The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012, USA) is a series adaption from a book trilogy written in 2008 by Suzanne Collins, therefore for the purpose of this report it will not be considered as an original film. The storyline was pre-existing with a large fan base that followed. The books tell the story of a dystopian future where North America is ruled by one group of people who create poverty and slavery in its surrounding districts. Every year a televised ‘Hunger Games’ is held, leaving 24 children fighting each other to death for the entertainment of the Capitol. The book of course also includes teenage romance.
When the film was released in 2012, it was an instant success as it was in the top three highest grossing US films that year coming third at 408 million dollars, with 150 million of that in it’s opening weekend (Mojo 2012). The fact the film was an adaptation influenced its immediate success. For four years before the first film was released the trilogy had already sold 23.5 million copies (Lewis 2012). Therefore the film started with a cult following with millions willing to pay to watch the release of the feature film to see their well known characters come to life. They already knew the storyline, they had heard it all before, but the fans of the book would rather watch a story they know well than watch an original film they hadn’t heard of previously. Accordingly, the pre-existing young adult audience was the key to The Hunger Games’ success.
Lionsgate Studios, who produced the film, knew of the anticipation for the book to become a motion picture and that the film would be a success based on the skyrocketing book sales. Therefore the project was given a large budget of $78 million as it was seen as less of a risk than other original projects. The producers catered for the young adult audiences by including actors that were already popular amongst teens such as actors like Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. These actors built hype around the film and added appeal for those teens who hadn’t read the book.
The young adult genre is a relatively new genre that is quickly catching fire in literary world. Young adult audiences want books filled with romance and loveable protagonists. Something full of challenges yet written in a way that isn’t too challenging, with themes that convince them to keep reading (Hanley 2012). It is often teen romance that draws young adult readers in, particularly if the love is somehow doomed and/or includes a love triangle. The Hunger Games perfectly supplies a ‘doomed romance’ to the audiences with Katniss being in love with Gale but sent away with Peeta, whom she must pretend to love to survive. This doomed love triangle can be seen in many other popular young adult fictions including Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008, USA) and The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone, 2014, USA). At a time where young adults are beginning to experience romance, this genre offers them a world to escape into and dream about.
Another element that forges success for The Hunger Games, one which is evident in many young adult fictions now, is the prevalence of a ‘dystopian future’. The audiences are in a generation that is being brought up educated on the possible futures of Earth if no action is taken place, so these dystopian futures although fiction seem very real and possible. A component that enhances relativity in these genres is the fact that the story is told from the point of view of a teenager, which is usual for traditional literature. “Young adults, with the drama and the hormones, are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be in life” (clo0701 2015). Katniss Everdeen is portrayed as a strong ambitious woman however also has insecurities and concerns such as her love interests. This allows readers to identify with her and feel as if they are also part of the story.
This leads to another obvious trait that many young adult adaptations seem to have, a female protagonist. This trait is especially apparent in The Hunger Games as although the protagonist is female she has powerful, stereotypically male traits and takes on obstacles that are always associated with men in the story. Katniss is a fighter, she kills and hunts with her bow and arrow. Peeta on the other hand is constantly nervous, his talent he brings into the arena is painting as he is used to decorating cakes. Consequently, the story challenges traditional gender roles which draws in a predominantly female audience that can truly identify with the main character and, “experience a level of freedom from oppression and freedom to play with gender not possible in the real world” (Smith 2014).
Similar to how Twilight sparked the rise of vampire related films, The Hunger Games sparked an investment in young adult fiction adaptations. Films like Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014, USA), Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Harald Zwart, 2013, USA) and The Maze Runner (Wes Ball, 2014, USA) were all adaptations that hopped on the young adult bandwagon, all with similar action/romance genres with mostly apocalyptic themes (Regalado 2012). These films again used actors popular amongst the young adult fan base like Lily Collins. The genre of ‘young adult adaptations’ has also caused production companies to jump on to gaining the rights of books, some before they are even released. A young adult fiction novel titled ‘Matched’ by Ally Condie about a 17 year old living in a tough futuristic world was bought by Disney before the book was even released, Paramount Pictures also attempted to obtain rights for the movie was beaten by Disney. However due to the rise in popularity of the genre these novels are starting to become quite, “formulaic” (Williams 2014).
A month after the first film of The Hunger Games was released the number of book sales jumped from 23.5 million to 36.5 million, which is now nearly at 70 million. The films continued to build up that fan base to promote their following sequels and the last book was even split into two films to draw out the success of the series, as many successful adaptations seem to do. This is happening with a long list of books since The Hunger Games really proved the power of an existing fan base comprised of people in a certain age bracket that generally ‘fangirl’ or ‘fanboy’ over books, films, characters and people.These fan bases are an easy market to sell to through ticket sales, DVD releases and merchandise and therefore are a lot less of a risk to production houses when compared to original content.
Without this already substantial fan base The Hunger Games film wouldn’t have been as popular as an original film. The film wouldn’t have been given such a large budget since it would be considered too much of a risk and the fact that the book had sold millions of copies wouldn’t have been used as advertising for the film itself. With a lower budget the film may have not been able to afford popular young adult actors like Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, and wouldn’t been able to create the fascinating sets and action stunts that all add up to The Hunger Games. Out of the top ten grossing films of 2012 only two films are not adaptations or sequels, which are Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012, USA) and Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012, USA). Brave is a Disney Pixar animation so therefore it is another safe film to allocate a high budget to due to the constant success of Pixar films. Ted was heavily advertised as ‘From the maker of Family Guy’ and therefore dipped into pre-existing fans of Seth Macfarlane. This doesn’t leave much funding for original ideas by people who do not have a pre-existing franchises that can be used to sell their new film.
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