‘The Hunger Games’ & Other YA Films With Actors Better Than the Scripts

Young Adult (YA) movies and franchises have a way of landing some of the most incomparable talents Hollywood has to offer — often in supporting roles to the children or in the lead roles themselves. Why this is a case — the money, the media, the mania — remains a bit of a mystery. Yet, many of these films, like The Hunger Games, should thank the cast for the entirety of their success. For, some of them simply fail to live up to expectations narratively, and the actors lift the story to a level that does not quite exist in the text. 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ | Christopher Polk/Getty Images

The Hunger Games illustrates this phenomenon quite nicely as one-time Oscar winner and four-time nominee Jennifer Lawrence elevates Katniss Everdeen to an emotional complexity and three-dimensionality that, many would argue, even Suzzane Collins’ novels do not put forth. 

When Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Katniss Everdeen, freaks out on her little sister’s cat in Mockingjay Part 2, throwing cups across the room, as she yells with tears flowing down her face — fans receive a caliber of performance quite rare in YA installments. This is not the only YA movie in which performances help lift the story to a new level. 

‘Ender’s Game’

Released in 2013, Ender’s Game opened to mixed critical and audience reception, and the film currently boasts a 61% critics’ score and a 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. 

While not as thought-provoking as the book, the script is a bit “lifeless,” as one critic notes; however, performances by Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Dickinson star Hailee Steinfeld, and Viola Davis offer a “commendable number of well-acted” thrills as Rotten Tomatoes summarized. 

The movie may left have much to be desired, but the talent employed made up for the weakness inherent to the plot and thematic undertone; thus, the film’s reception was largely positive. Replace Ford and Butterfield with D-listers still learning the ropes, and you would have a disaster on your hands. 

‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’

While the novel A Series of Unfortunate Events is a bit more grim and ghastly, the movie (for MPAA rating purposes) reels in the darkness just a bit. While it may be a softer and less threatening we’re-in-real-and-valid-peril take, a manic performance by Jim Carrey as Count Olaf and an appearance by Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine elevate the film to new heights. 

The film was derided as superficial, yet audiences and critics agreed that it was an entertaining turn of events, a series of unfortunate twists and turns at the hands of actors capable of running with the ridiculousness of it all — and doing it with utter conviction. 

‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe arguably boasts a stronger script than the above two films; however, it would not be the same without the genuine awe that traverses the children’s faces upon discovering the land and all it has to offer. 

The shock, the happiness, the confusion — these kids are great performers, and they utterly encompass the tone the film sets out to deliver. Not to mention, with a turn by Tilda Swinton as Jadis the White Witch, the film soars whenever she appears on the screen. Critics argued that while the movie felt constricted, the performances broke through the narrative shackles, and Swinton was simply engrossing.