The 2010s birthed dozens of book-to-movie adaptations, mainly based on young adult books. There was “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (2010), “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (2013), “The Maze Runner” (2014), “Divergent” (2014) and many more. Of all of the popular adaptations, few have stood the test of time and most remain forgettable, with fans of the books remembering them as disappointing. Yet, one adaptation stands out among the rest as impactful and memorable, while also having garnered both critical and popular acclaim — “The Hunger Games” (2012–2015).
The plot of “The Hunger Games” franchise is fairly well known today. Set in a dystopian America that has been divided into 12 districts, every year one male and one female tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games. In the first film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her sister’s place for the 74th Hunger Games. Once in the Games, Katniss fights to survive and make it home to her family, sparking a revolution along the way.
The Games symbolize survival as each tribute is fighting to make it out alive, but on a deeper level, they epitomize the consequences of hierarchy and corruption. The 12 Districts each differ in wealth, with District 1 and District 2 being the richest, and District 12 being the poorest. The wealth disparity between the districts and the differences between the opportunities of those in the lower districts versus the higher districts is a theme that can be applied to society today.
Additionally, the Games showcase the corruption of the Capitol. The head of all the Districts and the home of the government, the Capitol allows the Games to continue as its leaders argue it is to honor the anniversary of the original rebellion. The real purpose of the Games, however, is to keep the Districts in fear of the Capitol so there is not another rebellion, while also providing entertainment for the wealthy Capitol citizens. The concept of the lower class competing for the entertainment of the wealthy is a powerful message and one that has been replicated in media many times, most recently in the hit Netflix show, “Squid Game” (2021).
The most formative moment in the franchise occurs in the first film — Rue’s death. Rue (Amandla Stenberg) was Katniss’ ally from District 11 who helped save Katniss and nursed her back to health after she was attacked by highly venomous wasps. When Rue is murdered, Katniss is overcome with sadness and guilt. Rue’s death shows that the tributes are more than just pawns in a game for the Capitol. Rue symbolizes young, innocent lives that are lost when governments abuse their power. Her death also serves as a catalyst for the revolution. Right after her death, the film shows a montage of riots in District 11. The idea of revolutions starting due to the loss of innocent lives is mirrored in real life, with resemblances to movements such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.
Alongside the idea of a revolution, “The Hunger Games” dissects the duality of hope and hope’s manipulation. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says in the film, “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.” Snow uses hope to keep the districts obedient, whereas Katniss unintentionally uses hope, following Rue’s death, to spark a revolution. The juxtaposition of hope within the film forces the viewer to think about the ways in which hope can lead to deception but also has the power to spark real change.
What makes “The Hunger Games” successful and what has allowed its popularity to continue 10 years after its initial release is that the story, specifically the politics within it, can be looked at through a modern, realistic lens, despite its being fiction. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter where the film’s director, Gary Ross, reflects on the film, he says, “The themes in this movie are only more resonant now than when we made it.” The story of “The Hunger Games” is rooted in survival, revolution, corruption and love, all of which are themes that can be seen in different aspects of society today. It is likely that “The Hunger Games” will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come, as it not only serves as a political and social commentary but also tells a powerful and captivating story.