[WARNING! SPOILERS FOR THE HUNGER GAMES AHEAD!]
2012 was a landmark year for film adaptations of popular dystopian Young Adult novels – that was they year the world was introduced to the cinematic version of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, based on the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins. Three years, two sequels (Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1) and one Oscar later, Jennifer Lawrence will conclude the story of her reluctant revolutionary in this year’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
With studios aching to keep lucrative and popular franchises alive and viable for as long as possible (The Hobbit trilogy, the upcoming Harry Potter spinoff/prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), here are some ideas on how the cinematic universe of The Hunger Games could live on after the main story comes to a conclusion.
The First Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic section of North America called Panem (from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses”), a fascist dictatorship which rules the twelve Districts with an iron fist from the central Capitol in the Rocky Mountains. We are first introduced to Katniss Everdeen prior to the 74th Annual Hunger Games, which means that nearly three-quarters of a century have passed since the “Dark Days” mentioned in the novel. A great deal of backstory is skipped over, which wisely orients the audience to see things from Katniss’ perspective.
However, the tale of the aftermath of that war, the organization of Panem and the selection of Tributes for the very first Hunger Games would offer the opportunity to establish a new set of heroes and villains for the franchise, not to mention introduce a low-tech, no doubt dirtier version of the Games than the carefully-controlled arenas we’ve seen in the films.
The First Victor
By the end of the first film – and as we come to learn as the series progresses – there are 59 past surviving victors still living. We meet several of them in Catching Fire when, for the 75th Games, two surviving victors from each District are forced to compete in a Quarter Quell. Along with Katniss, fellow District 12 victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (scene-stealer Woody Harrelson), we meet other important Tributes such as Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jean Malone). The one victor we never learn a thing about, however, is the first one.
Who triumphed in the very first Hunger Games? He or she remains unknown, and is never named or mentioned in the books. Theoretically, the first victor would have gone on to become the first mentor – assuming the system introduced in The Hunger Games was in place that early. The story of how the first victor coped with their post-Games fame – and probable post-traumatic stress – could echo Katniss’ story and illustrate how thoroughly the Capitol used up its champions from the very beginning.
No one personifies the Capitol’s oppression and all-around nastiness like President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the vicious ruler of Panem. Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol’s power drives Snow to try and crush her spreading influence as a symbol of resistance. Before the chaos unleashed during the Quarter Quell, however, Snow and Katniss agreed that they would never lie to each other… and as readers of the Mockingjay book will know, he never did.
Snow’s backstory is hinted at in the films, but Sutherland’s oily charisma fleshes out most of the character. Placing Snow’s rise to power front and center in a film of his own could be a fascinating way to expand the franchise universe, especially with some of the more James Bond-villain aspects of Snow’s story – for instance, Snow’s ever-present roses serve to mask the smell of blood. During his rise to power, he poisoned his rivals, but in order to divert suspicions had to drink the same poison himself, resulting in chronic bleeding sores in his mouth.
The theme of using sweetness to mask decay applies to the Capitol itself and the privileged elite who see the Hunger Games as actual entertainment, rather than intimidation. Few seem to understand like Snow how much the line between them can blur – his story could be a fascinating and powerful experience.
The Fall and Rise of District 13
As The Hunger Games opens, we learn that there was once a District 13, and it’s obliteration is a constant reminder to the remaining districts of what happens when the Capitol is challenged. By the end of Catching Fire, of course, Katniss and the surviving tributes are removed to District 13, which has been secretly rebuilding itself underground into a strictly regimented, militarized society under President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
The notion of a con-current sequel entry to an ongoing franchise was explored in The Bourne Legacy, which partially overlapped the events of The Bourne Ultimatum and focused on a different super-assassin played by Jeremy Renner. Fans and critics were mild towards the film, but the concept itself could work to chart the secret rise of District 13 from the ashes of the Dark Days and explain President Coin’s rise to power as well as the District’s infiltration and organization of the resistance prior to their big move with the Quarter Quell.
Haymitch’s Hunger Games
One inherent problem with any prequel is that the stakes tend to be lower or a bit compromised. We know Bilbo Baggins will survive The Hobbit films and that Anakin Skywalker will eventually become Darth Vader. The real fun will be the journey (in theory). In The Hunger Games, Woody Harrelson’s performance as Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy has been a constant standout (so much so that they invented new scenes for Mockingjay – Part 1 just to keep him around). His experience as a Hunger Games victor is ripe for its own film.
We learn in the books that Haymitch’s family and girlfriend were murdered by President Snow after he survived his Games – this tragedy and the fact that every tribute he ever mentored died in the arena (until Katniss and Peeta) drove Haymitch to relative isolation and alcoholism. How did he get involved with the resistance and District 13? Was he waiting for someone like Katniss to inspire him? Framing a Haymitch solo movie in these terms would give us more of Harrelson and help expand the universe even further.
First introduced in The Hunger Games, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) is a brilliant designer and stylist who works with Katniss and Peeta for the 74th and 75th Games. He’s a complete mystery both in the books and movies, yet turns out to be one of the most important characters, a District 13 operative who designs Katniss’ remarkable costumes and essentially invents the Mockingjay persona. Kravitz is surprisingly good in the role, making up for the underwritten nature of his character with the chemistry between himself and Jennifer Lawrence in their scenes together.
Still, we learn almost nothing about his past. In the books, we learn that the 74th Games were his first year as a stylist, and that while first-timers are always assigned District 12, he specifically asked to be assigned to Katniss and Peeta. How exactly does a Capitol citizen and fashion designer find themselves enlisted in a rebel cause? Cinna’s character arc could be a fascinating exploration of how the hollow, corrupt Capitol can breed a true hero, and the life-threatening risks involved in heeding one’s conscience.
We first meet Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) in Catching Fire, having been reaped for the Quarter Quell along with Mags (Lynn Cohen), his own mentor from District 4. Finnick is confident and arrogant to the point of obnoxious, hinting to Katniss that some in the Capitol pay for “time” with him in information that they shouldn’t share.
Finnick’s charm masks some serious pain. He had fallen in love with Annie Cresta, one of the victorious tributes he mentored and during the Quarter Quell, Mags volunteers to keep Annie from having to compete. Much of this backstory is skipped in Catching Fire, but Finnick’s devotion to Mags quickly endears him to the audience and after some uncertainly as to whose side he’s on, he’s revealed as one of the rebels.
Finnick’s deeply traumatic experiences at the hands of President Snow might be pushing it for a YA spinoff – Snow essentially spent years pimping Finnick out and torturing his girlfriend – but his outward narcissism is just a show, and the true hero beneath deserves some focus.
As Katniss’ best friend and hunting companion in District 12, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) does not receive the same kind of character arc in the movies as Katniss and Peeta, but his presence in the books is much deeper and more complex. In the films, Gale comes across as the third corner in an obligatory love triangle, but as the rebellion moves from symbolic to actual war, Gale embraces the revolution as Katniss reluctantly becomes the face of the cause.
The final Mockingjay film entry is bound to take its liberties and deviate from the source material, but in the book, Katniss’ sister Prim is killed in a bombing which Gale may have been responsible for. Gale joins the new government established when the District 13 hierarchy take over the Capitol, and with Katniss and Peeta together by then, could a straightforward sequel to Mockingjay – Part 2 be conceivable centered around Gale? He becomes a gung-ho war hawk, but also a real hero when evacuating District 12. In the aftermath of the uprising, a film centered around his underused character would continue the series with a familiar face and examine the price – physically and emotionally – of this new freedom.
Spies of the Capitol
The plot to overthrow the Capitol and place control of Panem in the hands of District 13 and President Coin is revealed to be a far-reaching, surprisingly well-organized conspiracy that must have been in the works for years and perhaps even decades. Numerous key members of the Capitol establishment are revealed to be operatives, such as Cinna, Finnick and Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman); they have a method to disrupt the Quarter Quell arena and an evacuation plan in place as well.
The glossing-over of just how such a well-oiled machine of rebellion was allowed to grow right under the nose of President Snow could be interpreted as one of the major plot holes of the series – but what if The Hunger Games took a cue from the plans to expand the universe of Star Wars and developed an entry focused on the Capitol’s spies in the vein of Rogue One? The people involved in creating the rebel infrastructure within the Capitol for District 13 – and their sacrifices along the way – could develop and deepen the franchise universe even as it fills in some of the story’s blank pages.
The World After the Mockingjay
We’ll have to wait and see how closely Mockingjay – Part 2 follows the concluding novel in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, but the films have stayed reasonably faithful to the overall narrative. Splitting the final book’s adaptation into two films was a now-common move to extend the franchise’s life as long as possible (see the final entries for the Twilight and Harry Potter films, for example), but it also allowed director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong to provide a more detailed adaptation of the Mockingjay novel.
President Coin knows that she needs Katniss to embrace her role as the face of the revolution in order to rally the outlying districts, but Katniss’ role is mainly for show until the final assault on the Capitol and President Snow’s mansion. Snow is captured and Coin, now effectively in control of Panem, floats the idea of one last Hunger Games, with the children of the Capitol as tributes. Katniss realizes that she had been manipulated all along, and readers of the book will know how she exacts her revenge.
Still, what of Panem? The novel’s final scene depicts Katniss and Peeta together and removed from any more trouble, but a direct sequel set years later could depict a world where, despite their best intentions, those in power will do whatever they must to remain in power. Katniss is unlikely to get involved, but we could conceivably follow a generation inspired by the legend of the Mockingjay and willing to defy authority to ensure that a dehumanizing horror show like the Hunger Games never happens again.
These are just some ideas as to how the fascinating Hunger Games universe could live on once the central tale of the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, comes to an end. Are there viable options that we missed? How would you like to see the world of the Mockingjay and Panem continue? Sound off in the comments!