Will The Hunger Games Be The First Real Female Franchise?

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by Melissa Silverstein
March 21, 2012 11:04 AM
37 Comments
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In a little less than two days the film based on the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy will hit the big screen.  Already over 2,000 screenings on Thursday night are sold out and theatres are adding 3am screenings to accomodate the huge appetite for this film.

The box office numbers that this film might achieve on opening weekend are staggering especially since the film is opening in March and is not a sequel.  It is already the top selling non-franchise film on Fandango and basically anybody (92%) who is buying an advance ticket for a film on Fandango now is buying a ticket to The Hunger Games

Box office watchers have estimated it opening in the $120 to $150 million range. 

But there is one thing that is not a part of the larger conversation -- the fact that at the center of this film is a female character and there has never been a film with a female at the heart of the story to open this big and this wide.  A not only is the character a female she is a STRONG female who spends the movie literally fighting for her life.  Just for a comparison, Twilight: Breaking Dawn opened on 4,061 screens and The Hunger Games will be on about 4,000.

Yes, there was ONE other female centric film with a bigger budget.  Salt which opened in 2010 and starred Angelina Jolie had a budget of $110 million.  The budget for The Hunger Games is about $80 million.  Salt which opened on July 23rd, 2010 grossed a little over $36 million on its opening weekend.  The Hunger Games might have that matched by mid-day Friday.

In some ways it is good that no one is really paying attention to the fact that The Hunger Games is about a girl.  It makes it seem not all that important.  People want to see this film because they love the story and it doesn't matter that Katniss is a girl.  It is also a good thing that the love story has not been a part of the press until just this last week when people started getting talking about if they were on team Peeta or team Gale.  If you remember the Twilight hype it was always about romance (cause the book is about a romance) and whether Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were dating was part of the ongoing narrative.  For The Hunger Games we are not getting any of that.  I'm sure it is a testament to the book, but it is also a testament to the diversity of fans. 

But at the same time it DOES matter that Katniss is a girl and people -- men, women, boys and girls -- are all interested in seeing this film.  This has the potential to show Hollywood where honestly it is already a hit even before it opens and finding the next potential franchise is on everyone's mind (ie the palpable interest in the fan fiction 50 Shades of Grey), that having a strong female character is not something to try and avoid, it is something to be seen as a potential success.

This could be the moment where Hollywood realized how much money they are leaving at the door by not creating films that attract men AND women (including women over 25.)  When women go to the movies we make films like Iron Man and Spiderman and all the other superhero films a success.  They couldn't be the huge successes that they are if men and women did not attend.  The Twilight films skew female and still perform really, really well.  But those films were vilified for being too girly, too focused on romance, too sparkly.  It made the huge numbers in spite of the fact that it was about a girl.  This feels different.

This film will be a huge success because it is able to attract all 4 quadrants which makes it your typical blockbuster film.  It is like Batman.  It will make the same numbers as a Batman or Spiderman films.  Some are even saying it could be in the top 10 films of all times.  That's the thing about this movie that is so revolutionary -- that it is a typical Hollywood franchise film that happens to be a story about a girl.  And that's why it has the potential to be looked at as a different type of franchise than the Twilight films are.

Update - a couple of commenters took me to task for not giving the Twilight franchise the proper credit for making The Hunger Games a possible success.  Firstly, the great news is that there is room for more than one female franchise.  And yes, I will agree, The Twilight films set the table for The Hunger Games.  This franchise will hopefully take a female centered story to another level.  That is what I call a win-win situtation. 

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37 Comments

  • Maria | March 30, 2012 8:29 AMReply

    Pfft. Twilight is the worst thing ever. Only %10 percent of all the kids at my school like it. I've seen the Hunger games. It is the best movie EVER. All my friends at school who've seen it whistle Rue's song in the Hall, and they'll get about a thousand responses. Twilight had NO effect on the Hunger games. What would even make you think that?!?! At my school, nobody ever wants to check out the twilight series, where as the Hunger Games trioligy has over a Month waiting list. My opinion: Remove the update, because it is false.

  • corey | March 28, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    tomb raider= first female franchise.

  • John R Worsley | March 28, 2012 6:29 PM

    Note that the title is "first *real* female franchise". Tomb Raider, Underworld, and Resident Evil all feature lead female characters, but they're action films where, for the most part, you could plug a man into the role and the film wouldn't *significantly* change. The Hunger Games features a lead female character in full human context, with a family and a community. Big difference.

  • Naive | March 25, 2012 7:52 PMReply

    The reason that Rob Pattinson & Kristen Stewart's relationship was part of the "hype" was because there was a relationship (or at least the beginning of one). The same is true for Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie and the hype behind Mr & Mrs Smith. Also (I'd guess) it will be partly the focus of Spiderman with Emma Stone & Andrew Garfield. Do you honestly think if Jen Lawrence had started dating Liam Hemsworth that would not have become a large part of the media's interest in this film? That is just Hollywood 101 and has NOTHING to do with the book or the variety of fans.

  • Lastly | March 25, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    Twilight dealt with romance because it was a romance. THG doesn't because that isn't what it is mainly about. Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart's relationship was interesting to the press because they had actual chemistry and didn't need to be reminded by their director that they were supposed to be physically attracted to each other like Jen Law and Hucherson were. You also don't need to trash Twilight to make THG seem better simply because you like this character better. I want complex female characters I could give a damn about red herrings like "strong women" whatever that means. It's like Viola Davis said when promoting 'The Help' actors should play all areas not just the areas not just the "heroes" of their minority group. I think articles like this do a disservice to actors and the complex multi layer characters they should all hope to portray.

  • Jess | March 25, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    Feminism isn't about "strong women". It's about removing gendered oppression, which affects both the strong and the not-strong. ~Amanda Marcotte #feminismyourdoingitwrong

  • wtfman | March 23, 2012 7:57 PMReply

    Um,all this stuff about it being the first female led franchise,uh,what was the alien and kill bill series? Have we conviently forgotten about those?

  • Jess | March 25, 2012 12:04 PM

    YES. I honestly found this post so disrespectful to women in film. Kill Bill, Alien, Twilight, Resident Evil, Underworld. Ignoring these films or at least not acknowledging that they set the stage for THG is so sad to me. This is feminism? Simply because you like THG does not make it better than the other films.

  • david | March 23, 2012 5:50 PMReply

    you gave in to your critical commenters- twilight set NO stage for Hunger games. The books were just that awesome

  • Luci | March 22, 2012 3:49 PMReply

    There seems to be one striking difference when you compare Katniss to female action stars in other (big budget) movies, which is in support of the post's sentiment: Katniss is not just a male fighter in a female body - she actually is driven by traditionally female trades of nurturing (e.g., for her mother and sister, whom she sacrifices herself for in the beginning - the first major catalyst) and her compassion (as she shows it for Rue - another major catalyst). She's still tough "as a guy", but it's the *balance* with her stereotypically female trades and her struggle between between fight, flight, nurture, compassion and "what's right and what's wrong" that makes her such a great and new kind of female heroine. I hope she'll inspire many more characters that show that they are strong *because* they are female, not despite.

  • Angrygeek | March 22, 2012 3:01 PMReply

    Tomb Raider, Catwoman, Cutthroat Island were larger budgeted action films with a female lead and as others have noted, Underworld is already a successful franchise with four films and Resident Evil has its FIFTH installment coming out this year. There's pretty much nothing "first" about The Hunger Games in any way.

  • wtfman | March 23, 2012 7:58 PM

    Oh yeah. Tomb Raider,no,lets forget about catwoman,horrible movie,and yeah,Resident Evil.

  • Jess | March 22, 2012 3:01 PMReply

    Are we not counting Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

  • Bes | March 26, 2012 3:04 PM

    I also don't count the "lingerie empowerment" genre such as Sucker Punch and Catwoman which are move movies and female characters written and directed by men. Lingerie empowerment is another male fantasy which women audiences don't care to watch.

  • Bes | March 26, 2012 3:01 PM

    I wouldn't count Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because it is a "woman empowered by brutal rape movie" which is a male fantasy. In fact the movie was written and directed by men and women audiences didn't want to watch it so I don't see on what level it can be called a womens movie.

  • faith | March 22, 2012 10:29 AMReply

    The Underworld series, starring Kate Beckinsale, is about 4 films and 10 years in and seems to be doing quite nicely with international sales figured into its totals: http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/series/Underworld.php

    Its audience is not as broad as The Hunger Games'--it lacks the prior introduction of being based on a bestselling series of novels, which is another key to perking up the antennae of Hollywood--but it's out there, and I believe its proven some staying power with both male and female scifi/fantasy fans.

  • Puaena | March 22, 2012 1:56 PM

    Good points to you and others pointing out other female-centric franchises such as Underworld and Alien(s).

  • Clix | March 22, 2012 3:57 AMReply

    Does the 'Alien' franchise not count? If not, why?

  • jenna | March 21, 2012 11:06 PMReply

    The world will be watching!!

  • Delusional | March 21, 2012 10:51 PMReply

    Why isn't ANYBODY counting in the fact that THG has IMAX tickets, and Twilight DID NOT! How is that fair? IMAX tickets are usually $5 to $6 more!

  • Jess | March 22, 2012 9:02 AM

    Or that THG had a $45 million dollar P&A budget. As has been stated it was treated like a major franchise from day 1 whereas other films (whether male or female leads) were not. Also the placement in March where there are no other franchises has led to the most suffocating promo I have ever seen. I doubt it would have gotten this coverage if it were June - August when there is a new franchise every week.

  • Sofia | March 21, 2012 9:05 PMReply

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  • Jessica | March 21, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Articles like this are exactly why I will not be going to see The Hunger Games. I have never seen a movie shoved down my throat like this. Also HOW DARE a movie cater to women like Twilight did. I for one like what Twilight said to Hollywood which is if women like a movie WE will make it successful regardless if men like it or not.

  • Chosen One | April 11, 2012 4:35 PM

    Yea women in the business industry will judge what sells and what doesn't for the most part. However, its a man's world and we control what sells. Victoria Secret....a man made it...and women feel sexier with their bodies. Sales/Clearance...male CEOs decide the market strategy. Like I said you will make it sell, but we control it. Honestly, the smart men control the women underlining making them feel as if they have some sort of power and control. Argue with me, bash me, whatever, its hard for women to know when they are proven wrong. Flame away ladies

  • Carrie Rickey | March 21, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Much as I like The Hunger Games, wasn't Alien(s) a real femme-centric franchise, one that was developed by a woman (producer Gail Ann Hurd)? Just askin'.

  • wtfman | March 23, 2012 8:00 PM

    Gail Ann Hurd only produced Aliens,the second movie,she didn't create or develop the series. That would be Dan O'Banion,Ridley Scott,Walter Hill,and David I forget his name.

  • Mary-Heather | March 23, 2012 5:53 PM

    Yes. Yes it was. So was the Lara Croft series, the Kill Bill movies, and Sarah Connor definitely helmed the Terminator movies. Resident Evil, Underworld... huge moneymakers, and action franchises with female leads. As a female action movie fan, I am so confused and disappointed by the lack of research here. I'm excited for The Hunger Games but this article is trying to make a point that just isn't accurate.

  • Dawn | March 21, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    "Twilight" didn't make money because it's about a girl. Summit successfully tapped into the Team Edward and Team Jacob hunk aspect. Bella is not the reason book fans saw those movies. She's not front and center on posters like Katniss Everdeen. Look at the above image and compare that to the latest "Twilight" posters and images. The writer is not putting down "Twilight" but she's is making a valid point about a shift in thinking. This has been discussed in several "The Hunger Games" fan forums. We were worried the story would be watered down and the love triangle beefed up to please the "Twilght" demographic. Thanks to some people behind the scenes like Gary Ross and Nina Jacobson, that didn't happen. I've never seen a "Twilight" movie, but the way they are represented is completely different from the way "The Hunger Games" is represented.

  • HG | March 23, 2012 12:54 PM

    That's was to the comment by Jessica BTW.

  • HG | March 23, 2012 12:53 PM

    Well I have seen the twilight movies, and that doesn't change the fact that Bella's character is completely pathetic and a horrible role model for young teens. Way to show that life is meaningless without your vampire boyfriend. I especially love when she starts trying to get herself killed just to get a glimpse of him. PATHETIC. If I had a daughter I would let her watch twilight as an example of how NOT to act. Before you start calling someone out for not seeing the movie before having so much to say, do yourself a favor and keep your ignorant opinions of the Hunger Games to yourself.

  • Jessica | March 21, 2012 10:35 PM

    How can you say why Twilight was successful if you admit you've never seen the movie. Of course Bella's relationship with her 2 love interests is important. BUT the story is told from her point of view. If Bella is not important that who is exactly would the 2 males be having a relationship with?

    Also they were so worried about staying true to the story in THG that they cast a buxom blonde who looks NOTHING like the character she is portraying. Another good way to get the boys to show up.

  • kasey | March 21, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    I'm very excited about this film for exactly the same reason -- it is an adventure film with a strong young female as the protagonist coming from a wildly popular series of the same. As I understand it the books do feature a romantic twist, I've not read them yet, but that is not the point. I am so excited the film and the marketing isn't focusing on that point at all.

    The possibility for a franchise is strong. And while it does owe a bit of a nod in that the success of Twilight is making the possibilities for such films greater that is where the similarities end. HG is a tale of survival with what seems to be an active, assertive, independent strong young woman fighting for her life. The Twilight films have always been about the romance & the relationship Bella wants. (i just deleted what I said because I have major issues with the portrayals in the film).

    I am much more excited about the possibilities HG may bring in its wake. Adventure films marketing to juveniles or young adults so rarely offer up a young woman or girl in the true lead role. And next we'll have Pixar's 'Brave' to look forward to.

  • Kay | March 21, 2012 1:02 PMReply

    I agree with Puaena. The author of this post is really ignorant. Here's a newsflash: despite popular belief (it seems Twilight critics seem to NEED to believe Twilight is "just a teen movie" to support their vilification of it) the majority of the Twilight fanbase is over 21, and based on the demographics of my Twitter followers 30 and up. Married. With kids. Polls following the premiere of Breaking Dawn 1 proved this. You can't have your cake and eat it too. In the same post you seem to want to insult the fact that Twilight succeeded 'in spite of the fact that it was about a girl' then have a heading implying it wasn't a female franchise, and then try to praise THG for the same reason. Makes no sense other than your bias is showing. Twilight may be an easier read than THG, but the themes in it are just as complex. The problem is the way in which Summit marketed the film. There is nothing wrong with the Twilight STORY. They chose to move the spotlight off a strong female character (yes, despite popular opinion I admire Bella, flaws and all. Just like her portrayer Kristen Stewart. And in the final Breaking Dawn, her weapon isn't bows and arrows but her mind and will-power) and go the easy route, capitalizing on a pervy female fanbase and creating the Team Edward/Team Jacob hoopla. In the hands of a better studio, like Universal, it could have been so much better in quality. But I digress. Twilight may have only opened at $70 mill compared to the projected take for THG, but to say the saga as a whole isn't female-centric blockbuster is delusional. Twilight paved the way for THG. A little respect is in order.

  • Melissa Silverstein | March 21, 2012 1:08 PM

    Just wanted to thank you for your comments. I am not trying to denigrate Twilight at all. In fact I have written many posts about the success of Twilight and why it is such a big deal. I am trying to get the conversation about women protagonists in films to another level.

    I will give you the point that Twilight made The Hunger Games possible and am going to look at my post again and make sure that I make that clear. But I don't think it's all about Twilight.

    If you are interested look at the very positive posts I write about Twilight. And think twice before you call someone ignorant.

    http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/breaking-dawn-gets-ready-to-take-the-weekend-box-office

    http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/breaking-dawn-scores-5th-highest-opening-weekend-ever

  • Puaena | March 21, 2012 12:29 PMReply

    "It (Twilight) made the huge numbers in spite of the fact that it was about a girl."

    What does that even mean? That Twilight is to be downgraded because it was about a girl?

    The Twilight Saga HAS performed at "typical Hollywood franchise" levels even though it was "about a girl" instead of about a character who just happens to be a girl. The Twilight Saga proved that women will go see a film about a girl to live through that girl's adventure (even if it is a romance).

    Sure, it isn't "guy friendly" but it showed that women were a buying force to be reckoned with.
    That's why Hollywood went after The Hunger Games and gave it a solid budget and a massive promo push unlike anything I've ever seen for an first installment of a franchise. It is performing as a Hollywood franchise because it was treated like one from the beginning and that is due in part BECAUSE of the success of Twilight. Not Batman. Not Spiderman. But Twilight.

  • Tony Wu | March 25, 2012 2:22 AM

    Another thing that would be pretty cool is if there was a movie that was a romance and got guys to flock to it. Not because guys are special, but because romance often gets a bad rap simply because it is seen as a "girls' thing" when in fact there's nothing inherently inferior about romance compared to action. They're simply different shades of the human experience. Romance does get a bad rap, but it's male elitism that is the culprit there. Unfortunately Twilight only reinforced that attitude and did not challenge it.

  • Tony Wu | March 25, 2012 2:17 AM

    There's nothing empowering about the fact that women will flock to see a movie that shows a girl playing a role that girls are traditionally pushed to play in the patriarchy [and that men show no interest in it]. That's the problem with Twilight. Yes it made huge numbers, and yes it was a step up because it made huge numbers with a female protagonist, but the fact that it was a romance just reinforces the notion that women are only interested in things like romance. That's why this movie feels a lot more whole. She's not just a character who happens to be a girl, she IS a girl. Unless you feel that girls breaking out of traditionally assigned roles are kowtowing to men, which is not true.

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