There's no question that "The Hunger Games" is one of the most highly anticipated films due for release next year. But distributor Lionsgate is hoping that the frenzy of excitement will expand beyond the core audience of young adult readers who initially flocked to Suzanne Collins fantasy action series -- and they're making a big financial bet to demonstrate their commitment to the project, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Once conceived as a mid-budget movie for young adults, "The Hunger Games" is now a nearly $100-million production aimed at fans of all ages.
Lionsgate first acquired movie rights to Collins' books in early 2009, when "The Hunger Games" had sold fewer than 500,000 copies. Since then, the trilogy has reached more than 12 million copies in print and become popular with a much broader audience, despite the young age of Katniss and others who compete to the death in the titular games.
As a result, the studio has expanded the budget for the movie and believes it will reach a much broader audience. The production, which wrapped in North Carolina on Saturday, was nearly $100 million, a figure brought closer to $80 million after tax credits.
In the future, there is Gore-Tex. And also trees. That’s what we learned from the scant 45 seconds of “The Hunger Games” footage Lionsgate revealed during MTV’s Video Music Awards Sunday.
In the teaser, Jennifer Lawrence gallops through a dense forest as 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, one of 24 kids forced to fight to the death in an outdoor arena game. Lawrence, who has already demonstrated action heroine potential by gutting a squirrel in “Winter’s Bone” and pumping iron in “X-Men: First Class,” delivers on Katniss’ scrappy athleticism--she dodges fireballs, leaps over a fallen tree and releases an arrow with a fierce glint in her eye. Over the action, the voice of Katniss’ hometown pal, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), hints at one of the relationships that drives her character. “You’re stronger than they are,” Gale says. “You are. They just want a good show, that’s all they want. You know how to hunt. Show ’em how good you are.”
“The Hunger Games,” directed by Gary Ross, is the first in a planned series based on a trilogy of dystopian young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The teaser footage, which Lawrence introduced from the movie’s North Carolina set, reveals little of the visual ambition of the books' science-fiction setting. There is no sign of District 12—the bleak, coal mining region from which Katniss hails—nor the sleek Capitol District, where the stylish and powerful reside. Also absent are the series's fantastical fashions, such as Katniss’ “girl on fire” dress, and mutant creatures, like the arena’s deadly “tracker jacker wasps.” The movie’s hairdressers have delivered Katniss’ distinctive side braid—this may replace Princess Leia’s buns as a new generation’s Comic-Con coiffure of choice—but her wardrobe suggests the future looks a lot like a Lands’ End catalog.
Though minimal, the footage contained a hint to find more visual detail about the movie. A Twitter hashtag in the teaser, #whatsmydistrict, points users towards a viral website, with a blurred, black image, some discordant electronic beeps and a note in the corner prompting "citizens” to identify themselves via Twitter. After a few hours of people tweeting the site's address, the image appeared to begin forming into the seal of the Capitol District. (Here Lionsgate is taking a page from the viral campaign for “Dark Knight Rises”—as more people Tweeted the phrase “The Fire Rises” in May, a blurry image clarified into a mosaic photo of Tom Hardy as the "Batman" villain Bane.)
"The Hunger Games" also stars Josh Hutcherson as Katniss' arena partner, Peeta Mellark; Woody Harrelson as her booze-addled mentor, Haymitch Abernathy; Elizabeth Banks as her airhead escort to the Capitol, Effie Trinket; and Lenny Kravitz as her faithful stylist, Cinna.
Fans of the dark young-adult novel "The Hunger Games" are already licking their lips for the movie version, which will star Jennifer Lawrence and come out this March.
But they'll have to wait a fair bit longer for their next fix: Lionsgate Entertainment announced Monday morning that it was indeed dating "Catching Fire," the movie based on Suzanne Collins' second book about heroine Katniss Everdeen. But that date isn't anytime soon -- the second film in the post-apocalyptic series won't come out until Nov. 22, 2013, about 20 months after the first movie hits theaters on March 23, 2012.
The move is a departure from what conventional wisdom says about movies based on young-adult books -- namely, try not to let too much time elapse between films (so as to avoid audience and stars aging out of a franchise). Summit Entertainment brought out the second movie in "The Twilight Saga" just a year after the first, and the third film just six months after that, though it is leaving 18 months between the third and fourth movies.
In a statement, Lionsgate co-Chief Operating Officer Joe Drake didn't offer an explanation for the lag but did note that "the stories truly offer something for everyone, and the period around the Thanksgiving weekend is such an opportunity for families and friends to make an event of going to the movies.” Indeed, the studio is probably hoping that by the time the second movie rolls around it will have gained enough prominence to make it worthy of a holiday release.
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne fill out the love triangle in "The Hunger Games," which is currently in production with director Gary Ross.
In a little more than a month, the eighth and final installment in the "Harry Potter" film series will hit theaters. Tweens seeking a new obession of course shouldn't be too distraught -- there are still two films left in the "Twilight" franchise, and Lionsgate is already in production on the first film based on "The Hunger Games" trilogy.
Tom Felton, who has starred as the evil Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" franchise, told 24 Frames that he believes the boy wizard has a lot to do with the onslaught of genre-tinged tween cinema. "I think ['Harry Potter'] certainly helped" pave the way for movies such as "Hunger Games," Felton said at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday, where he was on hand to present new footage from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."
"I think one of the great things about what ["Harry Potter" book author] Jo Rowling has done is she's made literacy and reading kind of cool again. And that allows the way for lots of these other franchises to kind of come through," he said.
Even though production wrapped long ago on the final film in the Potter franchise, Felton said he still doesn't feel like the experience is over. "It really hasn't ended at all. Everyone keeps saying, 'What's it like, now that it's finished?' And to me, it really hasn't," he said. "Because we've got another month of touring starting next week, I think."
"Obviously, yeah, it's going to be very sad when it's over. I'll probably cry in copious amounts when it's all finished," he said.
Meanwhile, Felton is working out his post-"Potter" career. His first major role outside of the franchise will come in this summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Asked if he felt pressure about choosing roles as an adult actor, Felton shrugged.
"Some people think there is [pressure], yeah," said the actor, who was convinced to be a part of "Apes" after meeting with director Rupert Wyatt. "But we're just keeping our ears open and eyes to the ground and seeing what happens, really."
Also unclear is where he'll put that lovely gold popcorn statuette he took home Sunday night at the MTV Movie Awards for playing the villainous Malfoy. "The other one [I won] is still boxed up because I don't have a good place to put it yet. I'm saving it. I don't want to put it on the downstairs toilet."
For the upcoming film "The Hunger Games," Lionsgate has cast Donald Sutherland as the ruthless autocratic leader of Panem, the world in which heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her competitors reside. The role is a critical one for the tween action drama (which has begun shooting in North Carolina), and the studio filled it with a high-caliber veteran.
Sutherland, who will next be seen in the New Line comedy "Horrible Bosses" and recently received acclaim for his performance in the Starz mini-series "Pillars of the Earth," will play President Snow. When the trilogy begins, he has already ruled with an iron fist over the dystopian environment for 25 years.
For those of you unfamiliar with "The Hunger Games," the film centers on Katniss Everdeen, a teenager from District 12, who must compete against other minors from the other 11 districts that make up Panem in a fight-to-the-death competition called the Hunger Games. The film is being adapted by director Gary Ross from the first novel in the trilogy by author Suzanne Collins.
Lionsgate has scheduled the movie for release on March 23, 2012.
Wes Bentley, the once up-and-comer who starred in "American Beauty" but then got caught up in a debilitating drug habit, is rebuilding his career with a plum role in Lionsgate's highly anticipated "The Hunger Games."
The 34-year-old actor will play Seneca Crane, the head game-maker of the 74th annual Hunger Games, which pit heroine Katniss Everdeen and her childhood acquaintance Peeta Mellark against one another and 22 other teenagers in a life-threatening competition.
He joins Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks and others in the film based on the uber-popular teen series "The Hunger Games" from Suzanne Collins.
Director Gary Ross is expected to begin production soon.
Bentley can next be seen in the drama from Roland Joffe called "There Be Dragons," which opens in limited release Friday.
Casting for "The Hunger Games" is moving along at quite a clip. Lionsgate announced Thursday that Elizabeth Banks has sealed her deal to play the insufferable Effie Trinket, the perky escort to heroine Katniss Everdeen and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, when they enter into the games.
Banks, an avid tweeter, confirmed her involvement on her feed. "Yes, And I can now confirm I'm Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games. So excited!" She continues with the common refrain uttered by the Capitol, the dogmatic government that hosts the annual games, "May the odds be ever in your favor!"
Also confirmed are the tributes for District 3 and 4. Lionsgate has named newcomers Ian Nelson and Kalia Prescott to District 3, which specializes in electronics, while Ethan Jamieson and Tara Macken will play the kids from the wealthy District 4.
Prescott's biggest claim to date is doing stunts for "Red Dawn's" Isabel Lucas and in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" while Macken's stunts have spanned television shows such as "Glee" and "NCIS: Los Angeles" and features such as the recently released "The Lincoln Lawyer" and the upcoming "Battleship." Perhaps this means that these smaller parts, while light in content, will be action-heavy during the games.
Lionsgate, the studio turning Suzanne Collins' uber-popular franchise "The Hunger Games" into a movie series, is going straight to the fans with its casting choices for the film, announcing their selections on the official Facebook fan page. The studio has revealed the casting of four new faces, and sources say actress Elizabeth Banks (left) is in negotiations to play Effie Trinket, the high-strung escort to protagonist Katniss Everdeen, to be portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone"). The role of Peeta Mellark will be played by Josh Hutcherson ("The Kids Are All Right"), and Liam Hemsworth ("The Last Song") has also recently signed on to play Katniss' longtime friend and hunting partner, Gale Hawthorne.
For those not familiar with the tween, post-apocalyptic series, the first book centers on a world divided into 12 districts. Each year, two teenagers are chosen from each district to compete in "The Hunger Games," a televised fight to the death. The teenagers are deemed "tributes" and adorned with all kinds of prizes and honor prior to walking into an elaborate arena where they are forced to kill or be killed.
Thus far, Lionsgate has announced that Jack Quaid and Leven Rambin will play the two tributes Marvel and Glimmer from the wealthy District 1. Quaid, making his big-screen debut, is the son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, while Rambin has been a regular on daytime soap "All My Children" for the past six years. The impoverished District 11's choices have also been made, with another film rookie, Dayo Okeniyi, playing Thresh and young Amandla Stenberg playing Rue, a diminutive tribute and ally of Katniss Everdeen.
And while Lionsgate isn't announcing Banks as Effie, sources confirm that the actress is in negotiations for the part. Filming of "The Hunger Games" is expected to begin in the next few months with the film's release date scheduled for next March.
Photo: Elizabeth Banks. Credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images
In a peculiar addendum to the news release issued Monday announcing Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and and Liam Hemsworth as Gale in the upcoming "The Hunger Games" film, Lionsgate has issued another release with the filmmakers' responses to the choices.
Are they defending their moves or just showering the obligatory praise? Read the comments below and judge for yourselves. (Of course, the real test will come when we get to see the finished product.)
Director Gary Ross: "When I read the book, I thought Peeta would be the hardest role to cast, and I feel so lucky that we found someone who embodies every aspect of such a complex character. I can't wait to work with Josh."
"Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins: "I was fortunate enough to be in the room with Gary Ross when Josh came in to audition. Three lines into the read I knew he'd be fantastic. Josh totally captured Peeta's temperament, his sense of humor and his facility for language. I'm thrilled to have him aboard."
Producer Nina Jacobson: "Gale is a young man who uses words very sparingly, so the onus was on the actor we cast to capture him by showing, not telling. This was accomplished so beautifully in Suzanne's writing, and Liam was able to translate it so naturally to the screen. At the same time Gale's journey across the three books transforms him, and Liam's performance left no doubt that he would take us there."
The rumor mill was running on overdrive over the weekend regarding Jennifer Lawrence and "The Hunger Games." The 20-year-old actress, who spent much of 2010 in the spotlight due to her star-turning role in "Winter's Bone," is definitely the front-runner for the highly coveted role of Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the uber-popular dystopian series by Suzanne Collins.
But the actress has yet to be offered the part.
Lionsgate, the studio behind the publishing sensation that may have just enough romance, danger and high-concept adventure to dethrone "Twilight" from its perch as the "it" phenomenon, is being very careful as they make their selection for the lead part. And they are not talking. People with knowledge of the casting process who spoke on condition of anonymity tell us that Lawrence is loved by a few key executives at the studio but due to the importance of the property, Lionsgate wants to conduct a few more tests of the actresses in contention before making an offer.
(Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old actress who also won acclaim last year with her performance in "True Grit," is up for the role too, but there may be concern that she is too young to actually pull off the adventuresome huntress.)
There's no denying part of Katniss is compelling. The 16-year-old is a brave protagonist and caretaker of her family. She volunteers for the Hunger Games, an annual event where children between the ages of 12 and 18 fight each other to the death, after her younger sister is first chosen to compete. The story features a compelling love triangle but shares little else with the "Twilight" franchise.
Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit") has been hired to direct what could be a trilogy, should the first film connect with audiences. The studio hopes to begin production shortly with a release date already set for March 23, 2012.
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar party on Feb. 27 in West Hollywood. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images