UPDATE: WELP! I WAS WRONG. IGNORE THIS POST. Oh my…
Last year I read all three books in the popular Hunger Games series. I quite enjoyed the first book and basically couldn’t stand the sequels. The way I see it, The Hunger Games should have been one 600-page book instead of three books over 300 pages each. Oh well. Next month, Lionsgate is releasing a film based on The Hunger Games, which it hopes will become a huge franchise on par with the Twilight or Harry Potter films. I admire their ambitions, but I think they’re making some key mistakes. Not the least of which is assuming that The Hunger Games is some sort of huge publishing phenomenon. It isn’t quite that, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
To understand what I mean by this we need to look at some figures. The Harry Potter series of books has sold over 450 million copies worldwide in various languages. Even in 2001, before the release of the first film, the four available books are believed to have sold at least 50 million copies worldwide, and likely many millions more than that.
By 2010, the Twilight series is believed to have sold roughly 116 million copies. This figure would have been smaller before the first film came out, but probably not much less.
Meanwhile, The Hunger Games and its sequels are said to currently have 23.5 million copies “in print”. That is to say, 23.5 million copies have been printed and most of those sent to stores, and a majority of those sold. Which is another way of saying the series has sold less than 20 million copies. Sure, it’s a huge success in the world of publishing, but it’s hardly the runaway cultural phenomenon many are claiming it as. In fact, the series has another problem, which is that it’s already complete. Harry Potter in particular was lucky to have books still left to be released. This meant that the excitement for the upcoming books and films built on each other into something huge and sustained for a little over a decade.
Lionsgate doesn’t seem to care about this. Both trailers released so far (a new one came out today) pretty much play just to the audience who have read the books, or who at the very least have had the books explained to them. In fact, if you don’t know anything about the series—which is likely considering their obscurity relative to those previously mentioned franchises—then it would be very easy to watch these trailers and marketing materials and come out the other end not understanding anything at all about the story.
In case you are unaware, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic future world in which an oppressive capitol city forces children from the outlying regions to participate in a drawn out fight to the death. Katniss, of course, ends up taking part in the games, and must work to survive while at the same time stoking the flames of revolution. It’s not that difficult a premise to sell, yet the trailers do their best to try and obscure exactly what is happening. The first trailer admittedly does a better job of explaining things, but if you aren’t paying close enough attention you might miss it.
On top of this, the style of the world is really weird, and quite off-putting. This is part of the concept, of course, but when the concept isn’t clear in the trailer then all you’ve got is a movie that looks closer to The Golden Compass than Harry Potter. It’s a dangerous line to straddle, and with Lionsgate pretending like everyone on the planet already knows and has read the books, this could spell trouble for them. The worst thing will be if the movie turns out to be mediocre or bad. Twilight could withstand this issue, as could the earlier Harry Potter films, but they had enormous built-in audiences. The Hunger Games doesn’t.
In my opinion, Lionsgate needs step up their game and sell this movie to those who aren’t already familiar with the series. There’s an easily marketable movie in there somewhere, but it isn’t helped by sticking to those who are already fans.
Or maybe I’m off base. What do you all think about the current marketing strategy for The Hunger Games? Do you think it’s worked? Have you already read the books? Are you excited to see the movie?