So, you’re excited about this week’s release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Who can blame you? The chance to see Jennifer Lawrence finally strike back against the dystopian society that pits children against each other in the name of entertainment — kind of like our society making these movies, except not really because thinking about that too much would be too uncomfortable, ha ha, right? — is an exciting thing, mixing two of Hollywood’s favorite things about modern cinema: Jennifer Lawrence and movie franchises based on young adult fiction.
But how best to prepare for a new Hunger Games? Here’s a playlist of Netflix streaming movies to get yourself in the mood — and maybe get you thinking about some of the bigger themes at play in the series, as well. Panem, it turns out, has been around for longer than you may have realized — just under different names.
METROPOLIS RESTORED (1927)
What’s that? You want to watch a movie about a dystopian future that has separated the Haves and Have Nots to such a degree that the two worlds can barely recognize each other? A gulf so great that is ultimately challenged by one woman from the lower classes? Okay, sure; Fritz Lang’s classic movie from the earliest days of cinema may feature less explosions and smoldering looks than any of the Hunger Games movies, but it’s no less great as a result.
DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)
Decades before the world discovered the joys of watching The Hunger Games and their tributes, David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone were getting out onto the open road and taking out their frustrations with the “United Provinces of America” on each other as part of the three-day race across the country officially called the “Annual Transcontinental Road Race,” but more properly recognized as the Death Race. Yes, the violent-sport-as-distraction-for-the-masses meme that fuels Jennifer Lawrence’s franchise is in full effect here, and is all the better for it.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
While, yes, Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo is no Katniss Everdeen, there’s no denying that the glamorous future on show in Luc Besson’s over-the-top sci-fi fantasy feels very in tune with the outrageous fashions on show in Panem. Just watch Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod and try and tell me that Stanley Tucci’s Ceasar Flickerman wouldn’t feel so jealous of that outfit that the color would drain from even his fake-tanned face. (There’s also a dystopian future on show here, but really, this one’s all about the fashions.)
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)/BATTLE ROYALE 2 (2003)
A two-fer, both Battle Royale movies very much parallel the Hunger Games franchise remarkably closely, with teens being forced into games taking place in a controlled environment in which they have to murder each other in order to survive, and the survivor of the first movie’s game going on to lead a rebellion against those responsible in tandem with the survivors of earlier games. Battle Royale, however, is faster, more brutal and less interested in societal commentary than Hunger Games, with the resulting movies being less mainstream-friendly… and arguably far better. If you haven’t already checked these out, then you really owe it to yourself.
What’s special about Equilibrium isn’t necessarily the plot — citizens in a future dystopia have to take a drug to make them less emotional and more obedient to their overlords (there’s a popular rebellion that overthrows the overlords, unsurprisingly) — but the absolute shamelessness of those making the movie in adopting Nazi imagery. Not only does the flag of “Libria” look very *like the Nazi flag, but the movie was shot in East Germany and the EUR, Rome — a district in Italy actually built to celebrate “the Fascist era” of the country. Consider this one a movie for people who think that *The Hunger Games is a little too subtle. (Also making the movie worth watching: the cast, which includes Christian Bale, Taye Diggs and Emily Watson.)
The way in which Arena steals from The Hunger Games — which had already finished its run as a series of novels by the time this was released, even if the movies were still a year away — is both breathtaking and oddly charming, even if the gender-flipping to ensure a male lead (Twilight’s Kellan Lutz) dampens the enthusiasm slightly. Featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the organizer of “The Deathgames” — yes, really — which are broadcast illegally online, it removes the larger social concerns of the series and replaces them with a snuff movie theme that weirdly just underscores this as an odd cash-in on a more successful, more interesting concept. And yet, there remains something impressively watchable about this movie.
When you’re talking about future dystopian movies of recent years, Alex Garland and Pete Travis’ Dredd — adapting the long-running British comic character, and never to be confused with the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd — is a movie that belongs on any to-watch list. Set in an America where urban sprawl has merged cities into “mega-cities” that run entire coasts, this movie captures a hopelessness of future life in a way that the quasi-agricultural world of The Hunger Games doesn’t manage. And Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson makes for a pretty great replacement for Katniss, even if she’s there to prop up the corrupt system instead of tearing it down. (Something to always remember about Judge Dredd and his world: he’s the bad guy. It’s just that there are others who are even worse, sometimes.)
RED DAWN (2012)
What happens if you keep the violent-kids-uprising element of The Hunger Games, but mix it with a modern take on communist paranoia? The answer is the remake of Red Dawn, in which a bunch of young folk (including Peeta himself, Josh Hutcherson) end up defending themselves and their hometown of Spokane, WA, from a North Korean invasion force. If that doesn’t sound too xenophobic for you, don’t worry — the North Korean invasion is backed by the Russians because of course it is. USA! USA! US… Well, I think you get the gist. Think of it as a cautionary tale about what The Hunger Games could’ve been like. And it’s not the only one…
THE HOST (2013)
If you’re tiring of the all the dystopian futures and political rebellions, it’s worth watching The Host to remind yourself of what The Hunger Games is up against. Based on a book by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, it’s also a sci-fi story aimed at the Hunger Games’ predominantly-female, YA audience, but one that hews closer to cliche and familiarity than Jennifer Lawrence’s preferred series. (It’s also something that loves its soap operatics, even when that involved aliens possessing human bodies causing love triangles; don’t ask.) While it’s not terrible — go hunt down 2011’s I Am Number Four for terrible— it’s a movie that makes The Hunger Games more impressive through comparison.