Why ‘Divergent’ Won’t Be the Next ‘Hunger Games’

Just because you base a movie on a hugely popular young adult series does not mean you have a guaranteed hit. In fact, for every Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter blockbuster franchise, film companies usually deliver a handful of failed attempts like Beautiful Creatures, Ender's Game, I am Number Four, Vampire Academy, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, to name just a few. 

That makes the prospects for Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF  ) subsidiary Summit Entertainment's Divergent mixed at best. 

What is Divergent?
Not being a teenage girl, I had to turn to Amazon.com  (NASDAQ: AMZN  )  to learn what Divergent is about. After reading the description below, I'm still not sure I understand, but I'm pretty sure 40-year-old financial writers are not the target audience. Still it appears that like Twilight and The Hunger Games the series stars a teenage girl who is heroic and admirable. There' also appears to be romance, danger, and plenty of intrigue.

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

Female leads do not guarantee teenage girls will show up

The success of the movies based on Twilight and The Hunger Games gave Hollywood hope that films based on young adult novels -- specifically ones with female leads -- would be sure-fire hits. That formula of having a strong young woman as the protagonist surrounded by plenty of dreamy teenage men/boys has not worked as well as Hollywood would have hoped.

Here are some recently released attempts at exploiting this formula and their costs, according to IMDB, and their global box-office take, according to Box Office Mojo.

  • Beautiful Creatures, 2013, $60 million budget, $60 million global gross 
  • The Host, 2013, $40 million budget, $48 million global gross 
  • The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, 2013, $60 million budget, $90 million global gross 
  • Vampire Academy, 2014, no budget estimate at IMDB, $9 million global gross.
By any standards, all of these films were bombs that killed any potential for a future series. In general, films intended to kick off a series are either massive hits that make green-lighting the sequel obvious or clearly failures. Yes, the first move based on the Percy Jackson books was a tweener bringing in $226 in global box office, according to Box Office Mojo on a budget IMDB pegged at $95 million. But the relative failure of its sequel $199 million globally on a $90 million budget likely answered any questions about making sequels to young adult movies that are not clearly hits.  
 
The Percy Jackson movies weren't bombs -- they likely eeked out a profit -- but spending $90 million plus for a tiny upside is too big a risk for the reward.

Divergent does not need to be a huge hit
"Divergent doesn't need to be the next Hunger Games or the next Twilight to be successful," according to Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson.  

At a cost of $85 million, even a $40 million opening weekend, leading to a $120 million domestic/$200-$225 million worldwide total would qualify as a relative success. The tracking says that "Divergent" is going to open at around $65 million. But don't you dare call it a flop if it opens under $50 million.

If Divergent brings in $200 million with an $85 million budget plus at least half that in advertising, it falls into the tweener category where launching a sequel is a very risky proposition. Since the studio receives about half the revenue a movie pulls in at the box office, even a $225 million global take nets only $112.5 million for Summit.

That's a loss on costs that on the low side are around $125 million (including budget plus marketing). Revenue beyond the box office may nudge the film into profitability but box office returns below $300 million globally makes sequels a big risk.

BoxOffice.com is predicting a domestic opening of $68 million with a final U.S. haul of $159 million for the film. Projecting gross is hardly an exact science, but if Divergent hits those numbers and does a similar amount overseas, the movie will be a decent-sized hit that deserves a sequel.

Fans won't decide Divergent's fate
In general, box office projections are based on ticket pre-orders and other methods of gauging interest in the film. For Divergent -- or any film with a built-in fan base -- a strong opening weekend does not necessarily track out the same as other movies.

Most hit movies open strong and drop off between 40% and 50% from weekend one to two. Anything less than a 50% drop is pretty good and less than 40% generally foretells a blockbuster. Some movies -- horror films tend to be like this -- play to an eager fan base in week one, but by the second weekend, the dropoff is huge as anyone who wants to see the film has already seen it.

The exception -- and this is where Divergent's fate lies -- is when the movie is actually good. A strong teenage female lead won't make Divergent the next Hunger Games but a good movie could. Brand and built-in audience alone may open the film, but it will need strong word of mouth to become a hit franchise.

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 3:12 PM, jessikareeve wrote:

    A couple of comments on this one: Critics need to stop comparing these movies. Twilight and Hunger Games couldn't be more different. Divergent is also a very complicated story. Try reading it. Another thing, box office results do not dictate a quality film. Ender's Games and Beautiful Creatures were both rather good and bombed, while a movie like Transformers 2 was absolute garbage and was one of the highest grossing films of all time. Ultimately the readers will decide if Divergent is worth anything as a film (myself included), and if it is any good, it may become a sleeper hit or cult classic.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 3:15 PM, myka1319 wrote:

    The hunger games i believe appeals to older audiences too, because of it's more adult theme. It's why they have bigger domestic box office no. than Twilight & Harry Potter. If Divergent is well made, it's very possible to see a $150m domestic take Along with strong DVD/Blu Ray sales & rentals . That will almost guarantee a sequel .

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 3:56 PM, starflyer59 wrote:

    Does the Motley Fool ever have anything good to say about anything? I am looking forward to seeing this movie with my daughter. I have never read the books, but the movie looks good.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2014, at 9:10 PM, Dee177 wrote:

    As an avid reader, Divergent was ok but no where near Hunger Games, and it borrowed heavily from it. It will probably do ok but no where near HG numbers. Suzanne Collins is a masterful writer who plotted her books out from the start. Roth made up the Divergent series as she went along and her inexperience showed. I'll see it, but not 4 times like I did Catching Fire.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 2:04 PM, 49erfan wrote:

    I loved the book, Divergent. I actually thought it was better than Hunger Games, although I liked the Hunger Games movies. I'm not sure that I agree with the casting, but I will see when it comes out this week. It will be a huge success at the box office I predict.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 3:41 PM, ricangirl831 wrote:

    This guy is crazy. I read all three books in less then a month. I found it better than Hunger Games and Twilight!! I hope that the Divergent movie is a good as the book. Now I will say by seeing the trailor's and I see that they are some things that were part of the other books. I was wondering if they were planning on making other movies.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2014, at 7:43 PM, Tumnamen wrote:

    Since when is Bella a strong and admiral female character. The way I read her is extremely co-dependent to the point that when a man leaves her she feels her only option is suicide, forgive me if I'm wrong but that is not a character I want my kids to look up to.

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