Did the Failure of the “City of Bones” Movie End Fantasy Young Adult Films?

Lily Collins Mortal Instruments movie poster

The young adult movie boom of the early 2000s to the mid-2010s stands as a sort of cultural monument of the era. Most people have memories of when studios, dizzy from the success of “Harry Potter,” turned every paperback in the bookstore into a movie. The trend began with 2008’s “Twilight,” which grossed over $400 million worldwide. Soon every sort of young adult fare was flying from the shelves and into the big screen.

One of the most anticipated offerings from this boom was 2013’s “City of Bones” movie. However, despite being based on the very popular “The Mortal Instruments” books, the movie was a critical and financial failure, grossing only $75 million.

How could such a film adaptation fail? And did the “City of Bones” movie cause the collapse of the fantasy-themed young adult movies?

What is the “City of Bones” Movie About?

City of Bones books
The “City of Bones” movie is based on a wildly popular book series

The “City of Bones” movie is an adaptation of the first novel of the “Shadowhunter” books. The film follows 18-year-old Clary Fray as she stumbles upon the hidden world of the Shadowhunters, half-angel hybrids who hunt demons and police the various magical denizens such as werewolves and warlocks. Clary discovers that she herself is a Shadowhunter after her loved ones are attacked by demons. She must ally with the enigmatic and snarky Jace Wayland and his fellow Shadowhunters to protect herself and recover an artifact sought after by a demonic extremist.

As far as the plot for a young adult movie, its not original. The movie presents another hidden world, much like the Wizarding World of “Harry Potter.” Much like every other young adult book at the time, the source material had Clary agonize between choosing the athletic and smoldering Jace or her reliable and nerdy best friend. There is a generic threat, confusing world-building and lots of CGI-infused combat. By all accounts, it should have been an average movie instead of a complete flop it turned out to be.

Does the movie present as many subtle symbolisms as films like “Black Swan’’? Of course it doesn’t, it’s not supposed to be that kind of film after all. But the movie adaptation lacks many things that made the book it was based so charming and refreshing, despite the dozens of other books that share the same elements. And these changes contributed to the downfall of the City of Bones” movie, and all hope that the rest of the “Shadowhunters” books would receive film adaptations.

Why Did the “City of Bones” Movie Fail?

The Mortal Instruments City of Bones main cast
Lack of characterization and pacing issues plagued the “City of Bones” movie

Adapting a book into a movie is tough work, much live reimagining or rebooting an old movie. The results can be mixed in both cases. For example, Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” managed to reimagine and improve upon certain concepts from the original film. But “City of Bones” failed in so many ways, alienating both new audiences and fans of the books, who should have been the film’s most ardent supporters.

Here are the most egregious reasons the movie bombed.

  • Unnecessary Plot Changes

In its bid to make itself edgier and more action-packed for the screen, the movie does a lot of unnecessary plot changes. Some of them are minor, such as removing someone’s unwilling transformation into a rat. But most are galling, especially to fans of the Shadowhunter books. Important plot elements such as the Accords, a central point of conflict in the books, are barely mentioned. This made the film confusing for fans and new audiences alike.

  • Bad Pacing

It’s always difficult when filmmakers adapt books into movies, no matter the length of the original work. Even Stephen King’s short stories are hit-and-miss when it comes to adaptations. Adapting a full-length novel is much harder. The “City of Bones” movie did this poorly, with some sections serving as nothing more than filler while important character development moments could have been fleshed out better. Characterization was dropped in favor of action set pieces, preventing viewers from connecting with them meaningfully.

  • Too Much Information

The “Mortal Instruments” books build an intricate world full of lore and history, and the series has been criticized for huge information dumps. These infodumps sadly made it to the film version, with several minutes devoted to retelling backstory or covering lore. Even more confusing, the filmmakers added new lore that was completely alien to the books, serving absolutely no purpose but to confuse viewers.

Did the “City of Bones” Movie Crash YA Movies?

Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower
At the end of the movie, the heroes ride into the sunset…but not a sequel

With all these problems, its no wonder that the product turned out to be one of most disappointing young adult movies of the decade. But did it cause the collapse of the genre, specifically fantasy young adult films? By the time of the film’s release, the young adult juggernaut was starting to run out of steam. The franchises that started it all, “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” had concluded years before and their successors such as “The Hunger Games” were aiming for serious instead of campy.

The “City of Bones” movie did not end the genre. But it did serve as the writing on the wall, the first nail in the coffin, so to speak. The oversaturation of dystopian and fantasy themed movies of the same ilk was bound to break the industry at some point, and the film served as a warning to studios that things had run their course. That didn’t stop studios from turning the books into a television series, but that’s a story for another time.

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