A new Hunger Games movies is upon us, for better or worse, which means it is time to look back on the successful young adult franchise and rank the movies starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and many others. Where does the Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes fit in? Read on to find out!
5) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
The first part of Mockingjay remains a solid though unremarkable entry in the franchise, primarily because it serves as table setting for Part 2. We can debate whether Suzanne Collins’ trilogy capper required a four-and-a-half-hour runtime. However, splitting the novel into two parts affords director Francis Lawrence time to evolve our heroes/villains and probe more extensively into the politics that define the Hunger Games. To that end, Mockingjay – Part 1 is a compelling character drama powerful enough to maintain viewer intrigue until the grand finale.
4) The Hunger Games (2012)
The original phenomenon still works as a bite-sized piece of dystopian science fiction, even if it falls short of the more ambitious sequels. Director Gary Ross does what he can with a modest $78M production budget, leaning more on character drama and political intrigue than grandiose set pieces. Ross does a fine job establishing the dangerous world of Panem and its various districts, introducing viewers to our put-upon heroes, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, and the vile President Snow (Donald Sutherland), all the while building towards the ultra-violent Hunger Games. The massive contest doesn’t disappoint, even if supporting characters are more cartoonish than threatening. Overall, this is a solid start to the franchise, setting the stage for the exciting sequels.
3) The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023)
Leave it to Collins to find interesting new wrinkles in the Hunger Games saga. Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes tells President Snow’s origin story, showing how he morphed from a deeply flawed but ambitious young man (Tom Blyth) into the cunning politician seen in the original series. Returning director Francis Lawrence ensures this isn’t a retread of The Hunger Games, presenting an assortment of intriguing characters worth exploring in future chapters (should they come to fruition). Rachel Ziegler’s portrayal of Lucy Gray is a refreshing departure from the character of Katniss Everdeen. Unlike Katniss, Lucy is not fearless. She runs away in terror when she enters the games and relies more on pluck and luck than a bow and arrow to survive.
By contrast, Snow begins as an idealistic young man stuck in the large hole dug by his father but quickly discovers his natural ability to manipulate, murder, and cheat his way to victory. Like Walter White, he’s a good man who just happens to be a better bad guy, justifying his actions, even when they get those closest to him killed. At one point, he shoots a woman in cold blood without hesitation and doesn’t seem shaken up—credit to Blyth for a performance that makes Snow both a noble hero and a slippery serpent. In many ways, Songbirds and Snakes mirrors the story of Anakin Skywalker, but with superior eloquence.
That said, there was enough material to warrant two films. The second half of Songbirds & Snakes covers a lot of terrain and feels like the Cliff Notes version of a much grander story. It’s as if Lawrence was worried the studio wouldn’t green-light more sequels and crafted a standalone chapter that sets the stage for additional films should audiences demand more. At least it’s not another 11-hour TV show.
Other standouts include Viola Davis’ insane Dr. Volumnia Gaul, Peter Dinklage’s Cat Highbottom, and Jason Schwartzman’s Lucky Flickerman, who commentates the Hunger Games like a gameshow host waiting for his next smoke break.
Aside from a clunky pace and a few too many songs by Ms. Zegler, Songbirds & Snakes is a solid prequel that fleshes out the Hunger Games lore. Was it necessary? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the show.
2) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
Director Francis Lawrence and star Jennifer Lawrence go out with a bang in Mockingjay – Part 2, the grand finale to The Hunger Games saga. Occasionally silly and a tad too dramatic for its good, this fourth entry in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ thoughtful series packs on the action and political intrigue en route to a shocking conclusion that reveals her true objective: to explore the futility of war and the cyclical nature of violence. Atypical young adult tropes remain—the love story, goofy supporting characters, and dystopian setting—handled with surprising maturity. No, it’s not Saving Private Ryan, but The Hunger Games is a thought-provoking exploration of war and its aftermath.
1) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
If The Hunger Games is a delicious entree, then Francis Lawrence’s Catching Fire provides the delectable main course. Anchored by Jennifer Lawrence’s strong performance and a solid supporting cast, the sequel expands this strange universe in unique ways, establishes the political machinations whirling behind the scenes, and still manages to deliver what audiences expect — a thrilling, violent tournament that thrusts our heroes into nonstop peril. Lawrence paints on a massive canvas and shows a knack for building suspense, ultimately pushing the second chapter to a shocking conclusion that leaves you aching for more.