With the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, Lionsgate finally concluded the saga of The Girl on Fire said goodbye to one of their most profitable and beloved franchises. Or not. Variety reports that the studio is eyeing a return to Panem in the form of prequel films, which Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns revealed today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, saying that the franchise “will live on and on.”
Bearing the finances in mind, this is pretty much a no-brainer decision from a studio point of view. The franchise has grossed nearly $3 Billion internationally to date, and Mockingjay — Part 2, while tracking under the previous installments, is still holding strong, coming in first at the box office last weekend for the third week in a row.
Truth: the gut reaction to this news has a bit of an “ugh” factor. It would be a shame to see corporatized interests of a major Hollywood studio undermine the narrative and impact of a story that continued to surprise with its depth and relevance. Hunger Games was never a YA franchise that subsisted on teen hormones and action-oriented violence alone, but a mostly-good story built on a backbone of real messages and relatable, important issues under the guise of high-concept dystopian fiction. That’s largely thanks to author Suzanne Collins, and if Lionsgate wants to get these prequel right, their very first step (aside from leaving Katniss well out of the equation) should be fighting like hell to get Collins on board. Fortunately, the creative team has been on that page for a while.
Here’s what Nina Jacobson told Perri at Comic-Con when she asked the producer about the future of the franchise.
If Suzanne Collins has stories she wants to tell, I will be there in a heartbeat. I feel like we have told Katniss’ story, the girl on fire, the story we set out to tell. I don’t know what other stories there are to tell, honestly, but if Suzanne wants to tell them, I’m there.
The other reason these prequels could actually work is that Collins built a rich and interesting world full of compelling characters that could easily hold down their own story. There’s plenty of areas to be explored, from the cultural development of the distinct districts to how technological evolution shaped the arenas of the games themselves.
The most obvious idea, and probably the best one if you want to maintain the series’ rich thematics about war and propaganda, would be the story of 75 years before The Hunger Games. How did The United States become Panem, and how bad could it have possibly been for something like The Hunger Games to come into creation? There’s a lot of good material there, and indeed, director Francis Lawrence already expressed his interest in that story.
The character of Haymitch is also ripe for prequelization, and while his story — which saw him survive the second quarter quell in an act of defiance against the Capitol — is detailed much more in the books, a lot of his best material never made it to the screen. Likewise, you could pick almost any of the victors introduced in Catching Fire and tell the story of their Hunger Games survival. There are also 72 other Hunger Games that could be mined for prequel purposes.
Indeed, it sounds as if that may be the plan as Burns’ also stated today, “If we went backwards there obviously would be arenas.” The only problem with that is how easily those stories could become exploitative violence against children — the very thing the series as a whole condemns — without the overarching narrative of war, revolution and The Girl of Fire to hold it all together. However, aside from a few bad promotional campaigns (still wincing about that Subway business) and blatant cash-grabs (looking at you, Hunger Games theme park), Lionsgate has been pretty savvy about treating the story with respect instead of turning it into the lowest-common-denominator. Here’s hoping they continue that trend.