Last year, the studio Lionsgate took another shot at the YA (Young Adult) genre, after the huge success of The Hunger Games series, with the adaptation of the first in the trilogy of books written by Veronica Roth. Divergent was another story in a dystopian future, starring the rapidly rising actress Shailene Woodley, with an interesting plot, a bit of action, a bit of romance, and a bit of drama. The movie released in March 2014, though it did not have the pull and appeal of The Hunger Games, which had come back in March 2012. To draw a one-on-one comparison, Divergent opened in North America with $55 million while The Hunger Games had opened with close to $153 million. That’s a huge difference; in fact, the total domestic box-office collections of Divergent also fall short of the opening weekend earnings of The Hunger Games. So Divergent holds no comparison to the Jennifer Lawrence starrer dystopian saga, as far as the box-office is concerned. And to draw one is totally irrelevant.
Leaving aside the comparisons, does this movie series have a potential to grow? Divergent on its own was a hit movie. It had a production budget of $85 million; its theatrical earnings in North America were $151 million and in foreign markets were $138 million, for a combined total of $288 million. That would give a good return to the studio even after factoring in the marketing budget and the exhibitors’ percentage. But the way Hollywood blockbusters are growing globally, the figure of $288 million seems to be on the lower end, especially for a movie which is to mark the beginning of a 4-movie series.
I believe it will all come down to marketing things in the right way for the future movies if this series has to really leave a mark. Since the release of Divergent, Shailene Woodley has grown even further in popularity with the success of The Fault in Our Stars. And so has her co-star of that movie, Ansel Elgort, who plays her character’s brother in the Divergent series. Another actor Miles Teller has earned acclaim for his role in Whiplash, though the bigger movie (in terms of global reach) that he would be a part of is the upcoming Fantastic Four where he plays Reed Richards. If that movie does really well, it could end up benefiting the finale movies of the Divergent series.
Divergent never really took off in the foreign markets. The way the future movies would make more money is to lure a larger crowd abroad. In North America, I can see these movies staying in the $150 to $200 million range, so the real explosion can only happen if it catches the attention of the audience outside. With Insurgent that is what the studio looks to be aiming at. The promos of this movie focus more on the action and the visual effects, unlike the first movie, which is something from Hollywood that sells more easily abroad. Insurgent is also getting an Imax screen release, something strangely missing in Divergent, which is another way to attract attention as well as higher ticket prices.
The important question though would be whether people would be willing to jump into a series midway. The marketing of these movies would thus have to get the audience hooked into the series, and not make them feel that they cannot walk into the second or third movie without having watched the predecessor. The movie’s narrative too would have to take care of that. This is not a problem for something like The Hunger Games where the first movie itself garners a huge audience gathering. But if Lionsgate wants the audience numbers to swell with Insurgent and then the two parts of Allegiant, the promos would have to be devised cleverly. The first movie’s reviews weren’t too great – 41% on Rottentomatoes – but the audience for the YA genre is usually not swayed much by the critics’ reviews, as the Twilight series is a testament to. I personally enjoyed watching Divergent, and found its story something that deserved more than just a fleeting glance. You can read my review on the movie here.
Insurgent has been made on a production budget of $110 million, which is a 30% jump over the previous movie’s budget. The studio is thus showing a lot of faith in the potential of the series. Anything above $350 million in worldwide collections would be a decent collection for the movie, which should give returns in line with the first flick. The domestic collections may not jump up by much, so that means the foreign box-office collections would have to cross $200 million, i.e. a 45% increase over last movie’s corresponding figures, which it could very well do. With the announcement already made that the final book would be divided into two movies, Lionsgate has always shown its commitment in building this franchise. The way things go with Insurgent may very well decide the seriousness with which the studio tackles the final two movies, and their production and marketing budgets. We don’t mind the studios churning in a good profit, as long as they make entertaining movies worth our time and money. I hope that stays true for Insurgent.