Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (HarperCollins/Tegen) dominated bestseller lists last year and has sold 11 million copies in the U.S. Now, the media buzz is reaching a fever pitch for what its producers hope will become the next dominant YA screen franchise. The movie adaptation of the first book in the series, Divergent, arrives in theaters on March 21; the Summit Entertainment film’s final trailer has already been viewed more than 536,000 times on YouTube since its February 4 release.
The movie stars Shailene Woodley (Tris Prior), whose roles in the film adaptation of Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now and the forthcoming The Fault in Our Stars, based on the John Green novel, have contributed to her current YA “it-girl” status. Also figuring prominently are Theo James as Tobias (aka Four), Tris’s romantic interest, and Kate Winslet as the villainous Jeanine Matthews. The ingredients for a potential blockbuster are there: in addition to a rising Hollywood star and a cast of battle-ready teenagers divided into competing factions, the film offers a love story staged against life-threatening circumstances. But the verdict isn’t in until the box office numbers are tallied.
The enormous popularity of the Harry Potter and Twilight book-to-movie translations led to a honeymoon period of industry confidence: YA film adaptations, it seemed, were surefire hits, a sentiment invigorated by the mammoth success of The Hunger Games. Then, a string of adaptations in 2013 – among them Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – were considered flops, leading to widespread speculation about YA fatigue. But positive reception for Catching Fire, with a current worldwide gross of more than $850 million, as well as auspicious signs for Vampire Academy (Feb. 14), suggest that the brief slump may have passed.
Late last year, Razorbill publisher Ben Schrank spoke with New York magazine about possible reasons why some YA novels lead to successful films and others do not. Schrank believes that books with proven crossover appeal to an adult readership tend to be the books that perform well on screen. “That’s the recipe for enormous success,” he said. “When you see adults on their commutes reading the hardcovers of these books with their jackets removed, it means the movie has a far better chance of working.” Schrank also pointed out that young adult viewers strongly influence one another, so if a movie is rumored to be a disappointment by a peer, others are less likely to buy a ticket: “I think teens are even more likely than adults to avoid movies they’ve heard aren’t good. Remember, word-of-mouth is all-powerful for teens, and a book’s fans have been chatting for a very long time before a movie’s first weekend.”
Gearing up for that opening weekend, Divergent’s stars are doing their part to draw audiences to the theater. Shailene Woodley and Theo James made a dramatic joint appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live on February 3, by “dauntless”-ly zip-lining onto the stage, in honor of their characters’ faction. The actors are currently filming book two, Insurgent, which has a March 2015 release date.
In addition to media appearances and multiple film trailers, there’s buzz on the book front, too. Harper/Tegen will release a movie tie-in edition of Divergent and a photo book, Inside Divergent: The Initiate's World, on February 11, and an illustrated movie companion on March 4. In other book news, Harper/Tegen will publish Four: A Divergent Collection in hardcover on July 8. The collection contains four of Roth’s short stories, set in the Divergent world before the events of the first book and told from Tobias’s point of view. One of the stories that will appear in that collection, The Transfer, is already available as an e-book, giving fans an appetizer to tide them over in the interim.