If you thought your weekend was rough, just be happy that you’re not The Divergent Series.
Allegiant, the third in the four film series, drastically under-performed at the box office, earning only $29.1 million domestically. This is down a whopping 44 percent compared to its predecessor, Insurgent, which made $52.2 million last March (which differed only slightly from the first film at $54.6 million.)
So what the hell happened?
Well, the lack of support for the Divergent franchise wasn’t completely out of the blue. We’re truly discouraged to say so, because we love movie adaptations based on young adult books and even one box office failure helps the skeptics who want to discredit anything aimed at teens, 20-somethings, and predominantly female audiences (which many YA adaptations are.) We don’t want those critics to be right. EVER. But in the case of the Divergent Series, there was a perfect maelstrom of things going wrong that led to this moment.
Let’s dissect it.
1. Allegiant (the novel)
We’re definitely not putting all the blame on Veronica Roth for her ultimate ending to the series, but Allegiant is a polarizing book. It moves much slower than the first two in the series, introduces elements that didn’t work for some readers, and has a VERY divisive ending. We’ve seen many a reader– whether they read Allegiant right as it came out in October 2013 or discovered the books after the movies– say that they didn’t plan to see Allegiant or Ascendant in theaters because they were disappointed in how it would end. Mind you, the Divergent movie was already well into production at the time of the book’s release, so there was no backing down.
2. Insurgent (the movie)
Much more than any other element on this list, we feel this was the nail that sealed the coffin. While it wasn’t perfect, the Divergent movie presented fans with a solid adaptation of the beloved first book. Insurgent simply didn’t seem to try as hard. The bones of the script just weren’t there– the dialogue was much weaker, the premise was only very loosely based on the novel. The story focused heavily on the idea of Tris as a super-special Chosen One trope that wasn’t present in the books and traded in the main confrontation– a vicious battle between Tris’ group and the Factionless against Erudite with the remnants of Dauntless sprinkled on both sides– for a series of simulations that have little meaning to the overall story line (other than to further prove the Tris is special and strong enough to move past her Divergent traumas.) The actors did the best they could with what they had, but it’s hard to stand on broken legs.
We’re not against book-to-movie changes. Storytelling differs between mediums. Most changes are sensible and work rather well. But this wasn’t just changing a couple elements. We don’t know if fans either were expected to follow along enthusiastically no matter how much the story deviated or if they weren’t considered much at all, but it never came across as a film made for the fans.
3. Splitting Allegiant
Yes, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games adaptations split the last book into two films. The choice benefited the studios financially, but it didn’t always benefit the story or the audience. Given how slow and already controversial Allegiant is, we definitely don’t think the decision to split the film does anything to help the franchise succeed. It means more filler to turn a 526 page book into 3-to-4 hours of movie time. While it was a mostly well-received idea for Potter (even then, there were dissenters,) audiences have grown fatigued with the cash grab finale concept. That’s probably the reason why Lionsgate changed the final film’s title to Ascendant in an attempt to throw off the Part 1 / Part 2 scent for moviegoers.
4. Young Adult Franchise Backlash
This is the least likely offender in the group, because there have always been and always will be haters. The industry has its fair share of critics who will write off anything YA, including fan favorites, simply because it’s YA and they’re super special snowflakes with far superior tastes. They find fault in beloved YA, so once they come across a lackluster YA film, they go in for the kill by dissecting character traits, plot flaws, even the psyche of the audience (Read: teenage girls are all stupid and crazy.) With Insurgent being a less-than-satisfactory sequel, very few critics were ever going to give its follow-up much credit. However, critics don’t even come close to dictating the box office standings. Otherwise, franchises like Twilight never would have happened. Fans get it in a way that the critics and trolls of the internet don’t– In fact, most people we’ve talked to about Allegiant liked it better than Insurgent. The fact is, not as many people were willing to see it despite loving young adult series and that likely has more to do with the earlier problems.
There are other factors to consider, but we think the four main bases are covered above. And it’s frustrating for us. We’ve been fans of the series since shortly after the release of the first Divergent novel and we know there’s so much story to be told. We know that characters have more potential and the story has more heart. Things didn’t have to go this way for the franchise, but they did. It very well may affect studios’ decisions to adapt Young Adult novels in the future, so nobody who enjoys YA wins here.
Ascendant probably isn’t going to get a major send-off, but there’s still a glimmer of hope: Maybe the movie can give its loyal audiences something they really respect and appreciate to round out the series.