Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games book series has often been compared with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, primarily because both center on a young female protagonist and has become phenomenons for their shared young-adult demo. This is arguably an insult to the novel and the big-screen adaptations since The Hunger Games is leagues above Twilight in artistic credibility. The sense of familiarity of The Hunger Games goes much further back, recalling everything from William Golding to Phillip K. Dick to even Stephen King. Here are 12 films that come highly recommended, and should be essential viewing for any fan of the Hunger Games franchise.
1. Battle Royale
Written and directed by Kinji Fukasaku
The concept of The Hunger Games owes much to Koushun Takami’s cult novel Battle Royale, adapted for the cinema in 2000 by Kinji Fukasaku. The film is set in a dystopian alternate-universe, in Japan, with the nation utterly collapsed, leaving 15 percent unemployed and 800,000 students boycotting school. The government passes something called the Millennium Educational Reform Act, which apparently provides for a class of ninth-graders to be chosen each year and pitted against one another on a remote island for 3 days. Each student is given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred fight to the death. With 48 contestants, only one will go home alive. Yes, this has been often cited as the original Hunger Games; whether or not Suzanne Collins borrowed heavily from Fukasaku’s near-masterpiece or the novel is ultimately unknown. In the end, it doesn’t matter since art has always imitated art. The fact is, both films share the same premise, but stand at opposite ends in tone, style, genre, and narrative shape.
Battle Royale is part exploitation, part teen angst drama, part black comedy, and part survival thriller. This is about as bleak and cruel as they come, but it remains endlessly entertaining. Fukasaku’s direction is far from subtle, but like all great films, Battle Royale has something to say. This is a harsh critique and a darkly funny satire of a wide array of elements of modern Japanese society. Think of it as a cross between reality TV with Lord of the Flies. The targets of satire vary: there is the unsettling social commentary on our tolerance for violence and thoughtless self-preservation, Japan’s obsession with authority and obedience, how adults place far too much pressure on their children’s educational achievements and the obsession with violent video games and anime. But put aside the social commentary: Battle Royale is downright cartoonish, hilarious, and exciting. Even during the deliberately provocative violent teen-hunts, Fukasaku maintains the right tone, never slipping into seriousness or preachiness.
Battle Royale aroused international controversy and was either banned or excluded from distribution in many countries, yet it became a domestic blockbuster and is one of the 10-highest grossing films in Japan. It received near-universal acclaim and gained further notoriety when Quentin Tarantino was quoted as saying he wished he had directed the movie himself.
2. Lord of the Flies
Directed by Peter Brook
Written by Peter Brook and William Golding
Peter Brooks’s big-screen adaptation of the Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies adheres so closely to the spirit of the source material that at every turn, Brook captures the cruelty and fascination of Golding’s symbols and metaphors perfectly.
Following a plane crash, 30 British school-age boys find themselves deserted on an island and try to govern themselves, with disastrous results. As with Golding’s book, human nature and individual welfare versus the common good are themes explored within the film. Even when innocent children (much like in The Hunger Games) are placed in isolation, fear, hate, and violence are inherent.
The film was shot in black-and-white and on a shoestring budget, with an entirely non-professional cast, and neither cinematographers Gerald Feil nor Tom Hollyman had never been behind a movie camera before. The casting of amateur actors required intensive overnight rehearsals and improvised dialogue, and the extensive editing took nearly 2 years to complete – the majority of which was spent fixing the sound due to the continual crashing of the ocean waves. All of this would in most cases be unfavourable for a motion picture, but here, it somehow lends to the natural aspect of the film, heightening its raw intensity. Its a miracle that Brooks not only got the job done but directed such an unsettling film, that brings out Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest” to its darkest light. If Piggy doesn’t win your heart, you have none.
Note. The story was adapted with less success in 1990, and so this version is recommended instead.
3. The 10th Victim (La Decima vittima) (The Tenth Victim)
Directed by Elio Petri
Written by Tonino Guerra, Giorgio Salvioni, Ennio Flaiano, and Elio Petri
The 10th Victim was the first film to offer up the concept of a TV show wherein people hunt and kill one another for sport. It also expanded the idea into a satire on game shows. In the 21st century, the government and the private sector have joined forces to create a solution to crime by giving it a profitable outlet titled “The Big Hunt,” a popular worldwide game show in which contestants are chosen at random to chase one another around the world in a kill or be killed scenario. The winner of the first round moves on to the next. After ten wins, a player is retired from the game and gets a cash prize of one million dollars, but very few make it that far. As in The Hunger Games, there are sponsors who give contestants bonuses for quoting their slogans on camera, making product placement the ultimate form of media violence here.
Directed by Elio Petri, this campy futuristic satire of commercialism, violence, and dehumanization has earned a cult following among film buffs and with good reason. It stars Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress at the height of their stardom, and they share remarkable onscreen chemistry, running about in one of the most bizarre curiosity pieces of ’60s Italian cinema. Groovy and ridiculously satirical, the film clearly lent much inspiration to many films to follow, most notably, the Austin Powers franchise. The Italian pop and jazz score; the outrageous sixties chic fashions; the ultra-modern sets (that recall films like Danger: Diabolik); the less than subtle anti-media agenda – all help make The 10th Victim a truly one of a kind experience. Petri directs with tongue firmly in cheek, and although it doesn’t quite hold together in the final reels, it is something you will never forget. This interesting pop artifact features a number of easily spoiled memorable scenes. You want to seek this one out.
Note. The film was based on The Seventh Victim, a 1953 short story published in Galaxy magazine by prolific sci-fi writer Robert Shakley.