I love The Hunger Games. I am one of many who was quickly swept away into the world of Panem thanks to the courage and charisma of heroine Katniss Everdeen and her many determined friends and cohorts.
I love Prim like a sister and secretly want to be a little more like Johanna Mason. I would not dare declare Team Peeta or Team Gale because that just defeats the purpose of the books, now doesn’t it?
So, fellow Hunger Games fans, please forgive me for making yet another comparison between Suzanne Collins’ brilliantly realized dystopic novels and Stephanie Meyer’s often-nauseating vampire romance novels.
This comparison is about a lot more than love triangles and female heroines, though. This comparison, rather, aims to understand humanity – or, at least, popular American culture – a little better by looking at the two major franchises.
Twilight has been a major blockbuster hit for author Meyer, for publisher Little, Brown and Co. and for producer/distributor Summit Entertainment. The books have sold more than 100 million copies around the world, while the first Twilight film opened to $69.6 million domestically.
The second, third and fourth films in the series opened domestically to $143 million, $64.8 million and $138 million, respectively.
These films rank as some of the top grossing films of all time and, with one more film to be released this year, the Twilight saga remains a cultural phenomenon around the world.
The Hunger Games
Perhaps most significantly, these comparisons were proven wrong when The Hunger Games earned the third-biggest domestic opening weekend of all time with $152.2 million. Standing only behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight, this number represents the biggest-ever opening weekend for a non-sequel film. And it blew Twilight out of the water.
I’d hate to sit here and preach that box office numbers are the only indicators of success and cultural resonance in contemporary society. In fact, I would say that such close focus on box office numbers is not particularly healthy for the film industry, particularly the success of small, independent films that can’t – and shouldn’t – compete with studio tent poles like The Hunger Games and Twilight.
The reason to talk about these box office numbers, though, is because they say something significant about The Hunger Games franchise, particularly when compared to the Twilight saga.
The Twilight films have never been able to crack the kind of number The Hunger Games hit because there are only so many tween girls and vampire- or werewolf-loving moms in the world. This is not meant to insult Twilight fans; it is just meant to point out the fundamental demographic of the Twilight fan base.
The Hunger Games, on the other hand, despite having no pre-existing film franchise to sell itself on, brought huge swaths of the population to movie theatres this weekend. While teenage girls still make up a large percentage of the Hunger Games fan base, there are no shortage of teen boys or adult men and women tied to the story of Katniss and company.
And while there is overlap between Twilight and Hunger Games fans, there is a distinctly different attitude dividing the two. At a midnight showing of The Hunger Games in Indiana, for example, one theatre erupted in boos and collective eye-rolling during a trailer for the final installment of Twilight. And where a shirtless Jacob or a romantic kiss between Edward and Bella would draw gasps and cheers from a Twilight audience, the only moments in The Hunger Games that did so involved Katniss, a bow and arrow or a display of stoic bravery and heartfelt compassion.
The messages and themes of the two series are fundamentally different, and while Twilight in no way aims to comment on the host of serious issues that The Hunger Games does, the success of the latter has a lot to say about what audiences really want out of the movies these days.
While plenty of people want to lose themselves in the story of a twisted romance for two hours, even more want to follow the plight of a heroic young lady as she fights against tyranny, corporate greed and other problems plaguing our very own society, though to an admittedly lesser extent. Katniss is a role model to young girls but doesn’t turn away young boys looking for some of the same, either. And even adults, rather than just reveling in a sense of youthful energy and passion experienced vicariously through the characters on screen, can see something of themselves, or something of hope, or something of prescience in the very powerful stories of the Hunger Games series.
Sure, The Hunger Games is just another example of big-budget spectacle and action-packed storytelling, truly awesome on the big screen and in every way escapist entertainment.
For most, though, the deeper meanings of the story are hard to miss even when confronted with brightly-colored costumes and CGI-constructed cities.
Hardcore film fans, cinephiles and various other cultural scholars and critics often bemoan the deadening of the movies, which are increasingly concerned only with big computer-generated
effects, blowing things up and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.
The Hunger Games, however, for every bit of that Hollywood blockbuster it is, is so much more. And the massive turnout to see it within the first three days of its release indicate that maybe the movie-going audience isn’t quite as dead and uninterested as it has often been painted to be.
The Hunger Games hasn’t sparked widespread popularity just because some kids kill each other in a book and on a screen. The film’s “A” Cinemascore ranking also isn’t just the product of some boob-tubed zombie kids raving about blood and horrifying mutts.
Different audiences go to The Hunger Games for different reasons, taking different themes from the story. But none of them go for their eyeballs to be awed or their minds to be numbed.
Audiences go to The Hunger Games (in book and movie form) to be swept away into another world and to confront very real problems in their very heightened forms. While box office success stories have been made of plot-less, pointless films, The Hunger Games may be the strongest example yet that movie audiences really want more and are ready for more. If only the studios would give it to them.
The Hunger Games isn’t perfect, but it never shies away from the brutality, the devastation and the important issues of its source novel. It presents the world of Panem almost as bleakly as necessary, and in doing so – and in being successful, critically and financially, for doing so – The Hunger Games seems to be as good an indicator as any that audiences are ready to tackle something more than battling robots and exploding cars when they go to the movie theatre.
Remember, just because certain books are aimed towards teenage girls doesn’t make them bad, says Jordan Gamble.
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