‘Insurgent’: How Foreign Audiences are Driving the ‘Divergent’ Franchise’s Growth

Insurgent” will substantially improve upon the box office numbers of “Divergent” thanks to Shailene Woodley’s rising star and an action-heavy plot that is resonating with foreign crowds.

The latest film in the futuristic adventure series didn’t manage to top the domestic opening of the first chapter, matching its roughly $54 million bow, but it is enjoying robust growth overseas.

Insurgent” picked up $47 million across 76 markets, with major territories such as Brazil, France and the United Kingdom reporting massive bumps on the first film’s numbers. It should end its run with between $300 million and $400 million globally compared to $288.7 million for “Divergent,” which generated less than 50% of its total from international audiences.

“Everybody is smiling at Lionsgate this morning,” said Richie Fay, the studio’s distribution chief. “We’re focused on the overall success of the movie worldwide and the growth and strength of the franchise.”

Apples to apples comparisons are difficult to come by, because “Insurgent” has a wider initial international footprint than “Divergent.” However, the openings in the same 76 territories ended up at $35 million for “Divergent,” meaning “Insurgent” enjoyed a 34.3% improvement.

That’s even bigger when not taking into account shifts in the dollar’s value. When measured in local currencies, “Insurgent’s” results represent a 60% hike on “Divergent’s” numbers.

“Insurgent” is the latest blockbuster to see its international numbers depressed by the falling value of the euro and the ruble. Recent Hollywood films such as “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Interstellar” and “Exodus: Gods & Kings” saw revenues dip by 10% or more as a result of conversion rates.

Nor are the “Divergent” films the only bigscreen franchise to get a big lift from foreign audiences. “The Hunger Games” has steadily expanded its international presence — the first film in the series earned 41% of its box office total abroad, and that percentage increased to 55% on the latest installment. Likewise, the “Twilight” films gradually built up a reputation overseas, so that by the time the last chapter hit screens, the foreign box office accounted for 65% of its total compared with 51% on the first film.

“It’s almost a rule that this happens on franchises,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “When you look at what it could do overseas, that can soften the blow of the film being essentially flat domestically.”

It helps that Woodley is more of a known quantity abroad than she was when “Divergent” premiered. At that time, her biggest film role was in the arthouse hit “The Descendants,” but the success of last summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars” made her a tween icon. “Fault” did particularly strong box office in many of the territories where “Insurgent” performed well. In Brazil, where “Insurgent” enjoyed a 199% bump on the opening of “Divergent” in terms of local currency,” “Fault” brought in more than $31 million, and in the United Kingdom, where “Insurgent” saw opening revenues improve by 74%, “Fault” made $19.4 million.

Lionsgate will have to share the foreign success of the franchise with local distributors because it pre-licenses the rights to its films as a way of mitigating its financial risk. It does stand to profit from the better overseas numbers, however. The studio receives overages on the films after they hit minimum box office benchmarks, which could result in millions of dollars in revenue for the company. There are also a few territories, such as Latin America, where Lionsgate self-distributes and will get to reap the profits.

Many analysts have cited the increased popularity of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” books as the key reason that “Insurgent” is resonating more strongly abroad, but their sales numbers remain a fraction of their domestic results. Instead, the film is benefiting from a plot that emphasizes action over explication. The marketing materials for “Insurgent,” for instance, prominently display Woodley and co-star Theo James with guns, and the film itself has more special-effects set pieces than “Divergent,” which spent a great deal of its running time establishing the story’s fictional world.

“Post-apocalyptic films with action elements resonate all over the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “Foreign audiences are ravenous for action-tinged films with strong female leads and when you combine that with a romantic interest, which this film does, that’s going to bring out the teens.”

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