Can ‘The Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ Save The Gritty Young Adult Movie Genre?

Matthew Loffhagen
20th Century Fox
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Was anyone else really surprised to discover that there’s a trailer for a new Maze Runner movie?

It was a bit of a shock that 20th Century Fox are even making more of these movies to begin with. It feels like this not only comes a little late, but is practical archaic in the modern era of movies aimed at teenagers.

The first Maze Runner wasn’t exactly on time to the party to begin with. The Hunger Games had already become a phenomenal hit, and Divergent had proven that things that are a little bit like The Hunger Games but not quite as good could still make some money at the box office.

The movie industry was already seeing an overabundance of stories about plucky teenagers trying to survive in grim, gritty post-apocalyptic caste-based societies long before The Maze Runners turned up. Studios seemed to be eager to flood the market with as many Katniss clones as possible, and this was just another movie that had been pressed in a very familiar mold.

Now, The Death Cure is living in a post-Allegiant Part One world.

The end of the Hunger Games saga with Mockingjay Part Two spelled an end to this genre of movies aimed at disaffected young people. The real nail in the coffin, though, was the third and penultimate Divergent book, which utterly bombed at the box office to such a degree that the movie’s final sequel was cancelled outright.

The message was clear: teenagers were getting tired of gritty, grumpy movies.

Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy and other Marvel movies seemed to be better meeting the needs of young people, giving audiences a colorful, humorous romp that came with a healthy dose of unbridled enthusiasm. With so many grumpy movies hitting theaters in quick succession, it was only a matter of time before audiences embraced the complete opposite.

Marvel’s been doubling down on this aesthetic, and other studios are beginning to jump on board too. It’s not insignificant that The Lego Movie has become established as a movie franchise that doesn’t seem to be slowing down – unironic, playful nostalgia is now the vibe that “Young Adults” want from their movies, rather than anything that involves gritty post-apocalyptic politics.

Perhaps the world outside started looking a little too much like the world of Panem. Perhaps the kids who originally fell in love with The Maze Runner grew up to the point that they realized that dark, brooding heroes aren’t as cool as they look.

Regardless, Lionsgate’s latest attempt to revitalize their classic formula, Power Rangers, tanked domestically. Fox’s similar late-era Young Adult movie, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure feels like a last-ditched attempt to save a genre of movie for which the studio has become best known.

The Maze Runner
Source: 20th Century Fox

Will it work?

Probably not. The Death Cure skews a little older in its portrayal of the story than most Young Adult movies, likely in large part because its actors have now aged out of looking like older teens, and instead look like the grown-ups they really are.

Perhaps Fox is hoping that this franchise will subtly transition from a teenage curiosity to an adult movie experience. If so, the utterly ridiculous title, The Death Cure, may make this look a little too silly for most grown-ups to take the film seriously.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure might well be the last time for a while that we’ll see young heroes battling a dystopian authoritarian government.

At this point, though, it doesn’t feel like audiences are really going to grieve all that much.

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