If you haven't seen any of the million magazine covers at the newsstand proclaiming this, Suzanne Collins' apocalyptic The Hunger Games is about to be released as a movie. There are already T-shirts, duffel bags, unauthorized guidebooks, and anything you can think of that can have the movie's logo on it, just waiting for a stampede of buyers. Most expectedly, The CW has the pilot for a TV series that rips off the concept, in the chamber and ready to fire should the movie become a success. (They're in this world for money, not respect.)
The most common statement from the press has been "Move over, Twlight!"....as if the Hunger Games books hadn't been out for years already. Does every aspect of literary success just not count until you get your movie?
Sometimes....yes. A movie is a big, huge, powerful thing. Many trends have hit their apex with the release of "Trend: The Movie." On the contrary, though, other trends have been sunk by one. When you sign away the movie rights to your books, you're making a huge gamble. Many uncontrollable factors are involved....the quality of the film, the skill of the director, the aptitude of the marketing department or lack therof, and the public's interest. The creator can't control any of those things; he or she can only sign on the dotted line and cross their fingers. Let's look at some book series of the recent past and how their movies have shaped their place in popularity.
Pre-movie awareness: 100%
Post-movie awareness: 170%
Harry Potter is one of those rare instances when it didn't really need a movie to raise its own public awareness any higher. J.K. Rowling's seven-parter is a once-in-a-century phenomenon, and no matter how badly the corporate world wants it repeated, we're unlikely to see anything on that scale again in our lifetimes. As we've learned from Twilight, not every book series that gets popular is for everyone.
Most people don't write books that end up making them richer than the Queen. In fact, nobody does that except for Rowling.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA
Pre-movie awareness: 70%
Post-movie awareness: 100%
People talked about these books before hand, they got around for sure, but the real clamor didn't start until the movies began rolling out. The original "Twilight" was a modest hit, but it was "New Moon" that really exploded the whole thing and became the bane of every boyfriend's existence. It also affected the book market so that practically everything published between 2008 and 2011 was strictly for hormonal females only. Barnes and Noble now has two entire racks in their fiction section devoted to "Teen Paranormal Romance" and "New Teen Paranormal Romance." It can't end soon enough for me.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Pre-movie awareness: 80%
Post-movie awareness: 75%
It actually dropped a bit. Kind of a letdown for the author, but at least he didn't have to see it happen. Weren't these books one of the most popular novels of the past five years? The movie was barely a cultural sneeze. Maybe it just took too long to come out? Maybe the problem was that the Millennium Trilogy was for adults and had no teen appeal? No, I think the biggest problem was that the entire trilogy had already been filmed in Sweden and quietly distributed here through all the channels -- the theater, Netflix, Redbox. If anyone wanted to see a Lisbeth movie, they already got their fix. The American version was just gravy to most people.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Pre-movie awareness: 10%
Post-movie awareness: 100% among geeks, 10% among "normals"
If I had been Bryan Lee O'Malley and had any Hollywood producer come up to me, I would have insisted "Scott Pilgrim" was impossible to film. At least, not possible to film unless the studio was willing to take a massive risk, stay absolutely faithful to the graphic novels, make a ton of references that would sail over people's heads, and not make any money. Turns out, Universal was willing to do all that, and the expected result happened: the "Pilgrim" movie was flattened by an action film, "The Expendables," that came out in the same week.
Much like most Mike Judge films, though, the box office take didn't turn out to matter. What mattered was that the target audience was so pleased with it that they bought massive quantities of Blu-Rays and turned it into a cult classic.
THE SWORD OF TRUTH
Pre-movie awareness: 35%
Post-movie awareness: 37%
So Terry Goodkind has this long string of fantasy novels under the banner name "The Sword of Truth," and some people read them but not everybody does. It had TWO adaptions, and both failed to raise it out of niche-dom. The first was a feature film called "The Seeker," named after the main character's "Chosen One" title, and was met with yawns. The second was a separate unrelated adaption in TV series form, "Legend of the Seeker." It was an attempt to revitalize the first-run syndication market, but it never caught on.
Not only did the general public fail to take interest, but the series' hardcore fans despised the adaptions for making too many changes. In "The Sword of Truth" the protagonist is more of a rough 'n tough antihero; in the movie and show, he's Mickey Mouse with a magic sword.
HIS DARK MATERIALS
Pre-movie awareness: 25%
Post-movie awareness: 25%
Only the first book in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass, was moviefied. It was marketed as a LOTR ripoff, at a time when ten thousand LOTR ripoffs had come before it and the appeal was gone. The public shrugged and the movie disappeared.
If you're familiar with this series, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's more likely that Golden Compass failed because the book series is basically the Antichrist version of Narnia, and it's not even subtle about it. You can read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and there's a small chance you might think "hey, that whole Aslan death and resurrection thing is like Christ," but only if you've grown up in Sunday School. The third Dark Materials book smashes its audience with atheistic anvils like "Christianity is history's greatest mistake." Surely, the outrage over this kept it from succeeding, right?
Not really. All the controversial elements of the novel were removed for the film. And there actually wasn't any religious outrage over His Dark Materials -- just over Harry Potter. Helicopter moms aren't fazed by things that are obviously bad. Those things are boring because they don't sneak around. What's far scarier are the things out there that MIGHT be evil but don't admit it! Like Dungeons and Dragons, or the Smurfs!
PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS
Pre-movie awareness: 40%
Post-movie awareness: 30%
Investors gambled that this book series, a re-imagining of the Greek gods in modern-day times, would become the next Harry Potter. There was one problem with that. Harry Potter already happened. It's too soon.
Like I said earlier, Harry was a once-in-a-century event. You can't replace it with anything like it. Only Harry holds that place in popular culture. It's like so many sci-fi films that wanted to replace Star Wars but couldn't.
That's not something studio execs want to hear, though. They'll just keep trying to replicate something that can't be replicated until the day they get fired.
THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN
Pre-movie awareness: 25%
Post-movie awareness: 2%
This is the worst fate for a book series that I know of. Lloyd Alexander sold the movie rights to The Chronicles of Prydain to Disney in 1971. It spent the next fourteen years in development hell, being poked, prodded, massively rewritten, and finally released in 1985 with almost no resemblance to his creation except for the same Welsh names. It was beaten by Care Bears and remains the single biggest embarrassment in the Disney animated library, save Song of the South. And it's not like anyone else could try their hand at adapting Prydain -- once Disney animates your idea, it's in the vault forever. Lloyd died without seeing any of his true vision on screen.
I think the next time Disney's scrounging around the bin for things to remake, they should try this. They should make a real string of movies out of it; a five-film-long, live-action epic with all the fancy FX. Let's do it again, and do it right! Poor Lloyd was owed that much.
Pre-movie awareness: 0%
Post-movie awareness: 0%
Hey, remember that Whiteout movie? No one does. The graphic novel of the same name was adapted into a feature film starring Kate Beckinsale in 2010. It came and went without anyone noticing. This was just fine by the author, whose only interest in a movie deal was to buy himself a house with the money and not look back. In a sense, he got exactly what he wanted.
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