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

Lions Gate's latest adaptation of a popular young adult book series is picking up steam. Can "Divergent" spawn a series that rivals its spiritual predecessors?

Jan 4, 2014 at 7:22AM

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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