The last two decades saw an uptick in blockbuster film franchises based on YA novels, with huge successes like the Harry Potter series and The Twilight Saga, to name a few. The only other series that can even come close to competing with those two, in terms of ticket sales and pop culture reach, is The Hunger Games; a four-movie series that kicked off in 2012 and has seemingly wrapped up with Mockingjay – Part 2 in 2015. Like its peers, there was immediate talk of continuing the Hunger Games movies beyond the reach of its books, though Harry Potter is the only one to accomplish that, so far, with two Fantastic Beasts movies and counting.
Needless to say, it isn't easy to put together four big-budget films that tell an epic, multi-year story like The Hunger Games has, let alone have them all out within only three years. Between the monumental job of finding the right actors for all of the iconic parts, building massive sets, setting up breathtaking action sequences, and of course, those costumes, a lot had to go into making the four films before a single frame of the first one was even shot. And that isn't taking into account all the changes that had to be made over the course of production of the four films, from unexpected crew departures, to last-minute decisions about scene direction and character choices, to one huge tragedy that befell the production while it was on its home stretch. It's a wonder how big-budget Hollywood movies even get finished most of the time. So, without further ado, here are 8 Last-Minute Changes That Hurt The Hunger Games (and 12 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Splitting Mockingjay Into Two Movies
When the decision was made to split the last Harry Potter novel into two separate movies, it started one of the more frustrating trends of modern book-to-movie adaptations. After that, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Hobbit all followed suit, though that last one took things to a whole new level.
It's obvious why movie studios copied that trend as more movies means more money, but without fail, it meant stretching out a novel too thinly, which lead to one weak film. Like the other examples, Mockingjay – Part 1 feels mostly like the origin story for Part 2, and seems to only exist to make us excited for the real final movie. A tighter-paced, single Mockingjay movie would've been a much better ending to the series.
19 Saved: Introducing Snow's Granddaughter Earlier
In the Hunger Games novels, we learn very little about Snow's private life until near the end of the entire series. In addition to the various seedy details about him that come to light, we also discover that he has a young granddaughter that is old enough to compete in the Hunger Games; a fact that the old tributes consider exploiting when deciding if the children of the capital should compete in one final game.
But in the films, it was decided that not only would Snow's granddaughter actually be a character, but that she'd show up much earlier, during the events of Catching Fire. In what became a pivotal scene, she is seen sporting Katniss' braid, which makes Snow realize the reach of Katniss' message and that she was a threat that needed to be taken seriously.
18 Hurt: Casting The Wrong Buttercup
In most movies, the casting of something like a house cat is perfectly acceptable to be relegated to an afterthought, which is obviously how the casting of Buttercup for The Hunger Games was handled. It seemed as though the casting department just grabbed a random cat at the last minute since it looked and behaved nothing like the Buttercup in the books.
As readers of the book series are aware, however, Buttercup eventually becomes much more important as the books go on, and therefore, was going to become increasingly important in the films. And everyone, including the producer and the Hunger Games author herself, realized that the old Buttercup had to go, with a new, better, and more accurate depiction of Buttercup needing to be found for Catching Fire and onward. And that's exactly what happened, thankfully.
17 Saved: Danny Elfman Dropping Out
While much of the key behind-the-camera talent for The Hunger Games didn't consist of immediately-recognizable names, it almost had a household-name superstar in its music department when the legendary Danny Elfman first signed on to do the soundtrack. But, then all-too-common, and often nebulous, scheduling conflicts reared its ugly head, and Elfman had to pull out, making room for replacement James Newton Howard.
Howard might not have the mainstream name recognition of Elfman, but he's no slouch in the cred department, scoring such huge movies as The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, and I Am Legend. His score for the Hunger Games films ended up being as brilliant as most of his other work, and it felt like a better fit than Elfman's more whimsical, typically fantasy-flavored style might have been.
16 Hurt: The Deleted Scene Scavenger Hunt Debacle
Since the advent of social media, movie studios have used a lot of trial and error in figuring out the most effective ways to use the medium as a marketing tool. And while it has resulted in some really fun publicity stunts, a lot have missed the mark completely.
In the lead up to Mockingjay – Part 1, a scavenger hunt of sorts was announced, in which fans could collectively work together to try and unlock a deleted scene ahead of the movie's release. But, people quickly got tired of the tedious nature of the game and only ended up feeling defrauded for all their hard work when the scene was seemingly leaked onto Tumblr. To make matters worse, the scene seemed to poke fun at rabid fandoms, which left fans feeling like it was aimed at them... and not in an affectionate way.
15 Saved: The Improvised Moment Between Haymitch and Effie
A lot of readers of the Hunger Games books were fond of “shipping” Effie and Haymitch, thinking they should end up together in the end. In the books at least, things didn't exactly turn out that way, but for the movie adaptation, the actors who played those characters' film versions had other ideas.
A particularly crowd-pleasing moment that occurs near the end of Mockingjay – Part 2 sees exactly that happen, with Effie and Haymitch sharing not only a tender moment, but an on-screen smooch. As it turns out, not only was that scene not in the script, but it wasn't even decided on until it was filmed; with the decision being completely improvised between Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson.
14 Hurt: Losing Catching Fire's Costume Designer
Catching Fire's title has multiple meanings, and fire itself has a metaphorical significance for several things within that movie and beyond. But, one of the ways that it is taken literally, both within the universe of the series and to viewers, is in the fiery dress that Katniss wears that causes Caesar Flickerman to proclaim her: “The girl on fire.”
It was the kind of dress that seemed impossible to make real the way it's described in the book, along with a lot of other costumes in Catching Fire. But, that was the magic of acclaimed costume designer Trish Summerville, who earned multiple award nominations for her work on the movie. Unfortunately, she chose to work on Gone Girl rather than move on to Mockingjay, and her absence was definitely felt. Her replacements did fine, but these movies needed to be better than fine.
13 Saved: X-Men Getting Delayed
It's hard to imagine a single actor having to juggle two franchises on the level of The Hunger Games and X-Men at the same time; let alone both of those serving as her “big break” somewhat simultaneously. But, most actors aren't Jennifer Lawrence, and she seemed to have pulled it off pretty well.
There is only so much Lawrence could do about schedules, however, and the filming of Days of Future Past had put a pretty tight, firm deadline on when Catching Fire had to be finished. However, when Future Past's start time got delayed by a full three months, Catching Fire's stressful December deadline was no longer necessary, and it gave the production some much-needed breathing room, as well as actually giving the cast and crew time off for the holidays.
12 Hurt: Building A Greenhouse for Nothing
There is definitely something to be said about movies these days where actual physical sets are built instead of simply using computers to fabricate locations out of thin air. The Hunger Games movies did a fair amount of that, which is apparent when you watch them.
In fact, for Mockingjay – Part 1, a gorgeous, elaborate greenhouse was built, complete with experts spending months planting and tending to its gardens. If this greenhouse doesn't ring a bell, it's because all scenes featuring it were cut from the movie for time purposes. Not only was it a waste of money and manpower, but it was another authentic location we could've enjoyed in a movie series that prides itself on them.
11 Saved: Rethinking The Casting Of Johanna Mason
In Catching Fire, we were introduced to a whole new group of fascinating characters by way of the previous tributes that were brought back to compete in the Quarter Quell. One of the standouts of the new additions was definitely Johanna Mason, played by the always-reliable Jena Malone.
As director Francis Lawrence explained, deciding on Malone involved completely rethinking what they were looking for in a Johanna, something that Malone herself needed to show them. Lawrence said that all of the previous actresses were just playing Johanna with a bad attitude, and none of them seemed right. It wasn't until Malone's audition, where she played Johanna as “angry” and “troubled,” that they realized it was how Johanna should be portrayed. “She was intimidating; she was [spooky],” Lawrence recalled.
10 Saved: Giving Foxface A Better End
By design, a lot of the participants in the various Hunger Games meet anti-climatic ends, sometimes even happening off-screen. Such was the fate of the girl nicknamed Foxface, who was found to have succumbed to the effects of ingesting poisonous berries. The easy assumption was that she didn't realize she was eating dangerous berries, and that's definitely what the book states. But, the movie decided to tweak her fate in a significant way via one seemingly innocuous, but extremely important, earlier scene.
While the tributes are training, there is a quick flash to Foxface practicing plant identities, which would suggest a deep knowledge of them. In further pondering this, many have come to the conclusion that Foxface would have likely known which plants were and weren't poisonous, and that she made the deliberate choice to exit the games on her own sad terms.
9 Hurt: Taking Out The Make-Up Scene With Katniss and Effie
Along with the ill-fated, at least in terms of the vehicle of its release, Mockingjay deleted scene that fans had to work for and felt burned by, the studio gave them another one that was perhaps meant to be something of an apology.
However, that doesn't change the fact that the scene in question, involving Effie fixing Katniss' botched make-up, should've been in the movie; a sentiment almost unanimously shared by everyone who saw it. It not only would've given Effie some more screen time, but it would've been a great way to show the bond that was built between Katniss and Effie and it would've deepened our affection for both characters.
8 Saved: Switching Directors
There is no disputing that the first installment of The Hunger Games is a good movie. There are also few people who would say that Catching Fire isn't better. And while much of that has to do with the quality differences between the books that the respective movies are based on, credit also needs to be given to director Francis Lawrence, who took over the films starting with Catching Fire.
Original Hunger Games director Gary Ross certainly did his job well, and he helped build a solid foundation that the future installments were built upon. But, there were also enough little quirks, like the casting of Buttercup, the whole Jennifer Lawrence hair issue that we'll get to later, as well as others that suggest that his departure over disagreeing with the tight deadline for Catching Fire might not have been a bad thing.
7 Saved: Switching Screenwriters
There is one more reason that Gary Ross quitting after The Hunger Games was for the best: it led to Catching Fire's original screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, also quitting out of solidarity. To be clear, we aren't saying that Beaufoy's work on the movie, which was several drafts of the script, was bad. Far from it. But, in leaving and forcing another writer to take over and finish up, Catching Fire gained a pretty special co-writer.
In needing someone to polish up the work Beaufoy had already done, and also add their own spin, the studio enlisted the talents of Michael Arndt, who has a pretty impressive resume. These include the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Toy Story 3, and the Oscar-winning screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine. The combined talents of those two writers speaks for itself in the great final product.
6 Hurt: Not Letting Jennifer Lawrence Wear A Wig
One of Katniss' most defining physical features is her long brown hair, typically tied into a braid. The problem is that Jennifer Lawrence is a natural blonde. So, how did she transform her golden locks into Katniss' brunette hair? Dye or wig? A little from column A and a little from column B.
Initially, Lawrence was worried about the damage to her hair via the constant dying required to keep it brown, so a wig expert was brought in and showed her five possible wigs to choose from, something that cost the production about $30,000. However, it was all for naught, as director Gary Ross nixed the wig idea and insisted she dye her hair. As predicted, it damaged Lawrence's hair, leaving her no choice but to trim the affected portion, requiring her to wear a wig for Mockingjay anyway.
5 Saved: Changing Enobaria Into Finnick
Finnick ended up being one of the most important characters in the latter half of the Hunger Games series, a lot of which mimicked what the character did in the books. But, the filmmakers also decided to increase his importance by having him adopt some of the character arc and actions of a completely different character.
As movie franchises like this go on, they often succumb to new character problems, resulting in audiences trying to keep track of said characters in later installments and making an overly-crowded film. In an effort to reduce this, it was decided that a lot of what Enobaria did in the book would be given to Finnick to do instead, so audiences wouldn't have to grow accustomed to another new character if it wasn't necessary to do so.
4 Saved: Cressida's Half-Shave
Though she's best-known for her television roles as Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones and Jamie Moriarty on Elementary, actor Natalie Dormer had already appeared in several high-profile movie roles before that, including rebel Cressida in the Hunger Games series.
Cressida is described in the books as having a shaved head, inferred that her entire head is nothing but stubble. However, Dormer suggested that the movie version of Cressida only have half of her head shaved in order to give the character a more striking appearance and to make her fit in with the over-the-top style of Capital residents. It was a smart choice indeed, giving Cressida a unique look that makes her stand out even among the drab scenes she typically appears in.
3 Hurt: Losing Philip Seymour Hoffman
It's something that has fallen upon far too many movies, especially within the last ten years or so: an actor loses his life during a movie's production, leaving the cast and crew to figure out how to finish without him. But, as Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't have any lookalike brothers to call on like Paul Walker did, the filmmakers had to get creative in finishing Mockingjay – Part 2 without him.
While Hoffman only had a couple of scenes left to film at the time of his passing, they were important scenes that contained crucial dialogue that needed to be delivered. So, it was decided to divvy up his final speeches between Effie and Haymitch. It wasn't anyone's fault, and they did the best they could with the tragic circumstances, but it still felt lacking not to have Plutarch deliver his powerful final speech to Katniss himself.
2 Saved: The Casting Department Learning Patience
The filmmakers had a pretty tight schedule to get The Hunger Games done, and many aspects of the process had to be finalized rather quickly, including the casting process. As a result, there are examples of actors that were offered roles, but were later dismissed when an actor didn't confirm their participation quickly enough. This happened to Alex Pettyfer, who was simply waiting to see a script before he was told that Josh Hutcherson got the part instead.
Luckily, the casting department decided that Jennifer Lawrence was worth the patience, letting her take a little while to decide, as she was reluctant over the increased fame the part was going to bring her. If anyone is worth the wait, it's J-Law.
1 Saved: Not Having Katniss and Peeta Get Too Close
Ah, the love scene, it's the moment that is often built up for an entire movie and serves as the, ahem, climax of the film. And while fans of the Hunger Games books knew that, while there wasn't explicitly such a scene on the page, it was pretty heavily inferred that it happened. So, the hope for many was that this scene would be visualized on screen when the movies were filmed.
Director Francis Lawrence was fully aware that a Katniss/Peeta love scene was high on many peoples' wish lists for the movies, and he was adamant that those people be disappointed. It was the right move, not only because of the ages of both the characters and much of the audience, but because such things are very tough to tastefully pull off, and it's usually better to just infer rather than show.
Do you know any other last-minute changes that hurt or saved The Hunger Games? Let us know in the comments below!