The next teen blockbuster: Let the young blood in
With the Harry Potter and Twilight film series set to weave their magic for the final time, Sarah Hughes takes a look at the movies jostling for the top position
Tuesday 08 February 2011
With Harry Potter preparing to wave his wand for the last time on screen and star-crossed lovers Edward and Bella soon to overcome their last romantic hurdle, Hollywood executives are falling over themselves to track down the book that can become the next Twilight or the new Harry Potter.
Predicting a bona fide teen hit is not as easy as it might sound, as the producers of the recent Percy Jackson film, The Lightning Thief, could no doubt ruefully attest. On paper, Rick Riordan's bestselling series about a troubled teen who turns out to be the son of Poseidon should have been a huge success. The books are fast-paced adventure stories, particularly beloved by boys, the cast featured Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman and Sean Bean, and Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two Harry Potter movies, agreed to direct.
While The Lightning Thief, which was released last February, performed respectably at the box office, fans took to the internet to register their disappointment, claiming that the story had been "butchered" and replaced instead by a "formulaic, cheesy plot" of the sort you'd find in "any fantasy/action film". The main actors have signed deals for a sequel, but Fox have yet to confirm whether it will actually be made.
Similarly, Eragon, the 2006 adaptation of the first novel in Christopher Paolini's fantasy series The Inheritance Cycle, was a box-office flop, condemned by fans as a travesty and mocked by critics as "unintentionally hilarious". Plans for a sequel were quietly shelved.
So what is the secret to creating teen cinematic gold? The makers of the upcoming reimagining of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood hope that using director Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight movie, will be enough, and certainly the trailer has more than a whiff of the hit vampire franchise in its hints of forbidden love, werewolves and something nasty lurking in the dimly lit, foreboding forest.
Similarities to previous blockbusters are of no use, though, without positive press. Although movies can be sunk by bad reviews, they can also be saved by the right kind of coverage. Twilight, for example, might have been a genuine word-of-mouth publishing phenomenon, but the films were certainly helped by Entertainment Weekly's near-obsessive coverage – at one point, barely a week seemed to go by without some reference to the films – and by endless tabloid speculation over the relationship between the franchise's young stars, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
This type of synergy is almost certainly what Lionsgate are hoping for ahead of their adaptation of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy. The books, which take place in a futuristic world where teens fight to the death in televised gladiatorial contests, have topped US bestseller lists and attracted a fervent fan base with discussion already raging over who should play self-sufficient heroine Katniss Everdeen and which teen heartthrob could step up, RPattz-style, to play her fellow competitor Peeta Mellark. The fact that Entertainment Weekly are already running an online site dedicated solely to things Hunger Games-related makes it the most likely contender for Twilight's throne.
It's not, however, the only one. As vampires and wizards become passé, a whole host of other supernatural creatures are stepping into the breach with films about fairies, werewolves and angels all hoping that huge book sales will translate into box-office success. Will any of them succeed? Here's our guide to the main contenders.
The teen phenomenon: The Hunger Games
What's it about? Suzanne Collins's trilogy about a world in which teens must fight each other to the death in a televised gladiatorial contest is a treatise on the horrors of war and a compelling cross between Battle Royale and The Running Man. With a refreshingly proactive heroine, two male love interests and, in Haymitch Abernathy, the book's frequently drunk mentor, a great role for an older actor, this is set to be a huge hit.
Who's involved? Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) will direct. Everyone from Emma Roberts and Saoirse Ronan to Kick-Ass's Chloe Moretz (who recently said she'd "die to play Katniss") have been touted for the lead role. Kaya Scodelario (aka Skins' Effie) and Kick-Ass's Lyndsy Fonseca have also been mentioned and there's growing fan support for Jodelle Ferland, best-known as Twilight's Bree Tanner, who is seen as the closest fit to Collins's description of Katniss as olive-skinned and grey eyed.
Will it be a success? The Hunger Games is not for the faint-hearted and the film's makers are going to have to tread a very fine line between staying true to the book's premise and getting the PG-13 rating it needs.
When is it released? Provisionally 23 March 2012
The one that hopes it's the new Harry Potter: Artemis Fowl
What's it about? Described by author Eoin Colfer as "Die Hard with fairies", the bestselling Artemis Fowl novels are about an Irish teenage criminal mastermind and his various attempts to rebuild his family fortune, usually by nefarious means. There are currently seven titles in the series with an eighth and final book planned.
Who's involved? The film rights have been sold. The project was on the verge of being greenlit. Colfer turned in a script, Irish director Jim Sheridan signed on and Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions were reported to be involved. And then nothing. First there were delays following the writer's strike. Then there were problems as the Weinstein brothers sought to divorce themselves from Disney. Most recently, Colfer said there were issues as to whether the film should be live action or CGI.
Will it be a success? Yes, if they can get it off the ground. Colfer's books are tightly plotted, very funny and feature entertainingly aggressive fairies and an anti-hero you can't help but root for.
When is it released? Sadly, no one knows.
The one that looks very like Twilight: Red Riding Hood
What's it about? A gothic retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood complete with werewolves, medieval settings and a very Company of Wolves meets Twilight feel.
Who's in it? Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen) directs from a script by David Johnson, who wrote the frankly terrifying Orphan. The reliable Amanda Seyfried uses her big eyes to great effect in the title role; Lukas Haas, aka the boy from Witness all grown up, plays the love interest with a dark secret. All this and Julie Christie as Red Riding Hood's grandmother; what more could anyone want?
Will it be a success? Judging by the trailers it could either be a superbly cast dark fantasy that's more Angela Carter than Stephenie Meyer or a hammy, incoherent and melodramatic mess.
When is it released? 15 April
The dark fantasy: Wicked Lovely
What's it about? Melissa Marr's lavishly written series for older teens is set in a vividly realised world where fairies not only exist, they are downright dangerous. Marr draws on mythology and folklore to tell the tale of cursed Summer King Keenan, his lost love, Donia, and Aislinn, the human girl who holds the key to their survival.
Who's in it? No actors confirmed, but Boys Don't Cry director, Kimberly Peirce, has signed on and Caroline Thompson, whose writing credits include Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, will adapt the screenplay, which suggests that this could be a class act.
Will it be a success? Marr's clever series, which concludes this month with the publication of Darkest Mercy, grows more complex with each book, touching on difficult subject matter. These are not Disneyfied fairies, but rather something much closer to the malevolent creatures of old folk tales and, as such, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.
When is it released? 2012
The Disney contenders: Wings and Fallen
What are they about? Disney has recently optioned both of these bestselling teen series. Wings, based on Aprilynne Pike's hit novel, is about a sheltered teen who makes the unwelcome discovery that's she's actually a fairy changeling. Fallen is an adaptation of Lauren Kate's 2009 fantasy novel about fallen angels at a reform school.
Who's in them? No word yet on casting for Fallen. Teen queen Miley Cyrus will play the lead role in Wings.
Will it be a success? Fallen seems darker than standard Disney teen fare and it's hard to imagine that the storyline won't be toned down by the Mouse House. Wings, which is to be a made-for-television movie, has a better shot at being the new Twilight – and the producers of that franchise are involved.
When are they being released? No date set for Fallen. Wings will air on television later this year.
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