The Death of the Teen Dystopian Movie

It’s been ten years since the first Hunger Games film was released. Can you believe it? Let me take you back to the 2010s, before Tiktok, before Zoom, before Masks…ah, a blissful time. Before our own real-life dystopia happened, the 2010s provided us with many examples of what could happen if the world was plunged into disaster. There’s no doubt that dystopia is a wide genre; many may think of The Walking Dead, The 100 or The Society (so many ‘thes’), but there was something about the Teen Dystopian Movie that hypnotised our generation. 

After Twilight’s success, the movie industry needed a new movie that centred around the average young adult. And so came: The Hunger GamesMaze RunnerDivergentThe Host ( a personal favourite), The 5th Wave, Alita: Battle Angel…I could go on but I’ll spare you. 

Why was the Teen Dystopian Movie so popular? Okay, so many years ago there was this independent production company called American International Pictures. They mostly made low-budget flicks aimed at teenagers, i.e. I Was a Teenage Werewolf (don’t look it up). Anyway, in the mid-1960s, they had a strategy for making a successful film, and sooner or later the big Hollywood studios used this strategy too. It was called The Peter Pan Syndrome. The gist is, if you want to reach the largest audience and make the most money, you need to cater to the tastes of the 19-year-old male. 

Scary, I know. But it worked. And I think that this strategy was widened slightly for our generation. Specifically, the studios partially erased the sexist stuff and added a few more female protagonists which widened the market. E.g. 60% of The Hunger Games’ audience was teenage girls. This still doesn’t explain why the teen dystopia was THE film genre of the decade. If we’re being honest, the characters were usually a little bland, the diversity was painfully lacking, and some of the scenarios were…questionable (social experiments on humans, killing your friends to survive that kind of stuff). I think this genre was popular because there was a foundational formula that was tweaked slightly for each film, and hey, humans like a level of predictability. 

The Teen Dystopian Movie Secret Formula:

  1. Grab a Dystopian book off the shelf of any bookstore. Bam, that’s your movie. Now you’ve got an already established audience and a storyline. Sure, we’re a Social Media generation but we loved a good fantasy novel back in the day.  
  2. The storyline must include some sort of division (Districts, Factions, whatever). In 1950s America this was the jocks, nerds, drama geeks, and the rest. Now it was the Seekers, Finders, Archery-ers, Truth-tellers (or something along those lines). What can I say, who doesn’t love a good clique…?
  3. Have an average teenage main character with little personality (so that anyone can feel as if they could be them) but a lot of grit and something different about them like undiscovered powers, fighting skills, (so that everyone firmly understands that this character is ‘not like other girls…or boys’).
  4. A splash of romance (a love triangle is even better!). What teenager did not want two people fighting over them?
  5. Cool costumes with weapons.
  6. Social Media ads (this was a big one). 
  7. The paratext of a film (all the stuff outside of the film but still about the film i.e. posters), was the key to gaining an even bigger and loyal fan base. If you made someone feel like they were part of your imaginary world, they were likely to do more than watching your movie- they would make it part of them. See Harry Potter Huffle Puff Tattoos. 

In all seriousness, these films encapsulated what great escapism is. They showed us a world we didn’t recognise but characters we did. The worlds these films showed may have been bleak but that just made the friendships and triumphs even brighter.  

I could critique these films until the cows come home now, but in reality, I loved them. Why did they disappear? I don’t know, maybe we had enough of the same sort of films being churned out, maybe life got too real too quickly, and suddenly what felt like fiction had the possibility of actually happening. Maybe we grew up…

Whatever the reason, I would love to see the Teen Dystopian Movie come back in a new way. After all, who doesn’t want to see a film about a teenager conquering evil in all its forms?

– Chloé Jarrett-Bell

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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