(Editor’s note: We updated this article on April 16, 2014, to reflect the current print copy sales figures for the four series mentioned.)
Every year, it seems, a new film franchise based off a popular teen series climbs to the top of the box office. This year will likely be no exception. In March, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first book in the dystopian trilogy, was the latest in these teen genre franchises to debut in theaters. The arrival of this newest teen franchise begs the question: why have so many of the top films of the last 15 years been designed for a younger audience? We took a look at Divergent’s predecessors to see what turns a teen book series into a worldwide phenomenon.
Though J.K. Rowling may have initially intended the Harry Potter series for children, they had—and continue to have—a much broader appeal. Seventeen years after the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published, the seven books (combined) have sold 1.4 million print copies since 2012 alone. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Harry Potter franchise. The seven novels have been transfigured into eight movies that sold over 3.3 million discs last year, a number of soundtracks (the two Deathly Hallows soundtracks alone have sold nearly 120,000 copies since 2010), and eight video games. The successes of these different forms of entertainment based on the books have set the stage for the rise of several other recent franchises from teen genre.
Rowling’s preternatural protagonist certainly set a new standard for teen films, but Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series has given Harry his biggest competition since Voldemort. Meyer’s vampires have sold a combined 575,000 print books and over 16.9 million discs since 2012 and have inspired five incredibly popular soundtracks (two of which reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart). Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” the second single from the first Breaking Dawn soundtrack, has sold over 3.5 million units since its release in October 2011.
Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy, The Hunger Games, is the most recent teen genre series to find blockbuster success on the big screen. The series’ latest film, Catching Fire, burned up the box office last year, and has sold 3.8 million discs since its home video release in March 2014. The first film in the series, The Hunger Games, has sold over 8 million discs since 2012, which is no surprise considering the series of books, combined, sold over 11.4 million print copies in the same period. Following Twilight’s example, The Hunger Games franchise has also broken into pop music, inspiring two soundtracks (so far) featuring popular artists such as Arcade Fire, Coldplay and Lorde, among others.
With nearly 4.7 million print copies of Veronica Roth’s novels sold since 2012 and two movie sequels to the series’ debut film already planned, Divergent, the first theatrical installment of the Divergent trilogy, will no doubt become the latest teen trend. The companion soundtrack features a slew of popular artists, including Ellie Goulding, Tame Impala and Skrillex. And its first single, “Find You” by Zedd featuring Matthew Koma and Miriam Bryant, was streamed over 1.4 million times on-demand during the two weeks after the film’s release. By following Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games’ examples of creating a worldwide brand by appealing to multiple age demographics, extensive merchandising, incorporating other entertainment industries (especially music and film) and dividing the series into parts, the Divergent universe may soon become just as pervasive as its predecessors.