Fans of the Divergent franchise might want to sit down. What began as a highly anticipated potential successor to The Hunger Games may take its final bow on the small screen, with a TV movie that may or may not even star the original cast. Per Variety, the final installment in the film franchise, The Divergent Series: Ascendant, may be skipping a theatrical release altogether, with Lionsgate instead keen on wrapping up the film series with a TV movie that would introduce characters for a potential spinoff TV show.
The Divergent films began well enough, with buzzworthy Shailene Woodley toplining the adaptation of the first book in author Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy for director Neil Burger (Limitless). That movie didn’t hit the same box office heights as Lionsgate’s other YA franchise, The Hunger Games, and so the sequel The Divergent Series: Insurgent took it into a more action-oriented direction in the hopes of luring the teenage male demographic. That film topped out at $297.2 million worldwide, just $9 million more than its predecessor, so Lionsgate once again changed course for The Divergent Series: Allegiant with a sci-fi bent, opting to conclude the franchise with two films instead of one, as Allegiant sets up the events of The Divergent Series: Ascendant.
What Lionsgate didn’t count on, however, was that Allegiant crashed and burned at the box office this past March, scoring just $179.2 million worldwide as the studio was already in pre-production on Ascendant. A hiccup had already plagued the franchise as Insurgent and Allegiant director Robert Schwentke opted to drop out of directing Ascendant a month before, with Lionsgate subsequently setting The Age of Adaline director Lee Toland Krieger to take the helm of the series’ final installment.
However, as production on Ascendant was intended to get underway this summer, the final box office numbers for Allegiant caused Lionsgate to have a change of heart. The plan now is to have Lionsgate’s television group handle production of a TV movie that will finalize the storylines involving the current cast and introduce a new cast, who would then continue on with a TV series adaptation on either a traditional or streaming network.
This plan is in the early stages and it’s not even clear if Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort or other franchise stars would return for the TV movie. I’m curious if their contractual obligations for the series extend to a TV movie if a whole other production arm takes control of the series.
Either way, this is one of the biggest franchise misses in recent memory. Usually it’s a matter of studios putting the cart before the horse with a first film that fails to take off with audiences while early plans are underway for sequels, but to get three films deep and then be faced with scrapping or severely altering the concluding installment? That’s unheard of. The closest example I can think of is the Mortal Instruments sequel at Screen Gems, which got a week or two into filming before box office receipts came in for the franchise’s first installment, and the movie was ultimately scrapped.
I’m curious to see how this plays out. Those who read the books know the franchise went in very different directions with its sequels, with Allegiant bearing little resemblance at all to Roth’s source material. So it’s not like most book fans are clamoring to see this final feature film installment through—it was already a semi-separate thing, and judging by the box office numbers, had a fanbase that did not warrant a major blockbuster budget.
I’m sure we’ll hear further word on this matter soon, but boy, what a turn of events.