Eight years after Katniss Everdeen’s big screen story came to an end, the Hunger Games franchise is set to return to theaters. Author Suzanne Collins returned to the world of Panem in 2020 with a book called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to her bestselling Hunger Games trilogy that follows a young Coriolanus Snow, who fans know as the villain of the original story. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hits theaters this year, and the recently released trailer has fans talking quite a bit about the franchise once again.
Between the new movie coming out and a recent streaming stint on Netflix, The Hunger Games is a topic of conversation once again, so it’s as good a time as any to see how the films stack up against one another.
Which Hunger Games movies are the best of the series? How well have they aged in the decade since the franchise began? That’s what I sat down to decide with a rewatch of the entire saga this week.
Below, you’ll find a ranking of the four Hunger Games movies, in order from worst to best (though “worst is a harsh word, none of them are really bad). Take a look, and drop your rankings in the comments!
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
A lot of book-to-movie adaptation franchises decided to split the final book into two separate films. Most of the time, however, that isn’t at all necessary. The Hunger Games is one of those situations.
Mockingjay isn’t a terribly long book. Sure, a lot happens, but it happens at breakneck speed. That’s what makes the book so effective. Splitting the story into two movies makes Mockingjay feel a lot more drawn out, and a lot less interesting.
Part 1 spends a lot of time in District 13, with the characters hanging out in an underground bunker until it’s time for Katniss to shoot a propaganda promo. For more than two hours, hardly anything happens. The important events here could’ve easily been trimmed down to 30-40 minutes and added to everything that takes place in Part 2.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
Mockingjay – Part 2 is a big step up from Part 1, but it isn’t quite as good as the first two films in the franchise. Even though this final installment is packed wall-to-wall with action, it’s still exhausting by the time all is said and done.
Again, so much of Mockingjay‘s faults boil down to the runtime. Nearly five hours are spent with the third chapter of this Katniss Everdeen saga, which is by far the darkest chapter of her entire story. Collins’ novel is just as dark as the films (if not darker), but it moves so efficiently that it doesn’t wear you out. The films could’ve used that same efficiency.
That said, there’s still a lot to love about the final Hunger Games movie. It’s bleak and sometimes sad, but all of that darkness has a point. The films never shy away from what Collins was trying to say with that wallop of an ending, they just take a lot longer to get to the point.
2. The Hunger Games (2012)
Coming on the heels of both Harry Potter and Twilight, The Hunger Games had its work cut out for it. Yes, it’s a very different story than those others, but the big budget YA franchises could’ve faced some real fatigue. The Hunger Games arrived and became a force to be reckoned with, setting itself apart from its predecessors and doing justice to Collins’ bestselling books. It also succeeded in making Jennifer Lawrence a household name almost overnight.
The first Hunger Games movie is the simplest of the bunch, focusing solely on Katniss and Peeta’s war in the actual games, before things shifted to the actual war taking place in the real world.
Seeing the Arena brought to life in such a tactile and exciting way set the stage for this entire franchise to succeed. So much of what Collins wrote translates well to the screen adaptation, though the movie trims a lot off of the book it’s adapting. It’s the polar opposite of the issues that plague the Mockingjay films.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
None of the other Hunger Games films can quite stack up to Catching Fire. No disrespect to Gary Ross, but Francis Lawrence makes it clear very early on that he’s the right filmmaker for the franchise. There’s a reason he’s helmed every Hunger Games movie since 2013 (including the upcoming Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes).
The action in Catching Fire pops off the screen in a way it never does in the first Hunger Games. Everything is clearer, more precise, and immensely more entertaining. Even simple sequences of life in District 12 are made more enticing by Lawrence’s eye.
Catching Fire is also the best of Collins’ book trilogy, so the film had a lot of great material to work with. Some of the best characters are introduced in Catching Fire, and the ingenuity of Plutarch’s clock arena is one of the most impressive book-to-screen adaptations I can remember. The film nails all of the toughest elements of the text and has a lot of fun while doing it.
It’s impossible to talk about Catching Fire without at least giving a shout-out to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who brings a certain gravitas to the franchise with Plutarch Heavensbee that no one else could. His calm, concise line deliveries make every moment feel powerful and important.