Tributes, mockingjays, the reaping—WHAT? A translation of the nerd talk of Suzanne Collins’s young-adult book phenomenon.
In just 10 days, fastest for nonsequel.
Teens and tweens are still flocking to The Hunger Games, leaving this week's debuts in the dust. The film grossed $251 million domestically during the 10 days since its opening, the fastest-ever nonsequel to reach that figure. It raked in $61.1 million in its second weekend. The sequel that expected a much-better release this weekend was Wrath of the Titans, which earned $34.2 million; compared with $61.2 million for its predecessor, Clash of the Titans, two years ago. Julia Roberts’s Snow White rehash, Mirror Mirror, came in at a disappointing $19 million.
Will be shown in world's third-largest movie market.
Chen Guangcheng may be on his way out of China, but Katniss Everdeen can’t wait to get in. The heroine of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games young-adult trilogy will be making her way to screens in China after Lions Gate Entertainment got approval to show the film in the country. The movie has netted $603.5 million worldwide so far, a number that will grow, Lions Gates CEO Jon Feltheimer told reporters, as international awareness of the series grows. In recent years, China has become less restrictive about showing Western films and has become a major market for box-office sales, ranking third behind the United States and Japan in tickets sold.
Grossed $20M on Friday alone.
Viewers still have an appetite for The Hunger Games in its second weekend, as it's set to devour the debuts of Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror. The Hunger Games likely pulled in more than $20 million on Friday alone, while Wrath grossed $11 million and Mirror Mirror made less than $7 million. That means The Hunger Games is headed for another massive weekend, putting its 10-day domestic debut at more than $250 million.
The 8-to-18 set that has flocked to Suzanne Collins’s trilogy understands their relationship to media—and the rest of the world—in an entirely new way, writes Glynnis MacNicol.
Is Sandra Fluke a modern-day Katniss Everdeen?
The thought came to me after I dove into The Hunger Games last week: all three novels of Suzanne Collins’s bestselling trilogy, plus the movie adaptation of the first book.
Katniss is the books’ 16-year-old heroine. Fluke, you may recall, is the 30-year-old Georgetown law student who was banned from testifying recently (before an all-male GOP committee) in favor of mandatory health-care coverage of birth control. She testified before a Democratic committee the next day, and was rewarded for her efforts by being branded a “slut” and a “prostitute” by Rush Limbaugh.
Fluke’s calm response to Limbaugh’s continued attacks and the national furor that followed reveals a woman remarkably well prepared for the media frenzy that followed. During a recent panel discussion, she reportedly said, “One of the things that I was really concerned about when the verbal attacks began was what kind of a message is this going to send to very young women and pre-teens and young girls.” When the journalist Irin Carmon interviewed Fluke for Marie Claire, she wrote, “It was clear she was really smart and well-equipped for her sudden fame.”
Setting aside the brutal violence woven throughout The Hunger Games, it’s actually not that much of a stretch to turn the Sandra Fluke story into a Hunger Games analogy: Limbaugh is Seneca Crane, the man in charge of running the Hunger Games (who eventually loses his life over his inability to keep Katniss in line); the current GOP line-up are the various “tributes,” or contestants, that he is literally gaming to death for the amusement of thousands; and Sandra Fluke is Katniss, calmly turning everything on its head by refusing to play by the rules.
Left, a scene from ‘The Hunger Games.’ Right, Sandra Fluke. (Lionsgate ; Kris Connor / Getty Images)
Let’s consider Katniss. Hailed by The New York Times as “a brilliant, possibly historic creation … stripped of sentimentality and psychosexual ornamentation,” she is being touted as the first post-gender superhero: a character who is testing whether a female action hero can make money at the box office without taking her clothes off.
(If that was in fact the test, she passed: The Hunger Games clocked the third-highest opening of all time, while the books have sold 26 million copies and counting.)
Trails only final ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Dark Knight.’
Moviegoers the world over are sating their appetites for The Hunger Games by helping it gain the third-best domestic debut of all time with a $155 million weekend box office. It trails only the final Harry Potter movie ($169.2 million) and The Dark Knight ($158.4 million). The Hunger Games is also the biggest-grossing opening for a nonsequel. With two more books to cover, the games must go on, to the glee of producers at Lionsgate, as another blockbuster movie franchise is born.
Paging Kristen Stewart? As ‘The Hunger Games’ opens, the Oscar nominee is oddly dismissive over her new stardom, though her record shows her to be anything but ambivalent.
Stuart Wilson / Getty Images
Like Stewart, who indelibly portrays the vampire lover Bella Swan in the smash hit Twilight movie franchise, Lawrence is poised to ascend the pinnacle of marquee idol-dom for her part in a heavily hyped adaptation of a bestselling young-adult novel brimming with romance, danger, and unrequited yearning. It’s the kind of immensely lucrative, high-profile role any number of Hollywood ingénues would sell their soul or, at least, murder a cherished family pet to land.
So what’s the problem?
During the promotional maelstrom in the final lead-up to Hunger Games’ Friday release—which, if tracking estimates are right, could rake in a whopping $150 million by Monday—Lawrence has been displaying a deep ambivalence toward her new status as a global movie icon. It all harkens back to Stewart’s characteristic lip-biting, interview paranoia and “this is all bullshit” attitude toward movie stardom insofar as the intense glare of the limelight seems to have driven both actresses somewhat stir crazy.
As far back as a year ago, Lawrence lamented having to kiss her personal life goodbye. She complained to the Los Angeles Times this month about how paparazzi hiding in her bushes have left her stomach knotted with stress. On Late Show with David Letterman Monday, the 21-year-old actress remarked on how much Hunger Games fans—zealots who scream, cry, nearly faint, and show up decked out in the survivalist garb of her character Katniss Everdeen—basically creep her out. Then, in that interview, the Oscar nominee took the self-deprecation shtick beyond any reasonable expectation.
“I hate myself. Don’t go see the movie. I’m a troll,” Lawrence told Letterman, before going on to vividly detail her apprehensions about the red-carpet-to-chat-show-interview circuit: “It’s so scary. I end up getting so nervous that … I get really hyper. So then I go to interviews, and I’m like, ‘I’m a Chihuahua! Shaking and peeing.’ And then afterward, I’m like, ‘I just talked about peeing on the red carpet.’ It’s just not a normal situation.”
Um, really, Jennifer Lawrence?
Should I be worried that my 12-year-old daughter is obsessed with a tale of teens fighting to the death?
Like most people her age, my 12-year-old daughter, Mandy, has had her share of fixations and fascinations with popular culture. When she was 7, she was all about Disney’s High School Musical. She had posters of the movie’s stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens on her wall, and other movie paraphernalia strewn from one end of her room to the other. Then her attention turned to singer Taylor Swift. She couldn’t get enough: posters, books, calendars, and of course Swift’s songs playing on her iPod over and over. Then came Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson book series, which assuaged Mandy’s budding interest in Greek mythology.
But none of that prepared me for what has become her first full-blown obsession: The Hunger Games.
As most everyone knows, Suzanne Collins’s best-selling book trilogy is a phenomenon. There are reportedly more than 26 million copies in print in the U.S. alone, and advance tickets for this week’s movie debut have already sold out, surpassing sales for the first Twilight film, according to Fandango.
For the uninitiated, The Hunger Games is set in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, a shining but oppressive Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts in what was once North America. Capitol keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in The Hunger Games, an annual fight to the death on live television. Just think of reality TV at its most extreme.
The story revolves around Katniss Everdeen, a brave, street-smart 16-year-old who perfected her survival skills by stalking game in the forest near her home, in the slums of District 12. When her 12-year-old sister’s name is chosen during the District 12 Hunger Games Lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place, knowing that it could likely lead to her death. The story’s other main character is Peeta, a 16-year-old boy from District 12 who is also selected to compete in the Games. No spoiler alerts needed here, but just know that Katniss and Peeta, who know of each other but are not friends when the story begins, become an integral part of each other’s world.
My daughter, who has a homemade T-shirt with the name “Katniss” written on it, has never been this wrapped up in anything in her life. And it’s a little troubling, given the violent subject matter.
Do I wish that our youth culture didn’t hold such a fascination with violence, death, vampires, zombies and other dark images and themes? Yes.
Tributes, mockingjays, the reaping—WHAT? Geoff Berkshire translates the nerd talk of Suzanne Collins’s young-adult book phenomenon so you can see the movie with confidence.
Once unfairly labeled as “the new Twilight,” The Hunger Games has blossomed from young-adult fiction sensation to likely Hollywood blockbuster on its own terms. Literally. The absorbingly detailed world of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian sci-fi trilogy may not be as intimidatingly dense as the realms of J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, but it’s still packed with creative terminology and complex hierarchies.
Elizabeth Banks, left, and Jennifer Lawrence star in The Hunger Games (Murray Close / Lionsgate )
For those unfamiliar with the basics, The Hunger Games takes place in a future version of North America where an oppressive government forces teens to fight to the death in an annual televised event. The story’s heroine is Katniss Everdeen (played in the film by Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl from a poverty-stricken coal-mining district who just happens to be an exceptional hunter. When her 12-year-old sister, Prim, is selected to compete in the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go instead. The decision pits her against a casual acquaintance, Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), whose own feelings for Katniss aren’t so casual.
Part sci-fi adventure, part star-crossed romance, part biting commentary on a contemporary U.S. culture embroiled in war but obsessed with reality TV, The Hunger Games is smart and relatable enough to infatuate teens and sophisticated enough for adults to enjoy guilt-free.
But if you’re still too embarrassed to pick up a copy, or just need a quick refresher on what’s what in the world of tributes and game makers, here’s a guide to the novel’s—and now the film’s—key terms, from Panem to Mockingjay.
Panem: The country that emerged from “the ashes of a place once called North America.” It’s divided into 12 districts overseen by a totalitarian government. The age of Panem is unclear, but it has existed in its current state for about 75 years. What exactly happened to North America is also unclear, although a combination of disasters, droughts, storms, fires, and rising sea levels radically altered the landscape and spurred a brutal war for resources. The name Panem is derived from the Latin phrase “Panem et Circenses” (“Bread and Circuses”), used to describe a focus on superficial matters in politics and public life.
The Capitol: The center of power, wealth, and luxury in Panem. The Capitol sits in the Rocky Mountains, which serve as a natural barrier to and from its surrounding districts. It’s a candy-colored city filled with high-rise buildings and excessive materialism. Food appears at the touch of a button. Plastic surgery is common, as is dyeing one’s skin or hair bold, unusual colors. There is little to no communication between the Capitol and the districts, as the fortunate Capitol residents live a pampered and sheltered existence. The Capitol is ruled by President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland).
Districts: The 12 districts that make up the majority of Panem provide the Capitol with all of its material goods. Each district exists in relative isolation and is dedicated to a single industry, which in turn determines the citizens’ relative wealth and comfort level. As a general rule, the lower the district number the better off its citizens. Katniss lives in District 12–the poorest and most dangerous district, located in the Appalachian region and responsible for coal mining. Prior to the establishment of the Hunger Games, there were 13 districts, but when the districts rebelled against the Capitol, District 13 was destroyed.
After Disney gave her the pink slip, she got her revenge. Now she sits on a $1 billion franchise.
She isn’t the fast-talking, expletive-spewing executive one might expect, given her career. Nina Jacobson is the powerhouse producer behind one of this year’s most anticipated films, The Hunger Games, but she chafes at sounding falsely modest when describing how lucky she is to work in films. When recounting how she was unceremoniously fired from her post as head of Disney’s $1 billion–plus movie studio, she pauses before boiling down the ill-timed episode to the G-rated explanation: “Stuff happens.”
Illustration by Riccardo Vecchio
The Disney dismissal has been a defining parenthetical in her career since July 2006, when the news was famously delivered over the phone while she awaited the birth of her third child. Though her eight years as studio head were gilded by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and The Sixth Sense, among other hits, Disney fell from the top domestic studio by ticket sales in 2003 to the fifth in 2005. She was a casualty of the company’s attempt to regain share. “If you’re a bullfighter, you expect to get gored periodically,” says Jacobson. “You just hope that you can get up and do it again. I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
Since starting over as a producer in 2007 with her own company, Color Force, she’s notched a few modest successes, though Hunger Games will be her first blockbuster-caliber release. Jacobson saw potential in the series before it was a bestseller, when most studio heads deemed the story too violent for a bankable franchise. When she convinced author Suzanne Collins that she was the best producer to bring Hunger Games to the screen, the young-adult series had sold fewer than 200,000 copies. The trilogy centers on a teenage girl in a dystopian America who must engage in a deadly reality show for the entertainment of a wealthy class. Its ambitious themes—the perils of war, preoccupation with wealth and fame, and our growing fascination with voyeurism—have spurred a cultural fanaticism comparable to that for Twilight, leading the books to sell nearly 24 million copies. Now the movie, which studio Lionsgate made for a reported $78 million after tax credits, is expected to gross as much as $100 million during its March 23 opening weekend. Advance ticket sales have already set a new record, and the trailer was viewed more than 8 million times the day after its release.
Though the transition from buyer to seller is familiar—executives from Fox, Warner Brothers, and Universal did it before she did, and those from News Corp. and New Line have done it since—it wasn’t an easy change for Jacobson, who worked on development and production from the studio side for nearly two decades. But she has demonstrated a unique prescience, assuming that the risk of Hunger Games becomes reward. One of her first moves as a producer was to secure the film rights to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a mildly successful children’s-book series. By the time Wimpy Kid arrived in theaters in 2010, the books had exploded into a phenomenon, selling 30 million copies. The two films in the series have earned $117 million domestically, and a third iteration is slated for release this August. For Color Force, the success of Wimpy Kid brought stability. But Jacobson—who recently added fellow Wimpy Kid producer Brad Simpson as a second Color Force partner, bringing the company’s head count to five—clearly wants to bet big.
If Hunger Games lives up to the hype, it won’t be a comeback for Jacobson as much as it will be proof that her instincts were never lost. It would also mean greater freedom to choose projects and more of Hollywood’s perennial currency—power. She recognizes that moviemaking is a business, and an unnecessary one. But, says Jacobson with her trademark sensitivity, “all you really want is the chance to keep going.”
After an arduous wait for the sci-fi trilogy’s many fans, the film adaptation of the first ‘Hunger Games’ book has hit theaters, on track for a record weekend. See full coverage of the movie everyone’s talking about.
Who’s a better role model for women: Katniss Everdeen or Bella Swan? And does one smash-hit movie trump the other? Watch Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Meghan McCain, John Avlon and Ramin Setoodeh faceoff over which film has the better message.
Should I be worried that my 12-year-old daughter is obsessed with a tale of teens fighting to the death?
Disney gave her the pink slip, but this producer got her revenge. Now she sits on a $1 billion franchise.