'The Hunger Games': Moviegoers say goodbye to a still-rare female protagonist

'Mockingjay' stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a teenager living in a dystopian world who rises up against the government. The adaptation of many young adult book series over the last few years has meant more female protagonists in big-budget series like 'Twilight' and 'Divergent.'

Murray Close/Lionsgate/AP
The 'Hunger Games' movies star Jennifer Lawrence (r.) and Natalie Dormer (l.).

With the arrival of the last “Hunger Games” movie, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2,” on Nov. 20, moviegoers are bidding goodbye to “Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen. 

In the movies, based on Suzanne Collins’ novels, Katniss volunteers for the deadly, titular Games and ends up leading a revolution against a totalitarian government. 

Katniss is a conflicted heroine, but the story shows her moral fortitude – volunteering to participate in the Games saves her beloved younger sister from having to enter the deadly arena. 

So with the end of the franchise comes the end of a popular character. It most likely helps that Katniss is portrayed by actress Jennifer Lawrence, who has won over many, but a love for “Games” and Katniss in particular caused even the popularity of archery, Katniss’s famous skill, to surge. 

The end of the "Games" series will also be the end of a still-rare, female-led adventure story. Katniss and her bow and arrow headed up one of the most lucrative franchises in film history, and the fact that a female character was at the head of this big-budget series is something that’s still a rarity in Hollywood. Of the top 10 highest-grossing movies of the year so far, only three have female protagonists. Animated movie “Inside Out" doesn’t show its lead actress onscreen, while “Cinderella" has its heroine attending a ball rather than taking charge of a revolution. “Pitch Perfect 2," however, has a female ensemble cast leading the comedy. 

This trend of a lack of female protagonists echoes over the past several years, with characters like Maleficent of the 2014 movie of the same name, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan in “Gravity,” Anna and Elsa of “Frozen” (also animated) popping up here and there but with male protagonists dominating the highest-grossing movies or female characters being part of a larger ensemble, as with the “Avengers” films or “Guardians of the Galaxy.” 

Therefore the popularity of young-adult film adaptations over the last several years has had another effect: bringing more female protagonists to the screen.

The “Twilight” film series, which was based on the successful books of the same name by Stephenie Meyers, center on Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her supernatural adventures involving vampires and werewolves. Fans and critics alike derided some of Bella’s actions and qualities, including a lack of personal interests outside her romantic relationship and unhealthy behavior following a break-up. But Bella was nonetheless the center of the action onscreen.

Then Katniss came along. And now the popular “Divergent” films, based on the books by Veronica Roth, center on protagonist Tris (Shailene Woodley), who lives in a dystopian society where people are divided based on personal qualities. Like Katniss, Tris becomes an important part of the fight against the government. 

This January will see the movie “The 5th Wave” come to the big screen. “Wave,” which is based on the books by Rick Yancey, is the story of a girl named Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) trying to live in a world that’s been attacked by aliens. 

We obviously don’t know yet whether “Wave” will seize the public imagination, but Hollywood executives must have been thinking at least a bit of Katniss as they greenlit the upcoming movie.

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