The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones crashed and burned in theaters this weekend, ending up with a meager five-day total of $14 million, according to early estimates. Add it to the rapidly growing list of fantasy and sci-fi films for teens—including Beautiful Creatures, Beastly, I Am Number Four, The Golden Compass, Eragon, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, and more—that have disappointed at the box office. Even the Chronicles of Narnia and Percy Jackson franchises, which started promisingly, soon began to taper off.
But why? The success of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games franchises—Hollywood’s version of a holy trinity—seemed to prove that teen fantasy and sci-fi could be counted on to rake in the cash, especially when based on bestselling books. And yet, in recent years, more of these films have flopped than soared. Which leads one to wonder: Is there a fatal flaw in what looked like an ironclad formula?
The Mortal Instruments, after all, follows that formula to the letter. Its heroine, Clary (Lily Collins), is an ordinary teenage girl who has a run-in with the supernatural and thus discovers that she has a secret identity and special powers—that she is, in fact, The One who must save the world from evil forces, with a little help from her new group of similarly powered friends, two of whom are in love with her. Sound familiar? Precisely. With certain variations (as when, in Twilight, the love interest turns out to be the special superpowered one), this has served as the basic premise for film after film after film targeted at the teenage crowd.