Why "Divergent" Will Fail to Replicate the Success of "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games"

Lions Gate Entertainment  (NYSE: LGF  ) has done a commendable job bringing popular young-adult book series to the big screen. Series like the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" films have translated into major box office successes, with the former posting approximately $3 billion in global draw across four films, and the latter nearing $1.2 billion from two films, with an additional two in the wings. What's more, these films have been made on budgets that come in well below other films with comparable box office success.

These female-driven action movies have noticeably altered the Hollywood formula, with companies like Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) and Disney looking to shift their slates in response. Meanwhile Lionsgate looks to continue its success with its March 21 release of Divergent, another property based on a popular young-adult series.

Reason to believe
The "Divergent" book trilogy by 25-year-old author Veronica Roth has posted impressive sales. Allegiant, the final book in the trilogy, had Amazon preorder tracking that saw it outperforming Mockingjay, the conclusion to the "Hunger Games" trilogy, at a 5:1 clip. The film also has a seasoned director at the helm--Neil Burger, the guy behind the 2006 film The Illusionist and 2011's Limitless, has the resume and the chops to create an engaging action film.

News that Burger will not be returning for the sequel should have minimal effect on Divergent's draw. That said, it is possible that his departure is indicative of some quality issues with the film, or even tied to the controversy surrounding the trilogy's ending. News that a director for the sequel has yet to be selected and that the film is scheduled to go into production this spring would seem to lend credence to such worries, but it could just as easily be a scheduling conflict.

The first "Hunger Games" film saw its pre-release tracking improve considerably after posting a 90+ rating leading up to opening weekend. On the other hand, the "Twilight" films showed that it wasn't necessary to produce critical darlings to win big at the box office. A mediocre Divergent won't kill its chances at the box office, and it's almost certain to make back its tidy $80 million budget plus marketing costs. With impressive book sales, an established fan-base, and a trailer that seems to hit the right cultural notes, Divergent has the ingredients to be huge. There's just one very big obstacle it will have to overcome.

Spoilers: this is the controversy that threatens to limit the film 
Spoiler warning: you should not read any further if you do not wish to be spoiled about the plot of the "Divergent" trilogy. Details crucial to its conclusion are mentioned.

The conclusion to the "Divergent" series has generated a considerable amount of controversy. Allegiant's handling of principal characters has given reason to doubt the potential of Lions Gate's new trilogy. Company CEO Jon Feltheimer stated during a November conference call that "a little controversy in terms of publicity never hurts." This otherwise pleasing statement tiptoes around the fact that bad publicity can damage a film, especially one that is positioned to launch a franchise.

The third book in the Divergent trilogy kills off its main character. If that doesn't sound immediately problematic, large portions of the fan base have major gripes about how the heroine protagonist's death is handled and the remaining story that follows. Author Veronica Roth has stated that reactions to the book have sent her into a paralyzing anxiety, and it's not unlikely that spoilers will be blasted across the Internet in fashion reminiscent of "Snape kills Dumbledore" before the film's release. Say whatever you will about the "Hunger Games" and "Twilight" books, they largely delivered what their audiences were looking for. You can be certain that factor contributed to the success of their respective film adaptations.

Tauriel: The Desolation of Smaug
Picture this: A bow-wielding heroine has cunning instinct and a knack for showing up at the right time to save her friends and preserve the fight against tyranny, all the while finding herself engaged in a love triangle with two very different men. Sound like "The Hunger Games?" It's actually from the plot of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" from Warner Bros. Director Peter Jackson's film introduces an original elf heroine, Tauriel, who was not featured in Tolkien's book; this prompted criticism from some fans but undoubtedly broadened the film's demographic appeal. Smaug is performing solidly for Warner Bros., maintaining the top spot at the North American box office for the second weekend and performing well internationally with over $400 million in ticket sales.

Another super woman
Warner Bros. looks to continue in broadening the appeal of its franchises by finally introducing a film version of Wonder Woman. The character, played by Gal Gadot, will make her modern big screen debut in Warner's 2015 tentpole Batman vs. Superman. A successful introduction of Wonder Woman would almost certainly be followed by a spin off film.

Divergent paths
Being based on a successful young-adult book series is not a guaranteed ticket to box office returns. "The Mortal Instruments" from Screen Gems has already proven that. There is good reason to believe that the "Divergent" series will come up well short of what the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" films have accomplished. The series debut may appear to have all the right ingredients for success, but its presumed fan base might appear to disagree.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 7:08 PM, jeanbird wrote:

    Why don't you just wait until the movie comes out before you start predicting? I know very well how the Divergent series ends, just like I did the Harry Potter series, but I STILL would like to see how it is played out on the big screen. I even gave Mortal Instruments the benefit of the doubt. It did lousy but there is still a sequel being planned. Its almost like you are wanting Divergent to fail. I certainly don't, but until the movie comes out I am willing to be opened-minded. Its a shame more people aren't willing to be.

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 7:26 PM, Michelle285 wrote:

    @jeanbird: This isn't a Fool.com observation. It's been discussed ever since Allegiant came out that the conclusion may negatively impact the movie. You are not the only one to know how the story ends but still want to see the movie, but there is a good portion of the fanbase who has been turned off by it and have claimed to have lost interest in watching the movie. This reaction isn't limited to the fanbase. Now that the movie promotion is in high gear and more people in the general audience are starting to read the books for the first time, there are increasingly large numbers of "non-fans" who hate the ending just as much as the fangirls. I've seen a number of reviews for Allegiant from people who claim to have never heard of the series before seeing the movie trailer, got interested enough to read the books and then were disgusted by the finale. So it is actually a topic of concern. It may not affect the film at all, but there is legitimate reason to wonder.

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 8:14 PM, JonnahZKennedy wrote:

    I have said this time and time again any time I either see the trailer or read an article about the movie. The movie can be incredible, even with Allgiant's less favorable ending, but the thing that will cause it to fail is not the books themselves (personally, I had no problem with Tris's death, the overall book Allegiant was just boring and I found it bloated and pointless almost, the reveal was a slight let down, and I felt like Roth'd run out of ideas by the end; the epilogue was especially a let down personally), but how the movie will be executed. The movie needs to be able to show that this is not just another 'Oh, I'm different, time to save the world' movie, it needs to really show the intimacy of of the story and show the dynamic aspects of this trilogy. One of the few qualms that I have always had about YA fiction and YA Dystopian fiction in general is that, even though they bring up many real world issues, and they handle them very appropriately, we've been missing some of the real, hardcore dystopian stories that actually show the struggles of a mass of people, characters, and creates a dynamic plot that is able to really provide much needed commentary on subjects that are controversial in our day. While the Divergent trilogy was a very action packed and highly likable trilogy, it wasn't up to the Hunger Games' immense plot line and beautifully executed story that provides the commentary we need on war--which is a topic that won't end for years to come as these pointless battles persist across the globe--and shows the struggles of these many characters and created a trilogy that was more than guns and glory, more heart and survival which is why it's so popular, because though people don't realize it, it's voicing opinions they have had on subjects such as war. Anyhow, the Divergent Trilogy was also, in my opinion, Roth's experimental trilogy and she was only toying with an idea and not really showing what she could really due, thus the reason why the books were good, but they were more a passing trilogy and not a trilogy that really hits harder than a few layers. Back to the movie though, I have digressed a lot, the movie will fail if they fail to show that the story is not just about being different, that it's a story about being at war with your inner self, showing the lengths that society will go to destroy those who are different at all costs at fear of the destruction of society (which is one of the weaknesses of all civilizations throughout history, fear of change; i.e. the Senate of the Roman Empire), along with battling with your truth that is not true at all but a lie, all of it a lie. All the ideologies revealed in the Divergent trilogy need to stay true to screen, else it's not going to favor too well on either side of the spectrum fan or no, people are getting sick of the same story, and if you bring the same story in a different setting with no distinguishable features, then you're setting yourself up for failure. Though many people dislike Stephanie Meyer, a quote of hers really hits home: "But, actually, the more you get into writing,I think you start to realize that there is no new story." While it is not a really new idea, the quote sums it up. There is no such thing as a new story, it's in the telling that really counts, if you tell the same story in the same way, no one's going to buy the act. To go on, this movie also needs to do what the book did not: show the plot for what it is. In the book, the plot does not really form until the end of the middle and the last hundred pages of the book, the 200 pages before that are mostly just training and in my opinion, fluff before Roth reveals the plot. You can't have this in the movie. People have short attention spans these days, and if they movie doesn't dazzle viewers with the world within the first 30-45 minutes (I'm presuming that's how long it's going to take before we get into the Dauntless Initiation and really start getting into the whole of the story), then people are just going to be panning in and out of the movie, wondering when the plot is actually going to form itself for them. Some of the things that this movie has on it's side, though, is that: It's a dystopian, and likely people are going to flock to it because dystopian is the thing right now (I love dystopian, writing one right now, I should actually literally be writing it right now, finishing it up, but...), you have the fan base already formed, or what has not collapsed under the crashing weight of Allegiant, and you have the unpredictability factor of this film, and what I mean by that is that because the plot is not OBVIOUS, obvious, you don't have people getting bored with it too quickly or knowing the truth to quickly.

    Done.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 1:27 AM, JakeNBake wrote:

    I love the fact that the author assumes the movie will fail because of the ending of the third book...after he himself states in his own article that the third book has been far outselling Mockingjay. Folks, the controversial ending to the final book has been plastered all over the Web since only a day or two after its release, and yet it is still selling HUGE. Not to mention that for every vocal blogger or reviewer who had a problem with the ending, you can probably assume there are hundreds or even thousands of readers like me who liked the third book, thought it was an awesome ending, and felt utterly no need to go and review or blog or otherwise waste my time. I am only wasting my time now because I know an (AMATEURish) soft voiced short play article when I see one, and they annoy me with their formulaic attempts at backhanded compliments, incorrect stats (Hunger Games 1 and 2 are way North of the quoted number), and doubt sewing, baseless "here's why the sky might fall" BS. Seeking Alpha and the Mötley Fool are both fertile ground for shorties to sew their seeds of doubt with misinformation, innuendo, and baseless predictions all while trying to come off as objective opinion pieces. Puh-lease don't make me have to waste any more of my valuable time calling you out.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 7:23 AM, Michelle285 wrote:

    @JakeNBake: I have read a LOT of recent reviews from people who had never heard of the series before the movie promotion started and only read all three books in the recent days/weeks, and they had no idea about the ending. The ending isn't as "household" knowledge as you'd think. When they look up the books, they only look up info about the first one. They don't go trolling the fansites and message boards, they don't look for spoilers about the rest of the books. They really have no idea.

    And yes, there is a huge portion of the audience who liked the book (no idea why - even without the ending it's without a doubt the worst book I've ever read; monotonous, poorly written, terrible job at a dual narration, and the plot holes! Holy God, the plot holes!). If every single person who read the book was saying the same thing that the negative people said, the movie would tank. No one expects it to tank. They don't ALL feel that way. However, there is a large portion of the audience who was disillusioned by this book, and that may affect the turnout for the movie. A lot of people loved it, yes, but a lot of people hated it - hated it vehemently enough that they wish they'd never read any of the books and have no desire to see the movie anymore.

    Also, you are misled about the whole outselling Mockingjay thing, although it's the article's fault for not explaining it properly. Amazon was tracking the pre-orders for the book in the month PRIOR to its release, and those sales were outselling the sales Mockingjay had at that same point prior to ITS release. It's referring to the sales from September to October, not right now.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 11:42 AM, dbreader wrote:

    The entire 3rd book was confusing and a waste. I wish she had stopped on the third book. Confusing is the least of it.

    Maybe as with Twilight the last movie will be better then the book.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 1:59 PM, Michelle285 wrote:

    Only if they rewrite the entire thing from page one.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 1:16 AM, Marian88 wrote:

    Interest in the books always get renewed when the movie rolls out, but even without knowing what happens in insurgent or allegiant, the premise of divergent was already ridiculous and hard to buy into. Translating that world into film as something believable is a challenge, and I'm curious to see how they will do it without making look stupid.

    Fans will see it,but divergent's fan base is no where as big as the hunger games, harry potter or twilight, & whether fans like it or not, there's really not much to distinguish divergent from the hunger games from the Hollywood & general public point of view. A brave but vulnerable girl in a dystopian future finds herself fighting against an oppressive system to survive.

    Plus the director & shailene Woodley keeps trash talking the hunger games to promote their movie, so they also have turned off that fan base in getting them to watch their movie also.

    The trailer looks hella cheap & cheesy, full of contrite oneliners, & Kate winslet can't save this film no more Emma Thompson could have for beautiful creatures. Tris & four are being promoted by Summit like they are Edward & bella, the marketing so far is selling their sex ual tension to sell this film, which tells me this movie has no substance.

    It's saving grace is if the movie can show great action sequences, which might make up for the lack of a solid or better storyline than other YA movies. But so far all we seen is tris & four eye f***ING each other & sucking face while ellie Goulding sings in the background, so I'm not counting on it.

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