With the End of the ‘Maze Runner’ Trilogy, We Also Conclude the Teen Dystopia Film Boom—Finally!
For a few years, phew, we could not escape the teen dystopia franchise. With the first success of The Hunger Games, these films were everywhere, a new one seemingly being released each year. On the one hand, these films often gave starring roles to young women, and centered around plots that saw those characters grow into particular strengths and explore their own identities. On the other hand, MAN, did they get repetitive after a while, a series of ever-diminishing returns.
With Friday’s release of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final film in that trilogy starring Teen Wolf breakout Dylan O’Brien, it seems we have finally reached the end of this teen-dystopia boom. So how to look upon those films now? How will we remember them? What did their stars do next? And are any of those movies actually worth rewatching? Let’s wander down memory lane together.
(Note: There were a few other non-starter YA adaptation films, like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures, which I’ve excluded from this list because I think they skew more fantasy than dystopia.)
THE HUNGER GAMES
Films in the franchise: 2012’s The Hunger Games; 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; 2014’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1; 2015’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Source material: The trilogy of YA novels by Suzanne Collins: 2008’s The Hunger Games; 2009’s Catching Fire; and 2010’s Mockingjay
First movie release date: March 23, 2012
Last movie release date: November 20, 2015
General gist: In a dystopian version of the United States called Panem, teenagers from 12 districts must fight to the death each year in the televised Hunger Games for the amusement of corrupt, ruthless President Snow and the spoiled, wealthy residents of the Capitol. But District 12 teenager Katniss Everdeen turns the game on its head when she volunteers to take her sister’s place and travels to the Capitol with fellow competitor Peeta Mellark, whose feelings for her entrance viewers but put both of them in extra danger. Over the course of the series, Katniss must navigate her feelings for Peeta and for best friend Gale Hawthorne while trying to keep her family safe from President Snow’s clutches.
Successful? Hell yeah! The combined critical and commercial success of The Hunger Games basically sparked the YA adaptation boom. The films were increasingly well-made, with stellar cast members like Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Stanley Tucci; the four films alone would make more than $2 billion at the box office; and they jettisoned Jennifer Lawrence to the A-list and begin her extraordinary career.
What did the stars do next? Well, Jennifer Lawrence basically took over the world for a little while, gathering Academy Award nominations, making millions upon millions for each role, and capturing America’s heart. But her most recent projects have been rocky (the overall meh Joy; the straight-terrible Passengers, and the extremely divisive mother!), and it seems like the universal love for her has cooled a bit. She appears next in this spring’s Black Widow-knockoff Red Sparrow.
Josh Hutcherson, who played Peeta, appeared in last year’s The Disaster Artist and will work again with James Franco in his 2018 film The Long Home; you can also catch him on Hulu’s Future Man, which was recently renewed for a second season. Liam Hemsworth has probably kept the lowest profile of all three, with barely anything on his resume for the past few years. But he’s stayed in the public eye with his off-again, on-again engagement to Miley Cyrus and will appear next in 2019’s Isn’t It Romantic, a satirical romantic comedy, alongside Rebel Wilson.
Would we watch a reboot? Eh, maybe? There had been rumblings about that a few years ago (similar to how there have been rumors of a Twilight reboot), but nothing came of it. These first films were so impressively crafted, with such stellar performances and production design, that it seems unnecessary to give them another go.
Films in the franchise: 2014’s Divergent; 2015’s The Divergent Series: Insurgent; 2016’s The Divergent Series: Allegiant. There was supposed to be a fourth film, released in 2017, to be based on the second half of Allegiant that was cancelled, and eventually a TV show was announced to conclude the series—that stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller said they wouldn’t return for.
Source material: The trilogy of YA novels by Veronica Roth: 2011’s Divergent; 2012’s Insurgent; and 2013’s Allegiant. There was also 2014’s Four: A Divergent Collection, which presented the original story from the perspective of the character Four, played in the films by Theo James.
First movie release date: March 21, 2014
Last movie release date: March 18, 2016
General gist: In a future Chicago, society is divided into five factions based on people’s personalities, like Amity for the peaceful and Dauntless for the brave. But people who cannot be sorted into one of those five factions are labeled as Divergent and considered dangerous because their existence endangers the present system. And that’s exactly what happens when Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, realizes that she possesses qualities from a variety of different factions—with the possibility to upend the current power structure. With her boyfriend Four at her side, she has to decide how to protect her family while also building a different society for everyone.
Successful? Kind of. Overall, the three films barely made double their budget, and they never seemed to really catch on in the way Hunger Games did, either critically or commercially. Plus, it definitely looked like the stars were increasingly disinterested with each film, especially as they graduated to more-mature roles. The choice to cancel the final film and conclude the series on Starz was met with disinterest from cast members, and it’s curious whether the thing will ever air at all.
What did the stars do next? Woodley had a breakout year in 2014, with the absurdly successful The Fault In Our Stars (in which she falls in love with Ansel Elgort, who actually plays her brother in the Divergent series) and the critically respected White Bird in a Blizzard, but then her film output was pretty much solely tied to Divergent for the next few years. She really proved her skills with last year’s Big Little Lies, though, reuniting with Divergent costar Zoe Kravitz; they were both phenomenal. Elgort went on to last year’s summer hit Baby Driver and is still doing his DJing thing. Teller, who has been battling the reputation of being more than a little smug, peaked with 2014’s Whiplash and has been working steadily since, including last year’s Thank You for Your Service and Only the Brave. James, like Hemsworth, has bounced around, appearing in the Underworld franchise and with a few films slated for release in 2018, including Zoe, the new film from Drake Doremus, who directed the underrated Kristen Stewart/Nicholas Hoult sci-fi film Equals.
Would we watch a reboot? Nope! Come on, the original stars of the film won’t even sign on for a TV show to wrap up the story. No one is going to touch a remake of this thing.
Films in the franchise: 2014’s The Giver
Source material: Lois Lowry’s classic 1993 novel The Giver, a mainstay in middle and high school reading lists
First movie release date: August 15, 2014
Last movie release date: N/A
General gist: In the Community, all children at the age of 12 are assigned their careers by the Elders, who evaluate their personalities and determine what the rest of their lives should be. 12-year-old Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, who begins training with the Giver to receive all memories of human history. But during his training, Jonas realizes how much the Community is missing from the past, and how many elements of their society are more brutal and deadly than he ever could have imagined.
Successful? Not so much. The movie was the passion project of Jeff Bridges, who cast himself as the Giver, but the rest of the cast was a strange mish-mash. Meryl Streep, cool. Taylor Swift and Brenton Thwaites, what?! The film also made a variety of changes from the original source text to provide more action sequences (why???), and its incorporation of motorcycles and drones felt too dissimilar from the book. It only made a little more than double its budget, and critical reactions were not kind.
What did the stars do next? Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges kept on being Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges; they were fine. Brenton Thwaites maintained a string of bad luck with 2016’s impressively white-washed Gods of Egypt and effectively served as the new Orlando Bloom in 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; things are looking up, though, with his leading role as Dick Grayson/Robin in the DC Comics TV show adaptation Titans. Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan, who played Jonas’s best friends, have been doing fine: Rush played the cool girl Jenna in last year’s Lady Bird and Monaghan is holding down two regular TV gigs on Gotham and Shameless. And I think we all know what Taylor Swift has been up to.
Would we watch a reboot? Was there really a need to adapt The Giver in the first place? We definitely don’t need to adapt it again.
THE 5TH WAVE
Films in the franchise: 2016’s The 5th Wave
Source material: 2013’s The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, the first in a YA trilogy
First movie release date: January 22, 2016
Last movie release date: N/A
General gist: Alien invasion time! Malevolent aliens who humans call “the Others” unleash a series of “Waves” to destroy humanity. High school student Cassie, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, sees her brother kidnapped by the U.S. military to become a child soldier and resolves to find and save him. But when she tracks down her brother, she’s shocked to find him in a squad led by a classmate she used to have a crush on, Ben (played by Nick Robinson). Can she save her little brother and as many other children as possible before either the aliens or the military kill them?
Successful? So-so. Critical reviews were rough, and much like The Giver, The 5th Wave only made about double its budget. Not enough to keep the franchise going.
What did the stars do next? It feels like Moretz is still trying to figure out her career, no? After that forever-memorable role as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass and its sequel, Moretz has starred in a variety of teen films, from the remake of Carrie to another YA adaptation If I Stay to the Neighbors sequel Sorority Rising. She also appeared in that Louis C.K. movie I Love You, Daddy, which will probably never be theatrically released; she’s going to appear alongside Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton in that remake of Italian horror classic Suspiria helmed by Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino; and she’s making gossip headlines for dating Brooklyn Beckham, eldest son of David and Victoria. The extremely adorable Robinson has also been in a lot of stuff, including the flat-out amazing The Kings of Summer; alongside Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in Jurassic World; and in last year’s underrated teen romance Everything, Everything. But I think he could really break out with this year’s Love, Simon, a coming-of-age story about a gay high school student who is struggling to decide whether he should come out to his family and friends.
Would we watch a reboot? No one even remembers The 5th Wave exists, so I’m going with no.
THE MAZE RUNNER
Films in the franchise: 2014’s The Maze Runner; 2015’s Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials; and 2018’s Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Source material: The series of YA novels by James Dashner, including 2009’s The Maze Runner, 2010’s The Scorch Trials, and 2011’s The Death Cure. Dashner has also written three other books in the series, but they haven’t been adapted.
First movie release date: September 19, 2014
Last movie release date: January 26, 2018. Star Dylan O’Brien suffered a head injury during initial filming of The Death Cure, and production was delayed for a year while he healed.
General gist: The Flare Virus has infected countless people, turning them into zombie-like creatures called Cranks. In searching for a cure, the corporation WCKD has taken to kidnapping teenagers, testing whether their blood is immune, and then subjecting them to a series of tests—like trapping them in mazes. But teenager Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, is different. Unlike the other teens trapped in the maze suffering from amnesia, he’s beginning to remember some things, and can unite them in a way they’ve never pulled together before. Can they fight WCKD and save themselves?
Successful? More than I thought, actually! Director Wes Ball, who has helmed all three films in this trilogy, has kept the budgets pretty tight, and the films have made almost five times their budgets. Critical reaction isn’t 100% positive but it’s not terrible, either (read our review of Death Cure here), since the films do action really well and O’Brien’s performance is particularly charming.
What did the stars do next? O’Brien took a year or so off to heal from his concussion and other injuries, but returned last year with the super-frustrating American Assassin, alongside Michael Keaton and my future husband Taylor Kitsch. He doesn’t have any future projects announced yet, but he’s really grown as an actor during his stint on Teen Wolf and through this franchise, so I hope he continues to get work. Costar Kaya Scodelario appeared alongside the previously mentioned Brenton Thwaites (if he was the new Bloom, she was the new Keira Knightley) in last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and she stars with Pierce Brosnan in the upcoming fantasy film The King’s Daughter. Main WCKD bad guy Aidan Gillen has wrapped up his time on Game of Thrones as Petyr Baelish (yup, Littlefinger), but he also appeared in the latest season of Peaky Blinders, a show that I still somehow have not watched despite the inimitably beautiful Cillian Murphy starring in it. I apologize to you and your cheekbones, Cillian.
Would we watch a reboot? Maybe in a few years? Since there are a few other books by Dashner that weren’t adapted, perhaps they could transition into a Freeform (or other teen-centric) TV series. The Maze Runner narrative seems like it would adapt well to an episodic format, although I’m guessing the budget may end up being a problem over time.
Thoughts? Have you read any of these books and liked them more than the films? Would you watch any of these if they were remade or redone for TV? Is it weird to anyone else that the “hot” ones from The Hunger Games and Divergent, Liam and Theo, are both the ones who seem to have struggled more in their careers? Why did anyone think a film version of The Giver with drone violence was a good idea? Meet me in the comments!
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