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The impact of 'The Hunger Games' and other YA film adaptations 10 years later

After a decade oversaturated with dystopian YA book-to-film adaptations, Gen Z students analyze how and why their popularity declined

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"The Hunger Games" grossed over $400 million within North America, the third-highest total of 2012.


When you think of movies for young adults in the 2010s, some book-to-film adaptation set in a dystopian society with a defiant teen protagonist likely comes to mind. Maybe the 2012 film "The Hunger Games" first popped into mind, and this March marks the 10th anniversary of its release.

The movie, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, was based off of the 2008 acclaimed novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. The film would prove immensely successful, grossing over $400 million within North America and being the third-highest grossing film of 2012.

Its success would not only lead to adaptations of the novel’s sequels, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," but it helped kickstart of a wave of other YA book-to-film adaptations.

"The Maze Runner" and "Divergent" were film franchises that, similar to "The Hunger Games," featured a predominantly YA cast and were set in a dystopian future with the characters battling against an authoritarian regime. 

The first films of those series grossed over $630 million combined in the box office, profits that could rival even the most acclaimed superhero movies at the time.

Ryan Travetto, a student in the Entertainment Business Association (EBA) and a junior studying business data analytics, said the success was coming off the heels of the "Harry Potter" series, which had just ended in 2011.

After seeing the finale of the "Harry Potter" series, the question that immediately came to Travetto's mind was, "what's next?" 

“A year later, ‘The Hunger Games’ came out. It had a lot of parallels to ‘Harry Potter,’ but was distinct enough to feel like something you wanted to be invested in,” he said.

Others, including "Hunger Games" director Gary Ross himself, have argued that the themes of the movies proved to be relevant to the demographic it was targeting.

“From climate change, to authoritarianism, their generation feels a real sense of dread and jeopardy,” Ross said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I think one reason this franchise was so successful is that this generation feels they are fighting for their survival all the time.”

Anish Agarwal, a junior studying computer science, said his reasoning had more to do with the worldbuilding of "The Hunger Games" itself.

"The setting, while fictional, felt realistic enough that it could be where our world was heading," Agarwal said. "I think that sense of realism made the plot more relatable for readers, more so than the 'Harry Potter' series."

Regardless of the reason, it became obvious to Hollywood that this trend was the next best thing. However, it did not last forever.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2," the 2015 final film in the franchise, was also the least-grossing entry in the series, grossing just over $658 million internationally.

A similar phenomenon occurred for "The Maze Runner" franchise, with the 2018 final entry, "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," grossing less than $300 million worldwide.

The final "Divergent" film was planned to be a two part finale: "Allegiant" and "Ascendant." However, following the box office bomb of "Allegiant," which grossed less than $200 million at the box office, plans for a last movie were immediately canceled.

Despite the continued releases of other films such as "The Giver" and "Ender’s Game," very few were able to cultivate the mass success that "The Hunger Games" achieved. The few that did spawn franchises would witness diminishing returns with each successive film.

Dylan Tate, a junior film and media production major and a member of the EBA, attributes the decline of the trend to the rise of two part finales, a move done by the studios behind "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" who were following in the footsteps of "Harry Potter."

"The first part would feel like a two hour trailer for the next film rather than its own movie," Tate said. "So when every other major franchise started to do it, audiences were tapped out."

In contrast, Travetto argued that the trend’s decline was a matter of oversaturation.

"In 2013, you had 'Percy Jackson,' 'The Mortal Instruments,' 'The Host' and so on," he said. "By that point, the uniqueness of ‘The Hunger Games’ started to wear off, and with it, the audience’s interest."

Regardless of the reason, by the late 2010s, it became clear this was a dying genre.

Despite there being two more "Maze Runner" novels, no plans for movie adaptations have been announced. "Divergent" fans are left without a cinematic conclusion. The financial failure of 2013’s "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" failed to kickstart the series as originally intended.

Despite this downward trend, "The Hunger Games" franchise maintains a strong legacy. The series is still among the top 25 highest grossing film franchises of all time. 

A movie adaptation of the prequel novel, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," was announced last summer. Many of the stars it projected to fame, most notably lead actress Jennifer Lawrence, continue to have a major presence in Hollywood today.

"Regardless of how you feel about ‘The Hunger Games’ series, its influence and impact on cinema cannot be denied nor forgotten," Tate said.


Reach the reporter at amimam1@asu.edu and follow @amir_amimam1 on Twitter.

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