Have we reached the saturation level with dystopian young adult movies?
The mammoth Hunger Games franchise (which grossed $3 billion globally) seemed to birth a new wave of copycat projects in which young, demographically ideal stars are contractually locked in for an entire trilogy or tetralogy at a time. Kid characters might die violently in these dire adventures, but pluckily, the big-picture franchise would soldier its way to the box-office vaults.
Now, though, the money train has a markedly lighter load.
Allegiant, the third of four planned films in the Divergent series, debuted to only $29 million domestically last weekend - a disturbing plunge for the studio considering that the first two films in the franchise, Divergent and Insurgent, each opened to a March weekend of more than $52 million.
Dystopia lost to Zootopia, the big animated spectacle laced with a sly little political message, which remained the box-office champ by taking in $38 million domestically, according to studio estimates. The Disney film has now grossed nearly $600 million globally.
Lionsgate has to be especially concerned when you consider that there's one more film in the Divergent franchise: Ascendant is scheduled to open in June 2017. ("To mitigate its risk on the $110 million project," Variety reports, "Lionsgate pre-sold the international rights to Allegiant, which is handled by an array of distributors.")
Given Allegiant's significant dip, we have two immediate takeaways.
First, many American viewers (not unlike many American voters) might be hungry for the promise of happier change. Part of Deadpool's massive appeal this year, for instance, was due to the fact that this R-rated superhero comedy was not a destroyer of worlds. We welcome the occasional breather from entire cityscapes being leveled, or planets being barely saved by the last-reel sealing of some portal.
Must we always be at world's end? Sometimes it's enough, as in Netflix's Daredevil, just to save the neighborhood.
Besides Allegiant, the box-office numbers dipped significantly in the domestic market last year for the second Maze Runner film, The Scorch Trials. And a year earlier, The Giver mustered just $45 million in North America.
Maybe it's just time to let the YA dystopian fields lie fallow for a season.
And then there's a second, smaller takeaway from the Divergent series: Whither the career of the wonderful Shailene Woodley?
After she flashed a precociously steely presence in The Descendants, with a signature rasp that can allow her to play a bit older, the actress seemed plotted for a Jennifer Lawrence career arc. Woodley shined in The Fault in Our Stars, playing ill but never cheap-weepy, and signed on to her own youth-in-peril franchise with the Divergent series. But what happens when you're saddled to a fading franchise for several years?
Woodley is an appealing talent who can deliver authentic humor in dramas pitched at the emotional level of real life. She is deserving of a long and interesting career. But she doesn't have many projects officially on the docket right now, beyond a role in Oliver Stone's Snowden late this year. (The politically outspoken actress, who has been stumping for Bernie Sanders, has called Edward Snowden "a hero.")
Perhaps this is the time for her to diverge from the multiple franchise track that Lawrence followed.
The acting allegiance, after all, should be to her distinctive gifts.