Now that The Hunger Games has surpassed its decade anniversary and is officially returning to the big screen in 2023 with upcoming prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s time to definitively rank the dystopian movies. Based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy, The Hunger Games movies are still the most successful YA franchise behind, the Harry Potter movies. How do each of the installments stack up, though, now that there’s been time between Katniss Everdeen’s hero’s journey and the end of her story?
The Hunger Games was not only early to the game when it comes to Jennifer Lawrence being a massive female lead of a genre franchise before Star Wars, Marvel or DC did it, the story also tells the timely and timeless story of class struggles, excess, and survival. The movie adaptations remain strong films as a whole, despite some shortcomings, especially toward the second half of the franchise. Now, let’s get to The Hunger Games ranking:
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The 2014 third Hunger Games installment, Mockingjay Part 1, is not unwatchable, and it features some great moments in the franchise, but it’s definitely the weakest link of the four movies. After the previous films were thrilling spectacles that took us to the arena of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 brings the series to a major slowdown, as Katniss ventures to District 13 and truly learns to become the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay.
The main reason why Mockingjay Part 1 doesn’t work is probably because it is the result of Lionsgate deciding to split the last Hunger Games book up into two parts, like Twilight did before it, in order to bring in more money for the franchise before it wrapped up. From a business point of view, sure, it makes sense. But in terms of Mockingjay Part 1’s storyline, overall, that book did not need to be split into two parts, and Part 1 particularly suffered because of it.
That being said, Mockingjay Part 1 features a number of memorable moments in the franchise and some tension, as Peeta and Katniss are split up. Peeta is under the Capitol’s grip as Katniss gets to know Julianne Moore’s President Coin and they work together to make Katniss a brand for the rebellion. Mockingjay Part 1 plays more as a middle-of-the-war film than the other Hunger Games movies.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
The conclusion of The Hunger Games films, 2015’s Mockingjay Part 2 is not the best of the franchise, but is likely a lot better than you remember it, especially in regards to how the ending was handled. After a disappointing third act in the previous film, Mockingjay Part 2 takes Katniss to the Capitol where she and a group of allies, including Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale, being on one side with Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, and Elden Hensen’s characters leading the rebellion.
Although Mockingjay Part 2 feels like half of a movie (like Part 1), it features an incredible finale, including Katniss’ final confrontations with President Snow and a twist ending that really drives home the messages of the franchise. The moment when Snow finally loses power is an all-time goosebump moment, and the time jump that features Katniss and Peeta’s bittersweet ending drives home their incredible performances as the characters. Jennifer Lawrence has a monologue about her “nightmares” from The Hunger Games that gives fans chills and emotions just at the simple mention of it, and it still plays really well, especially after consecutive watches of all four films.
2. The Hunger Games
Among the top half of the YA science fiction movies is the one that started it all, 2012’s The Hunger Games. It’s tough to not make this one No. 1, because without Gary Ross’ work in casting and establishing the world of Panem with his writing and direction, we’d have a very different franchise. The Hunger Games is an incredibly stylish take on Suzanne Collins' source material and will go down in history as one of the best big-screen realizations of a popular genre novel. From the shaky camera work in the arena, to production and costume design, and James Newton Howard’s great score, there’s a lot Ross did right when adapting the source material.
The Hunger Games is not a perfect movie, but features a number of winning scenes that are iconic to the franchise. Between the interview scenes with Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, the heartbreaking Rue moment, and the well-orchestrated final moments between Katniss and Peeta, it’s an impressive adaptation of the story of the Girl on Fire. There’s a refreshing dryness and groundedness about it that is not only tough to accomplish, but sets the bar high for the franchise as a whole to succeed under Francis Lawrence’s direction for the remainder of the series.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The best Hunger Games movie is its first sequel, 2013’s Catching Fire. After the first movie established the world and its key characters, this movie elevates what made it great and ups the stakes. While there’s an inherent awkwardness about the original movie, to the fault of the sometimes alienating material, Catching Fire catches all the moving parts at a more comfortable place and becomes a better version of itself the second time around.
Lawrence and Hutcherson’s Katniss and Peeta are clearly more comfortable around each other this time around, with the Quarter Quell there’s more room for the movie to build its other contestants and make us care about them. The franchise’s themes are more poignant than ever, especially as Katniss and Peeta tour Panem following their groundbreaking joint-win. There’s a really exciting urgency about Catching Fire that is both incredibly captured into a major, blockbuster popcorn film, and places a large emphasis on the forwarding of its characters, while featuring some show-stopping sequences that remain to signify the best of the Hunger Games legacy thus far.
Of course, we all have our favorites in the franchise. Overall, The Hunger Games is a rare, strong YA franchise that benefitted from Francis Lawrence remaining at the helm of the films following Gary Ross starting the movies off with the original. The Hunger Games will continue with the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, heading to theaters on November 17, 2023. Now to wonder, how it will stack up against this list.
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
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