‘The Hunger Games’ Movies Ranked, from ‘Catching Fire’ to ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

Young adult literary franchises have a rough track record on cinema screens. Sure, “Harry Potter” is a (now tarnished) cultural touchstone. But the “Twilight” books became famously bad (albeit iconic) films, and that’s to say nothing of the absolute graveyard of sputtered, failed, or forgotten YA adaptations that Hollywood populated during the late ’00s and early 2010s. Did you know that they made three “Maze Runner” films? That the “Divergent” films were supposed to end with a TV show that never happened? That two “Percy Jackson” movies were made before the upcoming TV show? That “Eragon” even exists? If you do remember, you’ve likely been trying hard to forget.

Which makes the general high quality of “The Hunger Games” films all the more impressive. It helps that the Lionsgate franchise has always had better material to mine than most of the other dystopian disasters that attempted to capitalize on its runaway success. Published from 2008 to 2010, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is the rare YA novels to succeed both as pure, enjoyable popcorn entertainment and as science fiction with something more on its mind. Set in a distant future where the United States has collapsed from war and has been replaced by the totalitarian Panem, the series revolves around the titular death games, in which two children from each of the 12 impoverished districts around the Capital are randomly selected to fight to the death on live television. “Battle Royale” comparisons aside, it’s an effective critique of media sensationalism and totalitarianism with more bite than you would expect from a book for middle schoolers.

The films maintained the books’ general high quality. After the well-received first movie in 2012, the franchise nearly peaked with “Catching Fire” the following year. “Hungers Games” remains best known for turning lead actor Jennifer Lawrence, as the tribute turned revolutionary symbol Katniss Everdeen, into a certified A-list star; her commanding presence and emotional vulnerability is key to the original films’ greatness. But the series also has many other strong qualities, including a rock -olid ensemble that includes ringers like Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland; great direction from Francis Lawrence, whose helmed every installment aside from the first; and memorable set and production design that brought the unique world of Panem and the Games effectively to life on the big screen.

After the series concluded on a mild downer with the overly stretched-out “Mockingjay” two-parter, “Hunger Games” seemed in danger of fading into irrelevance. But that never really happened. Instead, the books and movies remained nostalgic favorites for the audience who grew up with them, and the IP remained well-regarded. Almost a decade after the original four films, “The Hunger Games” returned to movie theaters as strong as it ever was with “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” Based on the 2020 prequel novel by Collins, the film — with Lawrence again behind the camera — stars Tom Blyth as a young version of Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, exploring his rise to power and his complicated relationship with Hunger Games tribute Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler). Also starring Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis, “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has largely been praised by critics as a good film and worthwhile adventure back to Panem; IndieWire’s David Ehrlich gave it a “B+.”

With “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” still on top of box office, IndieWire decided to revisit the series to determine which film has the odds ever in its favor. Read on for our ranking of all five movies — sorted from worst to best.

With editorial contributions from David Ehrlich.

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