In 2012, the YA film franchise trend was at its peak as diehard YA fans sought to fill the void after the release of Breaking Down: Part 2 and the highly anticipated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Bursting out of the gate came the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins‘ popular YA novel series, The Hunger Games. One of the last successful YA dystopian adaptations, The Hunger Games stands ahead of the pack with its powerful portrayal of political control, inequality, and survival and critically praised performances by Jennifer Lawrence as the heroic protagonist and female tribute Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as the heart-of-gold baker’s son and male tribute Peeta Mellark, and Donald Sutherland as the chilling head of Panem, President Snow.
Despite the success of the first and second film, however, the final two films in the franchise suffered from a dying interest in YA film franchises. In 2014, Mockingjay – Part 1, the first part of the series’ epic conclusion, was released during a year oversaturated with YA content, including the debut films in the YA novel adaptations of Divergent, The Maze Runner, and Vampire Academy, following the release of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Beautiful Creatures, Stephanie Meyer‘s The Host, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones the previous year.
Despite the waning interest in YA film franchises, all four of the films in The Hunger Games series, including the final two installments, still stand ahead of the YA pack, even now, almost a decade after the first film’s premiere. Without further ado, we present to you a ranking of the films in the series, from worst to best:
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
Directed by Francis Lawrence, the franchise’s epic conclusion The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 was mostly faithful to the novel. Unfortunately, also like the novel, Mockingjay – Part 2 was not met with great critical success. The final film in the Hunger Games franchise struggles with quick, disjointed pacing. The last 30 minutes of Part 2 feel particularly dissonant. Major plotlines are glossed over, especially the aftermath of Prim’s (Willow Shields) death, which should have been given more screen time. The major characters, particularly Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), undergo major character changes that are relatively unexplored. That being said, there are still great moments in the trilogy’s conclusion, from Katniss’s unexpected arrow that kills Coin to quieter moments between Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and Katniss. After the first three films built up the tension for an epic conclusion, however, Mockingjay – Part 2 was a slight let-down.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
Like Mockingjay – Part 2, the third installment of the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, directed by Francis Lawrence, came out right as the popularity of the YA movie franchise trend was beginning to fizzle out. Despite the success of the first two films in the franchise, the lukewarm hype surrounding Mockingjay – Part 1 was a sign that the clock was ticking on YA dystopia, even one as popular as The Hunger Games. That being said, Mockingjay – Part 1 is not necessarily a bad film, despite its flaws. Like with many YA dystopian book/film series (see: Divergent, The Maze Runner), by the time the third installment rolled around, the narrative started to move away from the successful formula of the prior films and branch out to do some more world-building (albeit, necessary) on a grander scale. Mockingjay – Part 1 is the first film in the franchise to not feature the annual Hunger Games, which for some, may have caused a drop in interest. However, Mockingjay – Part 1 gave us some of the most powerful, gutting scenes in the entirety of the film series, from the bombing of the District 8 hospital to the heart-wrenching final scene of an unrecognizable Peeta restrained and thrashing. Jennifer Lawrence gives a moving performance as Katniss post-Catching Fire, severely struggling with PTSD and trying to balance her role as The Mockingjay with her overwhelming grief over losing Peeta.
2. The Hunger Games (2012)
Directed by Gary Ross, The Hunger Games, the first of the Hunger Games franchise, was the most highly anticipated YA adaptations since Harry Potter and Twilight — and it’s safe to say it lived up to the hype. The Hunger Games burst onto the scene with crackling suspense and sharp performances by a stellar cast, most notably, Jennifer Lawrence. Largely appearing in independent films prior, The Hunger Games pushed Lawrence to stardom with her moving, striking performance as Katniss Everdeen, one of the YA genre’s most daring, inspirational heroines. Released in 2012, the same year as The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, The Hunger Games still soared at the box office and proved to be the next big YA series, one that stood on its own despite Twilight‘s massive (though infamous) YA legacy. From the dazzling, blindingly oppressive kaleidoscope of the Capitol to the heart-stopping intensity of the games, The Hunger Games is a triumph for book fans and non-book fans alike.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Directed by the series’ new director Francis Lawrence, the second installment, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, stands above the pack, even with the immense success of the franchise’s first film. Catching Fire introduces some of the series’ most memorable characters including previous victors and fan-favorites Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Johanna (Jena Malone). The stakes of the game have been raised as all of the returning champions are forced to return and compete to the death once again. With the return of the champions, the second film installment digs deeper into the politics of the games as alliances are secretly formed in order to assure Katniss’s survival as the symbol of the rebellion. Catching Fire also shows the extent of Katniss’s reciprocation of Peeta’s feelings for her now that she sees how truly, purely good Peeta is to his very core. Their steadfast determination to ensure the survival of the other, even knowing it means their own death, shows the evolution of their relationship after surviving the first games. Due to the massive number of YA franchises, there are a lot of ships out there, but Katniss and Peeta are arguably one of the most beloved, and Catching Fire captures this perfectly.