In Hollywood there's no such thing as a sure thing, and when it comes to YA novel series being adapted to the big screen, there are a lot of expectations from fans. When you're making a movie like The Hunger Games, which already has such a huge following, casting character roles becomes a crucial part of the job. Upsetting fans too much can give a movie bad press before it even comes out, which is every director's worst nightmare.
A casting decision can make or break a movie. Can you picture anyone else playing Gandalf besides Ian McKellen? Or anyone besides Daniel Radcliffe playing Harry Potter? Casting directors will search through hundreds, sometimes thousands of actors before making a final decision. When you have source material to work with that describes characters in detail, it's usually best not to stray too far from it.
In the Hunger Games movies, there are plenty of characters who are spot-on to the novel. The characters who were different from what fans expected often exceeded expectations, but some of the casting choices just missed the mark altogether. It's impossible to cast every character perfectly, but the Hunger Games franchise did a pretty solid job.
Here are 11 Casting Decisions That Saved The Hunger Games Movies (And 5 That Hurt Them).
16 Saved - Sam Calflin as Finnick
In the books, Finnick Odair is described as being tall, naturally handsome, and tan, with golden locks. Yep, they definitely hit this one on the nose by casting English actor Sam Claflin.
Claflin played the role of Finnick just as it was laid out in the books, and fans of the series just can't get enough of him.
While not everyone gets big fame from being in a YA franchise, Claflin grew his fanbase in a huge way when he got the role of Finnick. Off-screen, Claflin is just as charming as in the movies. Maybe it's his British charm or just his incredible acting skills, but Claflin hit every single note of Finnick.
The more characters that audiences care about, the more likely they are to come back for the next films, so Claflin was a huge asset. From being a cocky flirt to being a friend who would do anything for his loved ones, Claflin showed us every side of Finnick that we fell in love with in the books.
One of the most endearing relationships in the series is Finnick and Annie. While Annie is a bit of a boring character, Finnick's love for her makes us love her too.
15 Saved - Natalie Dormer as Cressida
The Mockingjay movies are known for not quite being the best in the series. They are much more slow and grim than the first two Hunger Games movies, which is accurate to the books, but can make for a restless audience. Thankfully there were enough good performances to distract from the less action packed finale films, Natalie Dormer as Cressida being one of them.
It was important to cast Cressida as a strong, capable woman. Cressida was an upcoming director in the Capitol until she decided to join Katniss in District 13 for the rebellion. She has an eye for detail and goes to crazy lengths to get the perfect shot.
Dormer played Cressida with a toughness and determination that really reflected the character in the novel - even if Dormer didn't shave her entire head.
It was smart to cast Dormer in this role not only because she can act but because she's a recognizable face. Many fans know her from playing Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, who is just as strong as Cressid, albeit in her own way. Dormer's presence was a pleasant surprise in the Mockingjay films, and it counteracted to the otherwise often slow pace of the movies.
14 Hurt - Willow Shields as Primrose
It can be difficult to cast child actors for long term parts. There's no way to predict how someone will grow up. In some instances it works out, but ultimately it's not something casting directors can control.
Willow Shields is both adorable and a good actress, but as Primrose goes, there was is a bit of a disconnect.
She grew up to maintain her innocent looks and thick blonde locks, but she doesn't exactly match up with the books version of Primrose.
While movies clearly don't always stick to the source material, Primrose felt off base for many fans. In the books she's described as 70 lbs soaking wet, and she is also said to resemble everyone's favorite little Tribute, Rue. In the first Hunger Games movie, Shields is every bit the adorable little sister she can be, but she just doesn't look like Katniss's sister we originally pictured.
Shields did a fine job in the role with the small amount of time Primrose is actually in the movie. There isn't anything horribly wrong with her performance, but it didn't necessarily stand out either.
Primrose is an important part of the revolution, but in the movies she ends up being a side character that we only really care about because of how emotional Katniss gets over her.
13 Saved - Josh Hutcherson as Peeta
Josh Hutcherson may not have as prolific a movie career as his co-star Jennifer Lawrence, but he definitely shines in the role of Peeta Mellark. Fans of the Hunger Games franchise not only loved him as Peeta, but ended up being just as obsessed with Hutcherson off screen. It takes a skilled actor to play a character who goes through as many changes as Peeta does, and thankfully the filmmakers hit it spot-on by casting Hutcherson.
When we first meet Peeta he's a scared and innocent young boy who is forced into the world of the Hunger Games alongside Katniss. By the time we get to the Mockingjay movies, Peeta has completely changed. He's gone through psychological trauma, extreme weight loss, and some seriously bad treatment by the Capitol. Hutcherson has the acting range to play all the stages of Peeta. It was hard not to tear up at seeing him so distraught in President Snow's video.
Lawrence even admitted that seeing the video of Peeta when he's kidnapped was actually hard for her to watch, and that her sadness in that scene was real.
In the end, it was so satisfying to see Peeta happy again after Hutcherson's heartwrenching perfomance that made us wonder if Peeta could ever be normal again.
12 Saved - Donald Sutherland as President Snow
There's no way around it, Donald Sutherland is one hell of an actor. Every once in a while a role comes along that we literally can't picture anyone else playing - and this is one of them. Believe it or not, Donald Sutherland himself actually fought for the part of President snow. He thought it could be an important movie that might "wake up" the voting public of America.
Interstingly enough, Sutherland doesn't match up with the book's version of President Snow.
He was said to be a small, thin man with a botched lip job and snake-like eyes. This brings to mind more of a menacing villain than a regular looking man with white hair. But sometimes it pays to cast off type, and thanks to Sutherland's love of the part, the casting directors agreed.
The casting diretors' decision to stray from the original President Snow was a good choice, because it made him seem all the more real. He wasn't some creepy movie villain, he was a normal man - a leader who had seriously screwed-up intentions.
Sutherland has always been known for his intimidating roles. When he gets into character of President Snow it sends immidiate chills down the spine.
11 Hurt - Liam Hemsworth as Gale
Let's start out by saying that Liam Hemsworth is clearly a gift from the gods - his brother is Thor after all - and we are not worthy to look upon him. As visuals go, the Hunger Games got Gale right. He's the strong, hunky, silent type who has always been there waiting in the wings ready for Katniss to say go. But Gale was never meant to be the final choice, and the movies made that pretty clear from the start.
It's difficult to say whether or not this is the fault of Hemsworth or the writers and directors, but Gale is just straight-up boring.
There's no way around it, almost every time he's on screen it's a total snooze fest. He gets away with it for the most part, but good looks and a deep voice will only get you so far.
The chemistry between Lawrence and Hemsworth doesn't exactly spark like it does with Hutcherson. We find ourselves trying to care what happens to Gale, but we just can't.
When he reveals that he played a role in Primrose's passing, it was less of an "oh my god" moment and more of an "okay, please leave now" moment. At that point both the audience and Katniss seem to be over it, which is probably for the best.
10 Saved - Julianne Moore as President Coin
As looks go, Julianne Moore is the perfect President Coin. From the grey wig to the colorless and slight features, she is everything we pictured from the books and more. Getting an actress with such an extensive and successful film background helped to elevate the Hunger Games franchise to a new level. Moore is one of many actors in the Mockingjay series that made the slow pacing of the movie bearable.
Being such a seasoned actress, Moore was more than capable of taking on the complicated role of President Coin.
Coin is a character who always keeps us guessing. In the books, Katniss can't seem to figure her out. In the beginning Coin seems to be for the rebellion, but it turns out that all Coin really wanted was to clear her own way to power.
Moore plays Coin in a very stoic way. It's impossible to tell when she's being sincere, and we end up assuming that's just how she is. When it is ultimately revealed that Coin is in it for herself, everything makes sense.
Moore's talent for dramatic roles elevated a character who very easily could have been boring. Moore was able to keep Coin at the perfect level of mysterious, and kept us guessing up until the very end.
9 Hurt - Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane
First of all, what's with the beard? Sure, the Capitol is an eccentric place, but even this was too much. It was hard to take Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane seriously with such distracting facial hair. This may be less of a casting flub and more of a hair and makeup mishap, but either way the character portrayal of Seneca Crane simply missed the mark.
Especially in comparison to the books, Bentley's portrayal of Seneca Crane was just confusing.
In the books, Seneca Crane is a relatively mysterious character. Unlike the movies, he is not physically present for Katniss's first training session. We can forgive the lack of secrecy since the arrow through the apple scene was one of Katniss's cooler moments in the film. Unfortunately, though, turning Seneca Crane from the mysterious head of the Games to an ever-present Schick razor ad took away from the character's power and influence.
It was much easier to be afraid of Seneca Crane in the books, but in the films he just seemed to be another puppet of President Snow.
In the end he did let both Katniss and Peeta live, getting on the bad side of President Snow and eventually being eliminated for his failure. Bentley did enough with the character to keep us interested - we just wish he had stuck closer to the source material.
8 Saved - Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss
Jennifer Lawrence is clearly the biggest star to come from the Hunger Games franchise. In fact, it can even be argued that she is one of the main reasons the movies became such a hit. If we rewind to Lawrence's original casting announcement, it turns out people weren't so happy.
When it was announced who would be playing Katniss Everdeen in the movie adaptations of Suzanne Collins' hit novels, Lawrence faced immediate backlash.
Some fans argued that it was implied Katniss was a woman of color, and they felt like Lawrence's casting was a clear white-washing of the role. People were also quick to point out that Lawrence wasn't skinny enough to play a supposedly starving Katniss.
While the backlash did happen, it was short-lived. Many people came to Lawrence's defense, especially with the body shaming. As soon as fans saw Lawrence in the role they completely fell in love.
Especially after winning her Oscar for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence put the Hunger Games movies on another level that other actors may not have been able to accomplish. Besides her acting skills, Lawrence's blunt and no filter personality off-camera made her a perfect target for media frenzy.
As much as Lawrence helped the Hunger Games franchise, it's clear that the movies elevated her career as well.
7 Saved - Woody Harrelson as Haymitch
Hollywood knows, if you need someone to play a troubled yet lovable lout who always says the wrong thing, you cast Woody Harrelson. His personality has always shone through his roles, making him one of the great character actors of our time. Thankfully, we got exactly what we hoped for out of Harrelson's portrayal of Haymitch Abernathy.
As comical as Haymitch can be, Harrelson made sure to stay true to the character in every way possible, which included his dark past. Haymitch was a victor of the Hunger Games many years before he took Katniss and Peeta under his wing, and he lost many Tributes before the duo finally won.
The internal struggles of Haymitch come through clearly on screen, and the audience quickly learns that this seemingly horrible mess of a mentor actually does care, despite his trauma.
It's interesting to watch Haymitch's character development. He goes from alcoholic who suffers from PTSD and doesn't seem to care about anything, to fighting for the rebellion right alongside Katniss. His banter with Effie Trinket is particularly charming.
Harrelson is able to hit all of these character arc points as we see Haymitch change and grow right before our eyes. In each movie he matures, and this is clear through Harrelson's portrayal.
6 Saved - Amandla Stenberg as Rue
Casting Rue was an incredibly important part of the Hunger Games. She ultimately becomes one of the faces and voices of the revolution even after we lose her in the first games. She inspires Katniss throughout the entire series, so the casting directors definitely had to make sure that Rue was memorable.
Amandla Stenberg was only 12 years old when she was cast as Rue. The books made it clear that Rue, while young and innocent, was not to be underestimated. After Rue is lost in the Hunger Games, Katniss gives her a proper farewell, surrounding her with flowers. It is a message to the Capitol that Rue's passing was not just for entertainment, and that she is a person who deserved better.
It hits even harder the fact that Rue is only 12 years old. While the other losses are also sad, hers reflects the true heartlessness of the Games and it is a moment of realization for Katniss. She promises Rue she will win, and ultimately makes a promise to herself to end it all for good.
Stenberg plays Rue in such a sweet and innocent way, while also having determination and intelligence in her eyes.
The audience can't help but to take up to cause with Katniss after Rue's final scene.
5 Hurt - Jacqueline Emerson as Foxface
It's not easy to shine in a role that gives you so little screen time, so we won't be too hard on Jacqueline Emerson's portrayal of Foxface. She did what she could with the role, but altogether the character was just a bit of a disappointment.
In comparison to the books, most characters in the movies were true to their descriptions, and those that weren't added something to make their characters better. With Foxface, it's unfortunately the opposite.
When casting Foxface the directors definitely missed the mark. Sure, they made sure to get her signature red hair color, but that's about it. The rest of the character seemed to be an afterthought. Maybe they just didn't want to waste too much time casting a relatively minor character.
In the books, Foxface gets her name from Katniss for her very specific fox-like features. She is said to have a pointy face, and almost could be confused for an animal. Unfortunately Emerson doesn't fit this description, and Foxface turns into just another Tribute lost in the background by the end of the film.
In a sense, it's better that the audience doesn't get too attached to all of the Tributes, seeing as how their fates are less than fortunate.
4 Saved - Elizabeth Banks as Effie
To say that anyone else could have played Effie Trinket the way Elizabeth Banks did would be blasphemy. Effie is one Hunger Games character who was described in incredible detail in the books. With her flamboyant outfits, crazy hair, and perfectionist Capitol personality, Effie is a true performances that requires attention to every detail.
Banks completely embodies the Effie we came to know in the books, form the accent to the disgust for Haymitch's lack of proper etiquette. Every little thing about Effie is a production, and Banks definitely delivers. She even said that Effie was inspired by actress Rosalind Russell in the 1958 film Auntie Mame.
It's clear Banks put a lot of time and research into her role, and it definitely paid off.
Not only is Banks a great comedic actress, but she knows how to turn on the drama as well. This comes in especially handy when Effie begins to see the wrongs of the Capitol and ends up changing sides to support the rebellion. Effie goes through huge changes in her character development both physially and by how she acts. Banks is able to hit each tone spot on.
Her portrayal of Effie shines in a movie full of actors giving great performances.
3 Hurt - Jack Quaid as Marvel
As far as minor characters go, Jack Quaid didn't get too much screen time as Marvel. Marvel is actually a pretty important character in the scheme of the series. He is the Tribute who spears Rue in the stomach, one of the first in a chain of events that leads Katniss to rebel against the Capitol. So why is it that we barely remember him?
In the novels, Marvel is an incredibly ruthless and arrogant Tribute from District 1. He has trained his entire life for the Games, and comes from the most powerful district. He is meant to be the top dog of the Games, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. In all honesty, they probably should have traded Cato for Marvel.
Alexander Ludwig, who plays Cato, fits the big, strong, and ruthless type much better than Quaid does, and in general was more memorable.
Ludwig actually went on to star in the History show Vikings, where his large and intimidating stature was well used as the son of Ragnar Lothbrok.
When it comes down to it, there were a lot of Tributes in the first Hunger Games movie that are difficult to remember. It's understandable that some characters will just get lost in the background of the bigger story.
2 Saved - Stanley Tucci as Caesar
Could anyone else have played Caesar Flickerman the way Stanley Tucci did? Maybe, but we doubt it.
Tucci brought the charisma, the crazy, and even the tragedy to this role. There are two ways to look at Caesar, and Tucci himself actually leans more towards the darker side of the character.
In both the books and movies it's sometimes hard to tell what side Caesar is on. When he interviews the Tributes it seems like he genuinely cares about them, but does he?
Tucci admits that he played Caesar as a mixture of many different talk show hosts, both past and present. We just wish we knew who exactly he used as inspiration for this manic showman!
Whether you believe Caesar really has a kind heart, or that he only cares about his show and does everything for the cameras, Tucci hits it all spot on.
And how could we mention that smile, that tan, and that hair?
In the books Caesar originally had blue skin, but whoever decided that would be too much made the right choice. Tucci strikes just the perfect balance of plastic Capitol bot and real person to keep us guessing throughout the series.
1 Saved - Lenny Cravitz as Cinna
Whoever decide to cast rock star Lenny Kravitz as Katniss Everdeen's stylist Cinna deserves a gold medal. However the casting directors happened upon this choice, the films are all the better for it.
Especially for acting not being his first or most bankable talent, Kravitz really outdid himself in the role of Cinna.
He brought a softness and authenticity to the fashion designer that was incredibly well received by fans and audiences.
As good of an actress as Jennifer Lawrence is, Katniss herself is often very stoic and seemingly emotionless, especially in the beginning of the films. She relies on the people around her to tell her how to feel and to comfort her. Thankfully one of those people is Cinna.
One of the more heart wrenching scenes in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was Cinna's final scene. The last dress he made Katniss had hidden wings that burst out to represent her as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. President Snow didn't take kindly to this, and Cinna was eliminated because of it.
Kravitz's portrayal of Cinna as the nice, kind, and always positive and supportive voice in Katniss's ear made it all that much harder to watch him go.
What Hunger Games casting decisions do you think helped or hurt the films? Let us know in the comments!