Why ‘The Hunger Games’ has disappeared from the pop culture conversation
Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the theatrical release of The hunger Games. The Gary Ross-directed film, an adaptation of Susanne Collins’ first (of three) dystopian YA novels, holds what’s still a record ($152 million in 2-D) for its opening weekend. a non-sequel. The buzzy, well-reviewed version of Lionsgate came out in the weeks before The Avengers, earning $409 million domestically and $651 million worldwide on a budget of $90 million. The movie helped make Jennifer Lawrence a top movie star, while also offering further proof that, yes, big movies for/about women could earn revenue on par with guy-centric variety. The four films (book three, Mockingjay, was split into two films) would gross $2.958 billion at the worldwide box office and $519 million in combined DVD/Blu sales on a combined budget of $495 million. We didn’t know it then, but this would be the last A-level “new to movies” franchise we’d get.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen has become a life-mimicking artistic symbol for #girlboss feminism.
Katniss Everdeen’s saga was steeped in the irony of the art of imitation of life. The films became about how the forces opposed to tyrannical capital attempted to transform Katniss into a singular figure of hope, with (in Mockingjay part I) propaganda videos that could have doubled for theatrical trailers. In the real world, the media and the pundit class have essentially turned Jennifer Lawrences “just like us” celebrity into a biased feminist symbol, pitting Katniss’ “tough guy with a bow” against “do whatever” to catch the guy” Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart) of Dusk. Without neglecting the marketing of Lionsgate, The hunger Games has been embraced as the “action = feminism” antidote to the conventionally romantic inclination dusk movies. It doesn’t matter that the hunger games getting even more explicit “Who will she choose?” love triangle that The Twilight Saga. Katniss spent more time figuring out whether to choose Peta (Josh Hutcherson) or Gale (Liam Hemsworth) than Edward-obsessed Bella worried about Jacob’s unrequited feelings.
Doubly ironic were the star-studded premieres of the movies that (though comparable to the journey of any huge Hollywood tentpole) couldn’t help but resemble the bread and circus contests straight out of President Snow’s playbook. The promise of The hunger Games was double. First, its resounding success argued that today’s kids would adopt a politically progressive but exceptionally cynical screed that looked head-on at the infotainment industry and found the entire company rotten to the core. Second, its resounding success would signal that there was always value in creating new film franchises, either original adventure stories or modern tales based on modern books and plays, new fables designed for children of today rather than forcing them to settle for recycled and revamped IP. nostalgia. None of those promises would come true, which is likely why the then-successful franchise almost entirely disappeared from cultural conversation.
The public only pretended to care about franchise politics.
I admittedly reacted in horror to my packed IMAX audience who cheered on TV’s “big kiss” scene and cheered happily when the “bad contestants” were killed off by the “good” contestants. The contestants were kidnapped children forced to kill each other for mass entertainment, but the first film positioned them in a conventional good/evil narrative. Even to the extent that the movie(s) acknowledged their own skewed moral narrative construction, the “fans” were just in on it. hunger games catch fire earned $424 million domestically and $865 million globally in the Harry Potter/Twilight pre-Thanksgiving weekend in mid-November 2013. However, Mockingjay part I earned $337 million/$751 million in November 2014 and Mockingjay part II earned “only” $281 million/$649 million as of November 2015. As movies became more about propaganda and authoritarian regimes, but less about pretty girls and cute boys getting dolled up on talk shows and bloodlessly killing each other in title contests, global receipts drifted lower.
Also, fair or not, the 2016 presidential election, where a budding strongman positioned himself as the people’s choice over a relatively “stuffy” and “overqualified” lifelong politician, lent an air of despair at any positive idea of how the policy of the franchise would be embraced by the masses. As Zoopopie and The Purge: Election Year, what was meant to be a warning became a prophecy. Fans either didn’t care about the politics or they took the big twist from the fourth film, which was that Julianne Moore’s Alma Coin was just as deceitful, power-hungry and bloodthirsty as Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. because “both sides are just as bad” assertion. I can’t help but wonder if the multitude of YA franchises that have positioned hyper competent blonde politicians (Meryl Streep in The donor, Kate Winslet in Divergent, Julianne Moore in The hunger GamesPatricia Clarkson in The maze Runneretc.) positioned or revealed as the big bad did more harm than good.
Hunger Games remains Hollywood’s last “original” blockbuster franchise.
So, the franchise was most popular for its lower face value and grosser items, which in retrospect isn’t exactly a surprise. It is perhaps no more logical to expect mainstream mainstream entertainment to inspire positive political action than it was to worry that Joker would inspire a deluge of copycat violence. However, neither did the film continue a wave of hit franchises never before seen in cinemas. The hunger Games debuted in early 2012 and ended in late 2015. Since then, we haven’t seen a single new top-tier live-action hit franchise that wasn’t A) the continuation of an existing movie property or B) a new franchise within existing DC/Marvel brands. Whether it’s the return of star wars and jurassic parkthe continued dominance of the MCU or the supercharged success of The Quick Sagawhat’s big in Hollywood today is simply what was big in the past generation, with the hope that today’s kids (and overseas audiences) will gravitate to yesterday’s blockbusters.
Save for a few animated Disney properties (Frozen) or Lighting (Minions) and a few pushes (Pi’s life, Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian), every live-action Hollywood movie that has grossed even $600 million worldwide since the start of 20212 is “familiar.” It was either a prequel (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), continued (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) or redo (The Lion King, Aladdinetc.) from a previously successful brand or something within Marvel (Black Panther, Venom, dead Pooletc.) or CC (Aquaman, Joker, Wonder Woman) ecosystem. The Quick Saga started 22 years ago. Tom Cruise’s first Impossible mission opened 26 summers ago. We’ve been releasing James Bond films for 60 years. Thanks to a transition that has sent casual moviegoers to streaming platforms, cinema has become the bastion of the heartwarming and the familiar. Even the New Line blockbuster This duology ($1.173 billion over two movies) was partly rooted in nostalgia for the 1987 novel and 1990 TV miniseries.
A broken promise…
Much of what looked promising a decade ago The hunger Games has now fallen into oblivion. The idea that Hollywood might finally be learning the value of “not a white guy” movie stars has collided with the new normal that IP and marquee characters have become the driving business variables, meaning the next generation was only bankable by playing an established character (Chris Evans as Captain America) in an established universe (Anthony Mackie as Captain America). The film’s scathing, uncompromising politics underscored how YA franchises technically aimed at girls were ironically darker, grittier, and more gruesomely violent than any superhero movie aimed at boys. However, the moral message has fallen on deaf ears or been interpreted in exactly the way most likely to cause harm, leading to years of critical analysis of Trump-era “representation equals approval”. It also became the last high-profile franchise not explicitly rooted in an existing theatrical franchise, dooming children to recycled intellectual property and fabricated interest.
I do not know if The hunger Games, helmed by Gary Ross (with help from Steven Soderbergh’s second unit) for the first go-around and then Francis Lawrence for the next three chapters, will go down as the last “new to movies” blockbuster franchise. could John Wick: Chapter 4 send the Keanu Reeves franchise into overdrive overseas, just like the fourth fast furious, the fourth Impossible mission and the fourth by Matt Damon Thick headed movie? could The mega 2 (opening next summer, even though the original was based on a 25-year-old novel) exceed the $530 million gross of its predecessor? Could the pendulum swing back to original or even new movie franchises based on relatively new intellectual property? Maybe, but, quite simply, the odds are not in his favor. Covid and the emphasis on streaming rather than theatrically shifting the game and changing variables, The hunger Games may remain the last of its kind with its momentary triumphs representing a false hope for a brighter future.