In yet another win for Disney, the company’s latest animated film, “Zootopia,” won the domestic box office record once again last weekend for the third consecutive week with a terrific $38 million. It’s hit $600 million at the global box office, giving Disney its biggest animated hit since the tidal wave that was “Frozen.”
The film’s success is well deserved too (it has a 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes). It is consistently cute and sharp — I audibly laughed about 15 times in the theater. “Zootopia” also has a deeper, darker subtext dealing with discrimination and bigotry. It dovetails nicely with the current social and political climate, where we have a racist pumpkin leading the GOP primaries.
“Zootopia” will probably top out at around $900 million, giving Disney its first of three animated box office hits this year. The highly anticipated “Finding Dory,” a Disney film via Pixar, opens this summer. “Moana,” Disney’s first princess musical animated film since “Frozen,” opens this Thanksgiving.
Conversely, Lionsgate took a massive hit with “Allegiant,” the third installment in its “Divergent” series — the poor man’s “Hunger Games.” “Allegiant” made only $29 million in its debut weekend, a 45 percent drop from “Insurgent’s” debut weekend a year before. Critics hated the film as well — it has an atrocious 10 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Allegiant’s” belly flop is hardly surprising, as the franchise was never particularly popular. Like “The Big Bang Theory” or Meghan Trainor, it has just existed without anyone actually caring about it. I literally do not know a single person who has ever cared about either the books or films. That may be because I choose to surround myself with people who have good taste, but also because no one cares. The decision to split the final book into two films definitely alienated audiences. Many franchises face diminishing returns, but never has an audience eroded by almost 50 percent between two films.
People are speculating that the bomb that is “Allegiant” represents the death knell of young adult book adaptations. The genre has made Hollywood mountains of cash over the past 15 years, but all the signs point to the genre’s rapid decline.
The genre really started back in 2001, with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The “Harry Potter” franchise, which was by far the most popular in the young adult genre, didn’t face any real competition until 2008, when the “Twilight” adaptations exploded. After that, the two franchises became embroiled in healthy box office competition.
After the success of “Twilight,” multiple supernatural romance book adaptations filled cinemas — “Beautiful Creatures” for instance. When “Harry Potter” ended in 2011, its shoes were quickly filled by the next mega-franchise: “The Hunger Games,” which debuted with stunning box office numbers in March 2012. While the young adult franchise arguably peaked in 2013 when “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” grossed more than $400 million domestically, the cracks were beginning to show.
When the “Twilight” franchise ended in 2012, no new one filled the void like “The Hunger Games” had done with “Harry Potter.” Stephanie Meyer’s post-“Twilight” adaptation, “The Host,” earned almost 8 percent of the money “Twilight” had earned. From “Percy Jackson” to “Beautiful Creatures,” each new young adult film adaptation flopped spectacularly.
By 2014, it became quite obvious the genre was in decline. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” dropped 20 percent from the heights of “Catching Fire.” “The Giver” and “The Maze Runner” both underperformed. “Divergent,” clearly the intended replacement for “The Hunger Games,” had a mediocre but acceptable box office run.
Fortunes dropped even further since. “The Maze Runner” again underperformed, and “The 5th Wave” all-out bombed back in January. The writing was on the wall. Audiences were tired of the young adult dystopian genre that had been such a money source for Hollywood. With “The Hunger Games” wrapping up last year, the “Divergent” series became top dog in the young adult genre, again indicative of how far fortunes had fallen.
The rapid erosion of the audience and the budget reduction for the “Allegiant” sequel spells out what should have been obvious for some time — the young adult genre’s money well only ran so deep. While “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” may have rivaled the superheroes at the box office, no other franchise really ever took off. Now that all three have ended, it is obvious how unstable the genre’s heyday was. Film studios have noticed too.
While the genre may have burned itself out after a while, its films have had a great impact on culture. Most importantly, they introduced some great female heroines — Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen come to mind immediately. The films helped dispel the myth that women can’t drive films to box office success. Hopefully, similar female protagonists will spread to other film genres.