There are so many problems with Young Adult post-apocalyptic dystopia franchises. Here is why they were popular for the last few years but were doomed from the start to ever reach any levels of quality.
They got popular because the main demographic, teens, brought in so much money for these franchises, and they were built on the success of popular book series. All the teenage angst and the you-against-the-bad-adult-world feelings that these series provoked really struck a chord with the youngest of that demographic. The main characters were some kind of everyday heroes who finally realized some sort of inner power and finally meant something to the world they lived in, and teenagers personify with that immensely.
I’ll tell you the problem that underlies everything. The book writers and screenwriters try to pander the movies to “the teenage mind” and they have a strong idea about what “the teenage mind” wants. The tragedy is that this isn’t necessary. I’ll explain.
The post-apocalypse setting was never something realistic like The Road (2010), no, it always had some extreme features. The setting always had a fascist dictatorship run by heartless adults who did bad things to teenagers. Look here: In The Hunger Games (2012), adults segregated the world and made teenagers fight each other. In Divergent (2014), adults told teenagers how to be and abandoned the ones they didn’t like. In The Maze Runner (2014), adults locked teenagers up and threatened their lives in some kind of experiment. The science fiction element was always pulled into the extreme and impossible to take seriously. The first problem was that logic was discarded to adapt the setting to what is supposed to be “the teenage mind”.
Besides world-building, characterization also brought things down. You could describe a movie such as Insurgent (2015) as dumb teenagers fighting. All emotions were dialed to 11 and hormones raged through the characters. Everyone yelled, cried or stared dumbstruck. Good common sense, thinking things through and dealing well with emotions was never really part of those stories. Instead, we got a lot of drama and bad communication because of the way the characters were written.
These three big franchises are wrapping up by now. The final installment of The Hunger Games will be out soon, and both Divergence and The Maze Runner have now presented their middle parts and all that remains is their conclusions. As much as we wanted these films to be big and meaningful, as much as teenagers have been screaming in anticipation, the movies are so much focused on presenting rather childish simplifications of the world for the target demographic that any hope for a really good story was doomed from the start.
The thing is, you don’t need to go this far in pandering to a demographic to make a movie successful. To take two extreme examples, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are not Young Adult movies, but are nevertheless highly appreciated by the teenagers who watch them. But there seems to be some kind of Young Adult mindset that warps stories to something that only teenagers can enjoy. That is a step down, a loss of potential.