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Ranking ‘The Hunger Games’ movies, which are all now streaming on Peacock
An ordered ride-along on Katniss Everdeen’s epically rebellious Panem journey.
The long eight-year fast in The Hunger Games film franchise is finally coming to an end this fall, when The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes arrives Nov. 17 to put a prequel spin on the dystopian world of Panem long before Katniss Everdeen ever nocked that first fateful arrow.
For hungry fans, a new Hunger Games film at long last marks the end of an acute movie drought, making now the ideal time to dive back into the original four-film series that took author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling sci-fi books off the printed page and onto the short list of the highest-grossing box office brands of all time. Thankfully, you can catch up on all four movies in one place, as the complete The Hunger Games cycle is streaming now on Peacock.
Ranking The Hunger Games movies is admittedly kind of a throwaway exercise — they’re all awesome, and if you’ve never seen them, then you should definitely watch ‘em in their originally-released order. But the obvious next step is taking stock of it all, and, if we’re being honest, it makes for a perfect excuse to revisit one of the most vivid and imaginative sci-fi movie worlds to grace theaters anytime throughout the 2010s.
More than that, though, it’s the ideal way to hop aboard the hype train before The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes slithers along with a new timeline and fresh schemes to explore the backstories of characters whom fans have grown to love (or, as fate might have it, hate). And hey, if it brushes us up on our Hunger Games lore in the process, well, that's just all the better.
Ready to get started? Let the games begin!
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (2014)
In Panem, Katniss was a screen sensation (much like star Jennifer Lawrence), whose every public move was sure to be followed by millions of totally-hooked fans when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 (streaming on Peacock here) arrived in 2014. Perhaps thanks to so much weight of expectation, this first film in the two-part Mockingjay finale showed the first faltering pains of adapting Collins’ stories for the screen, with Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) whole brainwashing dilemma back in the Capitol playing like far-flung melodrama in theaters rather than the force spurring Katniss to action — which, as a plot device, it was.
Melodrama or not, it still couldn’t slow that action once Katniss and her newly-assembled allies actually hit the road on a nowhere-to-hide incursion into the Capitol to stage Peeta’s seemingly-impossible rescue. The shocking character deaths and the impact of those losses feel real enough when Mockingjay: Part 1 hits its stride in the movie’s later half, as Katniss — at this point willing to die herself if it’ll take President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) vengeful attention off her loved ones — grasps the full magnitude of her celebrity on a firsthand tour through the downtrodden districts, places where her fame radiates like a rallying beacon for a Panem population well past its revolutionary boiling point.
Thankfully, in these days of back-to-back binge streaming, the movie’s unceremoniously abrupt end isn’t the sin it felt like in theaters at the time; as soon as Mockingjay: Part 1 is over, you’re all but guaranteed to lurch for the remote to get Part 2 started ... just to see, of course, where all the cliffhanger chaos is really heading.
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (2015)
The pace of the first two films had slowed a bit into Mockingjay — Part 1, and though Part 2 still grapples with the same split-location storytelling challenges, its place in the viewing order means fans aren’t left grappling to uncover answers to the saga’s biggest dangling mysteries. As with any proper finale, the bad guy’s fate is decided, the hero’s legacy is assured, and the people she fought to save do endure to rebuild society, or else perish in a way that gives the survivors something to live for.
Much of Mockingjay — Part 2 (streaming on Peacock here) plays out like a good old-fashioned team caper, with Katniss and her small but committed entourage stalking far behind enemy lines to reach the well-defended heart of Panem’s chief city where Snow — like the patient villain he is — waits for them to walk straight into his his trap.
But that’s where Katniss’ long slog through all the snares of the preceding movies finally pays off; the rebellion her defiance has inspired has transformed the Capitol into a powder keg of revolt that even Snow can’t manage, giving her team the diversion it needs (just barely) to at last penetrate Snow’s veil of protection and settle long-brewing scores in a final face-to-face encounter. It all comes at bittersweet cost for Katniss (and for fans), as the violence claims her sister Prim (Willow Shields) — the one person in Katniss’ life who’d inspired every one of her determined steps going all the way back to the very first movie. Alas — chalk it up to the price of seizing victory on such an epic scale.
2. The Hunger Games (2012)
For sheer spectacle and that irreplaceable first-timer’s wow factor, it’s hard to top the original 2012 movie that kicked off the series. More than any of the films that followed, The Hunger Games (streaming on Peacock here) played as a standalone dystopian sci-fi story, introducing the world of Panem, laying out its inhabitants’ shared conundrum, and then resolving the whole thing with a deft efficiency that belied its comparatively svelte 2-hour, 22-minute runtime.
On top of that, few films have put on the kind of eclectic character walkout seen in The Hunger Games, as one distinctive star after another rolled onto the screen. Already set for a killer career with standout performances in films like Winter’s Bone (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), Lawrence came on like a phenomenon as the compelling heart and soul of what turned out to be one of box office’s biggest all-time blockbusters, flanked by a giant, pitch-perfect cast including Hutcherson as fellow tribute Peeta, Woody Harrelson as former District 12 winner Haymitch, Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ friend Gale, Lenny Kravitz as stylemaker Cinna, Stanley Tucci as the creepy TV host Caesar Flickerman, Sutherland as the sinister President Snow, and Elizabeth Banks (in her pre-Cocaine Bear directing days) as the affectingly quirky Effie Trinket.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Coming quickly on the heels of the 2012 first film and capturing all of its vast, oppressive imagination (and then some), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (streaming on Peacock here) showed that Collins’ fiction was ripe for more than just a one-off blockbuster adaptation. The first movie’s events already had mapped out a deliciously dire web of impossible relationships, and Catching Fire made the most of that setup by entangling them even further — from President Snow’s obsession with co-opting Katniss’ fame, to Katniss’ own balancing act between longtime semi-flame Gale back in District 12 against her half-genuine, half-compelled loyalty to Peeta. Better still, it was paced as well as the first film, with hardly a wasted word or establishing visual sweep to keep viewers fully immersed in Panem’s strangely beautiful doom-scape.
And the cast! If the first Hunger Games felt like one of the coolest casting scores ever, then Catching Fire somehow managed to double that effect, bringing lead-worthy talent to fill an entire slew of new supporting roles. How’s this for a supporting actor list: Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Snow’s adviser Plutarch Heavensbee), Jeffrey Wright (as Quarter Quell contestant and science nerd Beetee Latier), Amanda Plummer (as Beetee’s introverted Hunger Games partner Wiress), Sam Claflin (as more-than-meets-the-eye Quarter Quell fighter Finnick Odair), Jena Malone (as aloof Quarter Quell veteran Johanna Mason) ... and tons, tons more? Somehow, Catching Fire juggled its giant star ensemble with ease, making every player matter inside Panem’s cruel panopticon — and it’s probably the most fully-realized film — so far, at least — in The Hunger Games franchise.
Like The Empire Strikes Back does with Star Wars, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire adds to and then synthesizes The Hunger Games’ many moving parts in a way the first film simply wasn’t meant to do. Catching Fire successfully expanded the series into something bigger than its landmark predecessor — all without taking its foot off the first film's fast-paced accelerator. Or, to paraphrase a certain sage Jedi, it gave The Hunger Games movie franchise its first step into a larger world.
All four films in The Hunger Games franchise are now streaming on Peacock.