Book Lists

YA Movie Adaptations: The Good, the Bad, and the Incomplete

One of the most exciting and terrifying things as a devoted reader is discovering that your favorite book is going to be turned into a movie or TV show. If done well, the film can be a global phenomenon that turns a huge audience and attracts more readers to the source material. When done poorly, well… sometimes it is best just to forget.

I won’t lie and say I’ve never enjoyed a “bad” adaptation. Sometimes, seeing beloved characters on the big screen is enough to feel pretty satisfied.

Today we’re talking about the good, the bad, and incomplete franchises that I think deserved a sequel. I will be leaving the books out of this post and judging based off of how well they capture the book, not how good the source material is.

The Good

Also known as: movies I watch on repeat.

The Hunger Games

credit: Lionsgate

Exciting, well acted, and well adapted. The Hunger Games movies hit that sweet spot of honoring a book without trying to follow it page-by-page. Like most YA adaptations, The Hunger Games can’t seem to find teenagers to play teenagers on screen. Still, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson embody the temperaments and angst of Katniss and Peeta so well that I can (almost) overlook the fact that they are so clearly not sixteen. What makes the films so successful is they are made to be enjoyed by books fans and non-readers alike. I’d especially like to draw attention to the impeccable score of these films done by James Newton Howard—absolutely incredible and defines the tone of the films perfectly.

Harry Potter

credit: Warner Bros.

The Harry Potter franchise is in a league all its own. Despite my extreme detest of the author’s comments of late, I cannot deny that her writing sparked a cultural shift. Harry Potter did what most young adult and middle grade adaptations are too afraid to do: kids play kids. Watching the characters come of age is crucial to the spirit of the story.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

credit: Netflix

Lana. Condor. She brings Laura Jean’s idyllic fantasy mindset and friendly attitude to life. Even with the plot changes, the TATB movies feel like they have Jenny Han’s touch all over them. The last movie also gives us more about the female side characters than the book does, which is a nice choice!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

credit: John Bramley © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.

This adaptation is cinematically beautiful, well acted, and true at heart to the essence of the book. Even with changes to distill an emotionally rich book into a visual medium, The Perks of Being a Wallflower feels like it was made to be a coming of age film. Reading the book first is not necessary to enjoy the film (although the book is also fantastic). This adaptation shows how much good involving the author in an adaptation can do. Author Stephen Chbosky directed and wrote the screenplay for the film, so even though things change, the changes feel true to the characters.

Honorable Mentions:

The Bad

A split between unwatchable and so bad you can’t help but love them.

The Twilight Saga

credit: Lionsgate

Every day I thank these movies for giving me Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Twilight’s first movie with that iconic blue hue is so addictive that you can’t look away. The rest of the series, however, falls flat in comparison. Bella’s relationships with characters other than Edward and Jacob are completely thrown to the wayside. The Cullen siblings deserved more screen time! At least they got rid of animatronic Renesmee before releasing Breaking Dawn (shoutout to all the Chuckesmee Stans out there).

Fallen

credit: Lauren Kate

Released in 2017, the Fallen adaptation just came too late to appeal to the fans of Lauren Kate’s 2009 novel. This movie is just…. awkward. It doesn’t capture the chemistry of the central relationship at all, and there is a lot of long and pensive stares (like a lot). The pacing is extremely slow, and even when the action scenes arrive, they’re thick with CGI and do not pack an emotional punch.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians

credit: 20th Century Fox

I want Logan Lerman to know I do not blame him for this flop and that if he wants to make a cameo in the T.V. show, I would greatly appreciate it. Percy Jackson had so much potential, yet it made a few crucial mistakes. It completely disregards the age of the characters, aging Percy from a small twelve to a teenage sixteen/seventeen. The youth and development of these characters is fundamental to their series-long arcs. The Lightning Thief film also completely disregards the structure of the book, which alienates fans who love the books. I mean, if the author hates the script, maybe you should rewrite the script.

Divergent

credit: Lionsgate

The first movie is passable, but it also includes tiny changes from the book that make it impossible to create sequels that are true to the books. Divergent released in a time where YA movies were dominating the scene, and it seemed to have incredible promise. With a bit more forethought into the script, these movies could have been so much better. And no, I do not want to talk about those Insurgent or Allegiant adaptations. Ever.

Honorable Mentions

The Incomplete

My personal picks for those that should’ve at least gotten a sequel. Totally subjective.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

credit: Sony

I will die on this hill. City of Bones deserved a movie sequel. No excuses. Despite prolific base material, Hollywood has never properly been able to capture the world building and overall tone of the Shadowhunter chronicles. It also has horrible exposition, making the Shadowhunter world. incredibly confusing for moviegoers who are not fans of the books. This film has many flaws—mostly surrounding unnecessary and fruitless divergences from source material—however, Jamie Campbell-Bower and Lily Collins will always be Jace and Clary in my head. With a better script, The Mortal Instruments movies had a chance to turn around.

Vampire Academy

credit: Laurie Sparham

Part of the reason Vampire Academy didn’t do well is because of strange marketing. The film was presented to be a sort of Mean-Girls-with-Vampires plot line. This is so incorrect it’s almost laughable. Highschool drama is such a minor subplot of the books and marketing the film this way only leads to unmet expectations. Still, Zooey Deutch is a great Rose Hathaway and if they had just one more movie, I think it’s possible the series could’ve made a turn-around. Besides, the second book, Frostbite, is the best in the series. We deserve an on-screen Adrian Ivashkov!


Of course, there is always move on the horizon. Personally, I’ve got high hopes for the Children of Blood and Bone adaptation and the Percy Jackson show coming to Disney+. Seeing a beloved book get adapted can be a dream or a nightmare. It’s hard to let go of the source material and realize there will have to be some changes in a new medium. Still, when done right, an adaptation can satisfy diehard book fans and newcomers alike. The most important thing is telling a good story in a compelling way.

2 thoughts on “YA Movie Adaptations: The Good, the Bad, and the Incomplete”

  1. I love book to movie adaptions! To All the Boys is definitely a favourite of mine. I think that is one of the best contemporary YA books adapted.
    Percy Jackson and the Olympians sucksssss! It hurts me to know people watch that and they think that is what the book is like. I am so excited for the tv show, if Logan Lerman is in it I would die! It would be iconic!

    Liked by 1 person

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