As the final instalment of The Maze Runner series makes it to the big screen, after some serious delays in getting there, it’s easy to forget that the first movie was part of a wave of young adult novel adaptations that seemingly took over our multiplexes for an extended period of time.
You couldn’t go to the movies without seeing a poster for a Hunger Games, or a Divergent, or a Twilight, or a 5th Wave. Sometime these movie hit big, and it says something about The Maze Runner that it has managed to make it to its third and final instalment (no splitting of the final book here) while Divergent faltered at the final hurdle and other attempts at franchises such as The 5th Wave failed, commercially and critically, right out of the gates.
So, which of these teen starring book adaptations, which run the gauntlet from apocalyptic action adventure (mostly) to romantic drama are worth watching?
The Hunger Games
Without a doubt one of the biggest adaptations of a YA novel to the big screen, it’s amazing to note that The Hunger Games was actually Lionsgate’s attempts to cash in somewhat on the success of Twilight and do their own YA franchise. In doing so they actually created a flagship movie series for the entire genre and made Jennifer Lawrence into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Eventually it would fall into the trap of unnecessarily splitting the final book into two parts, but the first film of the series is a blisteringly intense and fantastic action film in its own right. Yes, it owes a debt to the The Running Man and Battle Royale, but it feels brilliantly formed in its own right, and Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen has deservedly become one of the most iconic in action cinema.
The Spectacular Now
The first of several appearances from Shailene Woodley on the list, and the first of two from Miles Teller, the second of which will see him reunited with Woodley. Based on Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name, The Spectacular Now comes to the screen courtesy of 500 Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (also more on them shortly), and with a superb central performance from Miles Teller, and is probably one of the more darker and honest films on this list.
A poignant tale of teen alcoholism, the film is refreshingly honest and offers no easy ways out for its central character, Sutter. Complete with Teller’s performance, not to mention raw chemistry with Woodley, the film comes complete with supporting performances from the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkerk, Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It is a quietly superb and devastating film, complete with a gorgeous final scene that leaves the film on a beautifully put together cliffhanger.
Disgracefully, the film has never been given a DVD or Blu-Ray release in the UK.
While The Hunger Games tried to cash in on Twilight, it ended up becoming its own thing, and instead Hollywood turned to teenage driven post-apocalyptic fiction to create rival franchises of their own. Veronica Roth’s series was an obvious attraction, but has become a byword in how not to do it. This reviewer will respectfully disagree with the consensus, at least creatively speaking. Divergent, the first movie at least, is thoroughly enjoyable, based on smart source material, and brilliantly crafts a unique and interesting world. Unlike The Hunger Games, as great as Suzanne Collins’ series is, Roth’s world at least feels original.
Starring Shailene Woodley (second appearance in this list, and, amazingly, still not the last) as Tris, the series is set in a post apocalyptic Chicago that has seen its citizens split into factions based on their character and personalities. The idea behind the story can be a little convoluted, but it has, like many a YA novel set in the future, a somewhat anti-comformist message behind it, and best of all a superb performance from Woodley who carries the movies on her shoulders, while giving brilliant supporting roles to the likes of Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q and Zoe Kravitz. It also features Miles Teller, from The Spectacular Now, reuniting with Woodley, as well as Ansel Elgort, who also stars with Woodley in…
The Fault in Our Stars
It couldn’t fail. John Green’s source novel, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, not to mention Laura Dern. The novel was an absolute heart breaker, although as is the case with John Green, managed to mix almost unbearable emotional poginancy with some wonderful humour. Directed by Josh Boone, and adapted by Neustadter and Weber, the film was a critical hit and made a fortune at the box office, cementing Woodley as a star and launching Elgort to star in movies such as Baby Driver.
A comedy about cancer (yes, really) the movie is centered around the romance between cancer support group attendees Hazel (Woodley) and Augustus (Elgort). It may sound like a ticket to a box of tissues (well, it is) but it’s so much more than a manipulative weepy; the book and movie feel all too real and when the film does go into more sad and emotional territory, it does so in a subtly unexpected way. Make no mistake, the book and the film adaptation are gorgeously put together, and the film became a deserved box office smash, grossing over $300 million of the back of a $12 million budget, not to mention also having a great soundtrack that makes devastating use of M83’s “Wait” in the final moments.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Brought to the screen by the book’s own author, Stephen Chobsky (the director of the recent Wonder), The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a perfect little book that gets the move treatment it deserves. With a cast including Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Mae Whitman, the film is charming, funny, yet deeply sad and deals with some themes that may prove triggering, but which are very well handled.
Best of all, the central trio at the heart of the movie are brilliantly portrayed by Lerman, Watson and Miller, Watson in particular showing that there was going to be more to her than Hermione from Harry Potter, Miller showing that he could do funny and charming, and this coming after an incredibly intense performance in We Need to talk about Kevin, while Lerman is a genuine heartbreaker with a performance that is deeply likable and almost unbearably sympathetic.
Plus, Mae Whitman. Every movie should have Mae Whitman in it.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is on general release from Friday.