Is This the End of Dystopia?



by J. U. Scribe

This was the question that was raised in the back of my mind in the beginning of 2016. It’s no secret the latest Allegiant movie starring Shailene Woodley bombed at the box office. That came in the heels of the weak performance of another Sci-Fi movie: The 5th Wave, debuting at a little over ten million for its opening weekend. Up till last fall, YA books seemed to be all the rage especially from the dystopian sector.

Not surprisingly Hollywood picked up on the popularity of books like the Hunger GamesDivergent, Maze Runner and The Giver and began adapting these widely acclaimed novels into the big screen. While most of these book-to-movie adaptions started off strong,  recent under-performances of the latest installments leaves me questioning not only the dystopian movie series they inspired but the market for that genre as a whole.

You could say the Hunger Games was the spark that made dystopian fiction catch fire in pop culture. While it’s safe to conclude it hasn’t dethroned big giants such as romance, many of these YA novels have wisely incorporated romantic subplots, furthering expanding their market-base.

And with strong performances from the first two Hunger Games installments at the box office, it was clear dystopian fiction had a solid fan-base. What movies like Hunger Games did though was set the bar high for the movies that would follow such as Divergent which also borrowed the same elements such as intense action, strong female characters against post-apocalyptic backdrops,

Even at its peak, the first tell-tale signs that interest was plateauing was seen in the third installment of Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Most fans of the book were mixed with the idea that the last book would be split into two parts considering the third book is not really long when compared to the previous two books let alone other YA fiction books. The decision was largely driven by the studios which in my personal opinion wanted to milk the franchise for what it was worth. From a marketing standpoint it initially seemed like a smart move. Not surprisingly the same marketing ploy was used with the Divergent series.

However while studios hoped that prolonging the series would rake in more cash for them, it marked the beginning of what I called, “dystopian fatigue.” From reading user reviews, it’s clear that elements like love-triangles, the strong kick-butt female heroine —things that were once seen as marketable strong points— were now redundant clichés.

Although splitting Mockingjay into two parts didn’t turn me off from watching both movies, I could see why users would opt out of seeing one of the movies to read the book instead. While Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 still managed to have a measure of success domestically and abroad the same marketing tactic fared far worse with Allegiant debuting at 38 million in North American in it’s first weekend.

While I never majored in marketing in college, as an indie author I can attest to the challenges when it comes to marketing a book. Markets are ever-changing. What is considered “hot” today could be a bust three months later. At best it’s tricky to determine how well a certain genre will do long-term considering that the market can be fickle.

By no means am I the only person that has questioned the future of these types of movies. But I have yet to hear of discussions of the implications this could have on the book market. While the future of dystopian movies catered to the young adult audience seemed to have reached a bust, it’s premature to say this spells doom for the genre as a whole, at least on the publishing sector.

If anything the adaption of book-to-movie adaptions, have fueled sales for those existing books. Months prior to the movie’s release, the book usually jumps on the top of the best sellers list, as was seen in the example of the Hunger Games installments.

At the same time the movies created a surge of new dystopian fiction, creating more choices for young and adult readers. With more choices, the competition can be seen as a two-edged sword depending on who you speak to. More choices lends itself in the favor of the avid and casual fans alike. At the same time I could see this being a negative thing for both self-published and published writers.

Both types of writers face the challenge of standing out in a crowded market hoping to deliver a YA novel that doesn’t feel recycled or cliche. However I think for the fans who are buying the books, theirs still plenty of revenue to be made from dystopian fiction considering the final installments of Allegiant and Maze Runner will still be fresh on the minds of millions in the months to come.

So what will be the long-term future of dystopian fiction? Has it cooled off like the movies they inspired?

Only time will tell.




Guest post contributed by J.U. Scribe. J.U. is the author of Before the Legend and enjoys outlets such as blogging, drawing, painting, and graphic design.

26 thoughts on “Is This the End of Dystopia?

  1. Dystopian fiction has been around for a long time; a waning interest in YA dystopian movies (and the novels they’re based on) doesn’t mean the subgenre as a whole is dead or dying. Perhaps it only needs to grow up with its primary audience — the people who devoured all those YA dystopian novels a few years ago are no longer teenagers, and their interests are (at least for a large percentage of them) no longer centered around teen romance amidst the ashes of civilization.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Very good points! Thankfully the success of this genre doesn’t ride on the success (or failure) of the 4 examples I used in my post. I like the point you made that the genre needs to grow with their primary audience. Growth is a good thing and in a genre such as YA dystopian novels, its good for writers of the genre to adapt with the times and their audience to stay relevant and fresh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you limit the scope of your interest in dystopia to YA book to movie conversions over the last couple of years, then your results will be severely limiting. The genre hasn’t been fully explored, though there are a ton of stories that fit into the category. There’s still lots to write about, popular TV shows and movies to be made, and I’m sure, untapped segments that we haven’t thought about. Cherry picking 3 or 4 authors to represent the genre is a mistake, especially when evaluating sequel performance in long, drawn out movie series’. How are we even having this discussion without the mention of Mad Max, anyway?


  3. Interesting insight. Your point about people opting out of part 1 or 2 in order to read the actual book, in a way, could be a good thing! As someone who graduated from film school, unless the movie takes on a life of its own, it’s usually more enjoyable to read the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There is a particular flaw with the Girl Dystopian Hero formula that I think has led to its early demise. I emphasize that Girl Dystopian Hero is a very small sub-niche of dystopian fiction in general. (Which includes things like Planet of the Apes, Equilibrium and 1984) The problem is with the romance angle, which tends to encourage focusing on protecting the protagonist rather than letting her be a true hero. I was greatly disappointed in the third installment of Hunger Games when Katniss was relegated to media icon rather than ass-kicking soldier. The last bit in the tunnels and such came too late and wasn’t that important to the overall plot of the bigger story of Panem. By the time we got to the point where she was actually doing something important, the energy of the story had kind of fizzled.

    The subplot of her striving to protect her little sister was poignant. The subplot of her trying to save her boyfriend was tiresome. Part of that was the nature of his character, but in general, it’s distracting and a little out of place when there is a war on that demands her full attention. In short, let the hero be a hero. Quit holding her back.

    And while Hunger Games isn’t the only story in the genre, it is the flagship and when the flagship flounders, the rest suffer.

    I also felt short-changed by the insistence of splitting the last installment into two movies. This was a real blatant cash grab and I think it may have had a stronger blowback effect than people realize. We’re seeing a similar problem with superhero movies where stories are being marginalized in the service of setting up future installments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very poignant. Your line, “Let the hero be the hero, stop holding her back,” made me think. What made these new heroines so compelling was how different they were. As we move through the series, these heroes depart further from the tradition.
      Poor Katniss is a victim of her own success. In the latter books, the female hero grows up and has a new, more sophisticated set of obstacles: her own legend, politics, stasis, and emotional quicksand.
      Maybe being the hero doesn’t always mean direct and physical confrontation. Maybe being the heroine means putting down your sword and making policy.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The fiction genre itself is fine. My problem with the Divergent movies is how far they strayed from the book. That and they changed the ending of the series from what happened in the book. I felt robbed after watching it.


  6. I think dystopian fiction will continue to sell for as long as people feel pessimistic about the world. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that YA you-go-grrl with your pretty boy and a bad boy love triangle book to movie adaptations will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point! I suppose dystopian fiction is here to stay for awhile since a considerable number of people feel pretty pessimistic about the future. It would make sense that people’s view of the world will shape their reading choices. Cliches though get played out rather quickly so I guess there’s no surprise in lackluster performances at the box office.


  7. Dystopian fiction has a long history, beginning way before the YA market got hold of it. I don’t believe it’s going anywhere, but perhaps it will drift into other genres. I think you’re right that Hollywood has had a hand in beginning to burnout of the hot run of Dystopian YA. I for one decided not to watch the third Hunger Games movie until I could watch both parts, and then lost interest before I had the chance. And unfortunately I found the final installment of Divergent to be as tedious as the book was, which was disappointing given the wonderful first two. There’s been such a long delay in the third Maze Runner (which can’t be helped because of an actor injury I’ve read) that I think the audience turnout will suffer for that one, too. There are even better series, I think, than these three still, though, too.. I’d like to say that I want Hollywood to take them on, but, honestly, I’m not sure I do. Hopefully readers are still finding them. And I hope writers are still writing them. As a fan of the genre I’d love to see it continue to be successful, even if it winds up being marketed a little differently.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree that dystopian fiction has been around for quite some time. Just take 1984 for an example and that has been out way before the YA market took hold on that genre. I agree with a lot of the points you made and I appreciate that you understand the angle I’m coming from which is dystopian fiction as it relates to the YA market. Like you, Hollywood taking it on is a mixed bag, but I’m glad to know you’re a fan of the genre as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Personally I used to read dystopian fiction a lot in 2012/2013 when movies like The Hunger Games were really big but I kind of got sick of seeing them everywhere so I moved on to other genres. I was really sad to hear that part 2 of Allegiant might not be happening though because I did enjoy all the books


    1. Very true. I got a chance to check Amazon just now and sure enough it’s #1 on the best-seller list for books. 1984 is one of the most prolific dystopian novels and with recent events that you alluded to in your comment, its message has become even more relevant, hence the surge in interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think much of the criticism here can be summed up in a succinct message to writers and filmmakers of this genre: Respect Your Audience. Be daring! Be creative! Stop relying on cliches! If it feels familiar and ‘comforting’ somehow, it’s because it’s been done before – probably to way better effect, since when it was new, it was a novelty and therefore exciting and unpredictable! I think the whole genre should take a pause for the cause until some creativity can be mustered and brought into play. Just sayin’.


    1. I agree, but there’s no question many types of formulaic genre do sell really well and many readers of it seem to like the predictable nature of it. That’s true in books as well as movies. It’s why romantic comedies and action packed super hero adventures continue to be made, because there’s a ready-made audience. I suspect Dystopian YA has become more tedious because dystopian in general requires a great deal of higher order thinking from its audience and such an audience will likely come to expect to be challenged. Or maybe because it’s the YA issue, because the primary target ages out and moves on. Of course there are new young adults coming up behind them, too. I do think there are still fans of the genre, who will continue to seek plays on the same elements many readers and viewers have come to find more tedious. But, yes, an injection of daring and creativity is never the wrong idea I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dystopian fiction didn’t just start with YA – we’ve had plenty of excellent stories based in dystopian settings in the past! I think the problem lies in the fact that a lot of people saw how successful it could be, and decided “me too”. But the silver lining is – the more people that write dystopian fiction, the higher our chances of discovering the next 1984, or the next Handmaiden’s Tale. Even if it does mean we’ll have to make more effort to discover them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. The examples you use are classic examples of dystopian fiction before it became marketed to the YA crowd. I focused on the YA angle because in recent years that genre has catered to that audience. I see that market being the most dominant when it comes to new dystopian fiction works. Part of that stems from the initial success of the examples I pointed out. Personally I didn’t really get into the genre until much later but I’m glad I discovered the books I did (The Giver, Hunger Games, etc) and I hope to discover new ones that will make you think about it long after the last page is turned.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course! Comparing classics to YA is like comparing apples to oranges, so my own comparison was probably inapt. I think YA can serve as a good springboard for others to seek out other variations of dystopian fiction, though I can’t help but be reminded of how in the past, vampires and werewolves were all the rage. I enjoyed Hunger Games very much myself, too – though as with all trilogies, I loved the first book the most. Thank you for your response!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I think we’re perilously close to living in that dystopian future right now,, but to answer the question in your title, the answer is no. No genre ‘ends’. It morphs into something else and/or fades away until it cycles back. Right now we in a ‘golden age’ of SF geekery, but it too will fade and then cycle around again.


  12. I gotta admit, never read or watched “the Hunger Games” or any of the other ones out there–just too much of what I’ve read before with adults and dystopia, so I don’t have much ground to have opinions on these particular ones.

    Frankly, when I heard about Hunger Games, I figured I’d had the ground covered reading (and watching) “Battle Royale.” Katniss wouldn’t last an hour in that setup! Crazy crazy story from Japan that came out around 2000, and tons of suspense.

    When the craze dies down, I might pick up Hunger Games, but like all the superhero movies coming out, I’m so tired I don’t even wanna consider it right now, even with my fave characters. I’ll wait.


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