Why the Hunger Games is now a global phenomenon

Millions of fans have come to watch Katniss in Mockingjay: Part One. But has the franchise inspired more than just movie

Devastation, defiance, indoctrination and a battle ready Katniss is what viewers can expect from the next instalment of Hunger Games released last week.

The Hunger Games franchise’s popularity has snowballed since the first film was released in 2011 and it now has one of histories most devoted fan bases rivalling Harry Potter and Twilight. But what is it that makes Katniss so popular?

The genre is already familiar to audiences so a fan base is ready and waiting for new material to sink their teeth into. “I think Hunger Games in a sense are re-inventing a familiar genre” feels Richard Berger, Associate lecturer at Bournemouth University who teaches adaptation. “In this case it is re-inventing the dystopian story and up-dating it for the reality TV age. It’s George Orwell meets I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. It is a very clever satire on our celebrity-obsessed culture, and young people aren’t necessarily watching things like Keeping up with the Kardashians uncritically.”

A strong female protagonist is also a huge draw for audiences. It helps perpetuate the books with readers lusting over the type of life they aspire to lead and the type of person they wish they could be. Richard agrees: “Those readers who grew-up rooting for Hermione Granger now have someone else to identify with. So, the books and films chime with all sorts of things young people can relate too - like all good fiction should.”

Its relatability may be why the multimedia franchise has racked up such a hefty profit. The first film The Hunger Games made £155 million in the first opening weekend but Catching Fire exceeded this in its first weekend making £161 million. This solidified its status as the third highest grossing film that year beating Twilight’s Breaking Dawn: Part Two.

The books have created just as much of a frenzy with Suzanne Collins having sold over £50 million of her books by the time the first film came out she became the top selling kindle author that year.

The two medias combined have catapulted the status of Hunger Games into a global phenomenon.

Richard believes that there is an economic relationship between books and their film adaptations. “The novels and the films sort of co-exist, and share a symbolic relationship of exchange. ”

Economics is not the only sector of society Hunger Games has influenced. The three-fingered gesture of the Mockingjay from the books is being utilised by protestors against the military coup in Thailand last month. The military are threatening jail time for protestors that make the gesture. The salute has now come to represent defiance in Thailand against oppression just as it did for Panem in the books. It is so relatable it has reached the depths of modern day political conflict, an accolade not many franchises can maintain.

Anna Rusanova, president of society Books and Beyond at Bournemouth University, believes it is the political undercurrent that makes the franchise so identifiable with. Anna said: “It is a world with more problems than society’s own and still it is not as unfamiliar. Even though Hunger Games is considered a fantasy, many people can relate the political side of it to their own countries. Like with the Divergent book series both authors have interpreted popular opinions about the political systems we live in, and have mixed them with adventure and love, which in my opinion is what makes them so good.”

The franchise could influence political movement here in Britain. Hunger games actor Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow in the films, has said in a London press conference that his sole motivation to join the franchise was to help young people realise they have an obligation to change government by taking an active role and voting.

Surprising as this may be these political stances demonstrate that  Hunger Games has transcended from a cultural icon into a possible political motivator.

Adaptations in general have become a film staple for fans that want to see their best-loved books become tangible. Anna feels this is why adaptations are so popular. “It is a really good thing to do because it makes young people curious and read the books, which allows them to dive into the world of words and realise how much it has to offer.” Richard agrees: “The books are still in the recent consciousness of the audience, and very often, someone will want to see a filmed version of a book they’ve just read.”

By adding A-list celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence to film adaptations it creates a pot of success that filmmakers want to recreate every year. Richard echoes this pointing towards the Twilight series as an example of this. “But then what happens is that it all runs out of steam and studios look for something new. Hunger Games fitted nicely.”The future for the franchise looks brighter than ever. A new stage play based on the books is being created for 2016, which will keep the franchise alive in the minds of fans. The new film Mockingjay: Part One wareleased in cinemas on 21 November 2014.