The “young adult” genre is arguably literature’s most lucrative these days, and with the big-screen success of the Twilight series – among others – profits are clearly no longer limited to one medium. In addition to being financially viable, though, some of the film adaptations have turned out really well. Here’s a look at our all-time favorites. (Note: “Young adult” has turned into a wide-ranging phrase that could ultimately include countless examples; we’ve tried to narrow it down to books, and their movies, produced for and marketed toward adolescents and young adults – for all intents and purposes, roughly ages 10 to 20.)
Bridge to Terabithia
Based On: Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (1977)
Perhaps the most forgotten adaptation of its ilk, nestled among the Twilights and Harry Potters of the YA-movie landscape, Terabithia was quietly – relatively speaking – appreciated by fans and critics alike. Director Gabor Csupo, like author Paterson, treated the target audience (which skewed a little older for the film version) not with kid gloves but rather like young adults.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Based On: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (2007)
Just about any Potter adaptation would do, of course, but the franchise finale stands alone in its execution and the fact that its target age group is at its oldest (some of the early books/movies might be considered a little “children’s”-esque). Let’s just say it’s probably the most highly anticipated adaptation of a book ever, which means it was it was set up to fail; amazingly, it succeeded, and left nearly all fans satiated in the end.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Based On: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares (2003)
Chick-flick adaptations (for teens) cannot be neglected, and it cannot be overstated how well-received Sisterhood was by its many, many young female fans. Much like the beloved novel of the same name, the film mixed grown-up sensibilities with teenager wonderment, all while addressing issues with which a lot of young girls can relate. Now, the sequel might not’ve been necessary, but still.
Based On: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
Everyone’s go-to tearjerker is actually thought of as a somewhat young-adult movie based on a very much young-adult book. And while most people remember the big-screen version for “the scene” – you know, the sad one – the film as a whole was a very solid early representation of the genre, and paved the way for many like-minded “lesson” movies to be a little less tame.
Lord of the Flies
Based On: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding (1953)
The book we were all forced to read in middle school begat a movie version that, although not quite as beloved as its source material, was superb in its own right. A few differences exist between the two versions, but the most important themes and concepts – human nature and community, to name a couple – that pervade the book were very much intact in the Peter Brook film.
Based On: Holes, by Louis Sachar (1998)
If Shia LaBeouf was as popular in 2003, when he played lead character Stanley Yelnats, as he is today, Holes probably would’ve made a much larger splash than it did. As it stands, the movie adaptation has enjoyed something slightly larger than a cult following – and critical success – thanks to a somewhat off-kilter concept that started with the novel of the same name. It also explains why many adults have come to love the film as much as young adults.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Based On: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)
Often considered THE preeminent youth-adult novel not named Catcher in the Rye (which, by the way, still hasn’t been officially adapted itself), To Kill a Mockingbird spawned a film that is also considered one of its medium’s best. The film, thanks to a very faithful adaptation, especially thematically, and Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance, is perhaps the only movie that’s as much a must-watch as its source material is a must-read.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.