Impact of ‘The Hunger Games:’ Popularity of books and films helps other dystopian YA novels get noticed

Shanai Bemis, Staff Reporter

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is not your typical young adult fiction heroine. Instead of worrying about what to say to her crush, she just tries not to say anything to get herself killed.

Instead of nightmares about forgetting to do her homework, Katniss relives the brutal slaughter of the arena.

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, now a four part movie series, defies the norm for female protagonists in the young adult genre.

Melissa Johnson, senior lecturer for English and also film and video studies, said that while there are exceptions, there is a consistent thread in young adult fiction of female protagonists whose sole identity is linked directly to her romantic relationships.

“I’m not a huge fan of young adult films or novels; they tend to veer into melodrama and are too preoccupied with young romance,” Johnson said.

Johnson described typical female leads in young adult fiction as “waifish,” “submissive,” and “fully immersed in finding purpose within romantic pursuits.”

The fact that these sorts of female leads have become so pervasive within the genre should be alarming, Johnson said. For young girls, reading fiction with female characters whom are reduced to only having value if they can obtain love can be damaging psychologically.

Meanwhile, The Hunger Games offers a complex and well-rounded female lead whose worth remains the same, regardless of whether she chooses Peeta, (Josh Hutcherson) Gale (Liam Hemsworth) or disregards romantic love entirely.

“It’s a departure for a lot of young adult narratives; it makes it more unique, more complex and more interesting,” Johnson said.

The extreme success of all three of the books, having sold more than 65 million copies according to the Scholastic website, and the films, having made over $1 billion collectively according to, has also led to a rise in the popularity for strong female leads in the genre, Johnson said.

“In a very practical sense, the films made a lot of money,” Johnson said. “There’s this idea that films with strong female leads don’t make money.”

But The Hunger Games proved that theory wrong, Johnson said, and helped continue a conversation about the money making prowess of female leads in Hollywood at large.

“That conversation didn’t begin with The Hunger Games, but it definitely became an inciting moment,” Johnson said. “It really became this sort of lightning rod.”

As a character, Johnson said Katniss has strength, both physically and emotionally, but she is also allowed to be vulnerable.

As the series progresses, audiences see her try and take a more active role in deciding her future.

“Katniss has a broad appeal, not because her character is compromised or reduced, but because she is a fully realized, complex woman,” Johnson said. “I think she’s definitely worthy of the attention audiences have given her as a feminist icon.”

Other characters within the series present feminist ideals as well.

“In order for characters like Katniss to exist, there has to be a support structure. In the narrative sense, we have supporting characters,” Johnson said. “The characters that somehow support [Katniss] or somehow challenge her, I think they allow her to maintain her status as a strong female lead.”

“I enjoyed Peeta in the first film, in particular, as an interesting representation of a male character, in the sense of he was well drawn and complex and was not the stereotypical male,” Johnson said.

Johnny Ranniger, vice president of the Motion Picture Club and senior film production major, said The Hunger Games series has also lead to a resurge in popularity for dystopian books and movies.

“If you think about Jeff Bridges, for example, he’s been trying to make The Giver for the past decade, and couldn’t get it made until Hunger Games,” Ranniger said. “It’s all over the place now.”

Ranniger also cited Divergent and The Maze Runner as other examples of films that may not have been made if not for the popularity of The Hunger Games. Jeff Harman, senior film and video studies major and member of the Motion Picture Club, agreed.

“Dystopian fiction is nothing new,” Harman said. “But [The Hunger Games] has just made it popular again.”