‘Divergent’ Proves Females Kick Ass on Screen, and the Box-Office


Lions Gate’s latest potential franchise, Divergent, debuted at the box-office over the weekend with $56 million dollars. The film is based on Veronica Roth’s dystopian/Young Adult novel of the same name and stars Shailene Woodley.

What does this say about the possible franchise? What Cate Blanchett pointed out earlier this month – movies with female leads can make money. It’s not simply conjecture anymore, films with female protagonists brought in big bucks last year: Gravity, The Heat, Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (the top-grossing film of 2013) have cumulatively grossed nearly $1.2 billion at the domestic box-office alone.

Divergent‘s opening weekend may not have done as well as the first Hunger Games ($153 million) or Twilight ($70 million) film on opening weekend, but $56 million is pretty impressive. Divergent is the second best opening of 2014 (The LEGO Movie opened with nearly $70 million) and the eighth best box-office total of the year so far, according to boxofficemojo.

If the film continues its financial success overseas, which it’s projected to, Roth’s follow-up books in her trilogy series are expected to be adapted into sequels, as well. Insurgent is scheduled for a March 2015 release and Allegiant for a March 2016 release.

tomb raiderWhile Hollywood continues to be a male-dominated field, especially in the action genre, women are foraying their way to the top. That female characters have proven they are more than capable of leading an action film goes without question. Think back to Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies and the Pam Grier films of the 1970s. Charlie Jane Anders of i09 offers The Long List of Successful Action Movies Starring Women, where she names off stars such as Angelina Jolie in the Lara Croft films, Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series and Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld films. Women have been bringing in the bug bucks while headlining action films for quite some time now. The current trend demonstrates that young starlets can compete with busty Hollywood icons without sexually commodifying themselves. Because, let’s be honest, either of the three aforementioned actresses lasciviously appeal to male audiences. But if a film that doesn’t sexually objectify its female protagonist can attract both male and female audiences, that’s something of an accomplishment.

But these YA adaptations aren’t just appealing to the expected teenaged-female demographic. Boxofficemojo recently reported that the audience for Divergent was “more evenly split between men (41 percent) and women.” This is significant considering the last Twilight film, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, constituted of 21 percent male audiences – the highest of any previous Twilight film – according to box-office data from Summit Entertainment. The first Hunger Games film drew in 29 percent of male opening-weekend attendees, while its sequel, Catching Fire, drew in 41 percent – the same as Divergent – according to a NYTimes article. And, the same boxofficemojo report stated that half of the film’s audience were over the age of 25. As it turns out, both female and male moviegoers of varying ages want to see women at the forefront of these potential blockbusters.

The percentage of male and female moviegoers in the U.S. has been relatively split down the middle, according to Nielsen data collected from 2010 to 2012. However, this ratio is not paralleled in films. According to a study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film female characters “remained dramatically under-represented as protagonists, major characters, and speaking (major and minor) characters in the top grossing films of 2013.”

Females comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters.

Only 13% of the top 100 films featured equal number of major female and male characters, or more major female than male characters.

So, the success of Divergent is certainly something to brag about.

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games"
Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games”

Why are females dominating the YA genre? Probably because they’re being penned by females; The Divergent novels, along with Twilight, The Hunger Games, Vampire Academy, Beautiful Creatures and Mortal Instruments novels are all written by females. That the latter three adaptations bombed is more cause to celebrate Divergent‘s financial success. Ideally, some of these films don’t exactly exude feminist trademarks, or are illustrative of positive female representations, but we shouldn’t negate their accomplishments altogether. While we can argue about the artistic merits about some of these films, their monumental steps towards more opportunities for women in the industry should not be side-swept. Thankfully, some of these films have stepped up to task of representing strong, positive female characters, such as The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen – not just “the girl on fire,” but the character that represents positive feminist ideals – she’s not concerned about romance, isn’t sexually objectified and portrays strong heroine characteristics – for the young-female generation. Divergent’s lead Beatrice demonstrates similar characteristics, although her romantic plot-line often takes center stage, she’s not the damsel-in-distress archetype. She has a drive and motivation to survive and incites action, rather than passively allowing her male counterparts to do all the work.

YA film adaptations aren’t perfect, but they’re making money and, more importantly, progress for women in film.