Monday Morning Quarterback Part I

By BOP Staff

March 25, 2014

What the hell is that thing?

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Kim Hollis: Divergent, the adaptation of the popular young adult novel from Veronica Roth, earned $54.6 million this weekend. What do you think of this result?

Edwin Davies: This is a good or disappointing result depending entirely on what you're comparing it to. A lot of people seemed to be billing Divergent as the next Hunger Games, which was ridiculous because no one thought The Hunger Games was going to be as big as it was, or at least the next Twilight, both of which it fell short of by some distance. However, in comparison to prospective YA franchises like Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments and Vampire Academy, it's a resounding success, since it almost grossed more on opening weekend than all those films managed in their entire domestic runs. Clearly, Lionsgate fell into the former camp since they were pretty bullish in their expectations, giving the film a budget higher than those granted to the first Hunger Games and Twilight installments, and putting the sequels into production before the first had even been released. That's a level of confidence and/or arrogance that has only partially been justified by this result, which is by no means disastrous, but doesn't suggest that the second and third films will break out in any major way.

In trying to figure out why Divergent didn't make a huge impact, I think the key factor was how badly the marketing put across the premise (not to mention the deeper problem that the books themselves aren't easy to explain/make sense of) to the unconverted. The audience that showed up this weekend was predominately the audience that already existed for the books, whereas both Twilight and The Hunger Games managed to have a much broader appeal because they had both name recognition and premises that were easy to put across to anyone who didn't know what a Katniss Everdeen was. "Girl falls in love with a vampire" and "Girl has to fight for her life in a vicious contest" are the sort of high-concept ideas that the late Don Simpson would have killed for, whereas "people are divided up by their personality traits, and some of them have different personality traits and that's bad, and also Kate Winslet is there" isn't that compelling to people who don't already have a vested interest in the source material.


Jason Barney: I am going to stand back a bit and not join the "Uh-oh" crowd. Plenty of venues are reporting that this didn't meet expectations. Even Lionsgate was promoting a larger opening. Everyone involved should be happy this project has been this successful, and celebrate they might have something to grow in the future. For me, the budgeting is the primary equation of whether or not Divergent can be considered a successful product. An opening of $55 million is excellent for a story no one is really aware of, and when compared to some of the other teen novel attempts lately, this weekend is outstanding. Especially against a budget of $85 million.

Book to movie efforts are not easy, and the recent history of mega success that everyone talks about clouds the picture a bit. Not every novel to movie franchise can be Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games. Just looking at some of the other recent efforts puts things more into perspective. The second Percy Jackson book came out on film last August and that opened to a mere $23 million against a large $90 million budget. International grosses helped out a lot. Mortal Instruments was a flop, $60 million reported budget with a $14 million opening. Even Ender's Game can go into the discussion....a $100 million dollar budget with barely that much in total worldwide box office. Need I remind everyone Vampire Academy which was just released a few weeks ago - and earned about as much as I have in pocket change right now.

My point is this: bringing a story from the printed page to the big screen and making it successful is very difficult. Using Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games as a comparison ends immediately. A lot of established products don't even do as well Divergent will. Its opening is fine...good even.

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