UPDATE 1-'Divergent' teen warriors defeat 'Muppets' at box office

Sun Mar 23, 2014 1:51pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - Dystopian thriller "Divergent," the story of a society that divides people based on personality traits, dominated weekend movie charts with $56 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, kicking off a new franchise for "Hunger Games" producer Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

Walt Disney Co family comedy "Muppets Most Wanted" finished in second place, nabbing $16.5 million from Friday through Sunday, according to estimates provided by Rentrak. Animated "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," produced by Dreamworks Animation Inc, took the No. 3 slot with $11.7 million.

"Divergent" is adapted from a popular series of young adult novels by newcomer author Veronica Roth. Ahead of the weekend, forecasters had predicted the film would debut with between $50 million and $68 million in North American (U.S. and Canadian) ticket sales.

Shailene Woodley stars in "Divergent" as Tris Prior, a teenager who doesn't fit in to a faction because she has multiple dominant personality traits, making her a threat to the government. She chooses to join the Dauntless faction of warriors who defend the society's inhabitants. British actor Theo James plays Four, Tris' mentor and love interest.

The debut of "Divergent" fell short of the box office heights of two other young adult franchises. "Hunger Games" started with a massive $152.5 million in March 2012 while "Twilight" opened with $69.6 million in November 2008.

Lions Gate said Friday it was confident "Divergent" would become an important franchise for the company and it was moving ahead with the second film in the series, called "Insurgent," which will reach theaters in March 2015.

Noting that the "Divergent" opening was shy of blockbusters "Hunger Games" and "Twilight," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., said "$56 million is a great opening for any film, and virtually locked down the proposed trilogy."   Continued...