Why The Hunger Games was so successful

Ben Skipper
Movies Blog
26 March 2012

This weekend saw 'The Hunger Games' achieve what many thought would be impossible only a few short months ago. Sure, the film was eagerly anticipated but to rake in the biggest opening weekend ever for a film that wasn't a sequel, prequel or remake is a big surprise.

Katniss and Co's battle for survival also has the honour of the third largest opening weekend ever (£97m ), trailing only behind 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2' (£106.6m) and 'The Dark Knight'(£99.8m).

On top of the film being pretty damn good, here are five reasons why we think the film has dominated the global box office...

[Related story: The Hunger Games smashes box office records]
[Related video: Hunger Games stars reveal their secret talents]

The books (obviously)
Having an enormous fan-base primed to see an adaptation can't hurt so of course the books play their part in the success of the film. The opening part of Suzanne Collins' trilogy was first published in 2008 with sequels over the next two years. The series became a best-seller, tempting Lionsgate Entertainment into acquiring the rights to make the film, which may well become a billion dollar franchise following its success.

For the uninitiated, the film takes place in Panem, a fictional country broken up into 12 districts following a war that wiped out the former nation. The ruling Capitol selects a young boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 each year to take part in an annual, televised fight to the death called The Hunger Games. The heroine of the books is Katniss Everdeen, who becomes an unlikely and unwilling catalyst for an uprising.

It has legit acting chops
Thanks to her breakout role in 'Winter's Bone' (which bears more than a few similarities to the role of Katniss in 'The Hunger Games'), Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice for the film's heroine. She was also Oscar-nominated for that performance, lending her an air of credibility that fellow tween heroes Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart never had.

Like Radcliffe in the Potter series however, Lawrence had a cast of proven actors supporting her throughout the film. Standing out is Donald Sutherland as the totalitarian ruler of Panem, President Snow. Renowned character actors Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci steal scenes left, right and centre as well, making up for quiet Katniss's lack of bravado.

It's the first film of 2012 that people were legitimately looking forward to
It's been a slow year so far with not much grabbing the attention of the nation's movie fans (sorry 'John Carter'). People enjoy going to the cinema and this being the first blockbuster to garner largely positive reviews and generate a serious buzz made people more willing to stump up the cash.

If the film was released in the middle of the blockbuster season (as we're sure its inevitable sequels will be) it might not have done so well with big-hitters like 'Prometheus' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' promising to hog all the limelight and box office moolah in the coming months. 'The Hunger Games' was perfectly placed on the release schedule, a credit to its studio.

Broad appeal
You would be hard-pressed to find a Hollywood executive who, upon being asked what makes a successful blockbuster, doesn't say "broad appeal" at some point. The two highest-grossing films ever, Jim Cameron's 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' appealed to everyone in some way. Love stories for the girls, action, death and destruction for the boys, good acting and a mix of the former two for the adults.

While not a huge "event movie" like those two examples, 'The Hunger Games' does have a lot that appeals to people of all ages. There's a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and the film's messages of oppressive governments and people's willingness to watch increasingly perverse reality television strikes a chord with an adult audience too.

Then there's the boys. An admittedly easy market to target, the film's premise promises violence which is more than enough to get boys interested. Bows and arrows are cool after all.

Violence
Continuing on from the last point, the film's violence plays a big part as well. In the build-up to its release, the film had to cut seven seconds to avoid a 15 certificate that would be harmed audience figures substantially. Despite this it remains, quite easily, the most violent 12A film ever made.

Well aware that you can't dance around the subject of teenager-on-teenager violence, the film embraces it for shocking results. Thanks to some great direction from Gary Ross lots of the bloody results of the Games themselves are implied but not seen. Blood is closer to black than red as well (something that makes it less violent in the eyes of the BBFC) but there's still plenty of it. Why does violence play a role in the success of the film though?

Because it's refreshing. Back in the 70s and 80s films aimed at a similar audience didn't shy away from some of the more violent elements. Remember that guy's heart being ripped out in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'? Likewise there's the face-melting in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' as well. In the UK 'Jaws' was released on video with a PG certificate despite the shockingly bloody (but definitely effective) death of Quint. Another Spielberg film, 'Jurassic Park' also actively tried to scare it's audience, most notably with a disembodied arm.

Younger people enjoy this violence because they like to be scared and shocked. It elicits a reaction (whether that's hiding behind a coat or thinking "woah, that's cool!") which is what a film-maker ultimately wants from their audience.

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