There’s little question that Hollywood’s “adapt anything YA!” attitude has helped shepherd a new line of strong (or, at least, pretend strong, as is the case with Twilight’s Bella Swan, a bell I will ring until the day I die) young female heroines into the pop cultural consciousness.
The Hunger Games has the sharp-shooting Katniss Everdeen (who will soon incite a revolution in the next two films based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling three-book series), while Divergent has the fear-blasting Tris Prior (who will, hey, look at that!, also soon incite a revolution in the nest three films based on Veronica Roths’s bestselling three-book series). Even less popular film franchises, like Vampire Academy, The Mortal Instruments, and The Host are female-led endeavors that may include some cool (read: hot) male counterparts to help their kickass ladies where needed, though they are quite firmly dedicated to portraying ladies in charge.
Yet, now it appears that boys are inching their way back into the YA game – not by way of wizardry or godly genetics, but by traveling the same path that the girls have already trailblazed: the gritty one.
Last year saw the release of the long-gestating (and quite controversial) big screen version of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” Ender’s Game the film, which starred young Asa Butterfield in the title role, wasn’t a big hit at the box office, but its content seems to be very reflective of what was popular with audiences previously, albeit when such similar material featured a female star. The film made just over $125M at the box office, a number that puts it below the Twilight franchise, the Hunger Games films, Divergent, and all of the Harry Potter features (and, yes, Harry is still the king of the YA adaptation). The violent, future-set feature sure sounds like a natural fit for YA-hungry audiences, but the thing just didn’t quite spark.
That might change for the next two gritty, male-centric YA adaptations set to hit theaters soon.
In August, Phillip Noyce‘s The Giver will arrive in a theater near you, marking the first Lois Lowry adapation to make it to the silver screen. Lowry’s book is a mainstay of junior high curriculum despite its very heavy subject matter (personally speaking, I remember reading the book in sixth grade, and while I loved the novel, even tween me knew that this was some damn tough stuff). The future-set dystopian (hey, familiar!) story has been altered a bit – star Brenton Thwaites is a fair bit older than his character, Jonas, is in the book, and the addition of Taylor Swift to any cast causes us to bristle, but it sure seems like the film isn’t balking at its source material.
How gritty is it? Well, imagine a world that has been scrubbed of pain, pleasure, and choice. It’s boring, right? But it seemingly works for its citizens, who decided to live this way after a series of terrible events. Strangely, though, you can’t just erase pain and pleasure and memories and all that stuff, it needs a place to go into. A person to go into. Like a teen boy! That’s right, The Giver is about a single teen boy taking on all the memories of his people and trying to not go totally insane in the process. That’s gritty.
A month later, The Maze Runner will hit theaters. Director Wes Ball is working from James Dashner‘s series of books (yes, there are three) which center on a teen boy (played in the film by Dylan O’Brien) who is dropped into a Hunger Games-esque situation and is forced to survive some crazy circumstances. As should be expected by now, the film is a sci-fi-tinged tale with shades of dystopian thought. It’s also gritty! O’Brien’s Thomas and friends are tasked with getting out a nefarious maze (one that totally kills people) to get to the other side, which probably isn’t that much better than where they came from. It’s adventure and terror, mixed with some big life lessons.
Hey, it sure sounds like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but this time it’s got a teen boy to lead it. Now where are those inevitable crossovers?