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Young adult novels are prime real estate for movie adaptations, but this doesn't mean they're always good; here's some of the worst.

‘Artemis Fowl’: The worst young adult novel adaptations of all time

Adaptations are a tricky business, make no mistake on that. Ask anyone who has studied screenwriting and they’ll tell you an adaptation is one of the hardest scripts to write. It’s for a variety of reasons. Sometimes translating from a novel to film can be the trickiest bit. Other times, it’s figuring out how to get hundreds of pages into a finite amount of film. 

Basically, it comes down to adaptations of children, young adult, or adult novels being a tricky business indeed. With so many adaptations of young adult novels in recent years, you have to wonder why people are having a hard time translating them to film? Why are some done better than others? Whether studio inference, directorial mishaps, or just a bad screenwriter is given the project, it tends to vary. 

With the release of Artemis Fowl on Disney+, the conversation comes up as it always does: how can translating young adult novels to film go so wrong? Artemis Fowl is, frankly, toothless, gutless, and takes fascinating character and makes him . . . boring. It’s not a good adaptation and not a good film either.

It’s not just the fans of the Eoin Colfer novel series that think this either. Critics have shredded the film. Artemis Fowl currently holds a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. Cats, a fiasco of epic proportions, holds a 21%. That’s how bad Artemis Fowl is. 

Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl is just another in a long line of young adult adaptations that got done dirty. Right now, our best hope is that Disney a) lets the rights default so someone else can give a better adaptation or b) do a TV series and give it to someone that knows what they’re doing with the source material. 

For those curious, here are some of the other members of the ignoble club that Artemis Fowl has found itself in.

Percy Jackson franchise

Do two films make a film franchise? It’s definitely a question for the ages here. Nonetheless, the Percy Jackson films weren’t the best. Rick Riordan, known by the fans as “Uncle Rick”, even said as much recently. He called the adaptations of his beloved book series as seeing his life’s work be put through the “meat grinder”. 

Riordan doesn’t blame the cast for this, of course. It could have been due to studio interference from 20th Century Fox or just bad decisions all around. Either way, these film adaptations annoyed both fans and the creator alike. Now many of them are hoping that the upcoming Percy Jackson television series will restore honor to Camp Half Blood.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was a must-read growing up for many people. While the Netflix adaptation of the series is actually really great, the 2011 Jim Carrey-starrer was . . . not. On paper, Jim Carrey as Count Olaf? Yeah, you could see it. The spark in the young adult novels to film adaptation? That was lost and never quite recovered.

More importantly, the film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events had the cardinal sin of being overstuffed and boring at the same time. Not worth a watch until Netflix acquired the rights and made a three season faithful adaptation to the series, which was as grim and weird as it should be.

The Golden Compass

There’s a trend here about bad film adaptations of beloved young adult novels being given new (and better) life in the form of a television series, huh? The Golden Compass, based on Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, was released back in 2007. Like Artemis Fowl, The Golden Compass removed a lot of the “teeth” from the original source material in order to make things more “palatable” for audiences.

Obviously, this tactic didn’t work. The Golden Compass is more of an embarrassing footnote. His Dark Materials, the franchise, recovered admirably into the excellent HBO and BBC series instead. The lesson we should all learn here is that when a film version of a young adult novel fails, make it into a television series.

The Twilight Saga

One could argue that the whole Twilight film franchise are some of the best “B” movies of this generation. They’re weird. Nothing makes sense. The decapitation scene in Eclipse is more hilarious than anything else. Not to mention the wolves. Here, with Twilight, was an opportunity to improve on the source material and make it better than the books.

Despite the Twilight renaissance, or revival, or revolution, many can agree that the books aren’t great. So this was a franchise where you could just go ham and maybe improve on some things. The parts of the films that don’t work are the ones from the book and the parts that do are what was conceived of later. It’s an odd case, but one that could have been explored in better detail.

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