8 Children’s Film Franchises That Tried — And Failed — To Be the Next ‘Harry Potter’

Disney just announced it’s working on films of Eoin Colfer’s bestselling children’s series Artemis Fowl. The studio is hoping it’ll be the next Harry Potter, and a production team that includes Robert DeNiro and Harvey Weinstein could make this happen. However, the Artemis Fowl series is about ten years old, and despite its success, it never broke through into grown-up pop culture the same way Harry Potter did. Many studios, producers, and actors have already gambled on attempts to create a phenomenon as sweeping as Harry Potter, and they’ve very rarely succeeded. Below, we look at the children’s book adaptations that failed to follow Harry Potter‘s footsteps.

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The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman’s controversial children’s trilogy His Dark Materials seems like an immediately strange choice for a film franchise, but New Line Cinema anticipated a huge hit and spent $180 million on The Golden Compass. But the film was neither a critical nor commercial success, and the resulting financial blow contributed significantly to New Line’s eventual demise. The anti-Catholic themes of Pullman’s trilogy also caused a boycott from Christian communities across the country — the film never really stood much of a chance after Pullman admitted his books are “about killing God.” This movie did, however, launch the career of Dakota Blue Richards, who would eventually become a cast member of the third and final generation of Skins.

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Harry Potter alum Chris Columbus directed this 2010 fantasy film you’ve never heard of, even though its cast included such big names as Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener, and Sean Bean (and isn’t Sean Bean a recipe for fantasy hits?). A sequel is coming out in about a week, but I doubt you’ve heard much about that, either. Not surprisingly, a lot of The Lightning Thief‘s criticism revolved around its derivative nature, and BBC Radio 5 host Mark Kermode jokingly called it Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins. Lo and behold, Stephen Fry would eventually narrate a parody film with that very title, and it sounds fantastic. There is a character called Professor Mumblecore who teaches at Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School. Now how was that not the next Harry Potter?

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The Chronicles of Narnia

As one of the most influential series in fantasy literature, The Chronicles of Narnia seemed like a safe bet for the next Harry Potter. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe did incredibly well at the box office with a fantastic cast that included Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, and James McAvoy. Despite the Narnia franchise’s status as the 25th highest-grossing film series of all time, its sequels only fared half as well as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A budget dispute led Disney to stop producing the films after the second movie, and Walden Media lost the rights to C.S. Lewis’ work in 2011. Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham said the franchise is technically still up for grabs, but considering its aging stars and waning success, another sequel seems highly unlikely.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most beloved sci-fi series of all time, with a huge fan base, five official novels, and a sixth by Artemis Fowl‘s Eoin Colfer. The classic series’ massive influence on sci-fi literature made it seem like a good idea for a film franchise, as its world was even more delightfully weird and imaginative than the one J.K. Rowling conjured up. The movie earned twice its multimillion-dollar budget at the box office, but it didn’t come close to attracting the cultish following of its source material, despite a promising cast and a posthumous script penned by Adams himself.

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Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted was simultaneously a cash-in on the popularity of children’s fantasy and a bit of a follow-up to The Princess Diaries. The eponymous book by Gail Carson Levine won the Newbery Medal for children’s books, but its Shrek-style film adaptation bombed at the box office. Roger Ebert adored it, but few other critics sang the film’s praises.

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City of Ember

This post-apocalyptic adventure film was another children’s fantasy adaptation that came out without much fanfare. It didn’t even make a third of its $55 million budget and received mixed reviews from critics, though the scary-talented Saoirse Ronan was praised for her performance.

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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

The wonderful Daniel Handler’s dark, clever series came close to attracting the same sort of fervor as Harry Potter, and kids devoured the books upon their initial release. So Nickelodeon must’ve thought they struck gold when they got the rights to A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the movie did a great job at the box office. There were sequels in the works, but trouble with Paramount prevented them from ever getting off the ground.

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Eragon

The first thing that came to mind when I heard about the upcoming Artemis Fowl movies was Eragon, another fantasy series that attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Harry Potter. The books came out around the same time as Artemis Fowl, but neither of them came close to entering the public consciousness in the way Harry Potter did. In 2006, 20th Century Fox attempted to make Eragon into the next Harry Potter, but the resulting film was a massive critical failure with an abysmal rating of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. But it is the second-highest-grossing film about dragons, so hey, there’s something.