Today, exactly ten years ago, the first Hunger Games movie hit theaters following Suzanne Collins’ YA dystopian trilogy becoming worldwide bestsellers. The franchise catapulted Jennifer Lawrence into the mainstream alongside the phrase “May the odds be ever in your favor." It became one of the first blockbuster franchises fronted by a teen girl who could be both relatable and incredibly powerful all at once. A decade later, the science fiction series remains the best YA franchise to hit the big screen (aside from Harry Potter) and is a solid rewatch. In fact, when I recently revisited the Hunger Games movies, rather than finding myself cringing, they were even better than I remembered them.
The Hunger Games books (opens in new tab) came out while I was in middle school, and then the movie series started during my high school years. During that time, this franchise meant a lot to me. I saw the first Hunger Games film three times in theaters, blatantly aware that the movie had skipped over a lot of the material. The Hunger Games franchise has never been perfect, and there’s a lot about it that doesn’t make sense, but I was nonetheless in love with the stunning visuals and execution writer/director Gary Ross brought to the film from the page with that first movie.
I decided to return to the franchise for the first time in years to celebrate the first film’s 10th anniversary. I was surprised at how well they hold up. I stand by this, The Hunger Games movies are perhaps better in 2022 than you thought they were back in 2012. Here’s why:
The Time Spent Apart From The Books
Let’s set something straight here: no book adaptation will ever be as good as the original source material, especially when it comes to sci-fi. I truly believe that because there’s nothing quite like spending hours and hours reading an author’s vision and using your own imagination to illustrate the descriptions being laid out for you. So when I had spent so much time as a fan of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, I found myself nitpicking at the aspects of the movie that short sided the book. From the white-washing of Katniss to specific elements of the book being left out, I liked Hunger Games, but it’s not until I had space from being a superfan that I realized how great of an adaptation it is.
If your experience as a fan was similar to mine, I recommend seeing the movie through the new lens the passage of time can provide. Since The Hunger Games movies came out, many other books I've read have left me far more disappointed by their adaptations. Looking back now, these movies really understood and adapted the source material with not only care, but a ton of style.
The Entire Hunger Games Cast Is On Fire
Even before Jennifer Lawrence was an Oscar icon, who famously adorably tripped on the staircase to win her trophy at the age of 22, the actress absolutely gave it her all as Katniss Everdeen throughout the franchise. Other similar franchises starring a younger cast don’t always prioritize performances, but from the beginning, it’s clear that character and great casting were priorities for The Hunger Games.
During my rewatch of the franchise, I especially noticed how incredible Josh Hutcherson actually is as Peeta. Although it wasn’t perfectly book accurate, how often does a mainstream franchise have a dynamic like this where the boy in the relationship isn’t as strong or masculine as the girl he’s in love with? It's an unusual, but intriguing dynamic, and in the framework of the series, Hutcherson and Lawrence particularly go to dark places with their characters that is breathtaking and heartbreaking to watch unfold.
There are a ton of examples of great character work happening in The Hunger Games movies that make a rewatch worth it, between Donald Sutherland’s haunting President Snow, Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch and Jeffrey Wright’s Beetee. And between the involvement of Jack Quaid and Mahershala Ali, there are many supporting actors in The Hunger Games who are more famous today than they were when the movies were coming out. It only shows how on point the casting was, despite it not being diverse enough.
The Message Is Even More Impactful Today
When The Hunger Games movies were coming out, there was a lot of focus being placed on the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale. Looking back, Katniss being caught in the middle between the life the Hunger Games crafts for her (with Peeta) and the life she would have had otherwise (with Gale) is an interesting one, but not the strongest point of the franchise. There was something about the marketing or perceived notions about what women/teen girls should be interested in when it comes to plot lines that brought attention to Hunger Games’ weaker points instead of its strength as a dystopian thriller.
The Hunger Games movies serve as a commentary on how people in places of power can corrupt generation after generation. Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist serves as the spark that ignites a rebellion, and in my adulthood, I realize these movies were a lot deeper and brutal than I remembered. The Hunger Games finds a really entertaining way to approach a perpetual problem in governments around the world in dictatorships along from the perspective of it being an imaginary future rather than about past or present reality. Since the movie’s release, the famed three-finger salute Katniss gives in the franchise was used by activists in Thailand and Myanmar.
It also discusses the price media can have on the exploitation of people, which also feels relevant even more today as reality stars like the Kardashians and influencers on Instagram and TikTok become super famous. There's a lot of really meaty themes being explored in The Hunger Games that brings more to the conversation than so many other films starring young adults.
How It Stacks Up To Other YA Adaptations
The Hunger Games aged well, and that cannot be said about most YA adaptations we’ve seen within the past decade. And yet, it doesn’t feel like movie fans as a whole treat it as such. Whereas some series, like Twilight, feel focused on a particular audience during a specific time in their lives, The Hunger Games’ content is more enriching with time and stacks up as an action epic franchise that was much more than a teen fantasy. Between adapting the books well, casting some great actors and bringing forward some heavy topics, I know I will find myself revisiting this franchise again rather than letting it collect dust in the foggy parts of my memory.
The Hunger Games franchise has some incredible cinematic moments, world and story building that to me make it a modern classic. Don’t swallow Nightlock on these movies; rewatch them through new eyes and you might see what I mean. You can check out all four movies with a Hulu subscription now. Happy 10th anniversary, Hunger Games!
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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