Sorry YA movies that never finished their franchises

Where fighting becomes foreplay!

I’m the member of the RunPee family who LOVES the YA (young adult) Dystopian/Fantasy genre. Harry Potter is still an obsession for me (and I’m 50). I re-read The Hunger Games every year, and watch the franchise even more. I even think Twilight was decent, although The Host was better.

So, what’s the deal with this post-millennial spaghetti-on-the-wall approach to YA series? Do the studios really think every dystopian and fantasy series is worthy of the full big screen treatment? And if they do put out an origin story on spec, do they care about following through with the series? And what happens when the young actors age out of their roles?

Am I just barking down a well, here? Woof, woof — does anyone care ?

I ask right now because I just watched The Darkest Minds (2018). It was…okay. Was it good enough to follow through to the end of the franchise? I’d probably say no. I’ve been burned a lot recently.

Here’s a list of YA series that will probably never see completion, for better or worse:

A Wrinkle In Time (2018) — This was just awful; totally incomprehensible. The company spent some money on it, but somewhere along the way it devolved into a hot mess. I don’t expect any of the sequels will be forthcoming.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) — There are so many childish books in this series that kind of sucked — I lost interest early on while reading them. How many of these books came out? I can’t say. I couldn’t be interested enough to watch any of them onscreen. Remarkably juvenile writing, IMO. (Looking it up, three movies of the 13 books actually made it to the theaters.)

Maze Runner (2014-2018) — I recently rewatched Maze Runner, and I have my opinion — it’s an okay version of an actually quite decent book. The sequel was middling, and the third film was frankly awful. Is there more to come? Do I care? This is ridiculous. Nothing made any sense in the 3rd film, and my Peetimes probably reflected this.

Divergent (2014-16) — I’m not sure how many books made it through to the screen. Three? Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant? All I have to say is that the first movie hewed close enough to the book to be worthwhile, and things fell apart quickly after that. I think I turned off Insurgent halfway through, and certainly didn’t bother with the third. Is there more? Do I care? (Note: Ascendant is supposed to follow soon as a TV series, but Shailene Woodley isn’t bothering to appear.)

The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-10) — This one hurts. As a child, waaaay before I picked up The Lord of the Rings (best book ever penned), this was my absolute favorite novel series in the world. In the universe! I believed if I had enough faith, when I died that I’d go to Narnia. I even had a special role — I was a forest nymph. My best friend and I made up stories about our lives in a magical meadow in Narnia…and as grownups, we re-met to hold our hands and hold our breath, trembling with excitement, and watch The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on the big screen. And you know what? It was kind of lame. Prince Caspian was about the same, while my favorite book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was only a little bit better. Not better enough to save the series. If they ever do The Silver Chair, they’re going to have to hire newer, younger actors in a sort of soft reboot. Oh, well. I’ll always have The Lord of the Rings to rewatch.

The Golden Compass (2007) — to be honest, I tried to read the book and stopped pretty early in. I would love to give this series the full shake, but it seemed so…well, dark. It’s called His Dark Materials, so I guess that is to be expected. From the photos and the trailer, it looks really pretty, but it flew so far under the radar that I kind of can’t be bothered. One case where riding a super cool polar bear just isn’t enough.

I am Number Four (2011) — I did like this movie. I like the science fantasy aspects, and the story was well supported by both cast and narrative. Not enough to save it, however. Next.

Eragon (2006) — I didn’t bother with this one, so I’d love to hear if anyone enjoyed it. Dragons and fantasy sounds right up my alley, but all reviews say this was the pits, and there’s no news for keeping the saga going.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2010 and 2013) — These were pretty good! So why the silence? Good novels, decent films…and crickets. I would have stayed with this one. Bummer.

The Black Cauldron (1985) — Well, hmph. The Chronicles of Prydain is an underrated classic, and I’d love for some studio to try this again. The seven-novel YA series was my second youthful favorite adventure tale after the The Chronicles of Narnia, and since this one kickstarted so long ago, a reboot might do well. I mean, they did this one in the 80s! I doubt anyone has anything to hold against this poor attempt to get Taran’s saga going. Disney owns it, and they might be ready to option it again. Please, somebody give this excellent series a fair chance.

Vampire Academy (2014) — This sounds great on paper, sort of like a Harry Potter/Buffy match up. I’d watch that. Except somehow this was so bad I’d never even heard of it. Someone must have really screwed the pooch to mangle a really cool premise like this.

Ender’s Game (2013) — This one is truly a bad deal for us all. The book is magnificent. It was only a middling movie. You could watch it, and even sort of enjoy it, but Orson Scott Card’s literary masterpiece didn’t manage to move people in the theater. Maybe they can reboot it sometime and get the entire series done right. Or better yet, leave it be. Just re-read the novels.

The Mortal Instruments (2013) — Another one that slipped under my radar. There’s six books in this one, and people say the novels are fine. That doesn’t mean it translated well to the cinema, since it slid quietly into dust.

There’s more. I can delve further into the failed classics and promising franchises, but it’s frankly too depressing to keep going. Feel free to discuss what I missed and what I’m wrong about in the comments.

As for me, I’ll still keep the flame burning. I’m a believer in the genre, and I know there’s some good ones yet to emerge. Besides, someone has to watch these films and get the Peetimes for RunPee. 🙂

Related: 

Movie Review – The Darkest Minds

Movie Review – A Wrinkle In Time

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Movie Review – The Mockingjay, Part 2

Movie Review – Maze Runner, The Death Cure

Movie Review – Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Movie Review – The Vampire Academy

Movie Review – Twilight Eclipse

Movie Review – Twilight New Moon

Movie Review – Twilight Breaking Dawn, Part 2

Jill Florio

Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)

Movie Review – A Wrinkle in Time

I’m trying to figure out how to make A Wrinkle in Time make any sense. I love fantasy and science fiction, and am very forgiving of stories in these genres. From the trailer, I figured this would be a really pretty excursion into time travel, with kids discovering their powers in a whimsical land. The early reviews seemed disappointing, but I figured something visually enchanting would be enough for a pleasant afternoon.

But honestly, after my viewing, I’m not sure where the plot was going at all. I’m more confused what this movie was about than I’ve been in…ever? I didn’t read the 1962 children’s book this was based on, so that might be a part of my confusion. But a movie should stand on its own, regardless.

The original, award-winning novel is a slender volume, and I tried to read it a few times in my youth. I devoured fantasy voraciously, re-reading Lord of the Rings annually, and hoped the movie would encourage me to go back and finally get through the book. I’m still the perfect target audience, so I’m forced to think the movie just isn’t a good one.

It’s certainly a baseline attractive flick, with some occasional unique imagery…but it’s not as lovely as many other fantasies out there. I was expecting something on the ambitious level of Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (another convoluted and unsatisfying film, but a visual treat), or Avatar (which is a work of art AND delivers on its story potential). Disney can do outstandingly pretty work, and very recently too: as in Coco, Finding Dory, the new Star Wars films, and their most recent MCU offerings of Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. So,  A Wrinkle in Time gets a “+” tacked onto my review grade for being nice-looking — however, this studio should have made this older classic stunning, and could have, if they tried.

Story-wise, you don’t get to know the characters well at all, and the execution is very convoluted. The moment when [a plot thing] is found is completely underwhelming. Normally the child actors in a Disney film are pretty good, but I have to admit I didn’t care for any of the three leads. (Or the adult leads. Only Chris Pine, in essentially a cameo role, brought any spark.)

One other thing: I think a good compositional arrangement could have raised the bar on WIT considerably. A nice track, with some good evocative and repeating themes, would have gone a long way. Think of all the wonderful genre films that make you feel, care, and sometimes cry, cued along by a wonderful soundtrack. Think of almost anything by John Williams. Now imagine those movies without his work. WIT stood out musically, in absentia.

I wish I could say better things, and I’m sure some folks enjoyed WIT. Personally, I can’t recommend this one. Even in 3D, I didn’t think this was worth a trip to the theater. I was actually the only person in the room on opening night, and that made me wonder how everyone else knew the movie was going to be a flop. Not even Oprah or Reese Witherspoon (who really didn’t seem like they were trying) could save this film from the dustbins of…well…time.

Grade: D+

Jill Florio

Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)