The Hunger Games has just made its way past the $500 million mark and notched up a fourth weekend of victory in the box office. That means that The Hunger Games has the best run of box office victories since Avatar and is the most successful action film with a female in the starring role of all time!
Hollywood is scrambling around trying to figure out what the hell is going on and how to replicate it immediately. A film where kids are killing each other in a dystopian world, lead by a woman who is not a real Hollywood star; it defies convention. Or does it? Here are six reasons why Audiences are hungry for the Hunger Games and why Hollywood should be listening.
6. There Are No Real Stars in the Film
The film’s biggest stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were both catapulted into Hollywood with very successful indie films (Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right respectively). These films put them on the map as talents but also serve to prove that the independent film market is still an important part of the Hollywood machine as much as it appears to be diverging from it lately.
Jennifer Lawrence has been almost universally acclaimed for her turn as Katniss, the protagonist of The Hunger Games, and there is a definite sense that her talents have added much to the character. This has helped the film build with audiences who are desperate to see strong and willful women on screen and has really shown Hollywood what can happen if you get female action stars right—and with Jennifer Lawrence I think they got even more than they expected. This is the strongest female performance in an action film since Sigourney Weaver in Alien, and this has got to be one of the biggest reasons for the success.
This goes to show that Hollywood can’t keep relying on stars to make films successful and has to stop balking when it doesn’t work. A star helps an audience decide whether or not the film is what they want to see may be true, but in the end of the film is not good it doesn’t matter if the lead is Brad Pitt no one will go and see it.
5. It’s Got A Story
The Hunger Games is of course based on the successful book trilogy written by Suzanne Collins and that served as the perfect starting point because, unlike some films, books are almost always about character. Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy is no different and one of the most impressive things about the film is in how little it strays from the book.
In developing this project Lionsgate understood the audience that read the books and worked hard in making sure to keep the tone and story the same. There must have been a lot of pressure to make the material lighter perhaps, move it away from the dystopia and the violence but Lionsgate made sure to keep the tone dark.
More importantly they made sure that the character of Katniss remained the staple of the film. They didn’t add in any other romance or change the pseudo romance and they didn’t change Katniss’s cold demeanor to make the film more palatable. In the end they made sure the story fit the bill and audiences were thrilled at being given a real story not just a rehash of the same old Hollywood tropes.
4. There Are Only Two Explosions!
The Hunger Games is a thrilling action/adventure story but where the producers of many films and franchises seem to replace the word thrilling with explosions The Hunger Games concentrates on the more important elements of the film like characterization, emotions and plot.
There are two explosions in the film. One explosion found in the dreams of the main character as a reminder of her father’s tragic demise and another that marks the successful destruction of enemy supplies. Two explosions in The Hunger Games versus the 283 in Transformers: The Dark of the Moon. That old Hollywood notion that explosions equals box office that Michael Bay has been using as a gauge for success has been once again proven wrong.
But not only are there no explosions there is also very little CGI used. This doesn’t necessarily define a film but it’s an important point: where there is no need for CGI sequences there are none and that keeps the film grounded and real whereas a lot of films at the moment (I’m looking at you Wrath of the Titans) feel more like animations than films with the amount of CGI they throw in to the mix. Audiences don’t care how realistic your CGI is, they want to see a story that moves them!
3. It Didn’t Cost Six Hundred Gagillion Dollars
The Hunger Games cost $78 million. That’s a lot of money by usual standards, but in film lately Hollywood has been shelling out more and more inordinate amounts of cash to try to amp films up, somehow missing most of the points that are on this list in the process.
A film’s success is almost impossible to define by the amount it cost, it seems to only really make the film’s success harder— and you only have to look as far as a few weeks to see the truth of that in John Carter which had a budget estimated at anywhere between 200 and 600 million dollars and made very little of that back.
A lower budget means that the director and actors don’t need to worry, the pressure isn’t on them half as much and that is a key to Lionsgate’s success. They knew they had a big film on their hand, but they had no idea it would be this big. That’s a viewpoint directly opposite to the view point of “if this isn’t a huge success we’re screwed”.
There is something to be said in film making for adding constrictions. Imagine for a moment the quality films that were made in the 30’s and 40’s, constricted by the prudent Haye’s Code, that managed to become better films because of it. In this day and age there are little restrictions, be it from censors or from imagination, holding back a film maker. Thanks to CGI improvements and liberalizing censorship film is now a blank canvass that is held back by very little, but what holds it back can make it better and make the film making itself more interesting and original.
2. Women Are Not Defined by Men
One thing that many feminists and audiences alike are annoyed with, although many people don’t even realize it, is that women in film are more often than not defined by men. A man to complete them, a man to define them; for some reason this has become to go to for female characters in film whether they like it or not they are constantly rescued by handsome men or spend their lives looking for them.
Romance has always been a symbol for redemption in film and that is a staple of anything, but when did it become this element that defined women? In the Hunger Games Katniss is saved by men on a regular basis but in equal measure saves them, but, unlike other recent films like Twilight, she doesn’t do this out of love or a need to have a man, she does this because that’s who she is. A main character who doesn’t want a man is a risky venture, but her struggle with it is where the real story is and makes a far more realistic portrayal of love and romance for the audience to enjoy.
There is no man in The Hunger Games who defines a character as fiery and strong willed as Katniss Everdeen, she constantly defines the people around her. And this right there is what makes this movie different, she is a true hero. Take her out of this film and put her into any heroic action/adventure movie and the results are the same—except of course for her being female.
(It’s not a remake/reboot/rehash or regurgitate)
A female hero who is actually heroic is a big difference as we’ve talked about above, but this film goes further in its differences from the norm and even though it’s an adaptation it is also not a remake or a reboot.
Hollywood, apparently starved for ideas, has been looking in some odd places lately for film ideas; from board games to rebooting failed franchises, the Hollywood machine seems desperate to rehash ideas whether or not they were good in the first place. It’s illogical and strives to only derail the box office further as audiences begin to trust in the process less and less. What ever happened to good old fashioned development?
You only have to look at the success of Pixar who claim that they develop films for upwards of three years a film to see the importance and potency in developing a project until it’s the best it can be instead of hiring fifty screenwriters and making them fight to the death.
The audiences don’t want to be wrestling with off the wall concepts or struggling to follow a narrative of course but they also don’t want to sit in the cinema being spoon fed explosions and stereotypes. To steal a phrase they want the same but different and The Hunger Games delivers because yes it’s a story about a hero overcoming adversaries and insurmountable obstacles through strength of character, but this is a story that does those things differently. From the world conceived to the characters within, there are no lazy storytelling moments, no stereotypes, no sentimental moralizing— at its center The Hunger Games beats with the heart of a human instead of some cyborg Hollwood mutation.
This article was first posted on April 16, 2012