Officially, we are just one week away from the release of this year’s first truly big film. Yes, I’m talking about The Hunger Games, a film directed by Gary Ross and adapted from the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins. The book has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.
To say that this movie is highly-anticipated would be an understatement. Lionsgate, the studio in control of the film properties for each of Collins’ three Hunger Games novels, has done quite well in marketing the film. While initially there were concerns that they may try to sell the film in the same way that their subsidiary Summit Entertainment did for its Twilight franchise, those concerns have largely been quelled in the past few months.
As far as buzz goes, movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows that 32,000+ users “want to see” The Hunger Games. While those numbers are nowhere near that of The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers, each of which are above 70,000+ users, it is slightly above fellow adaptation Breaking Dawn Part 2, the (hopefully) last film in the Twilight Saga. That’s not bad, considering The Hunger Games is the first film in its franchise, while the upcoming Twilight film is the 5th in its franchise.
So what does that mean for box office? Lionsgate has put out a relatively conservative opening weekend prediction of $75 million (right around the opening weekend pull that the first Twilight film snagged), but many are predicting this could be even bigger. How big, exactly?
Some think $100 million, and others as high as $135-150 million, but the average high-end estimate seems to be around $110-120 million. Filmed on a budget of $100 million, The Hunger Games seeks to make back that budget in just a few short days.
Now, think about it: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax pulled in $70 million in its opening weekend. Dr. Seuss is a popular name to be sure, but with the already great word-of-mouth and the relevancy of The Hunger Games, $75 million seems a bit low of an estimate. Online ticket seller Fandango has said that midnight showings for The Hunger Games have sold more tickets than any other film from Fandango. In response to sold out midnight showings, some theaters are even having 3 AM showings to compensate.
That is promising for Lionsgate, along with the fact that midnight showings across the country sold out within a day of tickets being released. The film is being released into roughly 4000 theaters, so the potential for The Hunger Games is great, especially if it turns out to be as good as many predict it will be.
The first reviews for The Hunger Games have been released, with a currently 100% rating (on 8 reviews) from Rotten Tomatoes. Here is a snippet of the short review posted on Facebook from the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins:
“Director Gary Ross has created an adaptation that is faithful in both narrative and theme, but he’s also brought a rich and powerful vision of Panem, its brutality and excesses, to the film as well. His world building’s fantastic, whether it be the Seam or the Capitol. It’s amazing to see things that are suggested in the book fully developed and so brilliantly realized through the artistry of the designers.”
Here are some brief quotes from other reviews below (click the author/publication link for the full review):
- “As thrilling and smart as it is terrifying. There have been a number of big-gun literary series brought to screen over the past decade. This slays them all.” – Olly Richards, Empire Magazine
- “The Hunger Games is the first film in a long time that deserves Hollywood’s instant-franchise ambitions because it appeals to genre fans regardless of gender by crafting a story that’s both epic and intimate, spectacular and subtle.” – Todd Gilchrist, IndieWire/The Playlist
- “[The] Hunger Games has such a strong narrative structure, built-in forward movement and compelling central character that it can’t go far wrong. From the outset, it’s easy to accept a future North America, once decimated by war and now called Panem, divided into 12 districts kept under tight control by an all-powerful central government in the stunningly modernistic Capitol.” – Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
- “The Hunger Games is an essential science fiction film for our times; perhaps the essential science fiction film of our times. Whatever your age, it demands to be devoured.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
Perhaps the most positive and refreshing statement from any review comes from Matthew Leyland of TotalFilm, who says: ‘”Like its source, this is both credible science fiction and a teen tale that doesn’t patronize or pander to its audience.”
If those reviews don’t get you excited for The Hunger Games, frankly, I don’t know what will.
I’d like to expound upon that last review by Matthew Leyland and the one by Robbie Collin. In his review, Collin also writes that, “The screenplay, co-written by Ross, Collins and Billy Ray, deftly pulls together all of the novel’s itchiest themes: the Faustian pact of instant celebrity; the ever-broadening gap between the have-nots and the haves; the basic human urge to confer narrative, and so meaning, on human life in all its nasty, brutish brevity.”
The novel (and therefore film, too) seems to draw from themes seen in The Running Man, Lord of the Flies, and Battle Royale, all of which dwell upon the idea of a survival-of-the-fittest savagery and brutality. And the fact that, according to Leyland, the film doesn’t patronize or pander to its audience is very telling of the care that director Gary Ross put into this adaptation. He understands the story, that it is a very adult tale and one that shouldn’t be dumbed down and Twilighted.
Audiences and critics alike have stated concerns that this film may not properly capture the essence of the novels, that a PG-13 rated film cannot begin to tell the seemingly R-rated story of Collins’ novel. Cuts have been made, sure, but I have a feeling that Ross has done the best he could to keep the content and themes from the novel while still maintaining a rating that allows moviegoers to see his film.
The initial cut of The Hunger Games received a 15 classification from the BBFC, the UK’s ratings board. Lionsgate decided to make several cuts to the films in one scene to reduce the emphasis on blood and injury to retain a 12A classification in the UK (the equivalent to the US’s PG-13 rating). The UK 15 rating is somewhat equal to an R-rating in the US, while the UK’s 18A rating is more on par with a “hard” R-rating in the US. The US version of the films did not receive these cuts.
This is promising, as it shows that the film retains the edge of the novels and pushes the boundaries a bit. In its message accompanying the rating for The Hunger Games, the MPAA states that the film is rated PG-13 for, “intense violent thematic material and disturbing images, all involving teens.”
Furthermore, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Gary Ross had this to say: “You don’t need to be gratuitous in order to be honest and capture the intensity of the book. … Is it violent? Yes. Do we back off from what it is? No we don’t.”
No review tells of this better than Leyland’s, in which he writes that, “Ross mutes the sound effects and chops the carnage into almost subliminal flashes, avoiding explicitness without losing the horror.”
With The Hunger Games, Ross can create a science fiction, survival-of-the-fittest trilogy that defines a generation, especially given that these films are adapted from a trilogy of books that have become popular in just the last few years. And, from what can be seen from the first few reviews, it looks like he is one step toward that ultimate end goal.
The Hunger Games hits select theaters at midnight next Thursday, and will have a full-scale wide release on Friday, March 23.
Are you planning on seeing The Hunger Games? What are your initial thoughts about the film? Let us know in the comments section below!