“Divergent,” the big-screen adaptation of Veronica Roth's best-selling, young-adult adventure novels, conquered the domestic box office with a sizzling $56 million first weekend.
It marks the second-best opening of the year — behind only the $69 million of “The Lego Movie” in February — and the futuristic sci-fi tale starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James also gave Lionsgate Entertainment a successful launch for its next teen franchise. The studio behind the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series has scheduled “Insurgent,” the sequel to “Divergent,” for next March, and the third film, “Allegiant,” is set for the same slot in 2016.
“Divergent” dominated over the weekend's runner-up, Disney's family movie “The Muppets Most Wanted,” which opened to an underwhelming $16.5 million to beat out last week's No. 1 movie, DreamWorks Animation's “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” scoring third place with $11.7 million.
The independent faith-based movie “God's Not Dead” finished a surprising fifth, taking in $8.5 million from just 780 screens to finish just behind “300: Rise of an Empire” ($8.6 million) and just ahead of “Need for Speed” ($7.7 millon). And “The Grand Budapest Hotel” continued to build momentum. Wes Anderson's ensemble comedy brought in $6.5 million after Fox Searchlight expanded it from 66 to 304 theaters. That's a very strong $21,535 per-screen average, by the far the best of any movie in release.
There haven't been many movies that directly targeted young women since “The Hunger Games” in November, and they turned out in force for “Divergent.” Nearly 60 percent of its audience was female, and about half were under the age of 25. They liked it more than the critics — it's at 40 percent “fresh” on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes — and gave it an “A” CinemaScore.
Launching a teen franchise is an accomplishment for Lionsgate. No other studio has managed to since Warner Bros.’ launch of “Harry Potter” 13 years ago, and Hollywood has been trying to recreate the formula for a book-based teen adventure series for years. Recent attempts like “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “Vampire Academy” all bombed, but studios keep trying because the returns can be huge.
“Twilight” opened to $69.6 million in November of 2008 and went on to take in $192.7 million domestically and another $199.8 million abroad. Four sequels later, the franchise had brought in more than $3.3 billion worldwide. “The Hunger Games” stunned Hollywood with a record $152.5 million opening in March of 2012, and rolled up $408 million domestically and another $283 million worldwide. Its sequel, “Catching Fire,” opened to a huge $158 million in November and is over $864 million worldwide.
The PG-13-rated “Divergent” didn't match those openings numbers, and has faced comparisons with the earlier Lionsgate hits because the source material and target demographic are similar. In “Divergent,” Woodley's character Tris Prior struggles against the system in a futuristic dystopia, much as Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen did in the “The Hunger Games.”
Lionsgate's President of Domestic Distribution Richie Fay said he thought getting out of the shadow of the other two young adult hits made a big difference.
“Nancy Kirkpatrick (Summit Entertainment's president of worldwide marketing) and her team did a great job of helping this movie establish its own identity, and the young stars got out on the circuit and they clearly connected,” said Fay, who saw encouraging signs in the demographic breakdown.
“It was mainly young women, but the even split on the ages and the 40 percent males makes me think we're going to be able to broaden beyond our core over the next few weeks and spring break,” he said.
“Divergent,” which was produced for $85 million, is directed by Neil Burger (“Limitless”) and adapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor. The cast includes Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Tony Goldwyn and Mekhi Phifer.
The opening for “Muppets Most Wanted” was under the $20 million that the studio and analysts had projected, and well off the $29 million that 2011's “The Muppets” debuted to on its way to a 165 million worldwide haul.
Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell starred in “The Muppets Most Wanted,” which may have been hurt by another family-targeting film featuring Burrell, the star of TV's “Modern Family,” or at least his voice. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” in which Burrell provides the pipes for the genius pooch, raised its domestic total to $81 million with a solid third-week showing.
The audience for “Most Wanted” was 71 percent families, and they gave it a “B+” CinemaScore.
The low-budget and PG-rated “God's Not Dead” made the post of its limited run with a per-screen average of nearly $11,000 – better than any movie in the market except for “Divergent” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
The drama about a college student who sets out to prove God's existence, had Freestyle Releasing President Mark Borde looking ahead to an expansion next week.
“On such few screens to compete so strongly on a national platform says so much about the film, the filmmakers, and the target audience who love this movie,” he said Sunday.
Kevin Sorbo, David A.R. White and Willie Robertson of TV's “Duck Dynasty” co-star in the film, which was directed by Harold Cronk and produced by Pure Flix Entertainment and Red Entertainment.
Justin Bateman's directorial debut “Bad Words” expanded from six to 87 theaters and brought in about $498,000 for Focus Features, a solid $5,720 per-screen average for the R-rated spelling bee comedy.
Lars von Trier's “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1” debuted on 24 screens and brought in about $174,00 for Magnolia Pictures. That's a pretty good $7,240 per-screen average for the unrated Danish sex drama, which has been available on demand for since March 7.
The crowd-funded comedy mystery “Veronica Mars” added 56 theaters but took a major 75 percent tumble from its first weekend, and took in just $490,00 for Warner Bros. It's two-week domestic is $2.8 million.