'Games' On!: 'The Hunger Games' and the Meaning of $155 Million

$155 million is an amazing number. What this means for The Hunger Games franchise is... well, not very much, actually.

The Hunger Games

Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-03-23 (General release)
UK date: 2012-03-23 (General release)

No one expected such a result. Even with comparisons to Twilight and the inevitable weakness of the late March release weekend, few in the pundit biz could have anticipated the final tally. Indeed, when all is said and accounted for, The Hunger Games will wind up holding the distinction of having the third largest three day weekend box office total EVER! Only The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 rank higher. With $155 million in the till and a few more records among its accomplishments, it signals the start of a very lucrative franchise for the gamblers at Lionsgate. Even if the 30 March numbers see a significant drop-off (say, somewhere in the 60% range), we are still looking at a movie that stands to make almost $250 million in less than ten days.

But what does it mean? What exactly does tapping into an already established teen lit phenon cultural zeitgeist really reflect? One could easily argue that, with a presold demo and an aesthetic consensus (the movie did well with critics, generally), a hit was bound to happen. Yet when you look at all the other wounded wannabes sitting in discount bins around the world, the Lemony Snickets and Eragons of the book-to-film universe, one has to wonder how Hunger did it. Of course, the core concept promised something scandalous and sensational, but as it turns out, the narrative is really not about kids killing kids. Even the comparison to Battle Royale no longer seem legitimate since, some foundational elements aside, both efforts have different philosophical aims.

No, it appears that, like Harry Potter or Stephanie Meyer's spangled bloodsuckers, Suzanne Collins' inconsistent dystopia captured some legitimate lightning in a bottle. In light of our current political clime, with reform masquerading as Tea Party evangelism, the set-up for Games seems wholly understandable. As a matter of fact, while watching the film, it's easy to see a hidden message regarding the treatment of the have nots by the harlequin haute couture haves. Granted, we are talking about a near century of legalized murder, made all the more meaningful since it is the youth of this fragile nation known as Panem suffering for their sins. The whole backstory (civil war, District punishment, etc.) could use some clarification, but who couldn't identify, in 2012, with an out of control Establishment victimizing the disenfranchised.

And then there is Jennifer Lawrence. That Oscar sitting on Natalie Portman's mantle really belongs to the up and coming superstar. She was amazing in Winter's Bone and made many a fanboy forget Ms. Rebecca Romijn-Whatever with her portrayal of Mystique in X-Men, First Class. Showing she is more than capable of carrying an entire movie on her fetching 21-year-old shoulders, she really sold the situation for Katniss Everdeen and her fellow competitors. Even without knowing who the other 20 something entries really are, Lawrence used her eyes and her expressions to invest the actual Games with a kind of universal melancholy. Even amid all the violence and action, she never lost sight of her original sacrifice and the pain it cost her.

Several critics have pointed out that, unlike previous attempts at jumpstarting a successful film series out of a collection of celebrated novels (Percy Jackson, Cirque du Freak), both Twilight and Games feature female protagonists. As a matter of fact, the movies seems centered on those age old adages of empowerment and gender equality. Like the current trends in pop music where rabid teen fandom - almost exclusive female - makes Justin Bieber and Katy Perry chart topping champions, media geared toward the tentative Tiger Beat marketplace seems like a solid bet. Indeed, Mr. Potter is, so far, the only boy lead that seems to have overcome the whole "you go girl" guarantee.

Of course, for those behind the scenes, the massive weekend take is both a blessing and a curse. Already ready to take on the next book in the series (Catching Fire) with director Gary Ross behind the lens, expectations have gone from huge to nuclear. Remember, the first Twilight film was pretty well panned by most film journalists. It wasn't until the third entry in the series that many in the media gave the franchise a judgmental break. Now, with success both commercially and artistically right up front, the stakes are even higher. Some are even suggesting a lack of legs with The Hunger Games material. Indeed, once the 'novelty' wears off, finding ways to keep the franchise in the public eye will be even harder. Remember - success is almost always measured by those you can capture outside the already converted.

Naturally, none of this quells the enthusiasm in the industry about such a risk so richly rewarded. One can easily see meetings happening all over Tinseltown, each one centering on how they can get their hands on the next big young adult obsession. As assistants Google for successful YA novels and phone calls are made to cooperative literary agents, some still unknown writers are going to get paid...and paid well. Their imaginations will be fleeced for some fleeting attempt to play catch-up, the end results being another turnstile bonanza...or a collection of Spiderwick Chronicles. As Drew McWeeney over at Hitflix pointed out, we are living in the age of fan driven entertainment. If everything is done right, the results are bankable. When they are not, the "fantrums" begin.

That being said, few will be foaming over The Hunger Games...that is, until the next installment is actually ready to go. Then the same level of teeth gnashing and hand wringing will accompany the mandatory "wait and see." With the memory of so many millions still resonating up and down the halls, few will allows anything remotely resemble a chance or challenge. Instead, one can almost guarantee a nice, knowing adaptation (or as one commenter called it - "vanilla pudding that tastes nothing like vanilla or pudding") without risk or the desire to deviate from the prearranged product. After all, when one is starring such huge success in the face, it's impossible to ignore the bottom line. In the case of The Hunger Games, reaching such a magic number means more to come...and perhaps less to care about.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.