Adapted from Suzanne Collins’ wildly successful trilogy of books, The Hunger Games movies have become modern day staples in the arena of young-adult stories set in a dystopian future. High concept, with quality filmmaking talent and an iconic protagonist at the core, the saga of Katniss Everdeen and her journey to leading the revolution of Panem spanned four films, released annually between 2012 and 2015.
The source material may have been aimed at the YA demographic, and feature young characters, but the mature themes of violence and social justice at the heart of The Hunger Games gave these movies a mass appeal that was reflected in both their box office success and positive critical reception. Plus, the series was a key part in propelling Jennifer Lawrence (who played Everdeen herself) to superstardom.
With all four movies maximising their rewatch appeal courtesy of an announcement that Collins is penning a new book in the series – a prequel, set during the 10th Hunger Games and titled “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” – it’s clear that the Mockingjay’s legacy lives on.
But, the big question – which of the Hunger Games movies is the best?
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4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One (2014)
In this third instalment of the series, the plot takes us out of the Hunger Games arena and moves underground. There we find District 13 and their president, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), attempting to make the most of the momentum from Katniss’s act of defiance in the Quarter Quell, and unite the districts against the Capitol.
It’s in this film where Katniss tentatively steps into her role as the Mockingjay, the face of the revolution. She is separated from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is being imprisoned and tortured by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and she is attempting to stoke the fire of the rebellion by broadcasting footage of her on the battlefield.
One of the key elements that makes these films engaging is the dynamic between Peeta and Katniss – her pessimism and his optimism, his light to her dark, and the love story between them that grew from reality TV fodder to a matter of keeping each other alive. Without Peeta, that balance is skewed, but it also lets us see who Katniss is without him, as well as what she will do to save him.
There’s lots more to enjoy; Mahershala Ali has a quietly magnetic quality as military leader Boggs, Natalie Dormer makes a welcome addition to the ensemble as director Cressida, and there’s a satisfaction in seeing the behind-the-scenes of how Katniss evolves from inspiring tribute to a true leader.
Mockingjay – Part One isn’t bottom of the list because it’s a bad film, but simply because it’s not quite as good as the rest. It suffers from a problem that occurs with all first parts of a two part story, where one book has been split in half – nothing really happens. There’s no clear structure, and it instead feels like two hours of setup for what’s to come in the next chapter. For Hunger Games fans, that’s not really a problem – the more time spent in this world, the better – but it still makes this movie the weakest of the bunch.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two (2015)
Picking up right where the previous film ends, Mockingjay – Part Two sees the aftermath of Peeta being rescued, the rebels finally storming the Capitol, and the conclusion to the entire Hunger Games saga.
After disobeying orders from Coin and secretly travelling to the frontline, Katniss and her team continue as the public face of the war. They walk through a Capitol littered with deadly ‘pods’, edging ever closer to President Snow’s mansion, and Katniss’s mission to assassinate him.
This final chapter was the most surreal and hardest to follow of Collins’ books, and the same can be said for some of the film version too. The supernatural elements are dialled up; Peeta being ‘hijacked’ into hating Katniss by the Capitol, increasingly weird and gruesome traps, a woman who gives them refuge who has been surgically altered to look like a human-tiger hybrid.
But, despite these distracting you from the story at times, this final chapter has all the emotion, tension and action you would want from a finale. There’s a standout horror sequence in the underground tunnels that will have your heart racing, and many friends and allies are sadly lost along the way, giving a tangible sense of the cost of this war. Most impactful of all, Katniss loses the one person she was trying to save when this story started.
Overall, Mockingjay – Part Two ranks very closely to the film that preceded it, but works a little better as a satisfying end to the franchise.