Ever since the Hunger Games franchise left theaters back in 2015, Lionsgate Studios has been trying to find a replacement for what was, along with the Twilight Saga, their largest film property: their top three highest-grossing movies are still The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and The Hunger Games. Sadly, the studio has not had much luck doing that: stand-alone films such as Robin Hood (remember that? No?) flopped, and the Divergent series fizzled out. John Wick has recently begun to fill the role that Hunger Games once held, thanks to the sudden frenzy of interest surrounding star Keanu Reeves, but now it looks like Lionsgate doesn’t need to move on from its young-adult dystopian thriller roots at all.
That’s right: today, accompanying news that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins will be releasing a prequel to her best-selling book series in May 2020, Lionsgate Studios wasted no time announcing that they are communicating with Collins about “the movie”. Apparently there’s not even any doubt or hesitation about this project – there will be a movie prequel to The Hunger Games, whether you want it or not.
Don’t expect Jennifer Lawrence to be reprising the role of Katniss, however, and don’t expect many (or possibly any) familiar faces. The prequel novel will be set 64 years before the first book in the original trilogy, and will probably explore the origins or early days of the Games themselves, in a time when the world of Panem was still recovering from the scars of war; what Collins calls “the Dark Days”. Setting it so long ago in her world’s past will presumably give the prequel some freedom to breathe: traditionally, with prequels, they’re set in the time period directly before their successors, so that they can include hundreds of unnecessary cameos from, for instance, the parents of our original protagonists, or the backstories of recognizable antagonists. This is almost always a bad idea: rather than selling us on the premise of the novel that we’re currently reading, these types of prequels instead get bogged down while trying to remind us that we’re actually not getting the full story – to understand that, you’d have to stop by your local Barnes & Noble and pick up an expensive hardcover copy of the book you should be reading.
This, of course, extends to movies as well: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy fell into this trap, by wasting time on tie-ins and unsubtle nods to his original Lord of the Rings trilogy (for instance, making The Hobbit into a trilogy to begin with, and then throwing in Legolas, and trying to make the characters at his disposal into carbon-copies of existing ones from Lord of the Rings).
Now, simply setting it 64 years in the past doesn’t necessarily mean the Hunger Games prequel won’t do the same thing: The Hobbit was set 60 years before the Lord of the Rings (though, that particular story also deals with extremely long-lived and in some cases immortal characters, so I’ll let that slide). J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts prequels to the modern world of Harry Potter, however, while great movies (yeah, I said it), are set in the 1920s and still manage to include an inordinate amount of inexplicable cameos from characters who really shouldn’t be alive yet in her timeline, most notably Professor McGonagall. Let’s not even get started on that, though.
Anyway, we will be getting both a novel and a movie set long before Hunger Games, and presumably Lionsgate will try to turn this into a huge franchise, just as it was back in 2013, when Catching Fire grossed 865 million dollars worldwide and became the 18th highest-grossing movie of all time in North America. Will they be able to do it? More importantly, will they be able to do it and also make a good movie in the process? They have it in them: all four of the movies in the franchise received Fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with the first two even reaching Certified Fresh status. Setting the prequel long before the events of the original trilogy also helps, since we can assume (for now) that it will have its own distinct atmosphere and story, rather than leaning too heavily on the books that came before.
Let the Games begin.