‘The Hunger Games’: How It Became a Box Office Smash Hit

Over its lengthy run, The Hunger Games has easily made itself into the most popular Young Adult crossover series. Its built-in readership flooded theaters for all three films, making for a combined $2.3 billion haul at the box office over its three installments. Things wrap up this November following the release of Mockingjay, Part 2, although rumors have floated around concerning potential prequels and/or sequels to keep the money train rolling for the studio in charge of the franchise, Lionsgate.

These rumors are indicative of a couple things. Firstly, they show us that Hollywood will do anything they can to keep a cash cow alive. Second (and most importantly), it demonstrates recognition of The Hunger Games as a full-blown cultural phenomenon. It’s something that rang true before the movies even came out, spurred by Suzanne Collins’s original novels. Trying to nail down the exact reasons why the novels and subsequent movies ballooned into a billion-dollar franchise can be difficult… but not impossible.

1. The Hunger Games was (one of) the first to the table

Source: Lionsgate

Source: Lionsgate

Admittedly, Twilight beat The Hunger Games to theaters by a solid four years in the game of YA series adaptations. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it marked the beginning of its own movement. The Hunger Games inspired a slew of imitators following its released, some more successful than others. The formula it brought to the table has been one most have struggled to replicate to the same level of glory: A young misfit in a post-apocalyptic society must find herself in the midst of a struggle with a totalitarian government.

We’ve seen it in Divergent, The Maze Runners, and so many others in following years, but The Hunger Games was the first to arrive in theaters. In Hollywood, being the first carries with it an intrinsic value. The result of this has been clear; each YA adaptation in ensuing years has been measured up against THG in terms of value.

2. It gave us a YA series with relative substance

Source: http://www.thehungergamesexplorer.com/

Source: Lionsgate

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment: Twilight is comically short of anything resembling substance. It functions as global hit based on some fairly flimsy story structure, driven by the wish-fulfillment of hooking up with an adoring immortal vampire that sparkles in the sun instead of catching fire. The Hunger Games may not be Citizen Kane, but it still manages to trump its contemporaries across the board. It features a largely empowered female lead fighting against an oppressive institution.

Sure it features the requisite love triangle that plagues virtually every YA series, but Katniss is for all intents and purposes a quintessential movie badass. That fact along with a pretty solid plot produced a franchise that actually has an interesting story to tell outside of your run-of-the-mill Young Adult story that typically doesn’t spend much time on things like substance.

3. If it did one thing, The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence a Hollywood A-lister

Source: Lionsgate

Source: Lionsgate

It’s worth noting that Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for an Oscar the year before The Hunger Games ever came out, so it’s not like her talent was a complete unknown. But what it did was clearly demonstrate that Lawrence is not only an incredibly talented actor, but also able to carry a multi-billion dollar franchise. The same year the first installment in the series released in theaters, she appeared in Silver Linings Playbook in a role that eventually won her an Academy Award. She’s since of course become one of the most in-demand and recognizable actors in the business, with The Hunger Games acting as ground zero for her vault into fame.

4. The Hunger Games was the perfect foil to Twilight

Source: Summit Entertainment

Source: Summit Entertainment

This franchise did more than simply give us a YA adaptation with substance. Beyond that, it gave us the perfect alternative to Twilight as the ruler of the genre. On one hand, we have Twilight, a series of novels that features a woman without any agency of her own, driven entirely by the will of her immortal male counterpart. The Hunger Games flips the script, empowering its leading lady as a bow-and-arrow-toting warrior rather than a lovestruck schoolgirl.

More than anything, THG became the new torchbearer for YA movies, bringing with it a marked uptick in overall quality in every way from its vampire-centric predecessor. Whereas before the genre was defined by Bella Swan and her supernatural love triangle, it’s now dominated by Katniss Everdeen and company. The series is by no means perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over just about everything Twilight had to offer in its heyday.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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