The Divergent movie franchise may get its conclusion after all. Lionsgate and Summit’s adaptation of the YA book trilogy by Veronica Roth was envisioned as the next Hunger Games when it kicked off in 2014 with Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley in the lead role. The first film failed to capture Hunger Games numbers at the box office, but $288.9 million wasn’t exactly a disaster so Lionsgate and Summit trucked on with the sequel Insurgent, which saw new director Robert Schwentke (Red) take over the franchise from Neil Burger. That movie scored marginally more at the box office with a $297.3 million worldwide total (despite a larger budget), but hey, not a total garbage fire just yet, so Allegiant was put swiftly into production.
For Allegiant, however, Lionsgate looked to extend the life of the franchise by adapting only part of the final book in Roth’s trilogy in this third movie. The intention was to then wrap the franchise up with a fourth installment, Ascendant, which would incorporate aspects of Roth’s trilogy-capping book as well as new story elements. Thus Allegiant left things off with a pretty big cliffhanger, as Lionsgate and Summit took for granted that they’d get to finish this movie franchise off with one more film.
Of course Allegiant fell quite short of expectations, grossing over $100 million less than its predecessor against an even larger budget. First, the budget for Ascendant was slashed, but then a few months later, word came that Lionsgate was scrapping the movie altogether, leaving the franchise unfinished. The plan at that time was to conclude the story with a TV movie that would then set up a spinoff TV series. Woodley and other actors from the film made clear that they were not down to star in a TV show adaptation of the movies, and given that their contracts were for feature films, they were under no obligations to complete their runs as the characters.
Things went quiet on the Ascendant front after that, but now Deadline reports that Lionsgate has picked these plans back up as new subsidiary Starz is developing Ascendant as a drama series based on the Summit/Lionsgate movie. Things are still in the early stages, but Lee Toland Krieger (The Age of Adaline)—who was set to direct the feature film Ascendant—is attached to direct and executive produce the series with Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)—who was also attached to write the movie—writing and executive producing the TV show.
This is a very weird thing, made even weirder by the fact that Krieger and Cozad are still involved. Plot details are unclear at the moment, so we don’t know if Ascendant will wrap up the story of the movie or will attempt to reboot the central conceit of the film franchise and start anew. It’s also unclear if the actors from the movies will reprise their roles, but again, they are not contractually obligated to do so and folks like Woodley and Miles Teller have gone on the record stating that they wouldn’t be involved with this TV series idea.
It’s rare that feature film franchises are left open-ended, especially when based on books. Things like The Mummy, where a studio hopes to start a franchise and falters, happen more often, but the only other comparable example to Ascendant I can think of is when production on The Mortal Instruments sequel shut down a few weeks in when the box office receipts from the first movie made clear it wasn’t going to be a hit.
Roth’s involvement in the film franchise, by her own admission, became limited as the movies wore on and as Lionsgate/Summit searched for ways to make The Divergent Series a hit. They leaned into male audiences with the action-heavy first sequel, then tried to envision the movies as more of a sci-fi franchise with Allegiant. They still failed to catch on, but perhaps they’ll have more luck in the TV realm.
Krieger and Cozad’s involvement seems to signal there was some exciting or promising central idea in Ascendant worth exploring, so it’ll be interesting to see if this TV series gets the greenlight from Starz. And, of course, it’ll be interesting to find out what the hell this is—a reboot? A sequel with a new cast? Whatever the case, The Divergent Series remains of one Hollywood’s most curious oddities of the past few years.