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Why the odds were in The Hunger Games' favour: a retrospective on the bestselling series, 10 years later


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10 years ago yesterday, the first book in Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy, The Hunger Games, was released. Now, the series has become a phenomenon, with the books selling millions of copies and having a four film hit franchise.

In the years following, many other teen dystopias appeared on the scene hoping to have the same success, but none reached quite the same heights. In honour of the book's milestone anniversary, TNS explores what exactly put it above the rest.

Image courtesy of Kendra Miller on Flickr

The Hunger Games emerged on the scene at the exact right time: in 2008, the markets were crashing, world economies were facing economic disaster and teenagers were facing an uncertain future, given the huge job losses and unemployment that came with the crash.

In that context, it seems inevitable that a book about a teenager rising up from the most desperate of circumstances would strike a chord with audiences. It also appeared at just the right time market wise, because at that point Harry Potter had finished, as had Twilight - it was time for a new YA hit, and The Hunger Games was right there to fill the void.

The books, espeically the first one, were compulsively easy to read; not just for avid readers, they also captured the attention of non-readers as well. Those who picked it up were able to follow Katniss' journey very intimately, as we saw all the events and horrors happening from her eyes, allowing you to feel involved in the story, and as a protagonist, Katniss appealed to both male and female readers.

The exciting plot, plus the political commentary, relatable and complex characters and a richly developed world, all made for a winning formula for The Hunger Games books. 

The films therefore already had a built in fanbase which they were able to capatilize on by sticking very closely to the source material and by hiring excellent actors for the lead roles, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Combined with the general entertainment value of the story, the films also had a broader appeal to those who had not read the hit series. 

So how come no other YA dystopian franchise has been able to recreate the same success? Divergent, The Maze Runner and the more recent The Darkest Minds were all successful books - much like The Hunger Games, they hit the New York Times Bestseller list, had an avid fanbase of readers and had very similar themes to Suzanne Collins' bestsellers. But none have become the same cultural phenomenon. Why?

Well, obviously, the timing of the release of The Hunger Games (both books and films) had an impact, but I think the key to The Hunger Games' success is three-fold: The broad appeal of the books to both readers and non-readers, the films sticking close to the source material and the casting of The Hunger Games was far better than the other films. 

Divergent could have had a chance at making it as big as The Hunger Games, but the quality substantially dropped in the second and third books and this was reflected in the films. Tris as a protagonist was not as compelling as Katniss, and Shailene Woodley as an actress does not have the same charisma as Jennifer Lawrence. The films diverged incredibly from the books, unlike The Hunger Games films, which meant that avid fans were not pleased, and the story wasn't compelling enough to attract in those who weren't already fans of the books. 

The Maze Runner actually came close to the success of The Hunger Games, being the fifth highest earning YA franchise after Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent (surprisingly) but, much like Divergent, the quality declined after the first film and they didn't stick close enough to the plot of the books to please fans. The film series was also slightly hampered by Dylan O'Brien's collarbone injury during filming, which meant a lengthy hiatus in shooting and, by the release of the third film, the buzz around the series had somewhat died down. 

The Darkest Minds' failure can be chalked up to several things: the excitement for dystopian YA adaptations has died down in recent years, so there was not the same hype as for The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner or Divergent, and the adaptation of the novel's story just wasn't up to par as with other YA adaptations.

The Hunger Games really had the perfect storm: it was a wildly successful book series to begin with, having a broad appeal for both readers and non-readers alike, and the films were faithful to the books allowing for larger success. It appeared at a time when there was a gap in the market, both for the books and the films, whereas The Maze Runner, Divergent and The Darkest Minds had to follow up from its success.

Katniss as a protagonist was a more well-rounded and complex character than either Tris or Thomas and, in terms of casting, The Hunger Games managed to knock it out of the park with all their characters - the same could not be said for Divergent or The Maze Runner franchises.

It would have been a tall order for any of the franchises coming afterwards to reach the lofty heights that The Hunger Games set; after all, the peace symbol from the film was used for political protests in Thailand in 2014 and inspired a generation of teenagers. That's a pretty hard legacy to beat. 

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