‘Divergent’ Hunts Hearts and Wallets of ‘Hunger Games’ Fans

Source: Summit Entertainment

The much anticipated film adaptation of the popular young adult novel Divergent is hitting theaters this weekend, and the film looks poised to rake in the dough at the box office and make a teen idol out of star Shailene Woodley, despite the initial reviews being lukewarm at best. That’s because Lionsgate, the studio behind the film, is capitalizing on a formula that’s been acknowledged as being ‘critic-proof,’ film adaptations of young adult novels that take place in a dystopian world. The most successful iterations of this formula, the Twilight and Hunger Games films, also feature a strong female protagonist.

‘Critic-proof’ films are those that hold enough interest for audiences that people will go see them in theaters even if the critical reception is lackluster, or even terrible. Superhero films, particularly those produced by Marvel, have also been referred to by that term, raking in billions despite mediocre reviews.

According to industry watchers and box office analysts cited by Reuters, Divergent is set to make between $50 and $68 million in the U.S. and Canada during its opening weekend. That’s not quite Hunger Games numbers — the first installment in that franchise made $152.5 million in its opening weekend and the sequel Catching Fire made $158 million — but it will be more than enough to greenlight the two Divergent sequels that will complete the franchise. The last two films in the Twilight franchise made $138 million and $141 million respectively during their opening weekends.

Lionsgate also paid close attention to timing with the film, releasing it between Hunger Games installments to attract fans of that franchise who will have plenty to like about Divergent.

Divergent’s star Shailene Woodley is already being hailed as the next Jennifer Lawrence — a funny, down-to-earth actress who is more interested in environmental activism and practicing outdoor survival skills than looking conventionally attractive (although, like Lawrence, she is quite beautiful) or playing the Hollywood game. Woodley has gained a teen fan base starring in the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager and critical acclaim from appearances in George Clooney’s The Descendants as well as last year’s well-received The Spectacular Now.

Woodley’s performance was highlighted by critics as the best part of the movie. If Woodley proves through both the film and interviews to be a loveable star similar to Lawrence, then her presence could spur interest in the franchise from her own fan base, who may or may not be fans of the novels. While Divergent may lose some viewers based on the mediocre reviews, it could gain some outside of the novel’s fans if Woodley is a convincing female heroine that viewers can root for on screen and find likeable offscreen.

The biggest critique of Divergent was that it’s just not different enough. While playing within a successful formula, Divergent fails to make itself stand out. Given that the novels have sold 172 million copies, the poor reviews probably won’t deter fans from going to see it.

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