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Categorizing 'Divergent': Five dystopian questions

Categorizing 'Divergent': Five dystopian questions
Shailene Woodley and Christian Madsen in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

It seems the world may actually end before studios stop making post-apocalyptic movies for teenagers.

Summit Entertainment's $85-million "Divergent," based on the young-adult novel by Veronica Roth, opens Friday. Expectations are high after the studio's success with Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" saga and parent company Lionsgate's "Hunger Games" juggernaut.

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"Divergent" and "Hunger Games" hit similar marks: A strong female protagonist, a bleak futuristic setting, a society that relegates people into distinct groups, and a central romantic storyline, for example.

But in key areas, "Divergent" diverges.

Here are basic questions going into the box-office weekend:

Will "Divergent" be another "Hunger Games"? 

Not exactly.

According to audience tracking surveys, "Divergent" will probably generate around $55 million in ticket sales in its first weekend, while the first "Hunger Games" opened with more than $150 million two years ago.

Surveys show that "Divergent" is skewing heavily toward females 25 and younger, whereas "Hunger Games" had a broader appeal, so 2008's "Twilight" is a better comparison. That movie opened with about $70 million. "Divergent" probably won't match that. But there's no reason to think "Divergent" won't have an impressive debut.

Yeah, but the reviews are bad, right?

Mostly.

About 30% of the critics' reviews counted by Rotten Tomatoes are positive. But remember, "Twilight" wasn't exactly a critical darling either, and that didn't stop fan-girls from swarming the theaters.

That said, reviewers' love doesn't hurt. "Hunger Games" scored 84% "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, which might have helped broaden the appeal. The grades from CinemaScore, which polls moviegoers after they've seen the movie, may be more telling. If the fans themselves like it, they'll come back for more.

How about book sales?

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The "Divergent" books have sold a combined 17 million copies worldwide, about what the "Twilight" novels had sold at the time of the first movie's release, so that's a good sign.

Who's Shailene Woodley? Is she the next Jennifer Lawrence or something?

Young-adult adaptions don't depend on big-name stars, but they can help create them.

Woodley is probably best known for starring in the ABC Family series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," though she's had a couple of feature film roles, most notably in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" with George Clooney.

But Jennifer Lawrence had already scored an Academy Award nomination (for "Winter's Bone") by the time she appeared in the "Hunger Games" series and has won an Oscar since — for "Silver Linings Playbook." Now she is a box-office draw on her own.

How big is the young-adult dystopian appetite? 

Big enough for Summit to want to do at least two more movies in the "Divergent" series. The next couple of years will see the release of the sequels "Insurgent" and "Allegiant."

In case that's not enough, the Weinstein Co. will release its rendering of Lois Lowry's "The Giver," and 20th Century Fox will put out "The Maze Runner," both of which are heavy on dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes.

These movies don't always work though. This year's "Vampire Academy" and last year's "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" flopped. Summit itself had a miss with its version of Orson Scott Card's classic book "Ender's Game."

But whether "Divergent" goes big as expected or not, it appears the end (of movies about the end) is not near.

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Twitter: @rfaughnder

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