The studio that produced Twilight and The Hunger Games is at it again: Divergent is the latest teen adventure saga with a fearless female heroine battling the odds in a post-apocalyptic future.
All eyes in Hollywood are on the box office fortunes of the movie, which hits theatres in the United States on Friday.
Adolescent adventures have made a mint for the Santa Monica-based studio Summit-Lionsgate: the five Twilight films earned $US3.3 billion ($A3.63 billion) globally, while the two Hunger Games movies so far have taken in over $US1.5 billion, and two more films are to follow.
Studios are keen to find successors to these mega-franchises based on best-selling Young Adult novels.
But some do better than others: Universal failed with Beautiful Creatures, while The Weinstein Company had a flop with Vampire Academy.
Divergent features many of the main plot points that made The Hunger Games a blockbuster success: a future post-apocalyptic world, and a courageous teenage girl aiming to save the world from tyrants.
Relative unknown Shailene Woodley – whose credits have so far come in independent films like The Descendants and The Spectacular Now – said she asked Oscar-winning Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence for tips before her leap into the commercial big league.
“I sent her an email. I was just curious – she had gone from doing indie films to doing Hunger Games, which is a giant film obviously, and I wondered if it had changed her life in positive ways,” the 22-year-old actress told reporters.
Lawrence’s reply? “She said: ‘Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t do drugs. Don’t make a sex tape. And don’t go to (grocery chain) Whole Foods the day the movie opens’.”
In Divergent, set in Chicago, society is divided into five factions: Abnegation for the selfless, Amity for the peaceful, Candor for the honest, Dauntless for the brave and Erudite for the knowledgeable.
At the age of 16, every adolescent must choose their faction for life, helped by a personality test. But Woodley’s character Tris turns out to be Divergent – a rare finding meaning she has the skills of several factions, not just one.
This makes her a danger for the established order, and a target for Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet), an Erudite leader seeking supreme power.
“For me, the hardest thing was to get that inner voice of Tris, to get that sense of what she was feeling,” director Neil Burger told AFP in Beverly Hills ahead of the movie’s release.
In the best-selling book by Veronica Roth, Tris is 16 years old. But Burger wanted to make his heroine older.
“We did that for two reasons: Shailene is a little bit older, and also I felt like the story was a very grown-up story, actually,” the director said.
“Even though it’s based on a Young Adult novel, I don’t think there is anything young about it. I thought all the concerns and themes and issues in it were things that adults of all ages deal with.”
Woodley said she drew on her own internal struggles from adolescence to play Tris.
At that age, she said, “my struggle was ‘How do I balance the empathetic and being compassionate towards my peers, and also living my life for myself and not basing my decisions on those around me?'”
Apart from Winslet, the young actress found herself largely surrounded by a group of young up-and-coming Hollywood actors including Miles Teller, Theo James and Ansel Elgort.
Elgort, who plays her character’s brother, made indie film The Fault In Our Stars with her immediately after Divergent.
“Shailene is one of the great actors of our generation, in our young age group,” he told AFP. “For them to put me with her twice in a row is a huge compliment.
“It’s saying that I might be of the same calibre, and that’s just awesome.”
* Divergent will be released in Australian cinemas on April 10.