest-grossing movies based on Sparks books, 2014’s “The Best of Me” and 2015’s “The Longest Ride,” came out in October and April, respectively.)

Deadline writer Nikki Finke noted the success of “John” at this release time, calling the movie’s opening weekend gross “much bigger than expected,” while Los Angeles Times writer Ben Fritz wrote that “’Dear John’ rode a surprisingly strong wave of support.”

What else makes the Sparks movies a success? Female moviegoers. Fritz noted that the opening weekend success of “John” was due “almost entirely to a single demographic: teen and college-age girls.” The opening weekend crowd was 84 percent female. 

And what about the stories appeal to audiences? Washington Post writer Emily Yahr writes that “Sparks’s formula plays into the viewing public’s desire for comfortable predictability ... with a twist. In each of his works, Sparks reels you in with the ultimate relatable theme – love! – and sprinkles in just enough surprises that no two are ever the same. At this point, seeing a Nicholas Sparks movie is like listening to a remake of an old song: You know all the beats, but it’s just different enough to keep your attention.” 

With that release date that’s close to Valentine’s Day, if recent history is any indication, “Choice” could be another box office hit.

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