×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Maze Runner’ Escaped the Young Adult Franchise Curse

The Maze Runner” kicked off a fresh young adult film franchise this weekend when it raced to an $81.5 million debut globally.

Despite the monster grosses of “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” hit young adult films like “The Maze Runner” are the exception and not the rule.

Just ask the good folks behind “Ender’s Game,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “Eragon,” “The Giver” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” all of which seem unlikely to spawn future sequels. Others, such as “The Mortal Instruments,” probably won’t be generating new chapters, despite protestations to the contrary. Those stories may have devoted readers, but not enough people bought tickets when they made the transition from page to screen.

“Even with a baked-in must-see factor, you never know with this audience,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “They change their minds when wind blows.”

Like “The Maze Runner,” these pictures arrived with literary pedigree allowing their backers to proclaim, “Based on the best-selling phenomenon,” while crowing about “brand pre-awareness.” That’s lovely. It’s just not enough.

“You still have to make a good movie that resonates with a core fanbase, but can stand on its own,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

Instead, these films seemed overly derivative. There was a dusting of female empowerment, a la “The Hunger Games,” or a hunky vampire or immortal in the vein of “Twilight,” and an endless array of post-apocalyptic backdrops as in, well, practically everything. Yet audiences rejected pictures that felt like Frankenstein’s monsters patched together by a committee in order to mirror the elements that studio executives had come to believe explained those films’ successes.

What set “The Maze Runner” apart was a cast led by “Teen Wolf” star Dylan O’Brien and a plot that had a group of teenagers struggling to survive a deadly labyrinth.

“It’s the first YA franchise that has a male protagonist,” said Chris Aronson, domestic distribution chief for 20th Century Fox, the studio behind the movie.

That meant that “The Maze Runner” was able to attract roughly an equal number of men and women, with 49% of the opening crowd being male. Appealing to men certainly helped “The Hunger Games,” which drew an opening crowd that was 39% male in 2012, and it worked this time around as well. In order to broaden the film’s appeal, “The Maze Runner” was marketed as an action-heavy thriller. That also helped it stand out from “The Giver,” “Divergent” and all the other dystopian adventures popping up on screens these days.

“These films are marketed by professional adults, not teenagers, so it can be hard to put your finger on what it is that that young audiences think is cool,” said Dergarabedian. “Six or seven times out of ten, you’re not going to hit that mark, but when you do, you’ve really got something.”

Having caught lightning in a bottle, Fox wasted no time announcing a sequel. “Maze Runner: Scorch Trials” will open on Sept. 18, 2015.

Not everyone agrees that young adult films are a knotty genre to untangle. After all, it can be hard to make any type of film pop in the era of Twitter, YouTube, videogames and other amusements.

“I don’t know what the batting average is for other genres, but young adult films are a relatively new thing and they may just be having more attention paid to them,” said Ben Carlson, co-creator of the social media tracking service Fizziology. “If you compare it to science fiction or R-rated comedies, it’s probably a similar batting average.”

What is different, Carlson argues, is the kind of success “The Maze Runner” managed to achieve. Filmed for $34 million, the picture is an economical bet that paid off, but it did not match the success of “Divergent,” “The Hunger Games” or “Twilight,” all of which debuted to north of $50 million.

“This film was a really solid hit, but it wasn’t a monster one,” said Carlson. “As a genre matures, you’re going to have more solid hits like this that aren’t $50 million opening blockbusters or ‘Why did that only open to $15 million?’ failures. We haven’t really seen that in the YA space until now.”

With that, a genre geared at kids comes of age.

More Film

  • Abominable Animated Movie

    Vietnam Pulls DreamWorks’ 'Abominable' Over Contested Territorial Claims

    Vietnam has banned DreamWorks Animation’s new co-produced feature “Abominable” from its cinemas due to a scene involving a map that depicts China’s contested territorial claims in the South China Sea. The move comes as U.S. entertainment firms like the NBA, Disney and gaming firm Activision Blizzard are under intense fire from US fans, activists and [...]

  • The Captain

    China Box Office: 'The Captain' Flies to $340 Million After Two Weeks on Release

    Patriotic thriller “The Captain” held on to the top spot at the Chinese box office for the second weekend, again leading from propaganda omnibus “My People, My Country.” “The Captain,” also known as “The Chinese Pilot” earned $34.9 million according to consultancy Artisan Gateway, for a two-week cumulative of $343 million. The cumulative for “People,” [...]

  • CGV movie theatre Seoul South KoreaCGV

    Korean Law To Limit Film Releasing Monopolies

    The Korean government is to make it illegal to show a single film on more than 50% of screens nationwide. The move is intended to prevent “screen monopolies by blockbuster films” and to “address unfair competition practices in the film industry.” The Ministry of Culture announced on Monday that it will revise the existing Promotion [...]

  • Jason Flemyng, Casting Director Lucinda Syson

    Jason Flemyng, Lucinda Syson Launch Film and TV Indie The Kernel Factory (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jason Flemyng, fellow actor Ben Starr, casting director Lucinda Syson, and finance expert Cristiano D’Urso are opening The Kernel Factory, a new U.K.-based film and TV indie. Flemyng has a long list of movie credits including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking [...]

  • Hache

    ‘Hache’ Creator, Director Discuss Netflix’s Next Spanish Original, Dropping Nov. 1

    MADRID — On Nov 1 Netflix will drop its fifth Spanish original series, 1960’s-set drug smuggling drama “Hache,” produced by Madrid’s Weekend Studio for the platform. Created by Verónica Fernández and directed by Jorge Torregrossa (“La vida inesperada,” “Cocaine Coast,” “Velvet Collection”), “Hache” tells the story of Helena (Adriana Ugarte), a prostitute who ends up [...]

  • Argentina Film Lab

    Argentina to Build Country’s First Film Restoration Laboratory in Buenos Aires

    Argentina’s Instituto Nacional de Cinematografia y las Artes Audiovisuals (INCAA) and the Ministry of Culture of the City of Buenos Aires will partner to build Argentina’s first laboratory of film preservation. Minister of Culture Enrique Avogadro and INCAA president Ralph Haiek signed the agreement which will see Buenos Aires’ Pablo Ducrós Hicken Film Museum in [...]

  • The-Ancient-Law

    Lumière Festival’s MIFC Broadens International Spotlight with Focus on Germany

    The 7th Lumière Film Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) is expanding its international scope this year with more foreign companies than ever before taking part in the event, high-profile guests and an examination of Germany’s heritage cinema sector. With 17 international firms from 25 countries at the event, the MIFC has reported a 20% [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content