For many tweens like myself in the early 2010s, watching a teenage dystopian drama was the pinnacle of my week. I was an enormous fan of various book-to-film franchises, from Mortal Instruments, to Ready Player One, I can still remember the bustling excitement of watching The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Hunger Games in the cinema for the first time. Watching these dystopias acted as a form of escapism for me; it was a journey to another world, one with problems more extreme, more dangerous, and most importantly, more exciting. We have all imagined what we would have done if we were drawn to take part in the ‘Triwizard Tournament’, or perhaps if we were ‘reaped into the Hunger Games’, with these thrilling adventures becoming a staple discussion in my tweenage friendship groups, and sleepovers. But what happened to this oh-so-loved genre of film adaptations? What has led to their downfall, and ultimately their disappearance? With the success of The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, will we see this genre triumph in our cinemas once again? 

The dystopian genre has been around, debatably, well before the early 2010s with films and books like Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange paving the way for these creative, and captivating science fiction futures. However, I am focusing on films targeted specifically at teenagers and young adults, the films that we grew up on. To avoid controversy, I will address Battle Royale, the utterly grim and gory 2000 film, about a school bus of children also being forced to fight to the death. Whilst similar to The Hunger Games, the political implications of Battle Royale are miniscule in comparison, and the world it is set in is not dystopian, but rather an excuse to play out this brutal R-ated slasher. Therefore, in my opinion, the real founding father of the teenage dystopian genre is the modern-day classic that is The Hunger Games. Now, I am a long-time fan of this series. As a child, I went to a Hunger Games-themed training camp, where I literally re-enacted scenes from the films with a bunch of other 11 year old nerds, but as a now 20-year-old, I wholeheartedly believe that The Hunger Games was revolutionary. Not only does it dive into real-world political issues, such as the horrors of an extreme capitalist future, but it teaches children about morality, war, and the brutality that the 1% in power will oppress the 99% with. Other early classics include The Host, The Maze Runner and Equilibrium, all of which were staples in my dystopian movie marathon. At the height of the dystopian craze, these movies were being churned out monthly, and generated jaw-dropping profits for movie studios, due to accumulating die-hard fan bases whose loyalty knew no bounds…until Allegiant. 

A terrible sequel has proven capable of capsizing an entire franchise, and in the case of Allegiant Part 1, not only did it not get a part 2, but in my opinion its ice-cold plunge at the box office led to the demise of the entire teenage dystopian genre as we know it. The issue with that film wasn’t just due to fans losing interest in the relatively basic, dull franchise, but the fact it was a truly awful film with no substance; it was poorly written, made, and advertised. Other films put out to temporarily re-heat the now tarnished name of dystopias, films like Chaos Walking, The 5th Wave, and I hate to say it, The Darkest Minds, did a poor job at reviving this now disintegrating genre. Studios barely attempted to reignite the craze, consequently failing. Fans of the genre grew up, actors lost interest in the already half-started franchises, and money was lost, due to quickly adapting poorly known books into poorly written movies. The dystopia was disappearing, decaying before our very eyes. No new films were reinventing the genre, there was no evolution, and plotlines between entirely different franchises began to blend due to overused tropes like the love triangle.

With this being said, could we be looking at the slow re-emergence of the dystopian genre? The overwhelming success of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which boomed at the box office, along with a Percy Jackson re-make in the form of a series, may be a convincing enough argument for studios to attempt to re-ignite the teenage dystopian genre  Maybe a few climate-change based dystopias will scare people enough to inspire change, or maybe question global social inequalities. Perhaps dystopian films are merely there to provide short lived thrills that only young people can enjoy before their frontal lobe fully forms. Regardless, I am fully in support of a new wave of dystopian films to (hopefully) re-emerge. However, as a society, do we even need dystopias? Debatably we are living in one. The state of the world has continued rotting; we are living in a war-torn, genocidal, capitalist hellscape. Many people watch movies for escapism, and many dystopias reflect and tell the story of a world a little too close to home. Maybe that makes audiences uncomfortable? Explicitly highlighting the issues of our own world, which more often than not are at the hands of either the exponentially rich, or scarily fast-developing AI technology allows for stories which mirror our own world suspiciously closely. Critiques of our own society portrayed through art forms in the media are much needed, allowing for audiences who may otherwise not question societal issues to actively engage in political discussion. 

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