Divergent Jumping From Train

If critics are to be believed, Lions Gate took an errant leap in backing the Divergent movie series. Source: Summit Entertainment.

To read the reviews for the just-released Divergent movie is to believe that Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF) wasted the bulk of the $85 million it spent to produce the film. Only 53 of the 132 reviews tracked at Rotten Tomatoes rate the film as fresh, and even those come with qualifiers.

"If you can forget what it's saying, Divergent is fairly entertaining," reviewer David Edelstein wrote for Vulture. Just the sort of backhanded compliment I'd expect if the intent is to explain why an otherwise mediocre movie might succeed despite itself.

I've yet to see Divergent so I can't comment on its quality. What I can tell you is that bad reviews won't keep this movie from making serious moola for Lions Gate. Here's why:

Metric
Divergent
Twilight

Domestic weekend opening

at least $53 million (est.)

$69.6 million

Rotten Tomatoes (critics / audiences)

40% / 81%

49% / 73%

CinemaScore

A

A-

Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, The Numbers, Rotten Tomatoes, CinemaScore.

The read? For all their influence, critics aren't good at predicting box office success or failure. Early audience reaction is far more prescient. Here, all signs point to a warm reception for director Neil Burger's kick-start to the Divergent movie franchise.

After all, not many movies earn an "A" CinemaScore -- only three others in recent months, including box office winners The Lego Movie, Ride Along, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman. With a better overall CinemaScore, it's a fair bet that Divergent will earn close to the $397.9 million worldwide that Twilight generated in 2008.

And what if it doesn't? Remember the context. Lions Gate subsidiary Summit Entertainment scheduled most of the Twilight and Hunger Games films for November, which tends to be a much better month for movies than March.

Take last year's results. Oz the Great Powerful led the U.S. box office, earning $234.9 million for distributor Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) and 24% of the total domestic haul for March 2013. Seven months later, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned $424.4 million at U.S. theaters, good for about 29% of November's domestic gross. Interestingly, the last time March's top film beat November's best was 2012 when The Hunger Games grossed $408 million at U.S. theaters on the way to earning $684.5 million worldwide.

So ignore the critics, Fool. The ones buying the tickets don't just want  to see the movie -- they want to see an entire Divergent movie franchise.

Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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