Ranking The Hunger Games Movie Series

Right around the time the Catching Fire movie came out, I reviewed all three of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books. Now, after Mockingjay Part 2 has been released, it’s time for me to talk about the movies! All three book reviews can be found on this blog, but I’ll link to them below for ease of access.

Spoilers for all three books and all four movies.

I’ll start out by ranking the books, since I never did that when I reviewed them.

1.) The Hunger Games

2.) Mockingjay

3.) Catching Fire

A lot of people do not like Mockingjay, but I happen to be one of the few who love it. You can read my reviews of the books to find more of my thoughts (linked above). I did notice something interesting, though, while I was thinking about not only my ranking of the books but also my ranking of the movies: my actual, technical ranking of the books very closely matches my ranking of the movies. So, let’s rank the books again, this time taking specific scenes and events in consideration rather than just having an average ranking:

1.) The second half of Catching Fire

2.) The second half of The Hunger Games

3.) The first half of The Hunger Games

3.) The second half of Mockingjay

4.) The first half of Mockingjay

5.) The first half of Catching Fire

By breaking it up into “halves,” roughly, there’s a lot more variance in this ranking. Catching Fire is now both first and last, while the other two books make up the middle.

Before I rank the movies, I’d like to quickly say that I think the movies are some of the best film adaptations of books I’ve ever seen, and some of the most faithful as well. They included mostly everything important and most of what they put in that wasn’t in the book only added to the world. More about that when I talk about each film.

Now, let’s take a look at how I rank the movies and see if you can catch the similarity with the list above. I’ll be giving them their full title to avoid confusion with the books:

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2.) The Hunger Games

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Let’s talk about each movie in turn, in the order I ranked them.

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Why is this my favorite movie of the bunch? Well, let me point out my book ranking. It’s my least favorite overall, but the second half of it is my favorite when dividing the books up into halves/sections. And the first half of the book is precisely why it’s my least favorite overall, because I absolutely despise the first half. It’s boring, it drags on and on, and it makes the pace choppy. I can’t stand rereading Catching Fire precisely because I know I have to get through that awful first half to get to the better second half, and I’m not the type of person to only read the last half of a book.

So, let’s go back to the movie now. And what the movie does that makes it not only such a great book adaptation, but also probably the best “movie” out of all of them, is that it almost completely cuts out the first half of the book. Gone are the two kids in the woods, gone is the electrified fence dilemma, gone is the interesting but tedious back-and-forth with Katniss and the Distract 12 residents. What’s kept in is minimal: Snow’s visit, Gale’s whipping, and whatever else is needed to carry the plot. What it adds is great: the intrigue behind the scenes, visual depictions of Katniss’s PTSD, more of Plutarch, who is given a life and dimensionality in the movies that is not seen in the books, and small conversations and interactions. And that’s why it’s my favorite movie, because it cuts out all the boring parts and adds important things to other scenes to keep that information in there.

Yes, the movie has its flaws. The transition from a first-person book to a third-person film means that some things are lost in translation: a truncation of the tributes’ plot, confusion over why the morphling saved Peeta (it’s never fully described how all the tributes, beyond the ones in the arena with Katniss, are in on the rebellion plot), and some other things that are best done in a book rather than in a movie. But that’s something to be expected and does not, in my opinion, cast a very large shadow over the other parts of the movie that are phenomenal.

2.) The Hunger Games

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s the first movie and it’s incredibly faithful to the source material–perhaps the most faithful of all of them. It leaves almost everything in and the things it cuts is minimal. And it adds scenes with Snow and Caesar Flickerman that add to the world of Panem. It’s visually lush and beautiful, the music is great (as it is in all the movies), and the suspense is carried throughout the movie well. The shaky cam is irritating, but understandable in a movie targeted for teenagers that’s incredibly violent at heart.

My main quibble with this movie is that the transition from a first-person narrative to a third-person film completely distorts Katniss’s motives. My friend recently read the books for the first time, after seeing the movies, and told me that everything was so different when reading solely from Katniss’s perspective. It’s not just her voice that’s lost in translation, but her motivations and thus a part of her character. I’m not sure how many people understood, just from watching the movies without having read the books, that Katniss was faking her relationship with Peeta in order to get help for him, that she was playing to the audience. A vital side to Katniss’s character development is distorted, and so in a way Movie-Katniss is different from Book-Katniss. They’re not the same Katniss. And that’s okay, but it still is prominent in my mind when I watch the movie, thus spoiling my pleasure of it slightly.

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

This is the most brutal of all the movies; appropriately so, since Mockingjay is the most brutal of the books. Once again, the movie leaves out some things from the books, but I didn’t mind: the movies have already communicated Katniss’s PTSD well enough without having to show her descent into drug addiction. Most of what they added I also enjoyed, such as the conversation between Gale and Katniss after Prim’s death, something that was much needed in the book. Gale’s character is much more sympathetic in the movies than in the books, in my opinion, but that conversation did a lot to make viewers not necessarily feel sorry for Gale, but to feel sad at the destruction of a lifelong relationship. “I was supposed to protect your family, Katniss. I’m sorry.” Those words do a lot to make me feel more for Gale as a character than I ever did in the books (and in the first three movies, for that matter).

Other things I enjoyed from the movie: the musical cues (especially right after Coin’s death), Jennifer Lawrence’s facial acting during the scene when Coin is getting them to vote on a Capitol children Hunger Games and you can see Katniss’s realization that this woman has to go, the trust shown between Haymitch and Katniss when he agrees because he trusts her, the truncating of the epilogue (though it wasn’t really necessary; the movie could have ended on “You love me; real or not real?” “Real” and it would have been a fine ending. Movie-Katniss didn’t need the epilogue as Book-Katniss did), and the overall effect of the movie. It’s grim and brutal and it punches you in the stomach at every chance, but you are feeling what Katniss is feeling and that is immersion.

This movie’s not ranked higher because it came after the disappointing Mockingjay Part 1 and it’s simply too brutal and grim to really be a stand-out, or stand-alone, film. I would watch Catching Fire by itself; I could not watch Mockingjay Part 2 by itself without watching the first three again.

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The movie makers must not have realized what a fantastic thing they did by cutting most of the first half of Catching Fire out because they decided to make the first half of Mockingjay its own movie. And unfortunately, they only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half of Mockingjay. Almost nothing suspenseful happens in the first half of Mockingjay, to the point where the film had to create its own action (by showing the rescue of Peeta) to get some conflict going. But showing the rescue of Peeta led to a completely made-up scene between Katniss and Snow, which made an already long movie drag on forever.

Speaking of “long movie,” when I saw this movie I could have sworn it was 2 1/2 hours long. I walked out of the theater and realized that it had only been about 2 hours long. That is not a good thing when a move feels half-an-hour longer than it actually is.

I did like some aspects of the movie: the cheekiness of the propaganda movies, the inclusion of the Hanging Tree song, and the shock of Peeta attacking Katniss (which is where the movie should have ended, in my opinion). But most of the movie dragged on, stretching out the little conflict there was and trying to generate more through a rescue attempt that simply made me more irritated at how Gale was being portrayed. Mockingjay Part 1 is definitely the weakest link of the film series, which is a shame because it also drags Mockingjay Part 2 down with it.

So there you have it! Those are my thoughts about the Hunger Games movies. Again, like I said at the beginning, problems aside I do think these are some of the best and most faithful film adaptations of a book/book series made today. I’m sad that they’re over, but excited that I can relive the world over and over again through both the books and the movies’ vision of the world of the books.