Spoiler warning: Spoilers follow for both the final Hunger Games novel and the final Hunger Games films, Mockingjay and Mockingjay — Part 2.
The Hunger Games has come to an end.
Mockingjay — Part 2, the fourth and final movie in the series, is now in theaters. It's the grand conclusion to one of the most prosperous and influential franchises in entertainment history, one that ranks right alongside Twilight and Harry Potter, as well as Star Wars and Marvel's Cinematic Universe. In terms of US box office success, Catching Fire is 12th most successful movie of all time in domestic gross, outpacing movies like Iron Man 3, The Lion King, Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Frozen, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
The franchise is one of the most ambitious, informative pieces of art about war and violence aimed at young adults. But something is different this time around.
In contrast to Harry Potter or Star Wars and the "never-quite-done" feeling of those franchises, Mockingjay — Part 2 feels more terminal. The mania of the source novels' fandom has quieted, and we aren't as concerned with some of the trilogy's timelier themes as we once were. Even Katniss Everdeen — the hero of the franchise, the "Girl on Fire" — is a bit wistful.
That isn't to say The Hunger Games isn't awesome or that author Suzanne Collins and film studio Lionsgate couldn't someday surprise us with a Finnick Odair prequel, but it truly feels like Mockingjay — Part 2 is the last chapter of the Hunger Games franchise and, more broadly, the first relic of the genre of dystopian young adult literature it pioneered.
There isn't much potential for the Hunger Games franchise to continue
When Suzanne Collins wrote Mockingjay, she effectively shut the door to any possible sequels. The book isn't as tight or as splashy as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and many of its concepts are harder to grasp. It's a less exciting read, and it's much more somber. Collins wanted to make crystal clear the damaging effects of war — a much heftier task. And it's easy for that to get lost in the first two books and their respective movies because the Hunger Games themselves are the sexiest, most mythical part of the stories.
But even though Mockingjay — Part 2 is receiving mixed reviews that are weaker than those of the first movies in the franchise, it isn't a failure. That's because it, along with Mockingjay — Part 1, stays true to Collins's vision.
With The Hunger Games, Collins didn't create the same type of world that, say, J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter. Hers is more finite and constrained than a school full of adventurers: The most interesting people in Collins's stories are the ones who participate in the Games, only 3 percent (one of 24) of them survive, and we've seen the stories of those who do survive who aren't background material (Finnick, Johanna, etc.) in the second and third books.
In Mockingjay —Part 2, the Games are finished and the revolution is on the verge of winning. Collins's ending in the novel sees Katniss realizing the brutality of war, choosing to break the cycle of conflict, and then living in a time of fragile, weak peace. She achieves this by killing Alma Coin, the leader of the revolution she once believed in; Katniss believes Coin will just drive Panem into another cycle of death, the same script as before but with a different cast (the poorer districts oppressing the citizens of the Capitol). The movie keeps that ending — playing it to the last note — effectively ending the saga then and there.
A prequel or sequel film would feel odd and forced — as odd and forced as making two movies out of one book, which Lionsgate already did.
There was really no reason other than money that the third novel in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, was cleaved into two movies. Mockingjay — Part 1 ended up feeling like a placeholder — my colleague Todd VanDerWerff called it a blockbuster that hated being a blockbuster — that saved most of the action for Part 2. Meanwhile, the unnecessarily long wait between Catching Fire (the best movie in the franchise) and the conclusion of the story in Part 2, with Part 1 just delaying the end of the series to sell a few more tickets, has dulled some of the excitement and momentum. Putting out a prequel or a sequel a couple of years from now would be giving us something no one is asking for.
The Hunger Games' story isn't as relevant to our present-day society as it used to be
The main theme of The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, concerns class warfare. All the world building and lore creation is wrapped around the idea of inequality and how it's capable and powerful enough to leach every last drop of humanity from people. The rich inhabitants of the Capitol use their wealth to establish subservience from neighboring districts, subservience so strong that the poor kill one another for sport. This continues for the next book and a half.
Collins's fascination with inequality makes perfect sense when you take note of when the books were written and published. The first novel in the trilogy came out in 2008, when the recession had a firm grip on the United States — middle-class families were hit devastatingly hard, and many people's retirement savings disintegrated. The next two books were published in 2009 and 2010, respectively — years in which the unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent (it's now down to 5 percent). And the first Hunger Games movie was released in 2012 — an election year in which inequality and wealth distribution (see: Mitt Romney's 47 percent comments) were major talking points. These factors made The Hunger Games' message more pertinent, more urgent.
Since the books debuted in 2008, the economy has stabilized and the unemployment rate has dropped. This doesn't mean American adults have entirely forgotten how bad things were, or that there aren't people who are still recovering from the financial collapse. But the argument around inequality is being framed in a different context; taxes are still an issue, but inequality is just one of many topics, ranging from immigration to issues of gender and race, that are part of the current political conversation.
The Hunger Games movies and books still offer plenty of commentary on feminism, violence, and trauma — important topics that are currently present in our national dialogue — but none of those subjects is as prickly or pronounced in the franchise's story as its treatment of class warfare.
The Hunger Games' diminishing place in John Green and Rainbow Rowell's YA world
Young adult literature is just as sprawling and diverse as books aimed at adults; there are myriad titles to read. But what often happens with YA isn't that different from how Hollywood poaches the book industry — one book gets popular, and then the Hollywood machine options it, spurring interest in its genre across the industry.
Massive interest in Twilight (which was published in 2005 and adapted into a movie in 2008) spawned a voracious Hollywood interest in books like the Mortal Instruments series (which began publishing in 2007) and the very successful Beautiful Creatures (2009). Hunger Games–esque books like The Maze Runner (2009) and Divergent (2011) were also adapted into movies and became successful in their own right.
But these days, Hollywood's YA love affair isn't with The Hunger Games. Rather, it's in a phase punctuated by John Green, the author of the massively popular YA novel turned film The Fault in Our Stars. Green's books are more realistic, more about "normal" teenage life, than Collins's dystopian novels. As Genevieve Koski wrote here at Vox:
The rise of so-called "GreenLit," meaning realistic, self-aware stories about teenagers, is often characterized as a reaction to the influx of paranormal romance and dystopian fantasy stories that popped up in the wake of Twilight and The Hunger Games' multimedia success — as if personal stories of teen alienation haven't existed since at least Catcher in the Rye (a book, incidentally, that Green also endorses).
But the biggest name in YA at the moment is Rainbow Rowell. Rowell's work is a fixture on the New York Times's YA bestseller list. Her work is introspective, real, and self-aware but treats the idea of fan fiction and monumental works like Harry Potter and Twilight with reverie. One of Rowell's most popular books is Fangirl, a coming-of-age story about a college freshman who writes fan fiction.
What's great about Rowell's work is that it combines several elements of YA and is starting to make people think about YA as the diverse genre it truly is. As Koski also wrote:
Assuming and promoting the idea that one type of fiction is the dominant mode not only disrespects readers who may continue to love something years after it's "on trend," it also disrespects the individual writers doing great work outside that mode.
The rub on The Hunger Games is that it totally benefited from the "dominant mode" idea. There was an unquenchable mania when the first movie was released, so much so that people started taking up archery to be more like Katniss Everdeen; some people actually named their babies after the character. And while YA lit may be starting to break away from a "dominant mode" model, Hollywood is still stuck in it. As a result, it's infatuated with John Green and the "Greenlit" genre, making The Hunger Games feel more like a nostalgic favorite than something we should be completely obsessed with right now.
The Hunger Games should be proud of its legacy
Katniss and everything she stands for — independence, ferocity, kicking ass — are now pop culture fixtures. This girl from District 12 and her coming-of-age story are part of the pantheon, joining legends like Harry Potter, Holden Caulfield, and Peter Parker.
This is significant. The success of The Hunger Games has changed the way movie executives think about young adult and female audiences. Its huge box office draw shattered the myopic myth that no one would want to watch an action movie with a female lead (though it still exists in some form today; just look at the delays in getting Marvel's Captain Marvel movie onto the big screen).
The Hunger Games franchise proved that girls and women should be taken seriously as consumers of culture and entertainment. The mania, the obsessions, the sprawling reach of the fandom — it was a powerful thing. Check that, it is a powerful thing.
As it comes to a close, the Hunger Games franchise isn't entering its final opening weekend at the box office with the same kind of hype it once enjoyed. But there will be no forgetting its impact.