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The release of the film “The Hunger Games” on March 23 was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. Fans of the book trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, which has sold over 23 million copies to date, arrived in theatres around the globe to see their favorite characters portrayed on the silver screen. Like the books, the film received high marks from critics, and raked in $20 million in midnight release showings alone.
While the success of “The Hunger Games” film is great news for Lions Gate Entertainment, the company that produced it, the film’s popularity is far from surprising. In fact, “The Hunger Games” is just following in the footsteps of a long line of dystopian genre films that were adapted from a wildly successful book series.
We saw it with the success of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, released from 2001-2003 and the “Harry Potter” series from 2001-2012, both of which deal with a main character who must rise above a corrupted world to accomplish a seemingly unattainable goal. Frodo Baggins must destroy the Ring while the armies of Mordor threaten the whole world, while Harry Potter must kill a man who leads an army of dark wizards and who has cheated death many times over.
We see roughly the same situation with Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who is the main character in “The Hunger Games” who must overcome the tyranny of The Capital while fighting for her life in an arena designed to promote death as a sport.
The silver screen is not the only place where we see the dystopian theme in popular culture. On television, the massive popularity of “The Walking Dead,” a show based around a group of survivors who try to fend off a zombie apocalypse while trying to find other survivors, has captivated the hearts and minds of millions and has become a national phenomenon.
In the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” the continent of Westeros is caught up in a massive civil war between House Stark and House Lannister after the king is killed, which leads to unprecedented despair and chaos in the country.
Both of these series were adapted from print materials; “The Walking Dead” was a famous comic series, while “Game of Thrones” is the first of a series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin.
Put plain and simple, dystopian themes are popular in the new millennium. We are a culture obsessed with exploring the question What’s the worst that could happen? even if the answer to that question is a zombie apocalypse or forcibly sending teenagers to fight to the death in an arena for sport. America loves an underdog, no matter if it’s the New York Giants defeating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, or Harry Potter finally killing Voldemort on the front steps of Hogwarts Castle.
Popularity comes and goes, though. Just like hardcore rap music and boy bands in the late 1990s or America’s obsession with vampires over the past few years, America is a nation that is always in search of the next great fad, the next cool trend or the next great idea. Nothing is trendy forever, and we will probably look back one day and wonder how could a boy wizard named Harry Potter sell 400 million book copies and spawn a film series that is almost equally as successful?