Ranking All 5 Films In The Hunger Games Universe

In 2012, The Hunger Games a movie adaptation of the first book in the YA trilogy by Suzanne Collins — was released to much commercial success. With three subsequent films released from 2013-2015, The Hunger Games quickly became one of the most popular YA franchises of the past decade: grossing around $3 billion worldwide, turning lead actress Jennifer Lawrence into a household name, and becoming a mainstay in pop culture. Dedicated fans of the series believed that the Hunger Games story was complete — until 2020, when Collins released a prequel to the series, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Now, 3 years later, there is yet another addition to this beloved franchise with the film adaptation of TBSS. In honor of this return to Panem, I’ve decided to take a look at the films, both old and new, and create a ranking of all 5 entries in The Hunger Games cinematic universe. Is there a film that you hope ends up on top? If so, may the odds be ever in your favor


  1. Mockingjay — Part 2 (2015)

Despite the fact that the book series was a trilogy (with Mockingjay being the final installment), the film adaptation of the final book was split into two separate movies. This was a popular choice at the time among the various book-to-movie adaptations (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Twilight: Breaking Dawn) as it keeps final installments from becoming overstuffed or rushed. But in the case of Mockingjay, it didn’t turn out to be the best strategy. Part 2 ends up feeling rushed anyway because most of the important and exciting parts of the novel happen in the second half. Monumental moments — the death of Prim (Willow Shields), Katniss shooting President Coin (Julianne Moore), and the epilogue with Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) starting a family together — are done so quickly that they feel glossed over, lessening the emotional impact that they’re intended to have. It gives an underwhelming ending to an otherwise high-stakes, exciting story. The film is still a great watch, but it could’ve been better! 


  1. Mockingjay — Part 1 (2014)

The issues with Mockingjay Part 1 go hand in hand with the issues from Part 2. This film covers the first half of the final book, in which not much action takes place. Because of this, the film often drags, lacking the action that the Hunger Games films had come to be synonymous with. Most of the film takes place in the drab, underground systems of District 13, which doesn’t compare to the exciting atmosphere of the arenas from the previous two films. Part 1 also separates its two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, for most of the film since Peeta has been taken captive by the Capitol. Their love story is one of the most captivating parts of the series, and this movie lacks that dynamic. However, any weak point in the film is made up for by the strong performances, specifically from Lawrence and Hutcherson. There are also some memorable, stand-out moments like Katniss’s “if we burn, you burn with us” speech and the reveal that Peeta has been brainwashed into seeing Katniss as an enemy — both pivotal moments in Katniss’s journey as a character. 


  1. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023)

The newest installment acts as a backstory for the original trilogy’s main antagonist, President Coriolanus Snow. In the original films, Snow is played by Donald Sutherland, but his younger counterpart is played here by Tom Blyth. It can be tough to make a good prequel, especially after the hype for the original series has significantly died down, but this film is a major success. It expands on the original material while also being able to stand on its own two feet. The way that they’re able to make you empathize with a character as detestable as President Snow is really impressive. They also pull off the feat of getting you emotionally invested in an entirely new character — Lucy Gray Baird, played powerfully by Rachel Zegler. Blyth and Zegler both give excellent performances, as do many others from the extensive cast of characters — Viola Davis, Josh Andrés Rivera, Peter Dinklage, and Jason Schwartzman, to name a few. But this prequel doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original series. The ending, specifically the moment when Snow turns on Lucy and tries to kill her, ends up feeling rushed. This was anticlimactic because the whole film builds up their love story only to rush through the conclusion to their relationship. This moment with Lucy is also the final straw that sends Snow over the edge towards evil, but his mental and emotional journey isn’t entirely clear. All of a sudden, he’s in full-villain mode, and it feels contrived, not earned. But as a whole, it’s a fantastic addition to the franchise and a fascinating backstory for a formidable antagonist. 


  1. The Hunger Games (2012)

The original film in the series remains one of its best. Countless elements of this film became notable references in pop culture — Katniss’s signature braid, “I volunteer as tribute,” the three-finger salute, and the Mockingjay symbol, to list a few. Lawrence and Hutcherson both give exceptional performances, as do some of the side characters like Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, and Amandla Stenberg as Rue. Despite her surly exterior, you immediately root for Katniss Everdeen, which is due in large part to Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss as guarded yet compassionate. The story draws you into a world that’s both vivid and bleak, contrasting the poverty-stricken life Katniss lives in District 12 with the luxuries that Capitol citizens get to enjoy. It also introduces the games, which are the government’s horrifying attempt at keeping the districts under Capitol control by selecting children from each district to fight to the death. These elements skillfully establish the injustice that will eventually lead to revolution. The film also stayed true to the original source material with very few differences, which made fans of the book very happy. Ultimately, the first film is an intense, electric introduction to such an iconic story, and it sets up the rest of the series perfectly. 


  1. Catching Fire (2013) 

Catching Fire is hands-down the most exciting, entertaining film out of the Hunger Games series. In this film, the stakes of the Hunger Games are raised as the tributes are chosen from the pool of past victors, sending Katniss and Peeta back into the arena. This premise introduced us to some new characters who quickly became fan-favorites — Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). The film also gives us more of the captivatingly villainous President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and introduces smarmy Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The arena is bigger, better, and more dangerous, taking away any sense of familiarity that the tributes (and the viewers) might have. The intensity of the games furthers the romantic relationship between Katniss and Peeta, which remains one of the emotional through lines of the entire saga.  The film also contains the first signs of the eventual uprising, with an underlying rebellion storyline that provides a great plot twist. Even after three subsequent films have been released, this film remains the best of the series by far! 


When discussing The Hunger Games series, there really isn’t any film that could be deemed bad — rather, the scale goes from good to outstanding. The series as a whole does a great job at world-building and telling a compelling story about oppression, freedom, and hope. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a worthy addition to this saga, and the fact that a franchise over a decade old is able to have such a successful new entry is a testament to the popularity and staying power of The Hunger Games. 

You can watch The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in theaters now.