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More 'Divergent' Movies -- Lions Gate Is Splitting 'Allegiant' Into Two Films

Rejoice, Divergent fans, because it looks like you'll be seeing plenty more of your favorite dystopian future on the big screen.

On Friday, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.  (NYSE: LGF  ) confirmed plans to split the third book of the wildly popular Divergent trilogy, titled Allegiant, into two films.

The announcement comes as Divergent enters its fourth weekend at the box office, and three months after Lions Gate first surprised entertainment industry watchers by confirming a March 18, 2016, release date for the first Allegiant movie. At the time, I speculated Lions Gate was simply holding off on splitting Allegiant in two until it had a better grasp on how receptive audiences would be to the first film.

Veronica Roth's Allegiant broke sales records with its release last October, Credit: HarperCollins

Here's why Allegiant: Part 2 is happening

And receptive they were. Divergent scored a rare "A" CinemaScore from polled audiences after opening to $54.6 million in its first domestic weekend. Since then, it has showed impressive staying power even when faced with potentially disruptive blockbusters including Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) Paramount's Noah and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

In my mind, that's a clear testament to the fact only 50% of Divergent's audience admitted to reading its namesake book going in, compared with 74% and 76%, respectively, for Lions Gate's Twilight and The Hunger Games.  

As of this writing, Divergent has already grossed $139.8 million globally. That might not sound like much for a movie that cost Lions Gate $85 million to produce, but keep in mind 84% of that total has come from U.S. audiences alone. Divergent is only now accelerating its international expansion this weekend, during which it opens in key overseas markets including France, Germany, Russia, and Australia.

So why the focus on splitting Allegiant instead of the first two films? For one, it's typically what movies studios do, anyway, to milk the most out of their franchises after audiences are hooked. But in this case, keep in mind author Veronica Roth's book of the same name sold a jaw-dropping 455,000 copies during its first 24 hours on store shelves, easily setting a new first-day sales record for publisher HarperCollins.

In addition, Lions Gate pointed out the three-book boxed set is as popular as ever now, with sales increasing 55% last week alone. The three books individually also ranked first, second, and third on the USA Today best-seller list for all of 2013. In short, given its ever-increasing popularity, don't be surprised if each film in the franchise enjoys higher subsequent sales.

Checking expectations
Does this guarantee the Divergent movies will be anywhere near as big as Twilight or The Hunger Games?

On the former: Perhaps. After Twilight began in 2008 with a modest $69 million opening, it "only" collected $392.6 million in worldwide receipts, including $192 million in the U.S. By the time Breaking Dawn: Part 2 exited theaters in early 2013, its total sat at $829.7 million worldwide, including $292.3 million stateside. I think Divergent holds similar potential as its fan base grows.

But Lionsgate's latest franchise likely won't be able to live up to the incredible performance of The Hunger Games movies. 

The relative novelty of the first Hunger Games, for example, set the highest-ever March debut with its $152.5 million opening weekend -- or nearly three times what Divergent was able to achieve -- en route to a $691.3 million total. Catching Fire performed even better late last year, setting the largest-ever November weekend debut at $158.1 million, then following in week two with a new high mark for Thanksgiving weekend sales at $74.2 million. When Catching Fire bowed last Thursday, its global cume had reached $864.6 million. Call me crazy, but I won't be the least bit surprised if the last two Hunger Games films approach or exceed the $1 billion mark.

In any case, Friday's announcement proves the Divergent franchise is obviously worth Lions Gate's while. Allegiant: Part 2 will hit theaters on March 24, 2017, which means Lions Gate now has plenty of time to figure out what its next series of blockbusters will be.

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