'Fault in Our Stars' Ripple Effect: Success Breeds New Rush of 'Grounded' Teen Movies
This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Fault in Our Stars is the rare box-office hit that won't be getting a sequel. But it most certainly will be imitated.
For the past 13 years, the young adult book-to-film landscape has been dominated by wizards (Harry Potter), vampires (Twilight) and teens battling for survival in dystopian futures (The Hunger Games, Divergent). In fact, those three categories make up the top 15 YA book-to-film domestic box office earners.
But given the unexpected success of Fault -- envisioned merely as summer counterprogramming, the Shailene Woodley-Ansel Elgort cancer drama bowed to $48 million domestic during a competitive weekend -- the YA terrain has a new map. Producers and executives say the economics of Fault are impossible to ignore: The Fox 2000 film cost just $12 million to make and dwarfed Warner Bros.' Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, which cost at least $178 million.
"I'm sure we'll see knockoffs because this is the knockoff business," says Erik Feig, co-president of Lionsgate's Motion Picture Group, who is steeped in the ebbs and flows of the YA business, having shepherded Twilight, Hunger Games and Divergent. "It's like those old perfume ads: 'If you liked Obsession, you'll love Perseverance.' You always see a success and then the wave it fosters."
Indeed, in the wake of Fault, based on John Green's wildly successful YA novel, look for a shift from the epic/expensive toward the personal/modestly budgeted.
"I think moviegoers want stories and characters that feature reality over heightened reality," says Michael H. Weber, who adapted Fault with Scott Neustadter. "Hopefully the success of [Fault] will open the door for more stories that resemble the modern young adult experience." Weber and Neustadter, who also co-wrote (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now, are key figures in the "grounded" YA movement. They are reteaming with Fox 2000 and Fault producers Temple Hill on Green's novel Paper Towns, with Fault actor Nat Wolff attached to star. The pair also are writing Rosaline, a comedic retelling of Romeo & Juliet from the point of view of Romeo's ex-girlfriend, which was inspired by Rebecca Serle's When You Were Mine. That project has picked up steam at Universal in recent weeks and has leading lady Felicity Jones in place, whereas the studio's more FX-reliant YA titles Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The School for Good and Evil (both produced by Joe Roth) have no cast yet.
Similarly, Lionsgate is high on a pair of YA titles, neither of which requires big special effects. The studio is developing Jeanne Ryan's novella Nerve, about a high school senior who finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move is watched and commented on anonymously. Catfish duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman will direct. Feig also is close to hiring a director on an adaptation of R.J. Palacio's novel Wonder. "If Fault is the Love Story of now, Wonder is the Mask of now," Feig explains. "I think love stories always work."
To be sure, the dystopian teen thriller will continue to be well represented at the multiplex. Next up in 2014 is The Weinstein Co.'s The Giver, based on Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning novel (Aug. 15), followed by Fox's The Maze Runner, an adaptation of James Dashner's novel (Sept. 19), and then The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1 (Nov. 21). Sony recently greenlighted The 5th Wave, about teens on the run after an alien invasion (Rick Yancey's book spent 20 weeks on The New York Times' best-sellers list).
But Pretty Little Liars showrunner Marlene King, who is adapting Danielle Vega's novel The Merciless, about a girl whose friends try to get her to perform an exorcism, says she is noticing a slow shift. Out of favor are big-gamble YA films with four-quadrant potential; now the preference is for smaller plays for teen girls, who can be mobilized via social media. Fault's demographics -- 82 percent of its opening weekend audience was female and 80 percent was under 25 -- likely will accelerate that shift. "For the longest time, everyone was just looking for the next Twilight, and now it's, 'What's a great story that the millennials can latch on to?' " King says. "This audience is desperate for grounded stories with characters they can relate to, and maybe the world is heightened, but it doesn't have to be heightened for a movie to be a success."
Still, Wyck Godfrey, who produced Fault, Twilight and Maze Runner, says he hesitates to chase what just worked. He's looking for a book like the S.E. Hinton YA classic The Outsiders because he feels the young male perspective is underserved. "You will see a rush for books that deal with reality and tragedy and the life-and-death stakes of being a teenager," says Godfrey. "[But] some people will get burned in hoping they have a piece of material like Fault in Our Stars. By the time you make the movie and it's out in theaters two years from now, it will be too late."