‘The Hunger Games’ vs. ‘Divergent’: 3 Reasons Katniss Will Trample Tris

Every summer, movie studios try to launch the next Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games franchise by digging through best-selling young adult (YA) novels. The efforts have been hit and miss, proving that not every hit YA novel is a guaranteed box office hit.

Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) /Warner Bros.' Beautiful Creatures, for example, barely broke even with a worldwide gross of $60.1 million on a production budget of $60 million. Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones fared slightly better, grossing $90.6 million on a production budget of $60 million.

Hollywood's next big gamble on the YA market is Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF  ) /Summit Entertainment's upcoming film version of Veronica Roth's dystopian novel Divergent, which is scheduled to be released on March 21. The first book in Roth's trilogy, Divergent, is currently ranked sixth in Amazon.com's list of best-sellers.

The superficial similarities to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series are obvious -- both feature gifted, underdog heroines who go on to take part in revolutions against their dystopian overlords.

While that might sound like a guaranteed way to replicate The Hunger Games' success on paper, I believe that Divergent is doomed to follow the path of Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments instead, for three very simple reasons.

1. A more confusing and less appealing premise
I believe that the more successful films based on YA novels are built on premises that can be easily explained.

Harry Potter is about a young boy who enrolls in a school for young wizards. Twilight is tale about a girl falling in love with a vampire and a werewolf. The Hunger Games is about a battle arena where 24 kids enter and only one comes out alive.

Divergent, on the other hand, is a story about a dystopian society where teenagers are categorized into factions by five personality traits -- Erudite for intelligence, Dauntless for bravery, Abnegation for selflessness, Candor for honesty, and Amity for the peaceful.

Once a teenager picks a faction, they must remain with it and abide by its rules and practices. The protagonist, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, believes she has more than one of these qualities, which gives her the dangerous status of being "Divergent."

The cast of Divergent. (Source: Divergentlife.com)

As an adult reader, Divergent's premise is so tough to swallow that it's nearly impossible to suspend disbelief. Roth's world is also a very teen-friendly take on dystopia, and a far cry from the true dystopian environments of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, or Brave New World that adult readers are more familiar with. In Divergent, dystopia is simply replaced by a bloodier version of high school drama.

By comparison, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are both much easier for adult readers to pick up, stick with, and enjoy. Since Hollywood films now slavishly adapt these YA novels page by page, these weaknesses in the source material are likely to also appear in the film.

2. A weaker cast and crew
Divergent will be written by Evan Daugherty, the screenwriter who wrote Snow White and the Huntsman and Killing Season. Both films were critically lambasted, with respective ratings of 48% and 10% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. The film's director, Neil Burger, is best known for Limitless, a better (but not great) film with a 70% rating.

By comparison, the first Hunger Games film was co-written by author Suzanne Collins, director Gary Ross, and Billy Ray. Gary Ross is best known as the director of acclaimed films Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, while Billy Ray's recent screenplay for Captain Phillips earned him an Oscar nod. As a result of that creative triumvirate, The Hunger Games earned an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Katniss vs. Tris. (Source: Hypable.com)

Meanwhile, 22-year old Shailene Woodley, who plays Tris Prior, will inevitably be compared against Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence's performance as Katniss was arguably as definitive as Daniel Radcliffe's performance as Harry Potter.

Woodley, by comparison, is best known for her role as Amy Juergens in Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) /ABC's The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Although Woodley has plenty of minor awards under her belt, it's going to be nearly impossible to measure up to Lawrence's Katniss.

3. It's going head-to-head against The Muppets
Now laugh all you want, but Disney's The Muppets is actually a blockbuster franchise. The last film in the series, The Muppets (2011), grossed a whopping $165 million worldwide on a production budget of $45 million.

Could the Muppets topple Divergent? (Source: Hypable.com)

The next installment, Muppets Most Wanted, is scheduled to debut on the same day as Divergent. Muppets Most Wanted could surprisingly crush Divergent that weekend thanks to its wider appeal to both older and younger moviegoers. In addition, Disney/Dreamworks' Need for Speed, starring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, will debut a week earlier and possibly impact the box office returns of both films.

Divergent reportedly has a production budget of $80 million, compared to the $78 million budget of the first Hunger Games film. I doubt that Lionsgate expects Divergent to match the $691 million that The Hunger Games grossed, but the company at least expects the film to generate a profit.

Lionsgate is so confident in the success of Divergent that it is already planning the sequel, Insurgent. Insurgent will be written by Akiva Goldsman, the prolific but inconsistent writer who wrote both A Beautiful Mind and Batman & Robin, and directed by R.I.P.D. director Robert Schwentke.

Call me a pessimist, but that doesn't sound like a recipe for critical or commercial success.

What Divergent means for Lionsgate
Lionsgate is clearly trying to prolong The Hunger Games for as long as possible by splitting the final film, Mockingjay, into two parts. So far, the first two films have grossed a combined $1.5 billion on a production budget of $208 million.

Lionsgate is also a much smaller studio than Warner Bros. or Disney -- its fiscal 2014 (calendar 2013) third quarter theatrical slate only consists of three films (editor's note: this information has been corrected since publication) -- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Ender's Game, and A Madea Christmas. Last quarter, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire helped boost Lionsgate's theatrical revenue 30.5% year-over-year to $277.6 million (33% of the company's top line).

Lionsgate clearly hopes that Divergent will be able to offset losses after The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 hits theaters in November 2015.

The bottom line
So what do you think, dear readers? Will Divergent be the start of a new blockbuster franchise like The Hunger Games, or is it doomed to burn out like Beautiful Creatures? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 9:56 AM, Michelle285 wrote:

    I don't think it'll bomb like the other recent YA flops, but I think Lionsgate is overestimating its potential. I don't think it'll do quite as well as they think it will. There are a lot of factors working against it; the very astute observations here are just a few of them.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 10:01 AM, Michelle285 wrote:

    Another thing with the competition with Muppets Most Wanted is that that is an established franchise whereas Divergent is new, untested and, as has been pointed out here and elsewhere, kind of hard to understand at first glance. If you're a moviegoer who is not at all familiar with the Divergent series, and you happen to wander over to the movie theater that weekend looking to see a new movie, you're probably going to opt for the Muppets - you know what you're getting there, whereas you have no idea what Divergent is going to show you. I think it's a good point that Muppets may steal a good chunk of Divergent's potential general audience. The predictions I've read had Divergent making a good double of the Muppets' total that weekend, but I think they'll actually meet somewhere in the middle and finish very close to each other - Muppets doing slightly better than expected and Divergent slightly worse.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:44 AM, librarian22 wrote:

    I beg to differ with the author. Shailene Woodley is best known for her Golden Globe nominated performance in "The Descendants" (holding her own with George Clooney), and winning a Sundance Award for her starring role in "The Spectacular Now". She is going to play the lead in the movie "The Fault in Our Stars", based on the best selling young adult novel. If you have ever seen her acting, you would know that she is extremely talented, and is becoming very well known.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:04 PM, Dez wrote:

    I doubt it will completely bomb, but I don't see it as a major blockbuster either. The author is correct that the source material isn't strong enough to make a film series a certain success like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. It's true that Divergent's premise is shaky from the beginning of the series and the flaws just compound in the subsequent two volumes. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, while both had their own issues, at least had reasonably coherent stories throughout their length. If sequel Divergent movies get made, it's going to take some pretty skilled work by writers to bring Roth's product up to snuff. Even Twilight's Breaking Dawn seems more workable for film in comparison to Allegiant. On Shailene Woodley: I don't think she's really a liability. She actually comes into this major role more well known than Lawrence was when the first Hunger Games came out. And she's also had some well praised work in movies. Comparing her to the juggernaut that Lawrence is now is unfair. But if you turn back the clock to pre Hunger Games Lawrence there's at least a comparison.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:30 PM, indyhoops2 wrote:

    Lionsgate had 14 movies in its slate, not 3. Now You See Me, Warm Bodies, You're Next, Escape Plan, Snitch, Big Wedding....Where is this guy getting his information from?

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:35 PM, Parent2Teens wrote:

    I am an adult reader and had no problem whatsoever swallowing Divergent's premise. What is so difficult about believing that our personalities are multi-dimensional, complex and greater than just one trait and that the protagonist would realize this about herself and fight to be the complete person that she is? I, for one, cannot imagine being classified by just one personality trait and having to live my life with all of the other people who were classified just like me, but could suspend my belief in reality to follow a story about a dystopian society which had done just this. After all, isn't this what people tend to do with people anyway -- classify them? I followed and swallowed the premise with ease. As an aside, I have also read The Hunger Games trilogy and, as a reader, found that premise a lot more difficult to swallow even though I enjoyed the books.

    Further, I believe the movie will be a success because the book series has been so successful, especially with the young adult audience. I have seen the waiting list at 85 or more people for months for this book on our local public library's website. This is not a small library system. It has 40+ holdings of Divergent which includes hardcover, paperback and electronic resources. I cannot imagine that this is unique to my local county library system.

    Even those who haven't read the books will no doubt be intrigued by the trailers. There's plenty of action (which will appeal to males of all ages), but the challenges are just as much mental as they are physical, if not more so (which appeals to those who want to see more than just a good action movie). And while the underdog heroine may be featured, her fellow characters and where she "fits" with them are equally interesting.

    Regarding cast, don't know about "weaker", but one of my daughters regrets that Theo James was cast as the male lead, Four. In her humble 13-year-old opinion, "he is too old for the role and a younger actor should have been cast". So, maybe you are on to something there even though you didn't mention this aspect of the casting....

    I read the first two books, Divergent and Insurgent, because they were popular with my now teenage daughters (age 13 and in 7th grade) and their peers. (We bought Allegiant but have not read it yet.) I wanted to know what my children were reading and see what all the fuss was about. If the rest of the America is like my daughters, their friends, the rest of the kids in their school and in our community at large, they are eagerly awaiting the release of this movie and will see it. I predict it will have a huge opening weekend. Our family of four will see it opening weekend. It may not beat The Hunger Games as a franchise, but neither will it flop.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:48 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @indyhoops2 -- The theatrical slate I was referring to was the 3 films of the fourth quarter, sorry for the confusion.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:53 PM, Michelle285 wrote:

    "What is so difficult about believing that our personalities are multi-dimensional, complex and greater than just one trait and that the protagonist would realize this about herself and fight to be the complete person that she is? "

    Well, the main criticism that most people have had about this series from day one is that this IS the reality - that people are multidimensional and possess many traits - and so the idea of a society where most people have a single trait makes no sense because there is no such thing as a person with one trait. Every human being is "divergent." The second criticism most often cited is in the idea that people would actually try to create a "peaceful" society this way. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for pretty much any work of fiction, but it's a little hard to believe that people would be so dumb that they would actually think separating people into groups based on their differences - and emphasizing them - would actually make people get along. Believing in different things has been the root cause of literally every single war known to man. Of course all of this is moot because the third book throws that whole premise in the garbage and starts over with something else.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:55 PM, Michelle285 wrote:

    "Even those who haven't read the books will no doubt be intrigued by the trailers. There's plenty of action (which will appeal to males of all ages), but the challenges are just as much mental as they are physical, if not more so (which appeals to those who want to see more than just a good action movie). And while the underdog heroine may be featured, her fellow characters and where she "fits" with them are equally interesting. "

    Alas, the author of this article may be more right on the money with this point. Your view may be a little skewed because you have actually read the books and you already know what's going on, but from what I've seen commented on around the internet a good portion of general audience members who have not in fact read the books or really heard of them still have no clue what this movie is about or why they should care.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:57 PM, DaveofIron wrote:

    Greaaat, just what we were missing: another Dystopian young adult novel, with a teenage girl protagonist. It's getting so that literary agents won't represent a concept unless they channel their inner grade school angst. Aren't there any books where a teenage boy, written by a man, is the hero?

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 12:57 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Sorry, I meant "third" quarter. :)

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 1:01 PM, Michelle285 wrote:

    @Dave: The Maze Runner.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 2:05 PM, DaveofIron wrote:

    @Michelle: thanks! I'll check it out. ;-)

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 4:10 PM, bigdawg24 wrote:

    I have read all the books of the Hunger Games and now am on book II Insurgent. Divergent was a heady, complex book which takes some getting use too. However, give some filmmakers, producers and directors their due. While some shows seriously flop today; there are many which totally surprises us. I don't think Divergent will smash any new records or beat out the Hunger Games series. But many kids today are reading it in their schools as assignments and therefore I think and feel because of that factor it will do well. Maybe up to a onetime viewing. Unlike the Hunger Games and Catching Fire which I have seen 5 times each. It will survive, how long, depends on you: The Movie Critic.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 4:15 PM, 1Lee1 wrote:

    I think that one of the problems is the casting of Shailene Woodley for the starring role, not that I think she's a bad actress. Maybe they can make it work but she has that little girl look to her. Lawrence had a tough persona from the moment she told the cat she was going to eat it. Liongate will need Mocking Jay to hold on to profits next year.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 6:04 PM, Dee77 wrote:

    Divergent was mildly entertaining but isn't anywhere close to the Hunger Games. Plus, the third book was by far one of the worst books I've read, and I read a lot of books. This will probably do ok but nowhere near Hunger Games business.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:44 PM, Giana44 wrote:

    @Dave Percy Jackson series, theres a spin off called Heroes of Olympus, Maze Runner, theres more than you think.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:56 PM, FantasyPete wrote:

    I have read all of the books and seen most of the movies discussed. Beautiful Creatures is the weakest with a very anti-Southern slant written by 2 women from California.

    Vampire Academy was a decent novel that was poorly translated into a movie (the Vampire princess was weak and the Moroi trainer looked far older and heavier than most - Taylor Lautner would have worked better).

    Mortal Instruments was a decent novel, but not great, IMO. Casting was just OK for that.

    Now to those that were successful. Harry Potter was very juvenile and featured a lot of very flat characters (name all of the good traits that Harry's home Aunt and Uncle had). However, there was a magic to the growing up that worked well and the main characters were mostly well-developed (other than Hermione being brilliant at everything). The casting featured many of the best in the business who gave superb performances and guided young actors to do well.

    Twilight series featured 2 handsome young men vying for a girls' affection. Lots of adult women were arguing about whether they could get behind a man who was barely an adult... and often did root for Team Jacob despite his youth.

    Hunger Games was better written, IMO. It also featured a breakout actress who attracted much attention for her acting, appearance, and down-to-earth interviews. Hunger Games also featured two young men vying for her attention (although the actor playing Peeta is a bit short for some to view as ideal, especially given Jennifer Lawrence's height).

    Divergent falls somewhere between, but I believe it is better written than most. It has an appealing lead character. However, I don't think most find the lead actress as appealing as Jennifer Lawrence. Also, there are not two handsome hunks fighting for her affection. Silly and superficial, but I think it may keep it from being a blockbuster. (but I do believe it will do better than Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, and Beautiful Creatures)

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 12:55 AM, theedman22 wrote:

    Nice breakdown, but in my opinion, if Shailene Woodley can hold her own in terms of acting, more power to her. Jennifer Lawrence had to face the same facts/audience when she wasn't quite as well known. I just wonder if this will be a good "vehicle" for Woodley.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 9:19 AM, nls0103 wrote:

    I am also an adult reader and had no problem whatsoever with the Divergent's premise. I have read the complete Divergent series (always read before I let my teen read). My reaction was the same as my daughters, books were good, not as good as Hunger Games. However, we do not think we want to see the movies if in fact they do all of the books, not really happy with the ending. I won’t say more in case someone hasn’t read them.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:04 AM, Michelle285 wrote:

    The premise/story is perfectly easy to understand ... when you read the book. The actual question at hand, however, is whether this premise is easy to understand in the trailer. The question is whether a person who has not read the books and knows nothing about the series can get the gist of what the story is about just from those two minutes of footage. That's the general audience. These are the people who are going to make or break the movie's success. The existing fanbase of people who have already read and loved the books are not going to amount to the kind of box office revenue it will take for this film to not flop. Are the trailers and other promotional items reaching the general audience? Are "newbies" getting what this movie is supposed to be about?

    With the examples above about Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, you can easily get the gist of the story just from the trailers even if you have no knowledge of the books. That's what the author here is talking about regarding a simple, easy-to-explain premise - something that you can quickly and easily convey in the span of a commercial.

    Divergent's premise is not at all hard to grasp if you read the book - they lay it all out for you - but it's not quite as straightforward as "boy enrolls in wizard school" or "girl competes in gladiator game." It's a little more involved and not easily explained in one or two sentences. While the second trailer did better, I still don't think they're really getting the idea across to casual moviegoers. I tried to imagine myself as a non-fan who is not familiar with this series and analyzed the trailers from this perspective: Am I getting what this movie is about? The answer, to be honest, is no. It's really not telling me what this story is, why I should care, or why I should think this is not just another lame YA adaptation trying to jump on The Hunger Games bandwagon. Because the only thing I got from it, from my imaginary viewpoint, is that it looks like Hunger Games-lite. All of the stuff they're focusing on and emphasizing in the trailers just looks like a Hunger Games clone, when there's actually so many aspects about this story that set it worlds apart from The Hunger Games. I really think they ought to be playing up the faction concept, showing more simulations and focusing on the idea of conquering fears. Right now all they're showing is the stuff that makes it look like any other movie.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:21 AM, Michelle285 wrote:

    I will also have to agree with the article's comment about the suspension of disbelief regarding the premise. It may not bother a lot of people, and it didn't stop me from reading the books, but the premise is, admittedly, kind of nonsensical and completely falls apart if you think about it for more than ten seconds. So that might be another strike against it: Even when you do explain the premise, it still doesn't make any sense. And by that I don't mean "I don't get it" but rather "Why in the world would anyone ever do that? That's not believable."

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 2:18 AM, IheartLoki wrote:

    Honestly, I think the plot is just too close to The Hunger Games, even the design on the front cover of the book resembles it enough to raise eyebrows. If it were coming out a couple of years after the last two Hunger Games movies it might have a chance, but I don't think it will do well.

    I do have to raise issue with the comment that Lionsgate is 'clearly' trying to milk the franchise. It's true that the book isn't terribly long, no where near as long as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, the first two movies were on books just as long and so much had to be cut out for time constraints - enough that valuable parts of the books were left out. Mockingjay is a much more action-filled book than Hunger Games or Catching Fire - now compare the time it takes to READ a battle, with the time it takes to put a battle on DISPLAY on film. To do this movie right, it had to be two films.

  • Report this Comment On February 18, 2014, at 1:14 AM, mavram wrote:

    I believe Divergent will be successful. As successful as Hunger Games?... I don't think so...opening against The Muppets.. risky....but..

    1) I read Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones and did not understand what all the excitement was about: I found one boring and the other disappointing, so the movies did not impress me that much farther.

    2) Vampire Academy: LOVED all the books, hated the previews for 1st movie: sure enough... terrible movie! Terrible casting!

    3) The Divergent Trilogy: the first book is outstanding. The previews look great! The casting of Theo James as Four is well done; the casting of Shailene Woodley: great actress... looks good in previews. Kate Winslet is an incredible actress, as is Ashley Judd.

    I would love to see Divergent make it as the books are well written and have a great twist on a Utopian future.. it remains to be seen... yet I hope it succeeds! It is NOT Hunger Games... may be in same genre, yet totally different from Hunger Games.

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