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How 'Hunger Games' and YA lit are re-shaping the Hollywood blockbuster

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Matthew Lewis, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2


When JK Rowling sold the film rights to her first four Harry Potter novels in 1999, few could have predicted the lasting impact this would have on both the literary and cinematic worlds. As Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone became a box office smash at the tail end of 2001, Rowling was still midway through writing her seven-novel saga.

This steady stream of films and books kept Potter in the spotlight - by the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 premiered in Trafalgar Square in 2011 the hype was deafening, public affection at an all-time high and Potter's status as a pop cultural phenomenon was cemented.

In Hollywood, the success of Potter (and the vacuum it left behind) led to a mad scramble to find 'the next big thing' for teens - audiences with disposable income who hoover up Young Adult literature (or YA as it's commonly abbreviated) and are more inclined than most to visit the cinema on opening weekend.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson
Hot on Potter's heels Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's series about dangerous vampire/human love, took in more than $3 billion at the box office thanks to a fervent following and the appeal of its lead stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

Potter, such a unique world unto itself, is tricky to replicate, but the success of Twilight sent Hollywood development execs to the bookshelves in search of love triangles and supernatural romances. Young Adult novels - all generally pivoting on young protagonists forced to come of age - are the blockbusters of the literary world, and Hollywood wants a piece of that action.

Replicating that success is easier said than done, though. Beautiful Creatures came and went earlier this year and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones failed to strike a chord with a wide audience. Despite the perceived failure of the latter, studio Constantin Film is ploughing ahead with sequel City of Ashes in the hope that it can expand on the core audience who devoured Cassandra Clare's fantasy novels.

And then there's The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins's dystopian sci-fi series has shifted over 65 million copies (a hefty drop compared to Twilight's 116 million and Potter's 450 million), but the movie adaptation came flying out of the gate last year with critical raves, an impressive $690 million box office haul and a leading lady in Jennifer Lawrence who was fast-ascending to the A-list.


Why did The Hunger Games succeed where others have failed? Simply put, it's offering cinemagoers something new and exciting, and crucially not leaning heavily on a property they're already seen before (it doesn't take a genius to see the clear parallels between Twilight's storyline and its subsequent YA imitators).

"But it's just like Battle Royale," you cry in protest. That's true to a point, but the violent Japanese classic exists predominantly in the realm of cult movies and was never going to get the widespread exposure of The Hunger Games. For the majority of people who brought a ticket to see Katniss Everdeen's inaugural fight for survival, this was the first they'd ever seen of something like this.

With YA adaptations all the rage, Digital Spy takes a look at four upcoming movies and ponder how they might fare in the post-Hunger Games landscape...

Divergent

When it's out: March 2014
Who's involved: Neil Burger, Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Veronica Roth
What you need to know: In a futuristic society where people are placed into one of five factions, teens are put through rigorous physical and mental tests should they choose to step outside the groups they are born into. Tris Prior learns that she is a 'divergent' - someone with aptitude for different factions - and discovers a plot to wipe out all others like her.

Divergent's core themes of identity, free will and rebellion are likely to strike a chord with filmgoers, but to the uninitiated this feels like it's sailing close to The Hunger Games in terms of tone and story. Shailene Woodley is on the verge of making it big, and this could be the vehicle to shoot her into the stratosphere.


Vampire Academy

When it's out: February 2014
Who's involved: Mark Waters, Zoey Deutch, Sarah Hyland
What you need to know: Zoey Deutch, daughter of '80s screen icon Leah Thompson and Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch, leads the cast of this vampire film about a battle between two breeds of bloodsuckers called the Moroi (human/vamp hybrids) and Strigoi (immortal).

On the surface this adaptation of Richelle Mead's paranormal bestseller may seem like it's sailing too close to Twilight, but in Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Heathers), the film has a director who knows how to make teen movies work spectacularly well. Positive word of mouth, and perhaps the reassurance that this offers something different to Twilight, will likely dictate if this flies.


The Giver

When it's out: August 2014
Who's involved: Phillip Noyce, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift
What you need to know: Lois Lowry's novel blends dystopian and utopian fiction to tell a story of a boy called Jonas who lives in a society free of emotion. Jonas, played by Hollywood newcomer Brenton Thwaites, is selected by The Giver (Jeff Bridges) to receive all memories of pain, sadness and war in case he is required to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make.

In Phillip Noyce, this adaptation has an experienced director used to taking on ambitious blockbusters. The vivid world of The Giver is one that seems ripe for the big screen, while its eclectic and impressive cast suggest this might have something to offer.

Jeff Bridges attends the "Seventh Son" panel on Day 4 of Comic-Con

© Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Taylor Swift poses backstage with the award

© Evan Agostini/AP/Press Association Images



The Maze Runner

When it's out: September 2014
Who's involved: Wes Ball, Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario What you need to know: Bourne meets The Hunger Games as Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up with no memory of who he is or how he landed in 'The Glade', a maze that's trapped 60 other teen boys. The arrival of a girl in the community, Skins's Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, sets in motion a break-neck story that sees the group confronting terrifying creatures called Grievers as they bid to escape.

Author James Dashner penned three sequels to The Maze Runner, so this could be a ready-made franchise if it hits. Wes Ball is making his directorial debut on the project, but has attracted a fine cast of rising stars to the film. By the time this comes around next year - on the heels of the similar Catching Fire and Divergent - could audiences be experiencing YA fatigue?

The Maze Runner, Dylan O'Brien


Which YA movie are you most looking forward to seeing? Leave your views in the comments section below!

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