The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, now called Panem. Panem is divided into 12 districts, most of which are very poor. The 12 districts are controlled by a totalitarian government led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and a wealthy minority, who live comfortably in Capital City. The government intimidates the people in the districts and reminds them of past failed rebellions by holding the annual ‘Hunger Games’. The Hunger Games are a televised battle to the death between 24 ‘tributes’. The tributes are girls and boys aged 12-18 years. Each district has a lottery to choose one girl and one boy to send. The tributes fight each other until only one remains.
Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) is selected as the female tribute from district 12, but her 16-year old sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is selected as district 12’s male tribute. Peeta has known and lived alongside Katniss all his life.
When they arrive at Capital City, Katniss and Peeta are befriended and helped by former Games winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Games stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
The bloodbath begins when the siren for the 74th Hunger Games sounds. Katniss and Peeta must fight and kill in order to survive. But the final outcome is not what President Snow or the promoters of the Games expect.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Totalitarian government; corruption, poverty and oppression; fighting to the death; suicide
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
This movie has scenes of intense violence in which Hunger Games tributes viciously kill each other with weapons including hunting knives, swords, spears and arrows. They also bash each other to death. But the onscreen violence and blood and gore is mostly only suggested or shown as obscure, quick glimpses.
Examples of the more brutal and explicit violence include the following:
- A teenage boy bashes the head of another boy with a house brick. The dead boy lies on the ground. The second boy stands over him holding a very bloody brick in his hand.
- In a flashback image, a mother yells at her son and slaps him across the face.
- As the Hunger Games start, 24 teenagers ranging in age from 12-16 years run for a collection of supplies and weapons. There are quick images of the teenagers stabbing, hacking and slashing each other with large knives, and blood drips and sprays around. By the end of the scene, 12 competitors are dead. They lie on the ground with their bodies and clothing splattered with blood and their eyes open.
- An older boy brutally kills a younger boy by using his hands to twist the boy’s head around, snapping his neck.
- A boy throws a spear into a teenage girl’s chest. She grabs the spear and pulls it from her chest leaving a bloody wound. Katniss holds the young girl her in her arms as she dies with her eyes open. After the girl dies, Katniss cries in anguish.
- A riot scene shows people smashing windows and setting fire to buildings. Riot police use batons and water cannons to keep the rioters away.
- A teenage girl slashes at Katniss’s head with a hunting knife, causing a bloody wound. The two girls wrestle each other to the ground. Katniss’s attacker head-butts her and then holds a knife across her throat. A boy pulls the girl off Katniss and brutally slams the girl’s head several times into a wall, killing her.
- While Peeta is on top of a shelter, a boy attacks him with a sword then tries to strangle him. The boy then threatens to jump off the roof of the shelter into a pack of savage animals waiting below, taking Peeta with him. Katniss shoots the boy in the hand with an arrow. The boy falls off the roof, and we hear the sounds of the animals below savaging him.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:
- Katniss runs for her life from a forest fire as large fireballs hurtle towards her and burning trees and branches fall in her path. She eventually escapes the fire by jumping into a pond of water.
- Katniss cuts a tree branch holding a wasp nest. The wasps have been genetically modified so that their venom is extremely painful and causes hallucinations and sometimes death. As the nest hits the ground it explodes in a group of tributes. The wasps swarm over them as they scream and run away. A girl is covered in wasps. A later scene shows her dead body on the ground with hundreds of wasp stings.
- After being stung by the wasps, Katniss hallucinates and has a flashback of her father’s death. The flashback shows miners going down a mineshaft in a lift. There is a large explosion and fireball that destroys the mineshaft and mine entrance.
- We hear the threatening sounds of animals in the dark and a teenage boy screaming. The scene suggests the animals attack and kill the boy.
- Some large animals chase Katniss and Peeta through the forest. Katniss and Peeta just manage to climb on to a shelter. The animals snap and claw at them.
- Brief video images show war violence including flames, explosions, soldiers with weapons and piles of human skulls.
- During an escape from a forest fire, Katniss hurts her leg. The wound is large and bloody, and Katniss cries and shakes from pain. Peeta also has a bloody leg wound. He gets feverish when the wound gets infected.
- There is a quick glimpse of a boy being savaged by a pack of animals. He pleads for help, and Katniss shoots an arrow at him. The scene doesn’t show the boy actually being shot, but it suggests that he dies.
Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by some of the scenes and images mentioned above.
Some children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes and images mentioned above.
This movie has occasional low-level sexual references. For example:
- In a couple of scenes, teenagers call Peeta ‘lover boy’. Characters call Katniss and Peeta ‘star-crossed lovers’.
- Hunger Games promoters talk about promoting ‘young love’ to please the crowds. They’re talking about Katniss and Peeta.
- After seeing Katniss kissing Peeta on the cheek, a man says, ‘You call that a kiss?’
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie shows some use of substances. For example:
- In several scenes, Haymitch Abernathy drinks alcohol and acts in a mildly drunk way. When asked why he has come to one event, Haymitch says it is because of the free drink.
- Several dinner party and celebration scenes show adults and teenagers drinking brightly coloured drinks.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie has a few scenes that suggest nudity, and there is also some low-level sexual activity. For example:
- A teenage girl and boy lie on a table being washed by a hand-held shower.
- In a couple of scenes, Katniss kisses Peeta passionately.
- Katniss falls asleep while lying against Peeta with her head resting on his chest.
None of concern
This movie has a few very mild curses and some name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Hunger Games is an action adventure based on a series of best-selling teenage novels by Susanne Collins. The movie is emotionally intense, violent, thought-provoking and more suited to older adolescents and adults. The movie closely follows the book it’s based on, but younger children (10-13 years) who have read the book and coped with it might not be prepared for the movie’s violence and emotional intensity. They might find the movie more upsetting and disturbing than the book.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- Oppressed people who are given hope, or a cause to believe in, can find the strength and determination to rise up against their oppressors even if it means sacrificing their own lives.
- People should hold on to their humanity regardless of the costs.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the following:
- Self-sacrifice: both Katniss and Peeta put their own lives on the line many times to save others.
- Family love: Katniss takes risks and puts aside her personal happiness to look after her mother and younger sister.
You might also want to talk with your children about the dangers of the society shown in The Hunger Games, and how this society is like our own. For example, how does the competition in The Hunger Games compare with child TV reality shows such as Scorpion Island, where children compete against each other and get eliminated?