Following the massive financial and cultural success of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, Hollywood was desperate to launch another franchise based on a popular young adult novel series. Many of these adaptations never made it past their first installment; The Darkest Minds, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Mortal Engines were all disasters that failed to please either the original readers or first-time viewers. However, one anomaly to this trend was The Maze Runner, a dystopian sci-fi series that delivered three solid installments based on the popular novel series of the same name.
Compared to the other botched saga, The Maze Runner presented genuine mysteries, likable characters, and legitimate stakes in the place of generic love triangles and goofy melodrama. Set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic world, the films told the story of the amnesiac boy Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who wakes up in a mysterious isolated maze known as “The Glade,” which is populated by a small band of young men. Thomas soon becomes allies with the Glade’s de-facto leader Alby (Aml Ameen), his second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the Glade’s only female inhabitant Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). Over the course of the trilogy, these heroes must uncover the reason they were trapped, and what their role is in the uncertain future.
If you loved The Maze Runner series, check out these films as well.
The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games was a sensation for a reason, and it’s one of the rare dystopian YA adaptations to actually show the evils of totalitarianism, over policing, and media censorship without sanding off the edges for younger audiences. Similar to The Maze Runner, the grittier tone and legitimate stakes of the series allowed it to launch several prominent stars, including Jennifer Lawrence in the most iconic role of her career as Katniss Everdeen. A special shout out should be given to the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gave one of his last screen performances as Plutarch.
Ready Player One (2018)
Who better to celebrate the nostalgic pop culture of the 1980s than the man who is responsible for a larger majority of it? Steven Spielberg was the perfect person to bring Ready Player One to the big screen, as he chose to hand these beloved references over to a younger generation. Like The Maze Runner, Ready Player One follows a young group of heroes (led by Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts and Olivia Cooke’s Samantha Cooke) that fight against a dystopian leadership hell-bent on erasing their future.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Ender’s Game is inspired by one of the most influential sci-fi books of all-time by Orson Scott Card. Despite the youthful protagonists, Gavin Hood’s adaptation does not shy away from the novel’s bleak commentary on the dehumanizing effects of militarization, and specifically its effect on children. Like Thomas in The Maze Runner, young Ender (Asa Butterfield) must lead a generation of leaders to defend the future when his strategic mind is called upon to protect Earth from alien invaders.
The Divergent film franchise, based on the popular YA novel series of the same name, crashed and burned very quickly; the series was frequently compared to The Hunger Games, which only hurt its reputation in the long run. While the later two sequels dragged the franchise into cliche, the first Divergent film in 2014 took a similar approach to The Maze Runner by setting its heroes up by pitting them against challenges and traps. Tris (Shailene Woodley) had the same sensitive charisma that O’Brien had embodied so well in The Maze Runner series.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
While On Stranger Tides was a disappointment that signified that Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was not a leading character, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales managed to return the Pirates of the Caribbean series to its roots. Jack is now the mentor to a younger group of heroes, including The Maze Runner’s Kaya Scodelario as the brilliant astronomer Carina. Carina has a great character arc as she outwits Jack, only to learn about a secret connection she has with the legendary Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (2006)
While many viewers are currently enjoying the Alex Rider television series, it wasn’t the first time that the Anthony Horowitz young adult novel series was adapted. The 2006 film Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker saw Alex Pettyfyer taking on the titular role of the junior spy recruited by MI6 to go undercover on a dangerous mission. It’s unfortunate that the series never made it past its first installment, as it had the potential to tell a compelling overarching narrative over multiple films like The Maze Runner.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016)
Tim Burton may be best known for his early films Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Batman, but he proved that he still had his old charms with 2016’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. The bizarre take on the young adult novel series saw Burton drawing from The Maze Runner template of uniting a group of younger heroes against a supervillain. Asa Butterfield’s Jack Portman and Ella Purnell’s Emma Bloom learn from their teacher Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) what their powers mean, inspiring them to take on the evil shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)
While the first film was a disaster that failed to please fans of Rick Riordan’s popular novel series, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters actually managed to correct many of the wrongs of its predecessor. With less obnoxious humor and more attention paid to the character development, the second adventure of Percy (Logan Lerman) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddarrio) took them to the high seas as they prepared for the rise of the Titans. Unfortunately, this would be the series’ last installment, and thus it never got a proper conclusion like The Maze Runner.
Now that there’s a new appreciation for Brendan Fraser after the acclaim for The Whale, it’s time to admit that Inkheart was worthy of the same continuation that The Maze Runner received. A similar young adult novel that was adapted with plans of a potential franchise, Inkheart follows the adventures of the bookworm Mo (Fraser) and his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) as they bring the characters, mysteries, and magic of famous books to life. With an intriguing mystery that set up future installments and some scene-stealing side characters (including Paul Bettany’s Dustfinger), Inkheart could have been another standout fantasy series.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
The Maze Runner stood out because of its charismatic protagonists, breathtaking worldbuilding, and epic action sequences. All of those qualities can also be found in Luc Besson’s Valerian and City of a Thousand Planets, an incredibly ambitious sci-fi space opera that sadly didn’t connect with a broader audience. The film follows the galactic heroes Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delivigne) as they venture into the heart of an intergalactic space station to unravel a conspiracy; like The Maze Runner, there’s an edge of political commentary as Besson explores the consequences of over policing.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
While the original Ghostbusters is undoubtedly a comedy classic that will stand the test of time, Ghostbusters: Afterlife took a more YA approach by reimagining the concept and passing the torch to a younger group of heroes. With the adventures of the original team now referred to as “legends,” the responsibility of stopping a ghost breakout falls on the young heroes Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), her brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), their new ally Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), and their quirky companion Podcast (Logan Kim).