The Divergent series was part of a string of young adult (YA) books that were adapted for the screen around the same time. Hunger Games comparisons are inevitable given the subject matter, but even those films, with an arguably bigger budget and cast, still ran into some speed bumps toward the end. The Maze Runner (whose director was absolutely against splitting the third book into two films) continues to struggle to gain traction, and films like The Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures can't seem to even make it past a first film. Cashing in on a franchise as it nears its end is nothing new, and so far, Harry Potter is the only example that comes to mind of a franchise that split the final book into two films and was better for it.
Divergent stars have also expressed their disappointment at the news of the film being reduced to another medium. Shailene Woodley has mentioned that she loved her character, Tris, and would love to finish the story (on the big screen). Miles Teller has made similar comments, emphasizing the actors had all signed on for film, not TV.
Neil Burger, who directed Divergent, the first film in the series, spoke out about the fate of the final installment. Talking to THR at the New York Film Festival, Burgess had this to say about the franchise he stepped away from:
“I think it’s sad. I don’t think they feel like they should’ve split [the last book] into two [films]. If they hadn’t, they would’ve been in much better shape, but at the time I’m sure they were excited and they saw some potential there."
By the time Allegiant hit theaters, the series had gotten progressively darker, more convoluted, and tedious. When it was announced that the third book would be made into two films, people were skeptical from the beginning. Divergent had a domestic box office of over $150M; Insurgent barely hit $130M; and Allegiant practically tanked earning just $66M. Worldwide numbers helped overall totals, but still saw over a $100M drop between the second and third films. Burger acknowledges that many studios bank on a book's built-in fan base to help, but adaptations don't always translate well.
"You’ve seen it with all of these franchises. The books are built in one way and the movie has certain obligations in a different way. They’re often difficult to meet at the same time.”
Difficult, but not impossible. While a theatrical release may be off the table, Ascendant (a working title) is still in the works as either a TV movie or series (or both). When asked if Burger thought Lionsgate could recoup by finishing the franchise on the small screen, he simply replied, "people show up in the project is good."
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for updates on Divergent: Ascendant as more information becomes available.