What happens when you’re three movies into a four-film franchise and audiences simply don’t care anymore? That’s the question posed to Lionsgate following the disappointing box office of the Divergent Series sequel Allegiant this past weekend, which opened to a mediocre $29.1 million, down 44% from the previous installment Insurgent’s $52.2 million opening weekend. The studio can’t really blame box office competition or extenuating circumstances on the tepid turnout—this really is simply a case of the franchise’s audience dwindling—but with only one film left to go to complete the series, the studio has now made the decision to go out cheaply.
Per THR, the budget for the final Divergent film Ascendant will be reduced compared to that of Allegiant, but it’s unclear by how much. Allegiant’s budget was estimated at around $110 million, so depending on how deeply the budget is slashed, we could see the series returning to its roots so to speak, as the initial entry Divergent was made for $85 million.
Insurgent director Robert Schwentke was attached to complete the franchise by directing both Allegiant and Ascendant, but he backed out of directing the final installment a few months ago citing exhaustion from doing the previous two installments back to back. THR, however, cites sources who say there was discord on set with Schwentke, with star Shailene Woodley “dissatisfied” with both Schwentke and the speed with which Lionsgate was forging ahead with the franchise at the expense of the script. Indeed, the studio has been intent on keeping the series on a one-movie-a-year schedule, which not only put pressure on Schwentke to simultaneously work on post-production and pre-production, but also led to half-baked screenplays, which is very much evident in Allegiant; the film tellingly has four credited screenwriters.
The entire franchise seems to have been crafted with haste, chasing the success of The Hunger Games instead of trying to forge its own path. Divergent director Neil Burger at least tried to do something different with the initial installment, but he declined to direct the second film given the rushed timetable. In racing towards success instead of focusing on quality, Lionsgate has found itself in a pickle with Allegiant garnering scathing reviews and poor box office. The irony is that the series is based on a trilogy of novels by Veronica Roth, but Lionsgate—again mimicking the success of other franchises like The Hunger Games and Twilight—opted to split the final film in half before eventually just running through most of the story of Roth’s source material with Allegiant, opening the franchise up to new uncharted territory for Ascendant that will continue and conclude the big changes made from the book in the Allegiant film.
The Age of Adaline director Lee Toland Krieger is onboard to helm Ascendant, with THR noting that Woodley was involved in the process of choosing Schwentke’s replacement for the final installment. The budget has not been finalized nor has the script, but Lionsgate seems intent on starting production this summer to make the film’s June 9, 2017 release date. It’ll be interesting to see if they try to right the ship by pushing back production and the release date in order to focusing on maybe crafting a quality conclusion, or if they feel they’re too far gone and simply end as planned, with a perfunctory whimper. Regardless, this franchise feels like it’s been a massive waste of talent given the caliber of actors onscreen.