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From the Golden Trio to the Celestial Trio: ‘Percy Jackson’ is Gen Z’s ‘Harry Potter’

Every generation has a franchise they’re obsessed with.

The casts of "Percy Jackson" and "Harry Potter".
Disney/Matthias Clamer (left), Warner Bros. (right)

At the end of the Harry Potter era in 2011, it appeared that such a cultural phenomenon could never happen again. However, the massive success of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series on Disney+ suggests that Gen Z is getting a taste of what millennials experienced in the 2000s.

How Percy Jackson Began

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a five book series by Rick Riordan. The series follows the adventures of the demigod Percy Jackson, who is the son of the Greek god Poseidon. The first book of the series, titled The Lightning Thief, was published in 2005. It was originally adapted by 20th Century Fox in the 2010 film by the same name, starring Logan Lerman. A sequel film based on the second book, The Sea of Monsters, followed in 2013. However, both films received negative reviews from audiences and critics alike due to divergence from the source material. This led to the cancellation of the movie franchise.

“If the script goes forward in its present form, I don’t need to be the Oracle of Delphi to foresee what will happen. You will lose the fans of the series 100%, but more importantly the script will fail to impress even regular moviegoers who haven’t read the book. The movie will become another statistic in a long line of failed movies badly adapted from children’s books.  No one wants that, and a year from now I really would prefer not to be saying: “I told you so.”

Rick Riordan
Cast of the first "Percy Jackson" movie, "The Lightning Thief" in a still from the film.
Logan Lerman (center), Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario in ‘The Lightning Thief’ film. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Despite the failure of the films, the Percy Jackson books are no strangers to success. As of 2021, Percy Jackson and the Olympians has sold over 180 million copies. It is likely that if the series were to have a film or television adaptation that was faithful to the story early on, the franchise could have reached even higher levels of success– levels that could potentially match, or even surpass, the success of Harry Potter.

Why Do Children’s Fantasy Series Have So Much Hype?

Cast of "Harry Potter" and Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
Daniel Radcliffe (center), Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Credit: Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. “Harry Potter” Studio Tour. Credit: Shutterstock/paikong

As of 2023, Harry Potter has sold over 600 million copies worldwide. This, along with one of the highest grossing film franchises of all time, makes Harry Potter iconic in its own right. The Harry Potter films were being released generally around the same time that the books were being published. This reinforced Harry Potter’s hype and kept it ongoing. It is interesting to see how important the franchise continues to be for millennials even after 26 years. Their unwavering loyalty has become a running gag on social media:

The question remains: why is there so much hype surrounding fantasy series aimed towards children? The answer lies within the nature of the stories and characters. Readers and viewers are fascinated by the intricate worldbuilding in such stories. They enjoy escapism through the fantastical adventures that the characters go on. The characters and their everyday experiences of growing up are also relatable, whether they are light-hearted or serious. While millennials got to grow up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Gen-Zers got to experience the same with Percy, Grover, and Annabeth. Nostalgia definitely also plays into how these stories maintain popularity for several years.

Not a Rip-Off

While Harry Potter and Percy Jackson have both had similar impacts on millennials and Gen-Zers respectively, it is important to establish that Percy Jackson is not a Harry Potter rip-off. Rather, Percy Jackson is a fresh take on Greek mythology with unique characters and an original plot. Rick Riordan articulates this in a blog post from 2005

“So did I get some ideas from Harry Potter? In the sense that I am working with the same patterns, toying with the same mythology, doing variations on the same centuries-old themes — yes. But Percy Jackson is not Harry Potter, nor is Harry Potter where the ideas originated. If the Percy Jackson series accomplishes nothing else, I hope it will encourage readers to go back to the Greek myths — one of the taproots of children’s fantasy — and discover for themselves where many of our best modern novels (including the Potter books) drew inspiration.”

Rick Riordan

Additionally, considering the numerous issues regarding author JK Rowling’s work and beliefs, it becomes clear that whatever comes next must strive to be better. With the respect and care that is taken towards diversity and inclusion in Riordan’s work, Riordan certainly takes the necessary step in this direction.

The Comeback of ‘Percy Jackson’

On December 19th, 2023, Disney+ launched the first episode of its new show, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, one day before its scheduled premiere. Starring Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson, the show came into development in 2020 after relentless lobbying by fans and a pitch from Riordan to Disney. Within seven weeks, the television series had achieved over 110 million hours of streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

The show has received glowing reviews from critics and audience members alike, with a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes

“Disney+’s take on Percy Jackson and the Olympians gives the fans and the story the respect they have always deserved. From the casting to the writing to the production design, we get the adaptation of The Lightning Thief that we have been wanting for over a decade to see, and there is nowhere to go but up.”

Kathryn Porter, Paste Magazine

While there is always room for improvement, such as in details regarding pacing, the show is definitely off to a strong start. The television series certainly benefits from Rick Riordan and his wife, Becky Riordan, acting as executive producers. Despite some tweaks, the show takes the source material seriously. If Disney plays their cards right, Percy Jackson genuinely has potential to become the next big cultural phenomenon.

What’s Next?

There are 17 and ongoing books that take place in the Percy Jackson universe, along with several more crossovers and spin-offs based on other mythologies. This gives Disney a special chance to expand into a Percy Jackson cinematic universe, similar to the Wizarding World or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The franchise can also branch out into other developments, such as through the Disney Parks. In fact, a Percy Jackson exhibit was on display at EPCOT in Walt Disney World starting in January 2024. It would not be surprising if Percy Jackson eventually got its own theme park attractions, to compete with the likes of the Harry Potter theme parks.

@percyseries

From Waterland to #WaltDisneyWorld 🔱 All episodes of #PercyJackson and the Olympians are now streaming on @Disney+.

♬ original sound – Percy Jackson

Ultimately, Percy Jackson’s comeback is a well-deserved win for Gen-Zers who just want to feel the joy that millennials experienced with Harry Potter. And while Harry Potter is great, Percy Jackson would definitely win in a battle between the two. Walker Scobell agrees.

Written By

Hello! I am currently pursuing my bachelors degree at Fordham University as a New Media & Digital Design major. I enjoy storytelling in all its various mediums, and am working towards building a career in the media industry!

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Teshanna Gayle

    April 3, 2024 at 6:09 pm

    This is an amazing article about the phenomenon that is and can be the Percy Jackson series. It really captures the potential of the series and franchise. I hope to be able to see what becomes of it.

  2. Luna Sakura

    April 3, 2024 at 7:21 pm

    This article made me interested in watching Percy Jackson!! I never really got the hype until I read this!

  3. Hawa Drame

    April 3, 2024 at 7:22 pm

    “They enjoy escapism through the fantastical adventures that the characters go on.” I really like this line because I definitely feel this way… great way to put it!

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