In the dystopian future, the nation of Panem in North America is divided into 12 districts, ruled from the distant capital. Each district is forced to pick two tributes, one boy and one girl between 12 and 18, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. The reward is food for the district.
From District 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to replace her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) in the 74th Games. She and friend Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutherson) are taken to the capital by chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), the only winner yet from District 12. The contestants are advised to gain sponsors who can provide life-saving gifts. They meet volunteers from wealthy districts 1 and 2—Marvel (Jack Quaid), Glimmer (Leven Rambin), Cato (Alexander Ludvig)), and Clove (Isabelle Fohrman), who have trained all their young lives. In an interview, Peeta declares his love for Katniss.
As the game begins, Katniss grabs supplies from the Cornucopia as half the tributes die. Only 11 survive the first day. Katniss avoids the others but the head gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) starts a forest fire that drives her into them. Peeta seems to be allied with the so-called Careers from the rich districts. Katniss spends the night in a tree and in the morning finds District 11’s young contestant Rue (Amandia Stenberg), who points out a wasps’ nest. With her knife, Katniss drops the nest on the sleeping Careers below, killing Glimmer. Rue and Katniss become allies. Katniss destroys the Careers’ stockpile of supplies. Marvel kills Rue with a spear and Katniss kills him. She sings to Rue until she dies and covers her body with flowers, causing riots in District 11. President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) worries.
Haymitch convinces Seneca Crane to allow two winners if they are from the same district. Katniss finds Peeta wounded and leaves to find medicine for him but is captured by Clove. Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi) from District 11 kills Clove and spares Katniss in Rue’s honor. Peeta is cured by the medicine. A cannon signals a death and Katniss races to Peeta, but the death was that of District 5’s Foxface (Jacqueline Emerson), who ate the poisonous Nightlock Berries Peeta was collecting.
Genetically modified beasts are released and kill Thresh and force the last three survivors—Katniss, Peeta, and Cato onto the roof of the Cornucopia. Cato puts Peeta in a headlock and uses him as a human shield. Peeta tells Katniss to shoot Cato’s hand, which frees Peeta, and Cato is thrown to the beasts. Katniss shoots him to save him from a worse death. Crane revokes the rule about allowing two winners. Peeta asks Katniss to kill him, but she suggests they eat the poisonous berries together and Crane changes his mind. Afterward, Haymitch warns Katniss that her defiance has made her enemies. Snow contemplates his next move.
The film was directed by Gary Ross, based on Suzanne Collins’s 2008 novel, produced by Nina Jacobson and John Killik. The author collaborated with screenwriters Gary Ross and Billy Ray. It was a huge box-office success and received positive reviews. There were three sequels. It won a Grammy, and Taylor Swift was nominated by the Golden Globes for best original song. Jennifer Lawrence was nominated and won several awards for best actress. The role of Seneca Crane was expanded for the film to provide political background, but the film was basically very faithful to the novel. Many important actresses tried out for Katniss, but Jennifer Lawrence blew away the author. Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Donald Sutherland were wonderful. Steven Soderburgh was second unit director.
There was a swear jar on the set, half of which was contributed by Jennifer Lawrence. She accidentally kicked Josh Hutcherson in the head and knocked him out. He put on 15 pounds of muscle for the role. Both of them are from Kentucky, where District 12 is supposed to be. Panem is short for Panem et Circensis or Bread and Circuses. Katniss Sagittaria is an edible plant commonly called Arrowhead. The four-note song of the Mockingjay is the four opening notes of the theme from Romeo and Juliet. Donald Sutherland is on screen for ten minutes. The Cornucopia was inspired by the architectural designs of Frank Gehry. There were complaints, of course. Jennifer Lawrence was said to be too pretty and well-fed, some of the dark-skinned characters in the book were whitened, and the film was said to be too violent, or the violence was toned down. It was claimed by the right-wing, the left-wing, and the libertarians. Or it was a Christian allegory. Like all movies with female protagonists, it received obscene hate-mail.