From Page To Screen: Hollywood Targets YA Fiction With this weekend's release of The Hunger Games, so begins another blockbuster movie based on a series of young-adult literature. Critc Bob Mondello considers the relatively short history of Hollywood's new popular habit of targeting pre-teens at the box office.
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From Page To Screen: Hollywood Targets YA Fiction

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From Page To Screen: Hollywood Targets YA Fiction

From Page To Screen: Hollywood Targets YA Fiction

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It's already been a big weekend for a particular type of fiction. If you're the parent of a teenager or a soon-to-be teenager, you're likely well aware that "The Hunger Games" opened in movie theaters across the country this weekend.


DONALD SUTHERLAND: (as President Coriolanus Snow) I'm so it was decreed that each year, the 12 districts of Panem shall offer up in tribute one young man and woman, between the ages of 12 and 18, to be trained in the art of survival and to be prepared to fight to the death.

SULLIVAN: That's Donald Sutherland, the president of a post-apocalyptic country, where teenagers are pitted against one another in mortal combat for the viewing pleasure of the populous. And if recent history is any guide, "The Hunger Games" will be the next huge film franchise to follow a successful series of books targeting a young adult audience. Bob Mondello reviews movies for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and he joins me in the studio. Hello, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's good to be here.

SULLIVAN: First of all, for all of us over 30, give us a brief synopsis of "The Hunger Games." And what did you think of it?

MONDELLO: Well, I liked it quite a bit. It's basically reality TV on steroids. This is a dystopic North America after the fall of the United States to a terrible war. And the subservient districts of this place are kept subservient by this awful thing they do with the kids, which is to remind them every year just how subservient they are. And if you're a kid and you're looking at this, it's sort of empowering because the kids are very strong and resist and the adults don't. So, oh, boy, this is the ideal teen picture, right?

SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Now, I mean, kids went nuts for these books. I mean, it's a hugely popular franchise. I was surprised to learn that this is a fairly recent trend, this young adult lit series just exploding at the box office.

MONDELLO: That's fair to say. I - the big one is...


RALPH FIENNES: (as Lord Voldemort) Harry Potter, the boy who lived, come to die.

MONDELLO: It made $7.6 billion with a seven-book, eight-movie franchise. "Twilight" is, I guess, the second biggest, which is about vampires and werewolves...


ROBERT PATTINSON: (as Edward) I, Edward Cullen...

MONDELLO: ...and is a love triangle.


ROBERT PATTISON: (as Edward) ...take you, Bella Swan...

MONDELLO: And that one has made over $2 billion. I mean, these are enormously popular.


KRISTEN STEWART: (as Bella) As long as we both shall live.

MONDELLO: And it's never happened in the past, really, largely because the box office mentality has changed. In the 1960s, people started thinking of young adults as somebody different from children with the James Dean pictures, with "The Outsiders," and suddenly, you aimed things at teenagers. And in 1970 or so, you started getting pictures like "Jaws" and "Star Wars" and things like that, real blockbusters. Prior to that, you had hits, right, and you didn't get pictures that were aimed so definitely at family audiences in the summer, for instance, and they didn't click like this.

SULLIVAN: Would you count "Lord of the Rings" in that, or what about "Narnia"?

MONDELLO: That's - "Narnia" was definitely aimed at kids. I would say that "Lord of the Rings" is aimed at a slightly older age group. It appeals more broadly. I mean, obviously, it appeals to teenagers, too, but it's not sort of aimed at them in the way that these other pictures are.

SULLIVAN: I mean, there were a lot of books that were also extremely popular, had large - there's "Nancy Drew." I grew up reading "Nancy Drew."

MONDELLO: True. And the "Hardy Boys."

SULLIVAN: And the "Hardy Boys."


SULLIVAN: Why did we not see huge "Nancy Drew" or "Hardy Boys" movies?

MONDELLO: Well, you didn't see movies, but you saw them on television. And what happened back then was - I mean, Disney, for instance, made a series of the "Hardy Boys." My guess is that back in the days when there were only three networks, basically, that those series probably played to enormous audiences by comparison with the ones that are out there today. They might, if they had been in theaters, have made the kind of money that these pictures do now. Hollywood learned its lesson, let's say.


SULLIVAN: Bob Mondello reviews movies for this program. Bob, always great to see you.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.


SULLIVAN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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