The Best Movie Ever | Young Adult

This week we bid adieu to the wildly successful and enormously popular The Hunger Games franchise, at least until Lionsgate can figure out how to make prequels, spin-offs and sequels without angering the fan base. It, along with the Divergent series, is one of the last true juggernauts in the once omnipresent, now merely present “Young Adult” movie genre, which – in its present form – typically placed disenfranchised youths in fantastical situations, and played to the adolescent ego by implying that this target demographic knows everything they will ever need to know while they are already in their teens, and that their first love is, like, totally the best love.

It might sound goofy but the danged thing is, it works, and it sells tons of books and millions of dollars worth of tickets. Whatever the critics say, audiences eat up Young Adult movies or “YA” movies by the truckload, and within barely a decade this fervor has given birth to a flurry of films in this genre. There’s something for everyone now, but which is the best young adult movie?

Related: The Best Movie Ever | Angelina Jolie

This week on The Best Movie Ever, our goal is to finally answer that question. We asked Crave‘s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider‘s Brian Formo, to present their picks for the best young adult movies ever. As usual they can’t agree on a damned thing, with one of their picks predating the current trend by decades, another picking a film from a lucrative franchise and another picking a film that bombed so hard it never ever started a franchise.

Find out what they picked, and come back next week for another highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!

Best Young Adult Movies

Brian Formo’s Pick: Rumble Fish (1983)

Universal Pictures

We associate the term “young adult” now with supernatural romances and a high stakes post-apocalyptic world, but S.E. Hinton is one of the original young adult novelists and her young adult worlds focused on ragtag bunches of dreamers who don’t wanna go to school but still wanna belong to a group. The Outsiders, published in 1967, is her most famous work. It sold 14 million copies. Yet it wasn’t scooped up for a Hollywood adaptation until Francis Ford Coppola adapted it in 1983 (and thereby launched the careers of Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez). Now, Hollywood buys YA books before they’re even published or have fervent audience. After The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight Hollywood is overdue in listening to Hinton’s basic 19 year-old statement: “teenagers are for real.”

Obviously with that introduction I am choosing a Hinton adaptation as the best young adult movie adaptation ever, but while I’m sticking with Coppola and the year 1983, I’m not choosing The Outsiders. Nope, it’s Rumble Fish. Why? Because Coppola treats the source material as tattoo-worthy. Shot in black and white (with the exception of giving tropical fish their proper color) and featuring a jazzy score and brooding youngsters Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, and Diane Lane, Rumble Fish is all flash and outbursts of big emotion. It might not be totally in tune with 80s teenagers, but it does capture the teen spirit of drama, rebellion, and how goddamn BIG an older sibling’s legacy feels. When it was made Coppola called it an “art film for teenagers” and in that regard it succeeds, because it has a surface coolness, a daydream sexiness, and while he understands that teens might not have the most life experience, Coppola doesn’t patronize them for loosing their cool or overreacting.

Just read the synopsis and enjoy: “Rusty James (Dillon), an absent-minded street thug, struggles to live up to his older brother’s (Rourke) reputation, and longs for the days when gang warfare was going on.” 

Witney Seibold’s Pick: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Warner Bros.

Books have been written for younger audiences in mind for as long as there have been books, so some distinction must be drawn when referring to a book for young adults, and the much more recent trend of films based on “Young Adult Fiction” (an obnoxious market-ready buzzphrase if ever there was one). The recent trend began, as far as I can tell, with the Harry Potter book series in the late 1990s, and its eight-film movie adaptation in 2001. Fantasy-based YA Fiction, pretty much all movies like Harry Potter, tend to be about young doldrums-mired protagonists who discover they are the “chosen one” in an unseen world of magic/fantasy/violence. Sometimes they have magic powers they didn’t know they had. Sometimes they just have spunk. But by the end, they will have to go to war.

The clichés of the genre, at least as they have been expressed in Hollywood’s constant stream of adaptations (Beautiful Creatures! The Mortal Instruments! The Hunger Games! The Dark is Rising! The Vampire’s Assistant! The Lightning Thief! Divergent! Insurgent! Expectorant! More! More! More!), have become worn down to dull points, so it’s hard to recall a time when such things were actually fresh, fantastical, and downright enchanting. For such qualities, one must go back to the beginning of the Harry Potter movie series, and take a look at its best chapter, 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The first film in the series introduced us to Harry, and brought he – and audiences – into a magical world that was a comforting blend of wonderment, high fantasy, and earthy, Dickensian frivolity. The second film, however, with the introduction out of the way, was allowed to breathe, and Harry Potter’s wizard boarding school of Hogwarts became a much deeper, more labyrinthine place full of longer hallways and darker passages. The world expanded. Harry discovered new mysteries. There was, suddenly, so much more to tempt the imagination about Harry’s world. After Chamber of Secrets, the series became frustratingly more and more about war, violence, revenge, and all the most boring of thriller tropes. But for one magical movie, Harry Potter tempted to scrape with greatness. 

William Bibbiani’s Pick: Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Warner Bros.

I am ashamed to admit that I too once fell prey to the zeitgeist. No, not the popularity of Young Adult movies, but the hatred of them. Critics often scorn the contemporary version of this genre for being full of familiar tropes, silly fantasy and too serious melodrama, even though they obviously strike a genuine chord in their audience. I scoffed too until I realized that, once upon a time, I had to endure the critical drubbing of superhero movies and horror films from critics who found it easier to decry a whole genre than genuinely ask themselves why it’s so popular, and find something within themselves that connects to it… if only once in a while.

Yes, most Young Adult movies suck, because if you look long and hard at any genre you’ll find that a great many entries within all of them are disappointing. Honestly I find myself drawn to the less popular films in this downtrodden genre, in part because they are often eschewed by their own target audience for doing something different than the more popular renditions of the young love/magic powers/underdog motif. That’s a big part of why I unapologetically love Beautiful Creatures, a failed attempt to jump-start a franchise that mostly failed because it didn’t treat the source material as gospel, which ironically made it work even better as a film.

This slice of southern gothicism is about a young woman (Alice Englert) who, in the very near future, will discover whether she is fated to become a good witch or an evil witch. Meanwhile, all of the bible-thumping townsfolk hate witches of both types, and a gangly book nerd (Alden Ehrenreich) falls in love with her. These kids talk to each other and, unlike most teenagers in most movies of any kind, they have interesting things to say. They speak of dreams and fears and they reference novels that they have actually read and understood, albeit in an adolescent sort of way. And then there’s Margo Martindale with a peacock in her hands, and Emmy Rossum bosom-ly seducing minors, and we are reminded that the fantasy elements of our fantasy stories need not be bogged down with frustrating rules, but can work just fine if they merely entertain us and mean something to the characters, even if audience is scratching their collective heads.

Loopy, lovey, luscious and ludicrous. That’s the way I like my Young Adult movies nowadays, and Beautiful Creatures is all of those things, even if they did jettison a couple of characters. (How DARE they?)

Tell us what you believe are the best Young Adult movies ever in the comment section below.

Previously on The Best Movie Ever:

Top Photo: Universal Pictures / Warner Bros.