Apr 4 2014, 4:18pm CDT | by Forbes
On its fourteenth day of domestic release, Divergent has officially crossed $100 million at the domestic box office. The Lionsgate release, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James, debuted two weekends ago with a $54 million debut weekend, and it should hit over/under $115 million by the end of this weekend. Once it passes Lemony Snicket and a Series of Unfortunate Events ($118m domestic, but at a cost of $140m), it will basically be the biggest-grossing “young adult fantasy literature” adaptation outside of the first two Chronicles of Narnia adaptations (although Prince Caspian‘s $142m total is still within reach) and the proverbial Holy Trinity of the genre, the Harry Potter series, the Twilight Saga, and the Hunger Games franchise.
This in itself isn’t perhaps all-that-much of an achievement. A well-marketed franchise starter scoring a huge debut weekend based partially on the rabid fan base is almost commonplace enough to be boring at this point. But aside from the obvious “Yay, another female-centric hit franchise!” note of celebration, it is frankly more impressive when you consider how many failed franchises of this nature we’ve seen over the last thirteen years. Since the debut of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we’ve had a bevy of would-be kid-skewing fantasy franchises, good and bad, that didn’t quite catch on or outright bombed.
In the wake of the Boy Who Lived we’ve had Eragon ($75m), The Seeker: The Dark is Rising ($8.7m), The Golden Compass ($70m), The Spiderwick Chronicles ($71m), Inkheart ($17m), Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant ($13m), I Am Number Four ($51m), Beautiful Creatures ($19m), The Host ($26m), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones ($31m), Ender’s Game ($61m), and Vampire Academy ($7m). The trail of doomed franchises is as long as the trail of corpses that Voldemort piled up in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Boy Who Lived was followed by a wave of franchises that died.
I may have missed a couple, and a few of them (Eragon, The Golden Compass) did better overseas. By the way, Divergent hasn’t dropped overseas yet and Lionsgate sold off most of the foreign rights anyway, which is why the above list is strictly domestic. But save for Percy Jackson ($95m) and (so they claim) The Mortal Instruments, not a one got a sequel. In the reemergence in kid-friendly fantasy that followed in the wake of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (which I nonetheless consider a different beast), only The Chronicles of Narnia (which arguably would have hit it big at first regardless of its predecessors), Twilight, and The Hunger Games qualified as successful franchises. And now, for the moment, you can add Divergent to that surprisingly slim list.
I say “for the moment” because we don’t yet know if the box office strength for Divergent will extend to its sequel. While I was (happily) wrong about The Hunger Games hitting its domestic ceiling the first time out, the sequel benefited from the first film’s strong reviews and media popularity. Will the free publicity that greeted Divergent as the proverbial “next Hunger Games” still be there for Insurgent in 2015, even with the current relative indifference that greeted the initial installment from the critical community? The choice of director Robert Schwentke to helm the sequel doesn’t exactly scream excitement (“From the director of R.I.P.D.!”), but I’d wager that the majority of fans haven’t exactly devoured the filmography of Neil Burger either (and if they did, hopefully they skipped Limitless and merely double-billed The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones).
I’d currently wager that quite a bit of the mainstream excitement for Insurgent will depend on the reception (financially and critically) of The Fault In Our Stars this June. Just as Jennifer Lawrence became the Internet’s favorite movie star after following The Hunger Games with an Oscar-winning turn in The Silver Linings Playbook, the media’s current (justified) adoration of Shailene Woodley may well continue if the 20th Century Fox teen cancer romance hits it big this summer. If Lionsgate is reading this, I’d seriously recommend slipping Fox a few $50s in order to help them fund a Best Actress Oscar campaign for Woodley which would conveniently lead right into the release of Insurgent. Success breeds success, or at least positive and pervasive media coverage.
But for now, even if the Divergent franchise has hit its ceiling with wherever it ends up in the end of its box office run (and that’s not a foregone conclusion), it’s still a much higher ceiling than nearly all of its ilk. That it is doing so well despite (all due respect) being more of a knock-off of the previous fantasy hits as opposed to a wholly different beast (Twilight had little to do with Harry Potter and Hunger Games had little to share with Twilight). That arguably is what gives up to the various other dystopian future young-adult fantasies waiting in the wings. But considering Twilight, Hunger Games, and Divergent all came from the Lionsgate/Summit distribution wing, it will be interesting to see if anyone else can have much luck with the specific sub-genre. Not that the House That Jigsaw Built is faultless either, as Ender’s Game can attest.
But for now Divergent has succeeded where so many before it have failed. It is a solid hit and a genuine franchise starter. Kudos to all involved and good luck with the sequel. Come what may, you may (or may not) need it.
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