Can The Maze Runner be the next YA hit?
Adapting Young Adult (YA) novels into movies is a good way to make billions of dollars - if you get it right.
The massive success of Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games almost makes it seem easy.
It is not.
Look at the other end of the spectrum and you find an elephants' graveyard of bombs and near-misses.
Beautiful Creatures, The Golden Compass, I Am Number Four, The Mortal Instruments, Eragon, Inkheart, The Host, Ender's Game, Percy Jackson - the list of would-be franchises is long and growing.
Which brings us to The Maze Runner, which opens in cinemas tomorrow.
Will it be the next Hunger Games or the next...nothing?
Does it have the right stuff?
The most successful YA movies have been based on books with great stories and characters. Duh.
Harry Potter is the best-selling book series in history, with more than 450 million copies sold.
So it is probably no coincidence that the books spawned the most successful YA movie franchise by far, with several billion dollars rung up at the worldwide box office.
The Percy Jackson books are somewhat similar to Potter, but simply cannot compete. Percy is the very definition of an "also-ran".
The Maze Runner series is very well regarded.
Written by James Dashner, it tells the story of Thomas, a boy who wakes up in the middle of an inescapable maze with no memory of his past.
It is a solid, simple premise that landed the novel on the New York Times best-seller list and earned it some great reviews, with Publishers Weekly praising its "breathless, cinematic action."
VERDICT: Not a slam dunk like Harry Potter, but snazzier than the middling Percy Jackson.
For goodness' sake, if you are going to spend tens of millions on a YA franchise, find some actors with charisma.
Casting Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in Twilight was genius. These two talented, odd and extremely beautiful actors were an intrinsic part of the series' success.
Those two funny-looking kids from Beautiful Creatures? Not so much.
Why couldn't they find beautiful creatures for a film called Beautiful Creatures? Is that so hard?
The Maze Runner's casting director seems to know what's what.
Dylan O'Brien plays the lead character Thomas and even if you do not know his name now, you will in the near future.
This kid has become the break-out star of MTV's Teen Wolf, a cult hit that is hugely popular with the sort of nerds that just might fall in love with a film like The Maze Runner.
The 23-year-old was a YouTube star before getting his Teen Wolf gig and he has built his fanbase year by year with his humour, charm and adorable face.
His girlfriend is Britt Robertson from The Secret Circle TV series. If he can win her love, he will win yours.
O'Brien's co-star in The Maze Runner is the hot, young English actress Kaya Scodelario.
VERDICT: O'Brien may not be as dreamy as Pattinson, but his Teen Wolf fans are very much Team Dylan.
It is no surprise that The Hunger Games has been such a hit. It is a first-class production.
Produced by Lionsgate Films, which seems to have another winner on its hands with the Divergent series, The Hunger Games films evince quality in every aspect.
The screenwriters have remained faithful to the books.
The directors (Gary Ross for the first one and Francis Lawrence for the remaining instalments) have brought real passion to the screen.
Everyone, from the costume designers to the special effects artists, has excelled.
Everything down to the soundtrack has been aces, with Taylor Swift winning a Grammy for Safe & Sound.
In contrast, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones seemed more of a hack job.
They could not even manage to put together a fun makeover scene for poor Lily Collins.
It's hard to say where The Maze Runner stands compared to these other films.
Its budget is only US$50 million (S$63 million), which is not a good sign. The first Hunger Games film had a budget of about US$80 million and the second film coast a whopping US$130 million.
Also, it is the first feature-length flick for director Wes Ball, who has done a few short films, in addition to special effects and art department work on behind-the-scenes documentaries.
The other thing that worries me is that the film seems a bit drab on the visual side of things.
Not a good omen at first glance, but then some great directors do hit big the first time out and can excel with limited budgets.
An inexperienced director and a low-ish budget could spell trouble. The uninspiring sets and costumes also give us pause. But let's hope for the best.
With its fantastic premise and lovable stars, The Maze Runner has a lot going for it Hopefully, the guys behind the camera can do the story justice.
A hair's breadth from not getting part
Teen heart-throb and star of MTV's Teen Wolf, Dylan O'Brien (above) almost did not get the lead as Thomas in the book-turned-movie The Maze Runner.
The culprit was his Teen Wolf hair.
According to first-time director Wes Ball, O'Brien's hair was too well-kept, which prevented Ball from picturing him as the lead, Thomas.
As one of the last characters to be cast for the movie, O'Brien had to wait a few months to be reconsidered for the role.
"I always roll out of bed for auditions and, if anything, get flagged for being too dirty-looking since they're always looking for the handsome leading man type," the 23-year-old actor explained to M.
"The funny thing is that it was the first time I actually looked good for an audition, with full hair and make-up since I (had) just finished filming for the TV show.
"I thought everything was going to be great, but I actually turned off the director."
The Maze Runner is O'Brien's third film. Last summer, he shared the big screen with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship.
Yet, acting was something he fell into.
He moved from his hometown in New Jersey to Los Angeles with his family. Originally, he wanted to be a cinematographer like his father.
TEEN WOLF START
But an agent contacted him after watching several of his self-created YouTube videos, which landed him the role of Stiles Stilinski, Scott McCall's best friend on Teen Wolf.
If The Maze Runner becomes a hit, O'Brien's fame could rocket into the stratosphere, but he is reluctant to consider the idea of his image hanging on bedroom walls across the globe.
"Everyone keeps asking if we're prepared for what's ahead," he said.
"We haven't thought about it at all, especially when we were doing the movie. We were just so focused on telling the story. And to be honest, thinking about (fame) just makes me queasy.
"Some may want that, but I'd rather not. I'll just cross it when I come to it."
Despite O'Brien shying away from potential stardom, he will have to face it one day.
Given that the movie's sequel has already been given the green light, that day could be sooner rather than later.
- Kristie Bertucci, reporting from Los Angeles
The YA All-Stars
Who are the coolest Young Adult (YA fiction) movie stars?
1 Jennifer Lawrence
The Hunger Games
2 Kristen Stewart
The Twilight Saga
3 Emma Watson
4 Robert Pattinson
The Twilight Saga
5 Daniel Radcliffe
6 Shailene Woodley
Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars
7 Theo James