‘Divergent’ Breaks YA Curse With Debut Weekend

'Muppets' sequel stumbles at box office while 'God's Not Dead' surprises.

Shailene Woodley should have plenty to talk about when she runs into Jennifer Lawrence or Kristen Stewart. The onetime star of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” is now a bona fide young adult franchise star.

The 22-year-old California native won several critical awards for her role opposite George Clooney in “The Descendants,” and now she joins J-Law and K-Stew in the blockbuster leagues, thanks to the $56 million debut of “Divergent.” The dystopian teen tale, based on the popular book series, smashed the “curse” that has plagued many YA pretenders to the throne that have followed in the wake of “The Twilight Saga” and “The Hunger Games.”

“Twilight” opened with close to $70 million and “The Hunger Games” kicked off with more than twice that. But “Divergent” made mincemeat out of misfires like “Beautiful Creatures,” “Vampire Academy” and “Host,” collecting more in one weekend than those films made in their entire runs. “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” opened with $31.2 million in 2010. Last year’s follow-up, “Sea of Monsters,” was a dud with $14 million.

“Insurgent” and “Allegiant” are set to follow “Divergent” over the next two years, with Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment hoping to echo the success they’ve had with “The Twilight Saga” and “The Hunger Games.”

Disney may be rethinking the “Muppets” franchise. The beloved Jim Henson creations disappeared from movie screens following 1999′s dismal “Muppets from Space.” Jason Segel revived the careers of Kermit, Piggy and crew when he executive produced, co-wrote and starred in “The Muppets,” which made $165.1 million around the world.

Segel’s reboot opened over Thanksgiving in 2011. “Muppets Most Wanted,” which picks up right where the last movie left off but switches gears from a “reunion” story to a caper plot, made just $16.5 million in its nationwide opening. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell from “Modern Family” lead the human side of the cast in the sequel. When adjusted for ticket-price inflation, “The Muppets” did half the business of 1979′s “The Muppet Movie.”

Of course, it’s not like Disney needs the Muppets to earn a ton. Billion-dollar smash “Frozen” came closer to the studio’s “Toy Story 3″ on the all-time box-office list. And “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will arrive in April.

One movie that defied expectations this weekend: “God’s Not Dead.” Ever since the breakout business of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood studios have scrambled to meet the demand of the underserved evangelical Christian market, with varying degrees of success. There have been blockbusters like “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” ($291.7 million) and modest successes like “Soul Surfer” ($43 million).

“God’s Not Dead” had the highest opening ever for a faith-based movie playing in less than 1000 theaters. The drama’s $8.5 million (from just 780 locations) bodes well for the continued success of similar movies. “Son of God” was #11 on the domestic scorecard, taking in $2.6 million in its fourth weekend of release for a $55.6 million total.

On the big-budget end of the faith-based spectrum, “Noah” (featuring Russell Crowe in the lead role) made $14 million over the weekend from just Mexico and South Korea, ahead of its domestic release this weekend. The world will get to see Christian Bale as a different Old Testament prophet, Moses, with December’s release of “Exodus.”