he Hunger Games has remained a surprisingly powerful force in modern pop culture despite the fact that until just recently, there hadn’t been a new movie in the franchise in almost a decade. Thanks to a few great slogans (“I volunteer as tribute,” “May the odds be ever in your favor,” etc.) and a compelling premise, the series still lives on in the imaginations of many people who loved the books and movies when they were initially a phenomenon.
With a new entry, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, now in theaters, the franchise is now back in the zeitgeist. In addition, a recent surge in viewing on streaming platforms like Netflix and now Peacock makes this an ideal time to look back at The Hunger Games and remember the indelible characters that made this franchise so fascinating and moving.
Every franchise needs a tech expert, but not every tech expert has the kinds of quirks that make Beetee so instantly lovable. Beetee’s plan is crucial to the end of Catching Fire, and it’s in that book that we best understand how he thinks and why he’s so opposed to the Capitol.
Jeffrey Wright’s performance as Beetee only heightens many of the compelling things about Beetee in the books, turning him into someone who is both deeply awkward and a genius.
So much of Katniss’s initial success can be chalked up to Cinna, a brilliant stylist who knows how to sell both Katniss and Peeta to the citizens of the Capitol. Cinna’s acts of defiance and his quiet alliance with the rebels ultimately get him killed, but it’s clear that it’s a sacrifice he’s more than willing to make.
Even before Haymitch, Cinna believed in Katniss, and it was Cinna’s belief in her that ultimately drove her to become the symbol of the rebellion that she ultimately was.
Both Katniss’ and the viewers first palpable sense of just how cruel the Hunger Games are comes when Rue dies. Katniss, who befriends her in the arena, is both mournful and furious that such an innocent, small, beautiful person has died for the entertainment of a bunch of people she’s never met.
Rue’s innocence is so key to her appeal as a character, and her death is also one of our first tastes of exactly how rebellious Katniss can be. She decorates Rue’s grave, forcing everyone watching to remember that this child who has died is real and deserves to be honored.
The head gamemaker who changes teams, Plutarch Heavensbee believes in the rebellion and understands how to sell it to the masses. Plutarch may not have made this list if it weren’t for the speech he delivers near the end of Mockingjay, in which he acknowledges that all they’ve been fighting for may eventually be in vain.
It’s a reminder that revolutions are important, even if their impacts don’t last forever. It’s also a signal that Plutarch, as smart as he is, is distanced from the kinds of traumas that many of the other characters in this story experience.
Joanna is angry, and that’s what makes her so memorable. She exists as a version of Katniss who has already lost everything. Everyone she cared about is dead, and so all she can do is scream at the world and then try to numb the pain.
Jena Malone delivers an incredible performance in this role, especially in Catching Fire. She also has an iconic scene in which she completely strips in an elevator with Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch. It’s the best character introduction of the entire series, and an obvious signal that Joanna is not like the rest of the victors Katniss and Peeta will meet.
Katniss and Peeta’s mentor is a jaded, cynical man who finds himself thawed by his twin tributes. Of all the characters that Katniss meets over the course of her journey, Haymitch is the one she is most like. He’s used to drinking himself into a stupor as his tributes die every year at the games, and Peeta and Katniss spend much of their initial time with him trying to prove that they’re different.
Haymitch may not always have the words to express it, but he cares deeply about both Katniss and Peeta, and becomes close to a father figure for both of them over the course of this story.
Like so many of the characters we meet in this series, Finnick presents as one thing and is actually something else entirely. He seems like a charming, sleazy pretty boy who has his way with every woman he meets, when he’s actually a caring, devoted partner who is also a puppet of his country.
Finnick’s journey doesn’t end well, but he’s one of the most instantly charming characters we meet in this franchise, and he turns out to be an intensely loyal friend. There’s a reason fans have always been in love with him.
The brilliance of Peeta Mellark is that, like Katniss, he goes through severe trauma. He is brainwashed, forced to fight through two Hunger Games, and holds only a fragile grasp on his own humanity as a result. Even so, Peeta is good. He’s kind and warm and decent, and he’s a reminder that people are possible of being all of those things.
Peeta is not a fighter or a survivor, at least not the way that most of the other victors are. Instead, he’s something better. He’s a reminder of all the things that you survive for. He’s a reminder that the world can be good.
A morally repugnant man who nevertheless believed he was good, Coriolanus Snow is fascinating in part because he seems to have genuine respect for Katniss. He is aware of the position he’s in, and of the inhumanity of the Hunger Games, but he believes that all of this is worth it for the order that it provides.
He has a code, and although it is not one that the average person would share, it helps us to understand exactly what lurks inside his sinister heart.
It’s often the case that the main character of a story like this is not the most interesting one, but not here. Katniss Everdeen is the beating heart of this series. She’s a morally gray, distrustful figure who becomes a symbol of rebellion even though she’s not sure she believes in it herself. She’s deeply traumatized by her experiences in the Hunger Games, and often acts out of love or spite instead of virtue.
Thanks to a stellar performance from Jennifer Lawrence, many of Katniss’s messiest qualities made it to the big screen, and created an action hero worth celebrating not because she’s noble, but because she’s complicated.
The first four Hunger Games movies are streaming on Peacock. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is now in theaters.
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