This was the question that was raised in the back of my mind in the beginning of 2016. It’s no secret the latest Allegiant movie starring Shailene Woodley bombed at the box office. That came in the heels of the weak performance of another Sci-Fi movie: The 5th Wave, debuting at a little over ten million for its opening weekend. Up till last fall, YA books seemed to be all the rage especially from the dystopian sector. Not surprisingly Hollywood picked up on the popularity of books like the Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner and The Giver and began adapting these widely acclaimed novels into the big screen. While most of these book-to-movie adaptions started off strong, recent under-performances of the latest installments leaves me questioning not only the dystopian movie series they inspired but the market for that genre as a whole.
You could say the Hunger Games was the spark that made dystopian fiction catch fire in pop culture. While it’s safe to conclude it hasn’t dethroned big giants such as romance, many of these YA novels have wisely incorporated romantic subplots, furthering expanding their market-base. And with strong performances from the first two Hunger Games installments at the box office, it was clear dystopian fiction had a solid fan-base. What movies like Hunger Games did though was set the bar high for the movies that would follow such as Divergent which also borrowed the same elements such as intense action, strong female characters against post-apocalyptic backdrops,
Even at its peak, the first tell-tale signs that interest was plateauing was seen in the third installment of Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Most fans of the book were mixed with the idea that the last book would be split into two parts considering the third book is not really long when compared to the previous two books let alone other YA fiction books. The decision was largely driven by the studios which in my personal opinion wanted to milk the franchise for what it was worth. From a marketing standpoint it initially seemed like a smart move. Not surprisingly the same marketing ploy was used with the Divergent series.
However while studios hoped that prolonging the series would rake in more cash for them, it marked the beginning of what I called, “dystopian fatigue.” From reading user reviews, it’s clear that elements like love-triangles, the strong kick-butt female heroine —things that were once seen as marketable strong points— were now redundant clichés. Although splitting Mockingjay into two parts didn’t turn me off from watching both movies, I could see why users would opt out of seeing one of the movies to read the book instead. While Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 still managed to have a measure of success domestically and abroad the same marketing tactic fared far worse with Allegiant debuting at 38 million in North American in it’s first weekend.
While I never majored in marketing in college, as an indie author I can attest to the challenges when it comes to marketing a book. Markets are ever-changing. What is considered “hot” today could be a bust three months later. At best it’s tricky to determine how well a certain genre will do long-term considering that the market can be fickle.
By no means am I the only person that has questioned the future of these types of movies. But I have yet to hear of discussions of the implications this could have on the book market. While the future of dystopian movies catered to the young adult audience seemed to have reached a bust, it’s premature to say this spells doom for the genre as a whole, at least on the publishing sector. If anything the adaption of book-to-movie adaptions, have fueled sales for those existing books. Months prior to the movie’s release, the book usually jumps on the top of the best sellers list, as was seen in the example of the Hunger Games installments.
At the same time the movies created a surge of new dystopian fiction, creating more choices for young and adult readers. With more choices, the competition can be seen as a two-edged sword depending on who you speak to. More choices lends itself in the favor of the avid and casual fans alike. At the same time I could see this being a negative thing for both self-published and published writers. Both types of writers face the challenge of standing out in a crowded market hoping to deliver a YA novel that doesn’t feel recycled or cliche. However I think for the fans who are buying the books, theirs still plenty of revenue to be made from dystopian fiction considering the final installments of Allegiant and Maze Runner will still be fresh on the minds of millions in the months to come.
So what will be the long-term future of dystopian fiction? Has it cooled off like the movies they inspired?
Only time will tell.