With the recent release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 has come a slew of trailers for other teen dystopian movies. The genre has been increasingly popular since the success of the first few Hunger Games movies, with releases such as Divergent and The Maze Runner, and trailers popping up for even more post-apocalyptic movies, such as The Fifth Wave. It doesn’t seem like the hype is slowing down any time soon. So why are young adult dystopian movies so popular?
Fantasy and sci-fi have always been popular genres since the advent of cinema. Dystopian films, as a sub-genre, have also been successful with movies such as Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys and the original Mad Max trilogy remaining culturally significant today. It’s a marketable genre, but it’s also largely a boys club. However, with the exception of The Maze Runner, all of the popular dystopian movies of late feature a teenage girl as their central character. From Katniss in The Hunger Games to Tris in Divergent, teen girls have a relatable yet badass role model in these protagonists. Having a strong female main character in their own age group is obviously going to be a selling point for teen girls, who are often sold nothing but romances and lighthearted comedies.
These movies aren’t only popular with teenage girls, but with people of all ages and genders queuing to see these movies. Obviously young adults are the main target audience but the appeal of these narratives is definitely more universal than it might seem on surface level. That’s because the fear of a disastrous, war torn or apocalyptic future is incredibly common. These fears plagued George Orwell in the 1940s and clearly continue to nag at people to this day. Fears of overly controlling governments, global warming, and nuclear warfare, advancing technologies, diseases, genetic mutations, and alien invasion all find themselves realised in the dystopian genre. You have a fear about the future of our planet? There’s probably a movie about it. And what do people enjoy more than seeing their fears of Earth’s destruction realised then resolved by a likeable yet unlikely hero?
But, the question remains, is this explosion of dystopian movies ever going to slow down? There are surely only so many ways one teen girl can save the world from some kind of depressing reality or another? And, on that note, how many different ways can the world be destroyed or its people oppressed? The narratives can sometimes begin to look very similar, with many people thinking the Divergent series was just a rip off of The Hunger Games. While there are definitely things that set these films apart, the basic plot structure is usually very similar. The world has been destroyed by some kind of disaster and now an evil government is in charge, an unassuming teenager becomes involved in a rebellion or last ditch effort to save the world, and eventually the oppressive government is overthrown. While I love the dystopian narrative, it is often ‘reworked’ in very similar ways, leaving a whole host of unexplored options.
So, the future is unclear for dystopian teen movies. They’re certainly losing momentum, with Mockingjay Part 2 taking in $101 million domestically in its opening weekend which is a whole $57 million less than Catching Fire. Yet, studios are continuing to adapt them from popular young adult book series. The genre could probably be infinitely successful if studios diverged from the cut and paste model of success that The Hunger Games set, but there are clearly problems with the genre (and I didn’t even get to rant about the trend of adapting the final book in a series into two movies instead of one!) Let’s wait to see what the next round of dystopian films has to offer.