From The Hunger Games to The Maze Runner – Exploring the impact that Young Adult Dystopia has had on the literary world

Nothing stormed the cultural scene in the early 2010s more than Young Adult Dystopian fiction. The Hunger GamesThe Maze Runner, and Divergent are some of the world’s most iconic dystopian franchises, and it’s hard to dispute that their impact is immeasurable. Upon the release of the highly anticipated Hunger Games prequel film The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we’ll be diving into the how and why of young adult dystopian success.

The Genre

Young Adult (YA) Dystopia was a breath of fresh air for many reasons; although exciting and complex, early examples of dystopian fiction only targeted an adult audience. George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 come to mind as typical dystopia characterised by government control, extreme conditions, and devastation. However, the genre’s resurgence featured a larger consideration of youth relatability, drawing in romance sub-plots, teenage protagonists, friendship, and coming-of-age arcs. This opened up an entirely new market, captivating young audiences with the possibilities of new worlds.

Paving the Way

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy rose onto the literary scene in 2008, and as most of us know, the novels envisioned a twisted reality in which contestants fought to the death in a series of games. The Hunger Games was quickly succeeded by The Maze Runner and Divergent, which involve resisting authority in post-apocalyptic environments. These novels imagined a morbid form of escapism into action-packed worlds, situating ordinary people in extraordinary settings. The meshing of relatability with otherworldliness thrust YA dystopia into mainstream success, attracting to both male and female audiences through its dark appeal.

Social commentary & Cultural Impact

Rich in social commentary, YA dystopia engages with issues of class, totalitarianism, and individuality. In Divergent, Tris’ greatest yet most dangerous asset was her lack of conformity as a divergent, offering a didactic message on the importance of free thinking in the face of herd mentality. Suzanne Collins also confirms that her inspiration behind The Hunger Games was to help young readers to understand the reality of becoming desensitised to mass death. Such messages aimed to empower young people and encourage creativity as well as intellectual discourse around YA novels which haven’t always been taken seriously as literature.

From Fame to Film

The popularity of these franchises catapulted each of them into cinema, thrilling its broad audience with attractive leads facing challenging physical exertion. The Hunger Games films were very well received, with the second film ‘Catching Fire’ considered the strongest film because of the heightened stakes, epic arena, and accurate book-to-movie adaptation. Fan favourite characters such as Finnick and Johanna made an appearance as well as the development of Peeta and Katniss’ relationship. It’s in this film that Peeta lies about Katniss being pregnant to protect her from the games (spoiler!).

The visuals and world-building of Divergent are fascinating to say the least. Like its predecessor, the franchise features a divided society, split into factions rather than districts. The tried formula established by The Hunger Games worked incredibly well, incorporating Tris’ love story with Four, a distinctive futuristic world and a transgression of societal norms. Unfortunately for this film trilogy, it was criticised for straying from the books, opting to keep Tris alive for the whole series despite her untimely death at the end of the second book. Despite the final movie ‘Allegiant’ essentially failing in the box office, fans are still fond of the first ‘Divergent’ film.

The boldness of each protagonist is one of the driving forces of action in the franchises. Thomas of The Maze Runner, notably the only male lead in these examples – go women! – does the unthinkable by masterminding the escape of the maze that he is entrapped in with many others. Like the dystopia, Thomas is involved with a love interest, Theresa, the only girl in the glade, the holding place of the experiment they are a part of. The Maze Runner executes plot twists well by revealing Thomas and Theresa’s involvement in the experiment as well as pulling on heartstrings in the equally strong final films with Crank-induced deaths (zombie-like creatures).


The legacy of these books has cemented them into dystopian classics. The issue with roaring success is that it cannot easily be replicated. The more YA dystopia that is released, the more saturated the genre becomes, the gap in the market quickly closed, losing its unique selling point. Following The Hunger Games, many late 2000s-early 2010s young adult dystopian novels were adapted to film including Stephanie Myer’s The Host and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. By no means has the genre completely died, the recently concluding show ‘The 100’ based on the dystopian novel of the same name and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a testament to the remains of YA dystopia alive today. However, the literary and film world seems to have grown tired of the once fresh genre. Perhaps you really can have too much of a good thing.

Edited by: Anna Shipman


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