This weekend, Mockingjay Part 1, the third installment of The Hunger Games film franchise, was the victor of the box office with a $123 million haul. On its opening Friday alone, the film made $55 million, making it the best opening day debut of 2014, in addition to having the year’s largest domestic weekend debut (beating Transformers: Age of Extinction’s $100 million opening weekend from June ). Despite being “the weaker tribute” compared to the first two films domestically (The Hunger Games: $152.5 million; Catching Fire: $158 million), Mockingjay Part 1 grossed $275 million worldwide. Those are some kickass numbers, Katniss.
So how do The Hunger Games movies manage to hit the target — you’re welcome, reader, for this archery joke — year after year? Is it the draw of a dystopian society that is so popular in young adult novels? Is it the idea of kids killing each other for TV ratings? Is it Jennifer Lawrence?
As a reader of the series, I’m a fan of both the books and the movies. I have learned (from being a fan of the entire Harry Potter franchise) that the books and the films are separate art forms; because of this mindset, I am able to enjoy each medium… and I thoroughly enjoy these films as much as Haymitch enjoys his moonshine. I give props to Lionsgate for the directors they have chosen; each film has it’s own feel and focus aside from the overarching theme of the series: Survival.
Mockingjay Part 1 focuses on the revolution, and it has been a main marketing strategy from the studio. There is a lot of rallying against the government and a struggle to make the rebel voices heard. The battle begins with a fight for airwaves and broadcasting which eventually turns into physical battles and riots within the districts once those messages are spread. It’s a civil war for justice and very reminiscent of the United States during the American Revolution or the Civil War in the 1860s. I think audiences are smart (despite Dumb and Dumber To topping the box office last week), and enjoy the political power play of The Hunger Games. The Capitol of Panem is so obviously the “Bad Guy,” and audiences enjoy watching a unified group of underprivileged people rise up and fight for their freedom. It’s so American of them, really, and we love it.
Much of the film deals with Katniss’ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since she finally has time to herself. NOT inside an arena and NOT being constantly watched by the Captiol’s cameras. But despite escaping the government’s surveillance, she has now agreed to be utilized as the public symbol and figure of the rebellion. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in her ability to maneuver Katniss Everdeen’s helplessness as a trapped victim of the Games, her strength as The Mockingjay leader, and her awkwardness as a teenage girl — which, of course, comes off as adorkable, because that is the endearing charm of JLaw.
District 13, which was previously thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol 75 years prior to prevent an uprising, is the new home of Katniss and her family, and it is literally underground. Now, it’s not a railroad, but the inhabitants of District 13 have already set up a system of democracy and a President. They are all so “HOORAH!” about taking down the Capitol and abolishing the evil injustice of the government. This aspect of the movie feels so much like the fight against slavery that the filmmakers even include Katniss singing “The Hanging Tree,” which is goosebump-inducing and evocative of the songs sung by slaves on the Underground Railroad. Much like Rue’s mockingjay melody, the citizens within the other districts march and sing the song together as they execute their attacks against the Capitol’s Peacekeepers. These scenes remind me of the first movie, when Rue dies and members of the crowd watching in District 11 start a riot; this third installment is full of those moments of emotional turbulence, for both the Panem citizens and the movie-going audience.
I’m not surprised by the success of these films; the acting is beyond excellent (spotlighting Jennifer Lawrence and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the setting of the dystopian future is rooted and visually realistic, and conflict between government and people is one that the audience understands and empathizes with. While it may seem slower and less action-packed than its predecessors, the movie is smart with plot twists and unexpected game changers, but it also forces the viewer to put themselves in Katniss’ (or Gale’s or any random citizen’s) shoes and evaluate who is trustworthy and what is the next “right move.”
Basically, we’re all pawns in this franchise.