Welcome to the YA Movie Countdown, our resident expert’s weekly guide to young-adult book-to-film adaptations.
Vampire Academy was having a good time riding the young-adult book-to-film wave. It had the director of Mean Girls, the writer of Heathers and a number of hot, new up-and-comers, but the film still tanked at the box office. In fact, it didn’t just tank -- it crashed and burned until there was little to nothing left. The film opened with an abysmal $1,466 per theater average, leaving it just $3.9 million for its opening weekend and putting it well behind last year’s biggest YA losers, Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
You’d think with an opening that low, it wouldn’t have all that far to fall in its second weekend out, but no. Vampire Academy couldn’t even hold on to half of its opening-weekend profits, bumping it all the way down from number seven to number 14 in its second weekend. There’s a good chance this thing won’t even be in theaters for a full two months.
So now we’re left wondering what happened. The project was getting some attention prior to its February 7 release, so why didn’t anyone follow through and actually go see it? Quite a few factors could have contributed to Vampire Academy’s epic failure, but there are three that were particularly detrimental.
The Three Things That Went Wrong
The Release Date
Vampire Academy should have been this year’s Warm Bodies, but ultimately it didn’t have a shot because it isn’t as good as Warm Bodies, and it had to go up against tougher competition. When Warm Bodies opened to the tune of $20.4 million on February 1, 2013, the only other new wide release was Bullet to the Head and that opened at number six with just $4.5 million. Not much competition there. And on top of that, the only second weeker that stood in Warm Bodies’ way was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which wound up taking a 52.1% hit during Warm Bodies’ debut.
Vampire Academy, on the other hand, got stuck going up against The Lego Movie and Monuments Men, both of which had sizable openings. On top of that, it also had to fend off a number of box office veterans still going strong like Ride Along, Frozen and even That Awkward Moment, which only wound up falling 40.1% in its second weekend out. Vampire Academy still would have drowned if it opened on Valentine’s Day weekend alongside About Last Night, RoboCop, Endless Love and Winter’s Tale as originally planned, but had the Weinstein Company picked a less crowded date -- perhaps the first weekend of the year or January 10 against The Legend of Hercules or January 24 against I, Frankenstein -- it could have had a better shot.
Now for the obvious issue: the film wasn’t very good. I enjoyed it far more than Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments, and also gave it a positive review, but at the same time I can’t deny that it has major issues, some of which could make it hard for those who aren’t familiar with the source material to enjoy.
There was some serious buzz surrounding this project the second Mark and Daniel Waters came on board because instantly people had high hopes for something along the lines of Mean Girls meets Heathers with vampires. There’s no doubt that’s what the duo was trying to achieve, but they just didn’t do it, and that made the movie even more of a letdown.
Part of the reason Warm Bodies opened so big and held on so strong was the positive word of mouth. It had its flaws, but ultimately it appealed both to fans of the book and subverted the YA stigmas, leaving those who typically scoff at the overabundance of supernatural young-adult novels being adapted to film pleasantly surprised by the fresh spin. That should have been Vampire Academy’s in as well, but sadly it never quite got there.
Whether the film was good or not, the marketing team had an easy job with this one – it’s Mean Girls plus Heathers plus vampires. That’s it. Even though the full feature doesn’t totally reflect that, there’s more than enough material in the film’s running time to at least sell that. In fact, the trailer they showed at New York Comic-Con did sell that, but they never released it. They merely played it for a room full of people that were already interested. What’s the point in that?
And that marks a devastating problem with the campaign overall. It never tried to sell the film to moviegoers that weren’t fans of the book. It’s important to give back to the novel’s fan base when that’s the main reason the film is being made in the first place, and TWC did make an effort in that respect, but the only way for a YA adaptation to become the next Hunger Games, Twilight or Harry Potter is by a stroke of luck or presenting the material in a way that appeals to people who aren’t already invested in the source material. That never happened here.
So What Happens Now?
Over the last year we’ve had four YA book-to-film adaptations thought to be the "next big thing" fall flat on their faces. Is the dream of being the next Hunger Games enticing enough or is it no longer worth the risk? Vampire Academy probably won’t be the deciding factor for many, but Divergent could be. Lionsgate/Summit is clearly placing precedence on that one by bringing it to San Diego Comic-Con, getting it an Entertainment Weekly cover, making a big deal out of each and every trailer, putting together an entire merchandise line and more. If this thing doesn’t hit it big, or at least big enough to warrant the sequel (which is already being made), it could certainly rattle the studios and independent production companies.
The YA Movie Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.
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