ZAMM.COM: 'Divergent' Discussion

By Martin Grove,

Divergent discussion: Divergent hits multiplexes Friday and Hollywood's getting ready to celebrate a new young adult blockbuster franchise.

There are very high hopes for Divergent since YA appeal action adventures with dystopian themes based on global best-selling book series have become one of Hollywood's most successful genres.

Summit Entertainment's PG-13 Divergent, opening Friday at abut 3,800 theaters, is directed by Neil Burger and stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet. It's based on Veronica Roth's best-selling book series, which has sold over 11 million copies.

Divergent's been tracking in double digits as an overall first choice. But it's tracking through the roof with under-25 females, the core audience for previous young female appeal book-series driven blockbuster franchises like The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games.

The film is set in a dystopian Chicago where people are now divided into five factions, Tris (Woodley) is Divergent and can't fit into any one group. After uncovering a faction leader's (Winslet) conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, Tris teams up with the mysterious Four (James) to find out why Divergents are so dangerous--before it's too late.

The five episodes of Summit Entertainment's The Twilight Saga based on Stephanie Meyer's series of four best-selling novels grossed $1.4 billion domestically.

The first two episodes of Lionsgate's The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling book trilogy, took in $832.1 million domestically. The original Hunger holds the record for the biggest March opening ever with its Mar. 23, 2012 launch to $152.5 million. It went on to gross $408 million domestically.

Two concluding Hunger movies based on the final Hunger novel are still to come--The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, opening this Nov. 21; and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, opening Nov. 20, 2015.

Such series are driven not only by the must-read books they're based on, but also by their young female stars. In the case of Divergent, there are high hopes that Woodley (born in 1991) will turn out to be the new Jennifer Lawrence (born in 1990). When Lawrence first played Katniss Everdeen in the first Hunger episode, she'd just started getting serious attention as an actress.

Lawrence's big break came for her starring role in the small R rated indie drama Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik, which brought her rave reviews and supporting actress Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. She was named Best Breakthrough Performer by the National Board of Review and was nominated for lead (not supporting) actress by the Screen Actors Guild.

Driven by her prestigious emergence in Bone and the colossal boxoffice success of Hunger, Lawrence quickly became Hollywood's new It Girl. She then starred in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook opposite Bradley Cooper, for which she won the 2013 best actress Oscar and the Golden Globe for best actress – comedy or musical. She went on to star again for Russell in his ensemble cast, also including Cooper, in American Hustle, which brought her a 2014 supporting actress Oscar nom and a Globes win.

As Woodley moves into the spotlight now with her performance as Beatrice (Tris) Prior in Divergent, she stands to become Hollywood's newest flavor of the month. Like Lawrence, she has a prestigious indie film background to build upon in the mainstream arena.

Woodley's best known at this point for playing Alexandra King in Alexander Payne's (Sideways) R rated 2011 indie drama The Descendants, starring George Clooney. The film brought Woodley a Golden Globe supporting actress nom and a supporting actress win from the National Board of Review. She was nominated along with the film's entire cast in the Screen Actor's Guild's best ensemble cast category.

Besides Woodley's appeal to Divergent's target young adult audience, the film will also be driven at the boxoffice by Veronica Roth's book trilogy. Roth, who lives in Chicago, was a 21 year old college senior when she wrote Divergent. Summit Entertainment bought the movie rights prior to the book's publication by HarperCollins in April 2011.

Roth's second book, Insurgent, which was published in May 2012, is now being turned into a movie scheduled to hit theaters Mar. 20, 2015. Production gets underway in Atlanta in May with Robert Schwentke directing. Insurgent will also shoot some scenes in Chicago, where Divergent takes place and was filmed.

A good indication that Hollywood anticipates big opening weekend ticket sales for Divergent is that Mar. 21 will see only one other major studio wide release--Walt Disney Pictures' PG comedy adventure Muppets Most Wantedat about 3,000 theaters. Muppets is targeted to family audiences, so it's not really competing with Divergent. Directed by James Bobin, it stars Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey.

In the film, the Muppets are touring Europe and selling out everywhere, but chaos follows when they're unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine, the world's Number One Criminal--and, unfortunately, a dead ringer for Kermit!

Muppets is tracking best and about equally well with women under and over 25, so it should attract the moms-with-kids audience that big brand family films need.

Bottom line: The third book in Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy, Allegiant, was published last October. Its controversial ending (no spoilers here) quickly became the subject of extensive online blogging and part of the Divergent discussion. Be warned, however, if you look into this you'll find out much more than you probably want to know this early in the Divergent movie franchise.

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