Is this the Final Chapter for Hollywood's YA Craze?

Daniel Banas  |

It’s not surprising that Hollywood took to the young adults genre so wholeheartedly. After all, the YA boom in literature brings with it just about everything Hollywood excels at: Pretty young people, effects-heavy futuristic landscapes and/or creatures, and in most cases (and most importantly), a serialized format that makes for plenty of opportunity to milk sequels, padding the bottom line for years to come. So, when Twilight opened with nearly $70 million in 2008, followed by Twilight: New Moon more than doubling that with an opening of $142 million in 2009, it was by no means shocking to see many more pretty teens falling in love with fantasy creatures or battling fascist governments against Orwell-lite backdrops.

For a time, it seemed like an unbeatable formula...so of course, it blew up a few years later. Thus is the fickle nature of Hollywood and teen culture (is there a difference anymore?) as Lionsgate (LGF) learned this past weekend when their blockbuster hopeful Allegiant opened with less-than-blockbuster grosses of $29 million in North America ($83 million total). The third film in the Divergent series, Allegiant’s opening was 44% lower than the previous installment, Insurgent, and 46% lower than Divergent, the first film in the ambiguously titled series.

While it’s not at all rare to see a drop off in interest by the time the third installment of a series comes around (see: Matrix: Revolutions, Spider-Man 3, The Hangover Part III), the failure of Allegiant is noteworthy because it’s actually only half of a story. Like they did with The Hunger Games and Twilight before it, Lionsgate opted to split the final book in the Divergent series into two films, the second of which, Ascendant, is scheduled to be released in June of next year.

However, Ascendant hasn’t even been shot yet, meaning Lionsgate has a choice to make from two very unappealing options:

  • Double down on a series without an audience, spending upwards of $100 million (probably closer $200 million) on a film that will almost certainly underperform
  • Scrap the series now, and suffer the wrath of fan base who have invested time and energy in the series thus far, and showing a lack of faith in their film series...a clear sign of weakness in hyper-competitive Hollywood

Frankly, the second option might be the best bet for Lionsgate, though it appears they’re moving ahead with the film anyway, as they’ve already announced they’ll be cutting the budget for the final film in the series. But even if they pinch pennies, Lionsgate is still committing themselves to well over $100 million once marketing costs are considered. What’s more, they’ll be producing and releasing a film that tells a story that many of the series’ hardcore fans hated to begin with.

Simply put, Lionsgate is in no position to be making films just to save face. Since grosses for Allegiant were released on Monday, their stock has already dropped over 3.00% on top of a drop of more than 45% over the past four months. It’s been a rough year for the studio, as their Vin Diesel starrer The Last Witch Hunter and the $140 million Gods of Egypt both flopped hard. Last year, the final Hunger Games film underperformed as well, grossing a franchise low $281 million (a figure that is nearly double what Divergent made in 2014, mind you).

The Dystopian Future of Young Adult Lit

The diminishing returns of The Hunger Games, and more prominently, The Divergent Series will mean a distinct change in how quickly Hollywood execs greenlight these young adult-skewing dystopian sci-fi films. When Hunger Games and Twilight were still raking in absurd grosses on relatively low investment, it was easy to overlook the fact that most of these YA adaptations are DOA. Remember The Host? The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones? This past January’s The Fifth Wave? Of course not. Nobody does. But those were actual movies that were released to scathing reviews and audience indifference.

After The Divergent Series limps to the finish line next year, don’t expect many more plucky heroines shooting arrows and rappelling down the side of skyscrapers in dystopian future cities any time soon. And for every genre of serialized film series, you might very well see fewer movies split in half in hopes of doubling profits from extending one single story. We’ve already seen audiences grumble at Hollywood’s idea to turn short stories like The Hobbit into extended epic trilogies, but now that studios are seeing their finances put in jeopardy, we may be watching the final reel of the film splitting trend.

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