Why we love the end of the world

In the past three years, three separate novel-turned-film franchises have released seven feature-length films. Each follows the similar trend of a dystopian version of our current world through the perspective of an adolescent. The seven films have earned a collective $2.1 billion. Why are these movies so successful right now? And why are we so fascinated in turning books into movies?

The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner are all young adult books series that have turned into extremely popular film franchises. All the series are set in a dystopian future, a fictional, unpleasant world often caused by totalitarianism. Each protagonist is a teenager that has a distinctive perspective/ability that separates him or her from the rest of his or her society. They fight against, and eventually with their peers, in order to rebel against the adults and lead a revolution for a more democratic world. All these books being bestsellers; it’s no wonder they all made the jump to the big screen.

“I think that the part that people like is just that sheer curiousity of ‘how is a filmmaker going to match the image in my mind to the image [in theirs],’” said Dorothy Barenscott, a film studies professor and art historian. “[The films] already [have] a fan base and I think it already has a world that’s been established. It’s almost like you’ve created the characters ahead of time so the filmmaker doesn’t have to spend as much time getting you interested and involved and also sold on the characters. You already have an emotional attachment going into the narrative.”

It’s not only the existing relationship we have with the characters or the connection to the message, but the language filmmakers create to transport us into their world. “I think cinematography is super important. I think there’s got to be a lot of time spent on how the look and the feel matches the actual visual look and feel,” Barenscott said.

As for a more implicit meaning of these films, Barenscott explains how our current outlook on the world is being portrayed through these films. “We’re in a [post-modern] moment where, young people especially, don’t feel that the world is going to that better place. So dystopian narratives, I think are sort of a place where you can test that attention.”

Luke, 20, is a fan of these films, can see why his generation in particular is so attracted to these films. “Our generation seems to be avid supporters of making a change in our world. It seems like we love making a difference.” Having read all the book, Luke was immediately interested when the films came out. “It’s a cool thing, reading a book and creating your own world in your mind and then watching that come to life on the screen,” he said.

Having read The Hunger Games when he was the same age as the protagonist, Luke has always been able to identify with these films due to being in the same phase of life as all the heroes, which is similar to most of these franchises fan bases. “Living in our world I hope that I can make a difference in my world but there is so much that I do not understand, the problems with our society [are] laid out in black and white in dystopian films,” he said. “Watching Katniss or Tris or Thomas standing up against the corrupted ways of their world allows [you to] live vicariously through them and you ask yourself: ‘Would I do the same?’”

The novels-turned-films are essentially representations of how young adults feel and see the world today. The books from all three series were published between 2008 and 2013 and the films were released from 2012 onward. There has been a steady flow of how the young adult demographic sees the world throughout the past eight years.

While agreeing that there are many cultural aspects to these films, pop culture expert and communications professor Katie Warfield looks at these trends in a more economic way.

“I think, instead, that we can actually read more about the economic situation of the Hollywood film industry. With the rise of YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and high-quality cable productions like HBO, Hollywood is suffering,” she said. “It takes little chance with plots anymore and the aim of the films is to draw in the largest audiences possible. It began with Pixar movies because kids can’t go alone to movies so parent take them which means the box offices sells twice the tickets. Now the kids who began that cinematic trend with their parent 10 years ago in the heyday of Pixar are a bit older but not too old. These tween movies still foot the bill of making a movie that the whole family can go watch but instead of kids and parents it’s tweens and parents. A secondary economic reason is that Hollywood buys the rights to these books so that they can profit from them via the multitude of their media channels: buy the book rights, resell the books, make a movie, turn it into a TV show, they are just cyclically profiting off the same product.”

Jamie Hoholuk

Jamie is a second year Journalism and Communications student. Her writing focus is on celebrity culture and its everyday effect and representation of our society.

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