Why The Divergent Film Series Really Fell Apart

For a hot minute, the Divergent franchise was poised to be the next Hunger Games. Based on a hugely successful book series, the films featured an up-and-coming star, told a story set in a weird alt-future, and boasted a cast populated with a bunch of good-looking young people.

So how on Earth did it fail? Hollywood is littered with surefire hits that turned into box office duds, but somehow, the Divergent series managed to tick both boxes along the way. With the cast dropping out and the final film now being retooled as a TV movie, here's why the Divergent film series really fell apart.

It tanked at the box office

The first Divergent film was a solid success, pulling in just under $289 million worldwide, but the law of diminishing returns set in a bit too soon. The second film, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, saw its U.S. box office dip a bit, though it still proved a hit internationally, topping out at $297 million. It would stand to reason the third film would follow suit, but that wasn't the case: 2016's The Divergent Series: Allegiant tanked in the U.S. and didn't make up the ground in foreign markets, pulling in a mere $179 million worldwide—a drop of more than $100 million from the previous two films. Ouch.

Pre-production was already underway for the fourth and final film, The Divergent Series: Ascendant, but the studio yanked the emergency brake anyway, not wanting to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a film that might not even have a chance of making back its initial budget—and now they're looking to convert the final film into a TV movie that will also serve as a backdoor pilot for a TV series based on the franchise.

Too many sequels

The Divergent film series was based on Veronica Roth's trilogy of books, so why are there four movies? Because Hollywood likes money, and sometimes that means making a few more movies than you actually need. Hit franchises such as The Hunger Games and Harry Potter have split books into multiple films. Best case scenario, it gives the filmmakers some breathing room and means an extra blockbuster on the release schedule...but it can also have the opposite effect. The third Divergent film was the first half of the final book (the next, unmade film was supposed to wrap up the narrative), and it definitely felt like half a story. Judging by the box office take, the studio might have been better served offering up the big finale in the third film.

The movies weren't that good

There are a lot of reasons The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter, were hit franchises—and one of the biggest factors is that the movies were actually pretty good, which wasn't so much the case for Divergent. Yes, the films certainly have their fans, but critics have pretty much shrugged off these movies from the jump. They were too cheesy, too convoluted, and the world's societal situation was hard to understand for would-be viewers who haven't read the books. The characters were also so archetypal that it made the story too predictable. Almost as if these movies were made by a committee looking to replicate the success of The Hunger Games. Hmm...

The YA film bubble burst

A few years ago, there were a bunch of would-be film franchises looking to step into the box office void left behind by Harry Potter and The Hunger Games' big finale. Divergent was among the most successful efforts, but the market was positively flooded. Just to name a few: I Am Four, The Host, Percy Jackson, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, Ender's Game, and The Giver—among others—all made the jump to the big screen over the past decade or so. Virtually none of them were able to set themselves apart critically or commercially, largely because they all hit similar story and character beats. The genre reached a tipping point, and Divergent was caught in its wake.

Shailene Woodley's not Jennifer Lawrence

Look, no offense intended toward Shailene Woodley. She's a lovely actress, and has done some excellent work in recent years. But she isn't a bankable star on the same level as fellow YA vets like Jennifer Lawrence. There are only a few bona fide A-list actors in Hollywood, and Lawrence just so happens to be on the list. Maybe Woodley wasn't quite a big enough name to draw in filmgoers who weren't already big fans of the books? She never seemed truly comfortable leading a big action sci-fi franchise—and now she isn't.

The cast bailed on the TV movie

When word broke that the final film in the franchise was being retooled into a TV movie, it created confusion over who would (and wouldn't) return to finish out the story. Woodley has made it clear she won't be a part of the TV movie, and you'd have to think fellow co-star Miles Teller (Whiplash, Fantastic Four) has made enough movies that he wouldn't really want to revisit this role on a TV budget. Without core cast members (or even just with Woodley out), it makes it really hard to finish the story.

Unless they opt to recast pretty much everyone, which would certainly be a jarring move for fans who've gotten to know these actors bringing these characters to life over the first three films. Considering it's been months with no real word on the progress or state of the TV movie, it stands to reason that plan may have also stalled by now. Things aren't looking good for fans who want to see this franchise wrapped up on any sort of screen. Luckily, you can still always pick up a book.