Why the fourth Divergent movie was canceled (and why that was a terrible decision)

Ascendant actually descended into a mysterious movie that was never made.
"Allegiant" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals
"Allegiant" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals / Mark Sagliocco/GettyImages

It's been 10 years since the Divergent movies started hitting the big screen with the release of the page-to-screen series premiering in March 2014. Thereafter, the hit sci-fi action trilogy starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James spawned two more films based on Veronica Roth's books: 2015's Insurgent and 2016's Allegiant.

As fans of both the books and movies know all too well, a fourth movie, which was to be the second part of Allegiant, was never made. The film would have been called Ascendant and was planned for release in June 2017 after a shoot in the summer of 2016. Although Roth only wrote three books telling Tris's story, Lionsgate opted to split the third book into two movies.

Well, as it turns out, splitting an author's final book in a series to hopefully score a cash grab with two movies at the box office doesn't work for every movie. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games each had successful two-movie finales based on their book counterparts, but Divergent couldn't quite perform in the same way. Here's what happened with the ill-fated finale.

Ascendant never happened because of money (basically)

After Divergent hit theaters in 2014 and made over $288 million against a modest (relatively, for a film of this scale) $85 million budget, Lionsgate increased Insurgent's budget to $110 million. The sequel barely surpassed its predecessor with a $297 million worldwide gross. Meanwhile, Allegiant's budget again increased to $142 million, but its gross dropped significantly to $179 million worldwide.

Obviously, that's not good. Those numbers aren't the kind that make a film studio want to spend even more money that they probably won't make back. But the blame can't be placed entirely on the public's dwindling interest in the film series and the young adult dystopian genre as a whole. Honestly, the greed of splitting one book into two prolonged the process. If the last book hadn't been siphoned into two movies, all of this could have been avoided and the complete story could have been told.

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After Allegiant failed to live up to expectations, Lionsgate looked to pivot. Ascendant had already swapped directors from Robert Schwentke to Lee Toland Krieger, but in July 2016, the studio sought to skip theaters completely and release Ascendant as a television movie that would lead into a series spinoff set in the same world. So, not quite how the film series started and a slight insult to the cast, creative team, and fans who were invested in the story.

In September 2016, Woodley responded to the rumors about Divergent turning into a television movie and series while promoting her film Snowden by saying, "I didn't sign up to do a TV show." By February 2017, Woodley had officially departed The Divergent Series as development on a television series went ahead at Starz. Ultimately, development stopped and nothing has ever come to fruition.

Divergent author is at 'peace' with canceled film

If there's one person who should be a little bit peeved about Ascendant never hitting the big screen or any screens for that matter, it's the books' author. Roth spoke with People in October 2023 about her feelings toward the abrupt ending of her story about a decade after the page-to screen journey began. While fans might still feel some kind of way (guilty!), Roth admits that she's "always felt peace" about the movies.

Here's the author's full quote about the fourth film not happening:

"I mean, breaking things in two was all the rage at the time. That was why that decision was made. But at that point, I think I always felt peace about it just because I knew the movies were taking a different track than the books, and if you change the lead-up, you change the ending. So I kind of felt like at that point… I feel like that third movie, I don’t know, there’s a lot we could talk about with it. But it’s its own thing. It feels complete to me, relatively speaking, because what does that even mean at that point?"

Veronica Roth, author

She's right to mention that splitting Allegiant into two movies holds some weight here. Just because it was "all the rage at the time" doesn't mean that it will work every time. At some point, your luck will wear out and audiences won't fall for the same tricks. If there's a finger pointing at the negative reviews of Allegiant and the audience for not seeing the movie, there's four more point back at the decision that was made to force a movie trailing behind The Hunger Games to perform like The Hunger Games.

It's interesting, too, that Roth points out that the movies feel "complete" to her because each one does somewhat end with closure and a cliffhanger. The Allegiant movie's ending leaves you wanting to see more from the final chapter, but for the most part, you leave knowing Tris backed David into a corner. However, the cliffhanger reveals David's going to push her right back. It's not the kind of cliffhanger to keep you up at night, but it's enough to dissatisfy those who want an actual ending.

So, like most things in the film industry, financial issues and risky business decisions ended up being the cross to bear for The Divergent Series. It's not to say that we will never return to the world of Divergent in the future. You know how the tides of nostalgia tend to eventually turn in the favor of most properties. But as it stands, even with the trilogy back on Netflix, the saga's story has unfortunately ended.

All three Divergent movies are currently available to watch on Netflix.

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