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‘Insurgent’ Set to Smash ‘Cinderella’s’ Pumpkin and Banish ‘Hunger Games Lite’ Rap at Box Office Ball

Shailene Woodley and Theo James’ ”Divergent“ sequel has a shot at a $60 million debut

The “Divergent” movie franchise has fought the perception that it was the kid sister of “The Hunger Games” since its launch last year, but Lionsgate’s young adult series may be growing up.

Shailene Woodley’s sci-fi sequel “Insurgent,” the second film in the series, is going to push around Disney’s “Cinderella” and open at No. 1 at the box office this weekend, analysts say. Tbey project some big girl numbers too — possibly $60 million — over the three days.

The shadow of “The Hunger Games” has to hurt at the box office, said Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock, who remains impressed with the adaptations of the Veronica Roth bestsellers even though they’ve fallen short of the $2.2 billion in global grosses that the very similar Jennifer Lawrence sci-fi sagas have generated.

“It’s kind of amazing,” Bock said. “It seems like a knock-off in terms of genre, characters and story, and usually when two films are not much different, the results can be disastrous. But this series has survived on its own merits — and most young adult films don’t get as far as this one has.”

With Woodley, Kate Winslet and co-stars Miles Teller, Theo James and Ansel Elgort front and center, “Divergent” opened to $54 million last March and went to take in $158 million domestically and $289 million worldwide. Two months later, Lionsgate announced a sequel, “Insurgent,” was in the works, along with a third, “Allegiant.” In April of 2014, the studio said that the finale would be split into two films, and released in March 2016 and March 2017.

Among the YA projects whose franchise ambitions turned to one-and-done realities in the past two years are the female-angled films “The Giver,” “The Host,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “Vampire Academy.” However, Fox connected last year with “Maze Runner,” which skews more male.

Lionsgate’s marketing team deserves credit for overcoming the “Hunger Games” comparisons — the fate of its predecessors — with “Insurgent,” Bock said.

“They locked onto their core demographic rather than attempting to build it out, and they will have a hit again because teens and young adults will flock to it,” he said. While reviews have been weak — 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — but they also were for “Divergent.”

It is, however, strong on social media — a little ahead of the first film on Twitter and with four times the Facebook “likes.” Meanwhile, “Insurgent” ticket sales represented 85 percent of the business at Fandango Wednesday.

Robert Schwentke takes over as director from Neil Berger on the PG-13-rated “Insurgent,” which has a screenplay by Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback. Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Pouya Shahbazian produced with a $110 million production budget.

“Insurgent” should get a boost from the higher profiles of Woodley and Elgort. They starred in last summer’s weepy teen hit “The Fault in Our Stars,” and matching the $150 million domestic total of “Divergent” seems a reasonable goal. And unlike the first film, “Insurgent” is in 3D and IMAX.

“Insurgent” will be in 3,885 theaters domestically, with early showings on Thursday night.

“Cinderella” will likely lose significant numbers of teen girls and young women to “Insurgent,” but if it holds the way other Disney live-action fairy tales have, it will come in with around $33 million. That’s a second-weekend drop of 50 percent, in the range of “Maleficent” (50 percent), “Oz the Great and Powerful” (49 percent) but greater than “Into the Woods” (40 percent).

TA3A3032.CR2In Open Road Films’ “The Gunman,” the weekend’s other wide opener, Sean Penn stars as a hit man on the run in Europe. Pierre Morel (“Taken”) directs and Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Javier Bardem co-star in the thriller written by Don MacPherson and Pete Travis, and based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette. “The Gunman” will be in 2,816 theaters.

Pure Flix Entertainment is hoping that history will repeat itself with its faith-based drama “Do You Believe?” Distributor Freestyle Releasing is rolling it out on the same pre-Easter weekend that the company had a big opening with “God’s Not Dead,” an indie religious film that cost $2 million and grossed $60 million domestically.

The Christian drama is directed by Jonathan M. Gunn and stars Ted McGinley, Mira Sorvino, Andrea Logan White, Lee Majors, Alexa PenaVega, Sean Astin, Madison Pettis, Cybill Shepherd, and Brian Bosworth.

It will be in 1,300 theaters.