If you're an actor looking for a role in a film with a young, female protagonist with action hero leanings who's fighting the power in a futuristic dystopian society, you're in luck -- studios are hiring.
"Divergent" opens today and likely will dominate the box office this weekend -- and perhaps a few weekends after that. Stop me if you've heard this before: The film, based on a best-selling novel aimed at teens, chronicles a society recovering from an unspecified calamity by seriously restructuring itself and, in the process, giving rise to a sadistic streak that those in power feel is necessary to keep order.
No, actually, it's not the next "Hunger Games" installment. Though you wouldn't know it from the imagery on the book sleeve.
There are a lot of parallels. Both movies feature characters played by people named Kravitz (Lenny in "Hunger Games" and his daughter Zoë in "Divergent"). One has already made truckloads of money, while the other is about to, because filmgoers of all ages currently love movies based on books featuring strong female leads with hearts of gold, fighting oppression in future post-apocalyptic societies.
The trend isn't surprising to Robert Thompson, the founding director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.
"The assumption is, 'OK, we've gone through this hundreds and hundreds of years with men being in power, and now it's time for the women'," he says. "It's something different. White men in charge would look completely out of step with contemporary times."
Thompson says conditions are perfect for films such as "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" to flourish. Women such as Hillary Clinton are breaking through glass ceilings of America's power structure, and while films concerning futuristic, dystopian societies have fascinated us since "Metropolis" in 1927, the difference is the quality of special effects that allow stories to come alive like never before.
It's also a new way for Hollywood to exploit an old method of attracting men to films with female leads. "It's also a more politically correct way of featuring beautiful women in movies," Thompson says. "It's not like women are suddenly taking over Hollywood."
The world of "Divergent" consists of five "factions," or groupings of people, based on shared philosophical beliefs in what best serves humankind. Sixteen-year-olds undergo a ritual designed to determine where they fit best in society (if you're catching a whiff of a certain "sorting" scene from "Harry Potter," you aren't alone). The hero of "Divergent" is 16-year-old Beatrice "Tris" Prior (played by Shailene Woodley). Although Tris switches from her childhood faction of selflessness to a more reckless faction, she's actually "Divergent," meaning she possesses elements of multiple factions and special abilities. That makes her dangerous to those in power.
"Divergent" author Veronica Roth chose a dystopian society on purpose, as she explains in a Q & A that accompanies her book. "I love that the majority of the characters in dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature have a lot of agency -- they take charge of their lives in environments that make it hard for them to do so," Roth says. "And I love reading about strong characters like that."
She's obviously not the only one. Like other blockbuster film franchises derived from best-selling books written by women -- "The Hunger Games," "Harry Potter" and even "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" -- the team of heroic protagonists are mixed-gender with burgeoning romance afoot, which Thompson calls key.
"It's cliche," he says, "but the ones who do so well with young females ... it's not so much whether it's a male or female protagonist. There are elements of deep romance."
If the public's thirst for these adaptations isn't sated by "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," others could be on the way. Though Fox decided late in the game not to pick up the pilot (starring Emma Roberts), fans are still hopeful for a TV or film adaptation of Lauren Oliver's "Delirium" books. And CBS reportedly optioned Marie Lu's "Legend" series for the big screen.
"I suspect we're going to see more of them," Thompson says.
I suspect he might be right.