Ender’s Game and Hunger Games: Young adult books as movies

Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game. (Image Credit: Richard Foreman)

Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game. (Image Credit: Richard Foreman)

Whether cult favorites or bestsellers, young adult books have been hitting the big screen in a big way since about 2001. The success of the Harry Potter films have inspired filmmakers to look for the next hit series, and with the conclusion of the Twilight films and the last Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, hitting screens this month, is Ender’s Game, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, poised to become a new hit? If you’re looking for a good research topic for a film studies paper, take a peek at how the growth of the YA novel market has impacted the market for teen-centric films.

The YA market

When the novel Ender’s Game came out in 1985, it was published as an adult science fiction novel. Why? The YA category, as we know it, didn’t exist yet. In 1997, 12 years after the Ender’s Game release, only 3,000 young adult books were published. Compare that with the market 12 years after that: 30,000 YA novels were published in 2009, and sales were greater than $3 billion. Readership among young adults was dwindling in the 1990s, but in a 2009 report, the NEA celebrated a 21 percent increase in YA readership between 2002 and 2008. What happened? There were several factors, but in “Young people are reading more than you” by Hannah Withers and Lauren Ross in McSweeny’s, the authors posited, “it is perhaps not coincidence that in 1998, four years prior to NEA’s chronicled revival, the first book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released in the U.S.”

Other causes for the jump in YA popularity may include nationwide reading incentive programs, the growth in availability of electronic reading, and – not insignificantly – the number of adults purchasing books from the YA category.

Ender’s Game 

Ender’s Game, written ostensibly for adults and repackaged during the growth of the YA market as a novel for teens, is poised to hit the core YA market. A novel about a gifted boy who holds the fate of humanity in his hands – that also features a gravity-defying training game that some reviewers have compared to Quidditch – certainly has the right elements to appeal. But will it please audiences?

The reviewers are divided. Since Rotten Tomatoes started tallying reviews, the film has earned a 63% positive score on the Tomatometer. Some critics have praised the film for tackling the lofty themes of the morality of war that are central to the novel, and have shown appreciation for the action and special effects. Others liken it to a very cool video game, but feel it’s not much of a movie, or an adaptation. One of the latter was Peter Suderman, writing for the Washington Times in “’Ender’s Game’ falls short as an adaptation” on November 1, 2013. He felt what filmmaker Gavin Hood “has produced is a serious and high-minded but ultimately a frustrating summary of Mr. Card’s book. It won’t work for people who haven’t read the novel and isn’t likely to satisfy those who have.”

Add to the equation the ongoing conflict many SFF fans have about Orson Scott Card’s position on homosexuality – the author has written a number of essays against homosexuality – and there’s an additional hurdle for viewers to overcome. (Some fans of Ender’s Game have pledged to offset their purchase of tickets to the film by donating the same amount to LGBTQ charities.)

Catching Fire 

Will Ender’s Game still be competing for a top Box Office spot by the time the conclusion to the Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire, hits screens? If so, media analysts are projecting that the finale of that trilogy will knock pretty much every other movie out of the number one spot. A contributor to the Inquisitr, in “Hunger Games: ‘Catching Fire’ on track to break box office records,” stated that, based on the success of the first two films, industry insiders estimate the film will make upwards of $185 million. (The trilogy’s cast also topped movie-inspired team Halloween costumes, and heroine Katniss was the number one women’s movie-inspired costume in 2013.)

And there are more YA films based on books to come. In 2014, readers will be eager to see the release of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, James Dashner’s Maze Runner, and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series launcher, among others.

How do you feel about YA novels and the films based on them? Tell us in the comments. 

For more on film adaptation, visit Questia.

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