Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rank the Films: The Hunger Games

As any regular reader of this blog will know, I think lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that charts the highs and lows through a series of films, ranking them in order from worst to best.

To celebrate The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 arriving on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, I thought I'd reflect on the The Hunger Games series as a whole. From 2012's promising opener to the morbid final chapter from last November, this is the series ranked from worst to best - question is, where does your favourite rest on my list? Give it a read and let me know your thoughts in the comments section down below!

4th - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

We start things off with what, I think we can universally agree, is easily the weakest entry in the series. Following on from Harry Potter and Twilight, Lionsgate made the executive decision to split the final entry in their lucrative Hunger Games franchise into two parts. They told us it was because the final novel, Mockingjay, was longer and needed the extra room the breathe; but we all knew that it was because they wanted to rake in the extra cash from selling two movies instead of one.

From a financial decision it was a move that made total sense; together, the two Mockingjay films made $1.4 billion at the box office, way more than it would've made as a single movie. But from a narrative standpoint, the first half of the double-header suffered.

Mockingjay Part 1 is by no means a bad film - it's just a very uneventful one. After the whopping cliffhanger of Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 is a long, hard, macabre slog that sees Katniss suffering with PTSD, Peeta captured by the enemy and a whole bunch of other characters making decisions without or for our hero. The story lurches from one beat to the next, from a bombed hospital to an underground air raid, without much urgency or energy. The ending, that sees Gale and a group of District 13 soldiers infiltrate the Capitol to rescue Peeta, is anticlimactic and lacking resolution.

Credit where credit is due, Mockingjay Part 1 is a consistent continuation of the franchise; with Francis Lawrence still at the helm, the heavy themes and political interplay are carried across in such a way that it all feels like one cohesive story that ties neatly together with proceeding entries.

3rd - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

Mockingjay Part 2 is a slight improvement over the first half, simply because it offers closure. It ties everything together and brings the franchise to a stirring conclusion that hits most of the right notes.

Highlights include Katniss and her crew of soldiers fighting their way through a web of death traps littering the Capitol, as well as the shocking fire bomb scene that sees Prim (Willow Shields) meet her untimely end. It's a final act that doesn't pull any punches - it shows us that, after everything she has been through, Katniss was unable to prevent her sister from being harmed, a gut-wrenching twist of fate that is just as powerful on the big screen as it was on the page.

It's far from perfect however; similarly to its first half, Mockingjay Part 2 feels strung out and far from frenetic. Pivotal action scenes, like the chase through the sewers beneath the Capitol, fall short of greatness thanks to some shoddy direction and ugly VFX.

Liam Hemsworth's larger role also sucks a lot of the energy from this final entry - cold and stiff, his performance stands out as being the weakest link amongst an array of much stronger actors (Lawrence, Sutherland, Harrelson).

2nd - The Hunger Games

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%

Lionsgate debuted The Hunger Games series at precisely the right time; Harry Potter had only just wrapped the year prior, and appetite for The Twilight Saga had slowly subsided across four increasingly shite sequels.

Enter The Hunger Games, a cut-throat young adult adaptation that shifted focus from drippy vampires to oppressive governments, teens fighting to the death and revolutionary sentiment. The first film isn't perfect, but damn did it strike a nerve with audiences; it grossed a stonking $695 million off the back of a $78 million budget, a financial return that caused studios to sit up and take notice.

So what makes this first film such a smash hit? Well, the screenplay itself is pretty solid. It's a faithful adaptation that captures the spirit of the novel. Plus, the casting is a slam-dunk - in snapping up Jennifer Lawrence for the lead role, Lionsgate ensured they had a talented female for young teenage audiences to cheer for. Also, through Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland, they had an experienced and talented older cast to bring the necessary gravitas.

There are one or two elements that drop the movie down a couple of notches, most notably the shaky-cam dominated action scenes that do their best to steer the film towards a more teen friendly audience. But on the whole, this is an impressive launchpad for the series that, despite one or two technical hitches, propels the film into blockbuster territory.

1st - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Catching Fire has everything you need and want from a sequel; it's bigger, it's bolder and it's substantially darker than the first film. It takes everything we liked about the first Hunger Games movie and builds upon it, block by block.

Catching Fire shows us the lasting consequences of Katniss' actions in the first movie. It shows the dominoes that start to tumble as things rapidly extend beyond her control; she's forced into another Hunger Games, stood on a pedestal for the quashed masses and locked in an awkward relationship that is all for the cameras.

Suddenly she's been thrust to the forefront of both a brewing revolution and a reality television crazed public and finds herself woefully ill-equipped to handle either. Not only that, but her competitors are so much more than scared teens plucked from obscurity - this time she's up against a group of battle scarred veterans who have all been through the same ringer as her.

Simply put, Catching Fire is so much more than just a retread of The Hunger Games. We gain a sense of perspective and scope as the Games themselves begin to pale in comparison to the franchises' wider narrative. As the political machinations of Snow, Plutarch and Haymitch are pulled into focus, the petty squabbles in the Arena take on an entirely new meaning.

Plus, it has a ripper of an ending that blows everything wide open. The perfect closing for the best film in the series.

And now, over to you - what is your favourite Hunger Games movie? How would you rank the series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below!


  1. I agree with your ranking; Catching Fire was easily the best among all four movies.

  2. Nice list! I'd switch Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but to be honest - they're both pretty good. The first sets up the dystopia elements, and Catching Fire goes even further with it. It's a shame Mockingjay Part 1 and 2 don't end the franchise in a very memorable way.

    1. The only huge thing that separates the two for me is the messy camerawork and editing in the first film. Otherwise, yeah - they're pretty close.



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