So What Happened? The Rise (and Fall) of the Dystopian Blockbuster / by Tim Nuttall

It’s the end of November and we’re still nursing a turkey hangover. Looking back, it has been a busy month of family time, friends-givings and Christmas preparations. But it’s also been a huge month for movie releases! Year after year, November proves to be the month for million-dollar franchises and Oscar-nominated releases. Recently, however, we should note a shift away from the young adult dystopian adaptations that powered theaters over the last five years.

We’re talking about the Divergent’s and the Maze Runner’s; the Bella Swans and the Katniss Everdeens. In November 2012, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt.2, the final adaptation from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series, came out. Earlier in March Hunger Games was released. The Twilight adaptations set a wave in motion and Hunger Games brought that wave crashing down. These stories set in a future ruled by an authoritarian system of government featuring an incredibly special and appealing teen once ruled Tinseltown. So what happened?

Why did these futuristic, totalitarian young adult movies become so popular? Here are a couple of theories to chew on:

1)    The Connected Theory - In 1990, the World Wide Web took off and by 1994 there were a million browsers. In 1998, we saw the creation of Google. With this, the world began to feel more connected and seemed to shrink in size. Then social media came onto the scene with the creation of MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006) and Tumblr (2007) with many other platforms to follow. The web of connection grew, thus promoting a feeling of uniformity and sameness. This ushered in a generation who salivated for the opportunity to stand out and be different from the crowd. A generation that wanted to rebel against the system. So when these books came out about characters who were doing just that, it seems only natural that the books flew off the shelves. These stories answered to a generation’s feeling of not wanting to be labeled and categorized in a box. When these books were bought and adapted the public ate them up.

2)    The Obsession with Impending Doom Theory - In 1991 the Cold War was declared over, the Gulf war occurred between 1990-1991, the two towers went down on September 11th, 2001, North Korea resumed nuclear activity in 2003, and America declared war on Afghanistan in 2001 and war on Iraq in 2003. Let’s also not forget the brief bout of panic thanks to an Ancient Mayan prediction that the world would end in 2012. Millennials grew up on the brink of the end of the world, or so it seemed. Catastrophes and disasters that were out of our hands were around ever corner. War, nuclear weapons, terrorism, and conspiracies were common subjects. It is no wonder why writers began writing more stories about possible future outcomes of a corrupt broken society. You could argue that millennials have a mission to save the world from the mess it has gotten in. Writers and film studios were wise to harness onto that line of thinking.

3)    The Rise of Feminism, and the Fall of the Patriarchy - It could easily be argued that today’s day and age has seen a swift rise in feminism. Women are gaining more and more ground as equals and leaders in the workplace, family, school, arts, sciences, athletics and in everyday life. These young adult novels and movies reflect the rise of strong independent women. The glass ceiling is being broken and old systems are proving to be antiquated. This isn’t just demonstrated in stories with strong female protagonists such as The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, and The Divergent Series but also in movies with male protagonists like The Maze Runner and The Giver. All these teen dystopia films present feminist themes; fighting against a system that categorizes, separates, and squashes those underneath it. Tris, Katniss, Bella, Thomas, Jonas are fighting for equality and freedom of choice, they are fighting against the patriarchy and they are winning.

Whether or not any of these theories are true, the thirst for these common themes has faded. Very simply this niche genre was overused and abused. Audiences are all for cheering on a hero against a corrupt society, but we’re tired of the same stories with the same archetypes. The love interest that is weak; the protagonist that is just generic enough so we can insert ourselves in their shoes; the all-powerful leader who takes away all choice from the people for their good; the government that attempts to thwart the efforts of one teen; parents/authorities that are just clueless to the corruption; and scenarios that don't quite seem believable even in their own dystopian world.

If studios want to recapture the love of audiences that once stayed up till midnight to see a premiere then some molds need to be broken and revamped. Characters need to be given more depth, scenarios and plans need to make logical progression. There needs to be stronger reasons why only one certain teen can save society and why no one else can or there needs to be a sharing of the title ‘savior.’ This sub-genre was a response to the millennial generation, and now it is time for the rising generation to respond back with even better stories.