“Divergent” could open with double the haul of “Muppets Most Wanted” this weekend and dominate the box office — yet some may still consider the action-adventure a disappointment.
That’s because fair or not, the opening-weekend bar of success for Lionsgate’s big-screen adaptation of Veronica Roth’s young-adult bestseller is $70 million. That’s what the first “Twilight” movie opened to in 2008, and tracking has had the sci-fi adventure starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James building to the same range as that Lionsgate saga for weeks.
If it does hit that number or go beyond, it will be a flat-out triumph for Lionsgate. But if it doesn’t, and comes in at the $55 million or $60 million that analysts are projecting, the studio knows that it will suffer by comparison with “Twilight,” not to mention “The Hunger Games,” another of Lionsgate’s franchise-launching blockbuster.
Public perception aside, Lionsgate will still have successfully launched another young-adult series, something no other studio has managed since Warner Bros. did it with “Harry Potter” 13 years ago.
Lionsgate has proven with “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” that it knows how to develop, market and manage billion-dollar teen franchises. So if “Divergent” — for which the studio has already set two sequels — opens north of $50 million, the $85 million sci-fi adventure will be well on its way into the black, and set up for the next two years as well.
“When you have the kind of success that Lionsgate has had with these movies, successive properties are bound to be judged against that,” Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “But it’s not at all fair. This isn’t going to be ‘The Hunger Games.’ It’s a brand new project, and Shailene Woodley is not a household name. But if ‘Divergent’ follows the same sort of trajectory that ‘Twilight’ did, and I think it can, she will be.”
“Twilight” opened to $69.6 million in November of 2008 and went on to take in $192.7 million domestically and another $199.8 million abroad. Four sequels later, the franchise had brought in more than $3.3 billion worldwide. “The Hunger Games” stunned Hollywood with a record $152.5 million opening in March of 2012, and rolled up $408 million domestically and another $283 million worldwide. Its sequel, “Catching Fire,” opened to a huge $158 million in November and is over $864 million worldwide.
It’s not just the source material and target demographic that invite comparisons. In “Divergent,” Woodley’s character Tris Prior struggles against the system in a futuristic dystopia, much as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen did in the “The Hunger Games.” Divergent” is directed by Neil Burger (“Limitless”) and adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor. The cast includes Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Tony Goldwyn and Mekhi Phifer.
Things are aligning very well for “Divergent” this weekend, with the exception of the reviews.
Sales of Roth’s books have outstripped those of “Twilight” before its opening, and a publicity blitz from Lionsgate looks to be connecting. “Divergent” was accounting were on Wednesday accounting for 80 percent of the advance sales at online ticket broker Fandango, where its first day sales topped those of “Twilight.”
The only other movie opening wide is Disney’s family comedy “Muppets Most Wanted,” a sequel to 2011’s “The Muppets,” which surprised with a $29 million domestic debut and went on to take in $165 million worldwide. Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell are in and Amy Adams and Jason Siegel are out for this one, which should do north of $20 million over the three days, providing it can fend off competition from last weekend’s No. 1 movie “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “The Lego Movie” and “Frozen.”
Other than the animated “Frozen,” there hasn’t been a movie that has clicked with a mainly female audience since “Catching Fire” in November, and that under-served crowd could turn out in force for “Divergent.”
“We’ve been inundated with kids films and male-skewing action movies, and there are few things as powerful as a void like that in the marketplace,” Dergarabedian said.
It’s very strong on social media, and has surged on Twitter this week with “Divergent” mentions triple those of “The Lego Movie” according to BoxOffice.com, and the animated comedy opened to a near-record $69 million last month.
The critics have not been impressed, however. It’s at 27 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s based on just 15 reviews, but it’s not a good sign. It probably won’t matter this week, but could in the coming weeks, when “Divergent” seeks to expand beyond its core young female base against heavyweight entries including the Russell Crowe Biblical epic “Noah” (March 28) and Disney’s Marvel superhero sequel “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (April 4).
The PG-13-rated “Divergent” will be in more than 3,900 theaters, including 346 Imax sites, and will kick off with select showings and midnight screenings on Thursday night.