As The Hunger Games (review here) rolled into theaters, I’ve been hearing nonstop “Oh, it’s so been done before” and “Have you not seen Battle Royale?” This last bit was ironically spoken by people who have not seen Battle Royale but are hopping on the anti-Hunger Games train (the same people who blindly hate all things that become popular).
So, let’s take a stroll back at all of the films and books that have laid the groundwork for The Hunger Games and realize that there truly are zero new ideas in the world but that’s okay. Knowing that it isn’t completely original doesn’t stop you from enjoying it.
Lord of the Flies
In 1954, Lord of the Flies was published and has (since then) been required reading in most literature courses, as well as being on many “Best Books Ever” lists. What made it unique was that it portrayed children in a way that other books and movies didn’t: as barbarians. We knew that adults were capable of great evil, but we never imagined that children could be capable of such things (or at least, we didn’t want to acknowledge it). Many people consider The Hunger Games to be focused on “what children are capable of” and this book really brought that idea into the mainstream.
Spartacus / Actual Roman Gladiators
In ancient Rome, it was a popular custom to have prisoners fight each other to the death. This idea was popularized by the 1960 film “Spartacus” starring a much younger Kirk Douglas. This idea (both the reality and the film) sparked most current films that focus on anything regarding “fight to the death.” Every science-fiction show in history has done an episode where the courageous captain gets roped into some duel with the native champion. Somehow, our hero always wins and woos over the locals. Cliche. Well, this idea also created the concept of forcing people to fight each other to survive and gain glory/riches. It also served as a way to keep the lower population in check. That’s exactly what The Hunger Games stole, the whole concept of forcing a population to fight itself in order to remain in control (while the winner gets rewarded).
The Running Man
Written by Stephen King in 1982, The Running Man focused on convicted criminals that were chased by “hunters” who would kill them in gruesome ways (and on national television). Even back in 1982, King had an impeccable idea of what reality television would become. The book was made into a movie in 1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This book set the stage for television becoming a place for torture.
In 2000, the film Battle Royale was released in Japan. This movie has garnered the most attention as being “the original Hunger Games” because it also revolves around kids being forced to fight to the death. Now, this is the only movie on this list I haven’t seen but I felt like I had to include it. Suzanne Collins told the media that she had not seen Battle Royale and wasn’t influenced by it at all. I buy it. The idea of people being forced to fight each other is an old idea and using children is just one more step from that, it’s not like they both invented the Snuggie independently.
2007 was a great year for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Condemned came out, which followed 10 criminals that were locked up and forced to fight on national television. The idea of “death” and “reality television” wasn’t new to The Hunger Games (the book actually came out in 2008). A lot of similar principles play out in both movies, such as how the show follows the action and how they track each convict as they travel.
Pretty similar to Condemned, 2009’s Gamer (starring Gerard Butler) adds in a middle-man. The convicts fight to the death, but they’re controlled by a “gamer” that is basically just playing video games. Again, follows the same principles of “reality television is going to be crazy in the future,” “people must fight each other to the death,” and “those that survive get fame and fortune” (or in this case, their release).
So in closing…
Is The Hunger Games just a copycat? Or is it just another interpretation of ideas that have been around since the Roman arenas? I would fight that it’s a natural move in the same trajectory as all of these other films. But Suzanne Collins smartly integrated youth and love and plenty of action to lure in mass appeal (which most of these other entries lacked… have any of you even seen Condemned?). This is not a copy of Battle Royale. It’s just a different recipe using the same basic ingredients. I’ve looked up a few comparisons between the two and most people that have seen both can point out dozens of differences that are fairly substantial. I wish I had time to see it before giving my thoughts but it’ll likely be weeks before I manage to score a copy. Maybe when I do I’ll have a different conclusion. But until then… appreciate The Hunger Games for what it is.
It’s not original but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it.