The fifth installment in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has been in cinemas for nearly a week now. It has been eleven years since the first film was released, a film that turned Jennifer Lawrence into a Hollywood A-lister and made the franchise a household name. The latest installment, a prequel depicting the backstory of President Coriolanus Snow, has received generally mixed to positive reviews from critics – but how does it compare next to the original entries?
5) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Easily the weakest of the five, Mockingjay Part 1 was an anti-climactic sequel to Catching Fire that never quite reached the heights of its predecessors. Up to that point, the structure of each film was relatively simple: Katniss would be paraded around by the Capitol before having to fight to the death in the arena. The third book follows much the same structure, instead with Katniss being paraded and coerced into fighting for the resistance. By choosing to split Mockingjay into two parts, the pacing they’d perfected in the previous entries felt lost, with the plot spread thin across its runtime. Seeing Elizabeth Banks return as Effie is a definite highlight though.
4) The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Whilst the newest installment is not the best of the franchise, it isn’t the worst. There’s lots to enjoy here: Viola Davis’ performance as the villainous Dr. Gaul is both camp and menacing, and Tom Blythe stands out as a strong leading man. The games are back too and it’s interesting getting to see the political choices that shaped them into the spectacle we’ve come to know.
That being said, the film largely suffers from its pacing and peaking too early. The games felt slightly rushed and lacking in tension, as well as the final thirty minutes were nowhere near as engaging as the rest of the film. We don’t get a sense of President Snow we know from the future until the very end, at which point it feels like a slight character U-Turn.
3) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
This film stands up stronger than Part 1 but again suffers from the same structural issues – however, it does contain the more engaging aspect of Mockingjay’s story. This film plays out much like the arena sections do from the previous films, with numerous booby traps and mutts for the cast to battle their way through it feels like a fight to the death akin to the Hunger Games themselves. Several fan-favorite characters are boldly killed off, with the twist of President Coin stepping into the shoes of her predecessor Snow feeling like a worthy and natural end to such a franchise.
2) The Hunger Games (2012)
The fact that the original film in the franchise doesn’t take the top spot of this ranking, is a testament to just how good these films are. With performances that would propel our cast into stardom overnight, as well as turn Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen into a household names, the first Hunger Games was both a critical and box office hit. It transformed the Hollywood landscape and started the craze of studios adapting further young adult dystopian fiction like The Divergent and Maze Runner franchises. This film does the trickiest of things by introducing us to a world filled with horror and trauma, yet the strength of its storytelling, characters, and overall premise makes us want to stay. The only thing preventing it from reaching the top spot is the overwhelming heights reached by its sequel.
1) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Catching Fire is in many ways the perfect sequel. The film builds on the lore introduced in the first film yet never feels like it’s repeating the same tricks. By including a lot more political drama in Katniss’ relationship with Snow, the film establishes the quarter quell in a way that feels organic and natural. The arena, with its tropical theme and hourly horrors, feels far more epic when compared to the first film. There’s a real sense of maturity in the second film, with Katniss dealing with her PTSD of the events from the first games all whilst walking the delicate balance between being a figure of rebellion and keeping her loved ones alive. The final cliffhanger that District 12 has been destroyed all but seals the deal.