Of the four movies in the Hunger Games film franchise, which one is the best? The movies not only brought the world of Panem to life, but they also made Jennifer Lawrence a household name. And, now, the world is getting ready to return to Panem, with a new Hunger Games novel (and possible movie adaptation) on the way.
The Hunger Games book series by author Suzanne Collins has gained an immense fan following since its debut in 2008, and it didn't take long for Lionsgate to acquire the movie rights to the trilogy. But as with all beloved book series, there's often hesitation when it comes to transforming pages to the big screen. The books helped launch the dystopian craze in young adult fiction but the movies took the genre to a whole new level of popularity.
Moviegoers had another young heroine to root for in Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), the scrappy teen from District 12 who bravely volunteered to take her sister's spot in the Hunger Games. The deadly event took place once a year, two citizens from each of the districts in Panem to fight to the death. Rather than win and stay quiet, however, Katniss used her experience to revolt against the Capitol and, in turn, she started an uprising.
On the big screen, Katniss' journey took place over four movies. Here's our ranking of every installment in the Hunger Games franchise, from worst to best.
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
It's extremely difficult to satisfy everybody when it comes to the final film in a major franchise. Unfortunately, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 showed that all too well. There were a lot of high expectations for director Francis Lawrence to appropriately close out the final chapter of Katniss' story, but even the most anticipated scenes felt anticlimactic. The storyline at this point was grim, yet the movie focused too much on action sequences than character interactions.
This isn't to say that Mockingjay - Part 2 was a horrid film, it was still very watchable and did build to a striking climax where Katniss finally got her chance to take down the Capitol. The fierce heroine took down Panem's most dangerous leaders but she lost a lot along the way; broken relationships, trauma from her experience in multiple Hunger Games, and witnessing the death of Prim took a toll on Katniss. By the end of the movie, it almost felt like this girl has been through too much to believe she could live happily ever after. The loss was felt.
When the movie premiered in 2015, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson were at the height of their popularity. If only they had a better final film to serve as their Hunger Games swan song.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 marks the point where the franchise turned, where the potential to adequately close out the franchise was squandered. Unfortunately, while the performance of Lawrence and the stellar supporting cast ramped up the energy, the film was mainly concerned with moving pieces around the board, and lost some of its allure by stepping away from the Hunger Games.
By not featuring a Hunger Games for the first time in the franchise, Mockingjay - Part 1 lacked the thrill that made the first two movies so great. But the film did allow viewers to get a wider look at those living in the shadows of Panem; when Katniss was rescued at the end of Catching Fire, she was taken to District 13, an underground bunker that housed members of the rebellion.
It was also refreshing to see some of the core characters have a chance to interact properly once again. Except for brief sequences at the beginning of the first two movies, Katniss barely had time with her family. Mockingjay - Part 1 put Katniss' relationship with her sister and mother at the forefront, which deepened the Everdeen family dynamic ahead of the bigger twists to come. And while Peeta was held captive and brainwashed for most of the movie, Katniss was able to spend valuable time with Gale, something that fans had been wanting since the first movie.
2. The Hunger Games
There was a lot of pressure on The Hunger Games when it premiered in 2012. Readers wanted to see the books' beloved story to play out faithfully on-screen, but with all the violent killing of young children, how could director Gary Ross deliver an appropriate rating to viewers of all ages? In the end, Ross struck an impressive balance, thanks in no small part to the casting of Lawrence.
It's difficult to emulate a character when most of her dialogue in the book is in her own head. Thankfully, Lawrence was able to encompass the demeanor and tendencies of Katniss through her actions; the moment when she volunteered as the female tribute in place of her younger sister - practically opting for a death sentence - was when viewers found someone to root for.
The Hunger Games was a mix of different sci-fi styles, but where it really stood out was the titular annual event. Much of the movie was spent on the Katniss and the rest of the tributes are seen training ahead of the Games, providing a window into the other Districts and creating a sense of dread leading into the battle royale. And, when they arrived, the Hunger Games were as intense and harrowing as we all feared.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Out of all the Hunger Games movies, Catching Fire is easily the strongest. Francis Lawrence kept all the great aspects from the first movie, but amplified the energy and scale. The sequel was fast-paced, the stakes were higher, and cast was even more stacked, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, and Jena Malone all joining.
After Katniss and Peeta survived their first Hunger Games, they were swept right back into President Snow's ploy with the Quarter Quell. The 75th-anniversary event forced previous victors to re-enter the impending Hunger Games, and since Katniss was the only female victor from District 12, she was guaranteed to face death for the second year in a row.
The actual Hunger Games was even more breathtaking than the first movie. The arena this time around was a massive jungle with a saltwater lake in the middle. There was poisonous fog, there were killer monkeys, there were wicked lightning storms, and there were massive twists of allegiance. Catching Fire's cliffhanger ending may have been excruciating but it definitely had Hunger Games fans craving more.