How Netflix's Uglies Can Avoid 2010s YA Dystopian Failures

Netflix's upcoming movie adaptation of Uglies looks poised to succeed in the wake of some YA dystopian missteps of the 2010s. While Netflix has yet to announce a release date for the new original, pre-production has been moving along, meaning Uglies could drop in late 2022 if things stay on track. With 2018's Maze Runner: The Death Cure ending the big-budget dystopian YA craze of the 2010s on a rather dubious note, Uglies is re-opening a can of worms that has spelled doom for some franchises that came before it.

Based on the book by Scott Westerfeld, Uglies is the first in a trilogy following the story of Tally Youngblood. A fourth book, Extras, is set in the same world but revolves around different characters. Tally lives in a future where everyone gets extreme cosmetic surgery at the age of 16 to transform from an "ugly," a.k.a a regular person, into a "pretty." Pretties get to live in a big, beautiful, high-tech city where their only job is to party. But naturally, there's a dark side to this setup, as the book's protagonists must discover.

Related: The Hunger Games: Why Snow Laughs When Katniss Kills Coin

On paper, venturing into a new teen dystopian franchise may seem woefully uninformed. Other series like The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and The Maze Runner have already run their course, with mixed success, to put it generously. While The Hunger Games enjoyed mixed success, Divergent and The Maze Runner struggled enormously to finish their arcs, while adaptations like the Matched trilogy never even made it out of pre-production. It seems like this genre hit a resounding dead end by the end of the 2010s. However, despite all this, there are several reasons why Netflix's adaptation of Uglies actually looks quite promising.

A big part of why YA dystopian franchises started to lose steam by the end of the 2010s was that they had become too formulaic, both in their book and movie forms. The results were backlashes like The Death Cure's brutal reviews, or Divergent's final movie getting canceled. Once a highly original world concept is introduced, like a compulsory annual death match between 24 kids or a society that sorts people according to personality type, there's not much for young protagonists to do other than inevitably chafe against the system, run away, and eventually helm an enormous revolution to overthrow the government.

Uglies does follow a similar trajectory, but is noteworthy for being the first of its kind, and therefore not as bound to the genre's restrictive tropes. The first Uglies book was published in 2004 and the last in 2007, long before anyone had heard of Katniss Everdeen or The Hunger Games, which is usually touted as the teen dystopian drama's first major player. This is not to say that Netflix's adaptation won't fall into some of the genre's tired traps, but the source material does cut a different angle than many of its successors. While series like Divergent and The Maze Runner focus overwhelmingly on external conflicts, Uglies is primarily about internal conflict from beginning to end. Thus, there's plenty of hope that it will avoid the dry, monochromatic apocalypse battles with overblown stakes that make other YA adaptations grow boring (and harder to finance) as they progress.

The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Hunger Games movie franchises all share the common factor of having been made only a few years after their last books came out. The ill-fated Matched adaptation was in the works before the entire book series had even been published. This was surely done in part to capitalize on the popularity of the books while they were fresh. At the same time, however, this strategy meant that the pressure was on to get the movies made quickly, and to cater to extremely high expectations from fickle fanbases that were largely still in their teens.

Related: Does Maze Runner: The Death Cure Have a Post-Credits Scene?

The Uglies series, on the other hand, was published from 2005-2007, meaning Netflix's first movie could be coming out close to 20 years after the book it's based on. This comes with its own unique set of challenges, but also means that Netflix won't be as beholden to fan hype and could even explore some movie vs. book differences better than Divergent's. Readers who were the books' target age when they were first published are now in their late 20s and 30s, and while expectations will no doubt be high, this also leaves some room for the story to grow up and change a bit, which could breathe life into an otherwise burned-out genre. Similarly, Netflix hopefully won't feel the same pressure to rush the franchise should they choose to adapt Pretties, Specials, and Extras as well, which can help avoid debacles like the never-made The Divergent Series: Ascendant TV movie.

A big factor that plagued YA dystopian franchises in the 2010s, specifically Divergent, was box office burnout and the subsequent dry-up of funding. While The Death Cure was delayed by on-set injuries, The Divergent Series: Allegiant and its intended sequel The Divergent Series: Ascendant stand as ominous reminders of how a franchise can fall on its face at the end if audiences and the studio executives writing the checks don't stay engaged.

Netflix is uniquely poised to help Uglies avoid these pitfalls. For one, the streaming service doesn't have to worry about box office revenue in the same way as other studios. Uglies will still need to attract decent viewership to get greenlighted for sequels, but the financial risk of underperforming isn't as high. Likewise, Netflix has become an extremely powerful and prolific force in the production world with its original content, meaning the funds for Uglies could be less likely to dry up than those for Allegiant. The Uglies franchise could even pivot to a series if it needed or wanted to with much less drama than Divergent's TV movie thanks to the plasticity of streaming.

Finally, Netflix's Uglies will have some casting aces up its sleeve. There's no doubt that Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and Dylan O'Brien are all talented actors and currently big names in Hollywood, but for most of them, their respective YA dystopian roles were their first big mainstream breaks. By contrast, Joey King, who's set to play Tally Youngblood, and co-stars Chase Stokes and Brianne Tju, are already well-known in the realm of teen drama. King and Stokes in particular have impressive Netflix resumes, starring in The Kissing Booth series and Outer Banks, respectively. This could help Uglies attract a wider audience than just those who have read the books. That, and the ease of clicking Netflix's "play" button on anything that pops up in the "top picks" or "popular on Netflix" feeds.

Related: Love & Monsters Proves Dylan O’Brien Is Ready For Bigger Roles Than Maze Runner

In short, it looks like Uglies can avoid the fate of earlier YA dystopian sci-fi franchises so long as Netflix plays its cards right. The key will be staying true to the original spirit of the source material rather than overdrawing on plot or playing into worn-out tropes, taking the time to get everything right, and rounding out an already strong-looking cast. While the YA dystopian craze of the 2010s was a mixed bag full of plenty of failures, Netflix's Uglies can avoid this fate thanks to its unique opportunities for success.

More: Uglies: 9 Things From The Book The Netflix Adaptation Needs To Include



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