Best YA Movie Adaptations

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this week’s edition, we celebrate the release of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials by asking “What is your favorite young adult or children’s book adaptation?”

Ethan Anderton: Hugo

It doesn’t get much better than Martin Scorsese writing a love letter to cinema by adapting Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What starts off as a boy named Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) desperate attempts to keep the memories of his father alive through an automaton they were rebuilding turns into a mystery that leads to the resurgence of filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who has been living in hiding after being forced into bankruptcy following World War I, closing his motion picture studio and selling his films to be turned into raw materials.

As these two characters become intertwined with each others’ stories, both Hugo and Méliès have their hopes and dreams restored as the boy gets to have a family he can call his own again, and the filmmaker returns to his passion of cinema by being named a professor at the Film Academy. The entire film is about never settling for anything less than following your dreams, lest you become another cog in the machine, thereby turning into some sort of automaton of your own making.

What I love about Hugo is that it doesn’t attempt to pander to children. It treats them literally as young adults and gives them a smart, sophisticated story with a wonderful message at its core. Plus, it’s not often we get to see a story like this about the magic of the movies, especially classic films, in such a lovely, whimsical family adventure like this.

Vanessa Bogart: Harry Potter

Harry Potter is the most important fandom in my life. Star Wars, comic books, and video games be damned! (Maybe not that dramatic, but you get the idea). As someone born at the dawn of the 90s, I grew up with the books, devouring them one after the other, reading and rereading while waiting for the next installment. When the movies came out, they weren’t just movies. They were everything I ever dreamed of manifesting before my eyes on screen.

With eight movies, it is impossible not to have ebbs and flows in the quality, but through the absolutely bewitching score and the delicacy for which the stories were handled, every film manages to transport the audience to the wonderful world so eloquently detailed in the books, while also capturing the tone and the moral lessons of the stories without seeming childish. The movies made a YA series a universal classic.

While signing child actors up for the full series paid off, it is the perfect casting of every adult character that ultimately carries the films. Both Richard Harris and Michael Gambon make Dumbledore as warm on the screen as he was on the page, Julie Waters and Mark Williams brought everyone’s favorite parents to life, and if Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape doesn’t turn you into a blubbering mess of a human, then you must have suffered the Dementor’s Kiss long ago.

Chris Evangelista: Rumble Fish

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumbe Fish isn’t your typical YA film adaptation. Coppola himself called it an “art film for teenagers,” and the minute the movie starts, it’s easy to see why. This adaptation of the S.E. Hinton YA book is abstract and strange, full of stark black and white photography occasionally shot through with splashes of color. The reality of this world is heightened – clocks are always ticking too fast, clouds are always rolling by outside at impossible speeds.

Coppola shot Rumble Fish back to back with another Hinton YA adaptation – The Outsiders. And while the latter film is more polished and loaded with future movie stars, including a very young Tom Cruise right before he got his teeth fixed, the film didn’t make Coppola happy. He thought it was too clean, too sterile. He wanted something riskier. So, using the same crew and many of the same cast, he set about adapting Rumble Fish as well. Audiences didn’t take to the film, but now, so many years later, when viewed against The Outsiders, Rumble Fish is the superior film.

The story focuses on Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a young, dumb punk who is constantly living the shadow of his super cool, mysterious brother, the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). The Motorcycle Boy has been missing for some time, but when he comes roaring back into town on his bike, everything starts to change. This is a sad, somber, incredibly weird look at misspent, angry youth, and one of the most fascinating YA adaptations ever made.

Lindsey Romain: The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of those books that annoyed me as a teen – but that was before I ever read it. Much like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, it always carried the designation of “that book emo boys read to look deep.” I realize now unfair that is (I was literally judging a book by its cover), and when I did give in and read it, I saw the appeal. The story of Charlie, a sensitive kid dealing with his own childhood sex abuse, really spoke to me. Simply told, perhaps, but it packed a punch. For that reason, I was pretty confident a film adaptation would be sparse and uninteresting. The novel is written like a diary, and pours from Charlie’s heart; I wasn’t sure how they’d accomplish that same tender POV without some cloying voiceover. To add to that, Chbosky was making his directorial debut with the film version, which sounds ill-advised on paper. He’s a writer with a single novel and no film experience. How was he going to pull it off?

To my complete astonishment, Perks ended up being terrific. It’s not big or flashy, nothing too dramatic, no obnoxious heartfelt speeches or moral pontificating. It’s as subtle as the book, and as beautiful. Logan Lerman is excellent as Charlie, and the supporting cast is equally up to the task: Emma Watson has never been better as Charlie’s troubled crush Sam, Ezra Miller is a standout (like always) as Sam’s step-brother and Charlie’s best friend Patrick, and Mae Whitman perfectly obnoxious as his first girlfriend Mary Elizabeth. The soundtrack – full of Bowie, New Order, Sonic Youth, and The Cocteau Twins – is a character unto itself, making the film’s early-90s setting feel established without being too obvious about it. It’s that excellent high school film that feels instantly knowable and comfortable, like a friend you want to revisit over and over.

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