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New in Theaters March 21: Divergent, Muppets Most Wanted

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By Chris Kavan - 03/20/14 at 06:41 AM CT

Last week was supposed to provide some sparks at the box office, but Need for Speed stalled and Tyler Perry had his worst opening of all time. If it wasn't for a pair of animated friends and some well-toned Greeks, the March box office would be in sad shape indeed. But hopefully this upcoming weekend will jump-start the somewhat anemic state of movies. You have a potential YA blockbuster along with a family-friendly sequel. That combination should hopefully bring out the crowds and revitalize audiences as we welcome in spring.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James as Tris and Four in the blockbuster YA adaptation Divergent The track record for recent YA adaptations is pretty sad: The Host, Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy - and going back further, for every success story (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games) there are many more failures like Golden Compass, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, Eragon, I Am Number Four, Cirque de Freak, Lemony Snicket - none caught on with audiences. And that puts a lot of pressure on Divergent. With Shailene Woodley and Theo James carrying the weight here as leads, at least they look the part. They are backed up by the likes of Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, ZoŽ Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Phifer and Tony Goldwyn. But a solid cast does not guarantee success. The entire success or failure of these YA movies depends on if it can not only attract a fervent fan base, but also give general audiences a reason to attend. I admit that Divergent at least has a much more interesting premise - but then I'm a sucker for anything taking place in a dystopic future. Divergent is a little of Brave New World, mixed with (hopefully not too much) Twilight-style romance. In this case, the future divides everyone into various factions based on virtues, but a select group of people don't fit in and are branded "divergent" and now the regime is bent on hunting down everyone of these non-comformists and, you know, killing them. Our heroine and hero are amongst these special individuals, and must not only fight to survive, but also figure out what makes these divergents so threatening. I just hope they take a page from The Hunger Games and make the romance a supporting role and not the main focus. It's the reason I found The Host so disappointing (despite featuring the talented Saoirse Ronan) - it made the romance thing front and center, and it just didn't work. If Divergent puts more emphasis on the story - and the characters - and keeps the romance lighter, I think it will connect more with the core audience. I haven't read the books, so I don't know what to expect, but winning over the young adult crowd also depends on how it follows the book. A lot is riding on Divergent and even though there is another YA adaption coming soon (The Maze Runner) - the success or failure of this film may very well determine the future of taking a chance on other YA films.

It has been a good run for family films. Frozen has topped $1 billion worldwide and should top $400 million domestically as well. The Lego Movie exceeded pretty much all expectations by gaining critical and commercial success and is nearing $240 million itself. Even Mr. Peabody & Sherman has carved out a decent amount, closing in on the $75 million mark. That means good things for Muppets Most Wanted, a sequel to the surprisingly strong The Muppets from 2011. I have to say, the cast still looks amazing and diverse: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Jemaine Clement, Tony Bennett, Sean Combs, Zach Galifianakis, Lady Gaga, Frank Langella, ChloŽ Grace Moretz, Usher, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Danny Trejo, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, Salma Hayek, Cťline Dion, Hugh Bonneville, Rob Corddry - all appear, some in big parts, some for cameos - but, let's face it - that is an eclectic case if I have ever seen one. The great thing about the Muppet films is I can see them appealing to both children and adults - so it can be enjoyed across many levels - it also means it has better than average chance of attracting repeat and stronger business. Essentially the story breaks down to the Muppets going on tour and Kermit being mistaken for a criminal as he looks just like a dastardly villain. Hilarity ensues as the mix up (on both ends) causes all kids of confusion and trouble. I admit to not having seen the original (though if it pops up on Netflix streaming, I would certainly give it a shot) - but this sequel does look quite enjoyable. If it can capture the hearts of critics and movie-goers alike, it should have a find run at the box office.

This weekend offers two films that could open big - but it all depends on how audience expectations are met. On Sunday we will find out if we are going to have a monster weekend - or if things are just going to be scary.


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