“Divergent” – Author Veronica Roth

“Divergent” – Author Veronica Roth

Shailene Woodley & Theo James in “Divergent”

Shailene Woodley & Theo James in “Divergent”

Kate Winslet in “Divergent”

Kate Winslet in “Divergent”

"DIVERGENT" DISCUSSION: "Divergent" hits multiplexes Friday and Hollywood's getting ready to celebrate a new YA blockbuster franchise.

There are very high hopes for "Divergent" since Young Adult appeal action adventures with dystopian themes based on global best-selling book series have become one of Hollywood's most successful genres.

Summit Entertainment's PG-13 "Divergent" opening Friday at abut 3,800 theatres, is directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless") and stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet. It's based on Veronica Roth's best-selling book series, which has sold over 11 million copies.

"Divergent's been tracking in double digits as an overall first choice. But it's tracking through the roof with under-25 females, the core audience for previous young female appeal book-series driven blockbuster franchises like "The Twilight Saga" and "The Hunger Games."

The Story: In a dystopian Chicago where people are now divided into five factions, Tris (Woodley) is Divergent and can't fit into any one group. After uncovering a faction leader's (Winslet) conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, Tris teams up with the mysterious Four (James) to find out why Divergents are so dangerous -- before it's too late.

The five episodes of Summit Entertainment's "The Twilight Saga" based on Stephanie Meyer's series of four best-selling novels grossed $1.4 billion domestically.

The first two episodes of Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games," based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling book trilogy, took in $832.1 million domestically. The original "Hunger" holds the record for the biggest March opening ever with its Mar. 23, 2012 launch to $152.5 million. It went on to gross $408 million domestically.

Two concluding "Hunger" movies based on the final "Hunger" novel are still to come“ "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay “ Part 1," opening this Nov. 21; and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay “ Part 2," opening Nov. 20, 2015.

Such series are driven not only by the must-read books they're based on, but also by their young female stars. In the case of "Divergent," there are high hopes that Woodley (born in 1991) will turn out to be the new Jennifer Lawrence (born in 1990). When Lawrence first played Katniss Everdeen in the first "Hunger" episode, she'd just started getting serious attention as an actress.

Lawrence's big break came for her starring role in the small R rated indie drama "Winter's Bone," directed by Debra Granik ("Down to the Bone"), which brought her rave reviews and supporting actress Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. She was named Best Breakthrough Performer by the National Board of Review and was nominated for lead (not supporting) actress by the Screen Actors Guild.

Driven by her prestigious emergence in "Bone" and the colossal boxoffice success of "Hunger," Lawrence quickly became Hollywood's new It Girl. She then starred in David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" opposite Bradley Cooper, for which she won the 2013 best actress Oscar and the Golden Globe for best actress “ comedy or musical. She went on to star again for Russell in his ensemble cast, also including Cooper, in "American Hustle," which brought her a 2014 supporting actress Oscar nom and a Globes win.

As Woodley moves into the spotlight now with her performance as Beatrice (Tris) Prior in "Divergent," she stands to become Hollywood's newest flavor of the month. Like Lawrence, she has a prestigious indie film background to build upon in the mainstream arena.

Woodley's best known at this point for playing Alexandra King in Alexander Payne's ("Sideways") R rated 2011 indie drama "The Descendants," starring George Clooney. The film brought Woodley a Golden Globe supporting actress nom and a supporting actress win from the National Board of Review. She was nominated along with the film's entire cast in the Screen Actor's Guild's best ensemble cast category.

Besides Woodley's appeal to "Divergent's" target young adult audience, the film will also be driven at the boxoffice by Veronica Roth's book trilogy. Roth, who lives in Chicago, was a 21 year old college senior when she wrote "Divergent." Summit Entertainment bought the movie rights prior to the book's publication by HarperCollins in April 2011.

Roth's second book, "Insurgent," which was published in May 2012, is now being turned into a movie scheduled to hit theatres Mar. 20, 2015. Production gets underway in Atlanta in May with Robert Schwentke ("Red," "Flight Plan") directing. "Insurgent" will also shoot some scenes in Chicago, where "Divergent" takes place and was filmed.

A good indication that Hollywood anticipates big opening weekend ticket sales for "Divergent" is that Mar. 21 will see only one other major studio wide release -- Walt Disney Pictures' PG comedy adventure "Muppets Most Wanted" at about 3,000 theatres. "Muppets" is targeted to family audiences, so it's not really competing with "Divergent." Directed by James Bobin ("The Muppets"), it stars Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey.

The Story: The Muppets are touring Europe and selling out everywhere, but chaos follows when they're unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine, the world's Number One Criminal – and, unfortunately, a dead ringer for Kermit!

"Muppets" is tracking best and about equally well with women under and over 25, so it should attract the moms-with-kids audience that big brand family films need.

Bottom line: The third book in Veronica Roth's "Divergent" trilogy, "Allegiant," was published last October. Its controversial ending (no spoilers here) quickly became the subject of extensive online blogging and part of the "Divergent" discussion. Be warned, however, if you look into this you'll find out much more than you probably want to know this early in the "Divergent" movie franchise.