Top 10 Failed Film Franchises Based on YA Novels

I’m not going to lie even at 28 I still enjoy a good young adult novel series now and then. I even enjoy it when my favorite such books are turned into movies and let’s face it this is a formula that works because it targets growing movie fans looking for something to relate to. However, believe it or not these franchises fail more than they offer good returns. For every “Harry Potter” franchise there is an “Eragon”. For every “Maze Runner” there is a “Golden Compass”. Whether it’s due to an overuse of creative license or just simply poor filmmaking many young adult franchises fall long before they have the chance to reach their conclusion. With a new hopeful franchise launching this weekend in “The Darkest Minds” I decided to put together my own version of an overdone list many others before me have covered and explore those young adult franchises that tried and failed. These are my picks for the Top 10 Failed Film Franchises Based on YA Novels.

For this list I looked at attempted movie franchises based on young adult novel properties that never concluded or, in many cases, never even got past the first film. With that in mind any series that completed their stories or were meant to be one-off standalone projects upon release were not considered for this list. Movie’s whose sequels are still up in the air but as of this post were considered “unlikely” were considered. Also for the sake of this list I used the term “young adult” loosely to describe any movie series meant to target a teen or tween demographic.

I’m also not judging the quality of these series as much as I am the infamy of their failures. Obviously if they were terrible films and that’s why they failed that will play into this list but the focus here is not just on these films being bad, but their inability to cash in on the marketable franchise of books that sparked their existence in the first place.

What young adult novel adaptation failure disappointed you the most? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list! Look for my review of “The Darkest Minds” coming soon.



10. The “Divergent” Series


It’s hard to call the “Divergent” series a complete failure simply because it produced three movies but where “Divergent” went wrong became a lesson for future filmmakers that sometimes less is indeed more. Despite having two successful entries in “Divergent” and “Insurgent”, the filmmakers and studio made the unwise decision to split the final book, “Allegiant”, into two films reminiscent of similar series like “The Twilight Saga”, the “Harry Potter” series and “The Hunger Games”. However, the problem was these series, at least in the later two cases, did so with the intent of at least trying to avoid compromising the stories presented in the novels. With “Divergent” fans were already angry at the use of creative license. This combined with moviegoers finally seeing through the money-making ruse that studios were employing to cash in on franchises beyond the final installments led to “Allegiant” being a box office failure and the final movie, which was intended to be called “Ascendant”, was scrapped. There have been rumblings that a television series would be produced to complete the series but nearly all of the cast members decided to back out leaving Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment at a loss for what to do next. As a result fans will likely be robbed of a final conclusion to the cliffhanger in “Allegiant”.



9. “The Chronicles of Narnia” Franchise

Like “Divergent”, It’s odd to call the attempted cinematic adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series a complete failure because there were several successful films produced from the franchise. The first entry, an adaptation of arguably the most iconic book in the series “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, was a certified phenomenon earning $745 million at the box office worldwide and was only topped by “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” movies in terms of total gross in 2005. However since then the series has faltered a bit. “Prince Caspian” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” also became successful movies but a new entry has not been produced since 2010 leaving this series in limbo. Recently Joe Johnston was hired to direct an adaptation of “The Silver Chair” after the property changed hands with the film being a pseudo-continuation of the previous three films incorporating a new cast and crew thus acting as a soft reboot. While not everyone would consider this series a “failure” just yet the “Narnia” series has had an undeniably messy road so far with a lack of conviction to seeing each book through and making this seven novel series the cohesive, consistent and truly epic cinematic franchise it deserves to be. And there’s not much of an excuse either. The first movie was released in the middle of Potter mania where a new “Harry Potter” film was released every year. “Narnia” could have easily followed that route with seven books of its own. Instead the original remains a classic while the sequels have faded into relative obscurity.



8. The “Percy Jackson” Series


The “Percy Jackson” franchise isn’t really a financial failure. Both 2010’s “The Lightning Thief” and 2013’s “Seas of Monsters” made over $200 million at the box office but the writing was on the wall once 20th Century Fox announced that “Sea of Monsters” would be a stand-alone sequel. Things got even worse when the second movie introduced Thalia Grace at the end of the film, an important character in the novels whose existence teased a sequel. That third film never transpired and it’s been five years with little to no progress towards bringing other novels in Rick Riordan’s collection to life. One of the biggest roadblocks is the age of the actors. Stars Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario have grown up since the second movie and Lerman himself has shown concern that the original cast may be unable to continue to portray their younger characters. Despite decent returns Fox has yet to move forward with bringing anything new to the series and with the impending purchase of Fox’s properties by Disney it looks like any sequel to the current series may not come to light leaving fans of this franchise with a cliffhanger that won’t soon be resolved.



7. The 5th Wave”


I’ve actually read these novels and they’re not that bad. Rick Yancey’s “5th Wave” trilogy was slated to become Columbia Pictures stake in the young adult movie hype but the first film in the planned trilogy, released in 2016, fell on deaf ears. Despite the star power of Chloe Grace Moretz in the leading role the first entry never really found its footing and was plagued by poor critical reception as well as being released in a time where fatigue for young adult franchises was finally setting in. Also it’s not like Hollywood was short on alien movies either which left “The 5th Wave” feeling generic, derivative and poorly timed. In the end the film barely doubled its production budget which wasn’t enough for the studio to move forward with the sequels. Calls for “The Infinite Sea” to be made are still being heard loud and clear by fans but no production schedule has been announced. Despite leaving the first film on the same cliffhanger as the book on which it was based it looks like fans will just have to read the sequel novels to find out what happens next. A few years earlier and it’s possible “The 5th Wave” could have been the next big thing, but unfortunately is wasn’t meant to be.



6. “I Am Number Four”


“I Am Number Four” seemed to suffer from a combination of issues including many of the same problems as “The 5th Wave”. Mainly the movie was considered derivative and bland with critics and fans didn’t seem interested in jumping on board either despite the source material, the “Lorien Legacies” series, having incredible potential. The movie only made $150 million at the box office in 2011 and received scathing critical reviews that left its future hanging by a thread. Plans for a sequel were officially shelved that same year but as of 2013 a possible continuation of the franchise was still being considered. The most recent news on this series was in 2015 when the series’ co-author James Frey expressed hope that more movies would be made. The problem is there’s not a ton of interest. Fans haven’t’ exactly been crying out for the series to continue either because the movie was underwhelming or there was just no call for a film adaptation in the first place. “I Am Number Four” tried to find a niche where is could earn a few dollars and justify a new cinematic franchise but lacked the star power, interest or quality to pull it off.



5. “The Mortal Instruments” Series


While not as big a flop as fellow 2013 release “Beautiful Creatures”, the attempted adaptation of the first book in the “Mortal Instruments” series “City of Bones” has earned infamy over the years for pretty much solidifying the impending death of the young adult genre in film. This movie, based on the first of several urban fantasy books by Cassandra Clare, was torn apart by critics and was even compared to previous young adult misfires like “The Host” and “Beautiful Creatures” as an inferior film. Fans didn’t take well to the adaptation either with Rotten Tomatoes putting the movie at 58% in their viewer ratings and the numbers showed. The film only made $90 million on a $60 million budget despite being a bigger name than many of the previous movies that also bombed. Some called it a “full-blown disaster” at the box office. In the end it was overshadowed by entries in the “Divergent” series and “The Hunger Games” franchise that same year and became one of the most talked about cinematic failures of 2013. The planned trilogy was soon scrapped and a TV series was greenlit which has since gone on to be much more successful with its third season set to continue next year. Oh, and speaking of “Beautiful Creatures”…

4. “Beautiful Creatures”


While it was never truly confirmed that a sequel was going to be considered, it’s hard to imagine that this film was made without the idea of a franchise in mind. It was released in the midst of the “Harry Potter” craze and only a year after “The Hunger Games” proved young adult adaptations were still marketable. Based on the first book in the four-piece “Caster Chronicles”, 2013’s “Beautiful Creatures” had several big names attached but that wasn’t enough to draw anyone to see it. It barely made back its $60 million budget and received mixed reviews from both critics and fans of the novels with some saying they enjoyed the direction the film took while others disowned it completely. That said it’s hard to commit to a franchise like this when even the fan base you trying to pull in feels mixed on whether or not to support it. “Beautiful Creatures” came and went in the blink of an eye leaving many wondering if the film should have ever been green lit in the first place. Like “City of Bones”, some even blame “Beautiful Creatures” for starting the young adult fatigue phenomenon that eventually led to the genre all but dying out three years later and studios becoming much more caution about such properties. In the end the rumored hope for sequels faded away and “Beautiful Creatures” was left in infamy as a major bust for Warner Bros.



3. “Ender’s Game”


Yet ANOTHER 2013 failure, this film was bombarded with controversy leading up to its release. Despite being among the oldest and most respected adapted books featured on this list, “Ender’s Game” did not translate well as a movie to the big screen and thus left its future up in the air. What makes this movie’s failure so notable is that part of its lackluster returns was due to a boycott. The book’s author Orson Scott Card is openly anti-LGBT which left many refusing to see the film to avoid celebrating his works. Even when the movie was finally released filmgoers were given little reason to jump on board because the movie adaptation had compromised a lot of the thought provoking themes of the book although it was much more critically accepted than many other entries on this countdown. In the end the boycott and lack of interest hurt the film’s success as it only made $125.5 million on an estimated $110-$115 million budget effectively sidelining any sequel. Rumors that same year did imply a sequel script was already written but as of 2014 Lionsgate had not made a decision on the future of the franchise although, like many recent book adaptations, a television spinoff has reportedly been considered as the next step.



2. “Eragon”


There’s infamy, and then there’s “Eragon”. Despite being a financial success few films can claim they were so bad and hated by fans that the studio ditched any sequel effort simply out of fear that success wouldn’t continue. The movie became one of the worst reviewed films of 2006 and while devoted fans of the “Inheritance Cycle” books did offer their support by turning out to see the film in theaters, those same fans weren’t too happy with the result which earned “Eragon” credit as one of the most despised modern book-to-screen adaptations to date. While the series on which it was based went on to continue to be a successful literary franchise, this poor attempt at starting a film series died out quickly and the planned sequels, which were set to be filmed back to back, were canceled. “Eragon’s” poor reputation can’t even be blamed on the over-saturating of young adult adaptations at the time. Really the only competing franchise was the “Harry Potter” series and the popularity of such films only increased in the years since. No, “Eragon” failed because it was simply a bad movie and one that fans chose to forsake for its sometimes egregious use of creative license to tell the story. Small details were changed for really no reason other than to give it an identity it didn’t need. So much potential wasted for very little payoff.



1. “The Golden Compass”


Despite winning a BAFTA and an Academy Award, 2007’s “The Golden Compass” has a much larger reputation as a failure on most levels when compared to its source material. Already plagued by delays due to script rewrites and finding a director, “The Golden Compass”, based on “Northern Lights” from Philip Pullman’s much respected “His Dark Materials” trilogy, was heavily criticized for diluting elements of the original story. These elements added depth and significance to the source material by providing commentary on religion but the movie all but ignored those nuances and wasn’t better off for it, sparking fan backlash before the film even hit theaters. When it was released “The Golden Compass” received mixed reviews and became financially successful, winning an Oscar for visual effects, but not as successful as the studio wanted. The film performed particularly poor in the United States and in 2011 author Philip Pullman revealed that no sequels would be made and “The Golden Compass” became a prime example of the risks studios take when approached an allegedly “unfilmable” product and doing so without conviction. New Line Cinema was accused of caving to the Catholic Church and those who saw the film were left with a cliffhanger ending that, like others on this list, will now remain unresolved. What could have been an insightful and provocative legendary tale of cinema was reduced to a relatively bland, cookie cutter fantasy story with no vision for its future which ironically resulted in no future at all.



2 thoughts

  1. Definitely agree with you on this list, especially The Golden Compass. It makes me so mad that they actually filmed more of the ending scene from the book (basically almost like fifteen to twenty minutes), but they cut it from the film stating that they were gonna save it for the opening of the second movie. Sadly, the second movie never materialize. Now, I rather just see a director’s cut / extended version of The Golden Compass with the footage added in.


  2. This list was put together very well, Jason! I’ve only seen the first two movies in the Divergent and Chronicles of Narnia series, but I’ve heard of all the movies on this list. What about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? Only the first book was adapted into a film and I haven’t heard anything about the other two books in Ransom Riggs’ series being adapted into films.


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