It’s pretty common for Hollywood to get the rights for books to then adapt them into what they hope to be hit films. With the likes of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games becoming worldwide box office successes, it’s understandable that more book series have been adapted in the hope of being the next big hit. If Twilight and The Hunger Games have shown us anything, it’s that Young Adult (YA) novels can build a dedicated fanbase, meaning that if the first film is done right, a strong case can be made that the rest of the franchise will do well. But what about the first instalments that flopped? Below we’ve got 10 popular YA series that never made it passed the first film. Whether it was bad writing, poor acting or staying too far from the beloved books, these series deserved better.
10 Beautiful Creatures (2013)
Hot on the heels of the Twilight frenzy, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles seemed like the perfect “next big thing.” A similar central plotline to Twilight, you’ve got a human whose romantically involved with a supernatural creature, in this case a “Caster” who will be claimed by either the Light or Dark by her 16th birthday. One review of the 1st book of the series said ‘there’s plenty teens will like: romance, magic, hauntings, and the promise of more to come’ and Publishers Weekly stated that it had a ‘compelling and dimensional mythology.’
Unfortunately, this didn’t translate onto the big screen. Grossing at only $60.1mill on a budget of $60mill, the film bombed. It was even listed in Variety Magazine as ‘one of Hollywood’s biggest box office bombs of 2013’. Sadly, Garcia & Stohl’s work falls victim to Hollywood trying to replicate another film’s success rather than explore and celebrate the unique aspects of the Caster Chronicles that separate it from others in the overpopulated genre.
9 Inkheart (2008)
Beloved German author Cornelia Funke is ‘called the German answer to J.K. Rowling’ with both creating magical worlds an audience can’t help but fall in love with. With a book that sold 3 million copies worldwide, the 2008 film is simply a disappointment. Barely a financial success (a budget of $60mill only grossed $62mill), the main issue with this adaptation is the cutting of a lot of backstory. Naturally, there’s always going to be cuts in book-to-movie adaptation, but the choice of cuts here makes it a confusing film. For an audience who have read the books and familiar with the backstory, the film makes sense. But for anyone who watches the film without this knowledge, it just misses the mark.
The magic that is translated so well in the Harry Potter franchise is not mirrored here. The general consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is that the film is ‘heavy on clichés and light on charm’ and ‘this kid lit fantasy adventure doesn’t quite get off the ground.’ Sadly, author Cornelia Funke has the same thought on the adaptation, saying on reflection that ‘a book is like a flying carpet, you give it to the movies and they hand you a napkin and say, “this is the same thing, Cornelia!” but it’s not!’
8 The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)
In the overpopulated world of YA fantasy, it is crucial for a film to find its own unique take when using a popular trope. Unfortunately, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones doesn’t quite manage to find its place. Referred to by The Telegraph as ‘one of the most disastrous page-to-screen adaptations in memory’, the film was panned by critics despite its box office success. Critics generally agreed that there was no originality to the film. Rotten Tomatoes states that it ‘borrows ingredients from seemingly every fantasy franchise of the last 30 years- but can’t seem to figure out what to do with them’ whilst The Hollywood Reporter states it ‘seldom feels like anything more than a shameless, soulless knockoff.’
A sequel never happened, but clearly the strong potential of The Mortal Instruments series was too good of an opportunity to waste. It was announced in 2014 that the books would be made into a TV series. Shadowhunters premiered in 2016 and ran for 3 series until its cancellation in 2019.
7 Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)
A key problem with making the first film of a franchise is the balance between the ability for it to work as a standalone film and setting it up for a sequel. If you look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Twilight, if for some reason the production of their follow up films were discontinued, they would still work (and make sense) on their own. Where Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant fails is the introduction of several characters that have no purpose in the film except to set it up for a sequel- a sequel that never happened because the film made a financial loss (grossing at $39.2mill on a $40mill budget).
Cirque de Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant combined all 3 books of Darren Shan’s Vampire Blood Trilogy (of the wider series The Saga of Darren Shan) into one film. This has been proven to work with the likes of A Series of Unfortunate Events which was a box office hit. Unfortunately, in this case they focussed too much on the potential future films than the one facing them. As The Hollywood Reporter summarises perfectly ‘one of the film’s biggest burdens is to establish characters and subplots for potential sequels […] the trouble is, too many characters must be introduced in the interest of future episodes without having much to do with this one.’
6 Fallen (2016)
With a devoted fanbase behind the 6-book series, the film adaptation of Lauren Kate’s first instalment made every mistake we’ve mentioned so far. Considering Fallen reached #3 on The New York Times’ Best Seller List of Children’s Books in Jan 2010 (and remained there until April 2011), there was a lot of great source material to work with. Yet it was barely a box office success. Whatever was popular in the book did not translate to the film, with critics labelling it ‘an eye-rollingly predictable romance’ and ‘nothing but a weaker version of everything that came before it.’
Not only did it come across as unoriginal, but it also fell into the trap of focussing too heavily on the set up for future films over the content of the film at hand. Unsurprisingly, no sequel has been confirmed, although there are still some rumours floating about that one may be in the works.
5 Eragon (2006)
Box office success does not guarantee a hit franchise, and nothing proves that more than Eragon. Grossing at $250.4mill, Eragon was the 31st highest grossing film of 2006. On the flip side, it was the 10th worst reviewed film of 2006 by Rotten Tomatoes. There was a worldwide consensus that the film was bad across the board- acting, visuals, writing and faithfulness to the book. Considering the first two books of The Inheritance Cycle were New York Times Best Sellers, there was a wealth of source material to work with. Yet instead reviews labelled it as ‘amateur writing and borrowing from Lord of the Rings’ and the world of Eragon as ‘without much texture or depth’.
Originally, Eragon was supposed to be the first of three films, with the next two to be filmed back to back, but because of negative reviews the rest of the series was cancelled.
4 I Am Number Four (2011)
As the first novel of the Lorien Legacies, I Am Number Four reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List in Children’s Chapter Books and stayed there for 7 consecutive weeks. Despite the 7-book series having a loyal following, the sci fi film adaptation was written off as unoriginal, with ‘bland archetypes and listless recycling of elements from countless other YA titles.’
Although it’s not necessarily considered a box off flop (it grossed at $150mill on a budget of $50mill), any sort of sequel was cancelled. There was clearly hope for a sequel, with reviews stating that the first instalment was ‘loaded with plot devices […] that aren’t fully explained or were seemingly included so they could play a more important role in the followups.’ Despite this, screenwriter Noxon said in 2011 that plans for a sequel were cancelled because of how poorly I Am Number Four was received.
3 Vampire Academy (2014)
Proof that you can’t just stick vampires in a film and expect success, Vampire Academy is nothing short of a flop. With a $30mill budget, the film only grossed $15.4mill and Rolling Stones gave it brutally said the film ‘needs a stake in the heart’. Although many of the adaptations on the list include supernatural creatures, most of them- including this one- fail in their originality. It’s easy for critics and viewers to spot not only similarities but replications of successful series, which is never going to guarantee success. The beauty of series like Harry Potter and Twilight is that they are the first of their kind in a generation.
Whilst the book was voted #4 in ALA’s Teens Top 10, the film only has a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the general consensus being that it ‘borrows lazily from its predecessors and offers few laughs or thrills to complement its overstuffed backstory’.
2 City of Ember (2008)
The biggest financial flop on the list, City of Ember had a budget of $55mill and only grossed $17.9mill. The saving grace of City of Ember was Saoirse Ronan in the main, heroine role. Critics praised the young actress but found little else about the film to compliment. New York Times writer Stephen Holden said that the ‘talents of Saoirse Ronan […] wasted in the science-fiction juvenilia of City of Ember’ whilst Katey Rich from Cinema Blend said that ‘Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic heroine, but the story and the rest of the cast can’t keep up with her lively pace.’
You only have to compare the book reviews to reviews of the film to see just how much the films lacked the excitement of Jeanne DuPrau’s series. Where the book was described as having ‘full-blooded characters as every bit as good as the plot which would hook readers until the end,’ the film was labelled as a ‘simple minded exercise in juvenile dystopia’ that ‘had been shredded in the editing room.’
1 The Golden Compass (2007)
The #1 spot could only go to the 2007 film adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights, The Golden Compass. Pullman’s series tackles themes of religion and control in a world that is overpowered by The Magisterium (also referred to as ‘The Church’). Although there was some critical debate regarding Pullman’s criticism of Christianity, notable figures such as Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) support the novel and recommended the series for discussion in R.E lessons.
The powerful themes and statements were diluted and redirected the corrupted power away from any religious connotations. The film was a hugely edited down version of the book with ‘focus upon the bare bones’ and ‘removes the very purpose and soul of Pullman’s books.’ Despite moving away from the corrupted Church, the Catholic League called for a boycott of the film, as watching the film would lead to reading the books, which promote atheism. The film was not successful, and star Sam Elliot blamed the discontinued trilogy on censorship and the Catholic Church. All is not lost for adapting Pullman’s trilogy. In November 2019, His Dark Materials TV series was released, which is much more loyal to the trilogy and doesn’t hide the connection between the Magisterium and the Church. Season 3 is currently in the works and the series has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.