'Divergent' worked. Now what?

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Image Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

All hail Divergent! A collective sigh of relief emanated from the halls of Hollywood this past weekend when the latest attempt to score with young female moviegoers worked with the successful $55 million debut of the post-apocalyptic film Divergent. And it’s not just the studio executives at Summit Entertainment who are breathing a sigh of relief as they ready the next two movies in the trilogy based on Veronica Roth’s young adult novels. The exhale also comes from those in Hollywood who had been working on a host of teen-centric adaptations last year amid the troubling trend that saw any project not called The Hunger Games flop, including Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, and Stephenie Meyer’s The Host.

“It feels like the landscape is changing with Divergent,” said producer Mark Ciardi, who is currently producing the adaptation of the first book in Lauren Kate’s series Fallen in Budapest. “For the industry of these movies, you want to know that others are viable besides The Hunger Games and Twilight. Divergent is proving that.”

Perhaps Divergent‘s A CinemaScore underlined the most important lesson from its success: Do not play fast and loose with what fans deem sacred source material. “If you think you can go into it and throw stuff away — thinking you are improving the storytelling — you are going to fail,” says Wyck Godfrey, who produced the original YA juggernaut Twilight and is behind the upcoming adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. “You piss the fans off immediately — and people outside of the core fans are skeptical of it already.”

That mindset will be tested this summer as Hollywood tries out a new phase of YA projects that are less action-oriented and more intimate. First, Fox’s version of Fault, a love story between two cancer-stricken teens (Divergent co-stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort), arrives June 6. Fan expectations for Fault in particular are fevered; the trailer has been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube.

“After Twilight … and Hunger Games, we thought that girls were going to crave a real emotional experience,” said Godfrey, who just announced that he will reunite with author John Green to produce the author’s novel Paper Towns. “I feel like The Fault in our Stars really delivered on that need. And I really believe that this little movie about two kids with cancer falling in love for the first time is going to be a huge event.”

On Aug. 22, MGM and Warner Bros. will premiere If I Stay, based on Gayle Forman’s novel about a girl’s decision to live or die following a severe car accident. Stay star Chloë Grace Moretz, who plays the main character Mia, found the intense fandom around the project an asset. “I was really in [Mia’s] head. I felt really attached to her,” says Moretz, who connected with the character on many levels, including the fact that she and Mia both found their career goals at a very young age. “But whenever I had a question, I would refer to Gayle — and the fans, in a sense — just to stay true to it,” she says.

Obviously not every project is going to be able to keep all the die-hards happy. Fans of the dystopian novel The Giver, for example, aren’t happy that the movie version from Weinstein Co. (out Aug. 15) has aged the lead character; the book’s 12-year old hero is being played by 24-year-old Brenton Thwaites. All the more reason to consider any changes to the book very carefully — a charge If I Stay director R.J. Cutler is taking seriously.

“The moment we read that book, there was something that touched something specific in us,” he says. “It was something [screenwriter] Shauna Cross returned to in her writing and I returned to in my filmmaking. It’s why I wanted to make the movie.”

Hopefully that will be just what the novel’s fans want to hear. (Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report.)

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