With a prequel novel on shelves now, and some timely political subtext to consider, it feels like a great time to talk about The Hunger Games series. Let’s talk about the lessons this story teaches us about the real world, and put the Hunger Games movies in order from worst to best as we go.

(SPOILER WARNING: Nothing is off limits in this review, so please proceed with caution. Xoxo!)

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

First of all, there’s not a bad movie in the bunch, which is more than most blockbuster franchises can say, particularly in the YA genre. So, 4th place may be last in this case, but Mockingjay – Part 2 is not a bad film.

This is the one that caps off the Hunger Games movies, and it mostly succeeds. We see Panem finally topple its dictatorship, with Katniss leading the way. We see lots of action as our team weaves through booby traps on the way to President Snow’s mansion. The story dares to go deeper than Snow-gotta-die-because-he-evil in its final moments, as an equally dangerous leader threatens to replace him. All in all, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the series (and actually better than the book, don’t @ me).

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “Wait, what’s happening?” and “Who is that again?” moments that hold this finale back. And, no shade, but I would say most of those questions are asked in Mockingjay the novel as well. The book is sort of a hot mess, so it’s a miracle what they made of it on screen.

3. The Hunger Games

I feel guilty putting the first of the Hunger Games movies here. But, again, all these movies are great, so what is a guy like me to do?

I’ve always loved this series because of how relevant it feels. When an innocent black girl named Rue is speared to death in the arena, it sparks riots in predominantly-black District 11 that are met with Peacekeeper (synonym: police officer) retaliation.

It’s not exactly a one-to-one comparison with the Black Lives Matter movement. But watching this movie now, the similarities are impossible to miss. The people are fed up with a system that kills their innocent loved ones, and they’re not going to be quiet anymore. I’m not sure if author Suzanne Collins intended Rue to be a symbol for real-world violence against black people, but the message is there nonetheless.

This movie is the most woodsy/folksy of them all, if that makes sense. It introduces us to a dystopian future America called Panem, and launches a classic scifi story packed with too-close-for-comfort messages.

Basically, we stan.

2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Of all the Hunger Games movies, this one is the most packed with political drama. There’s propaganda and counter-propaganda. Civil unrest is building, and we see the districts unifying behind a symbol of hope: the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen.

The story holds nothing back here. This may be loosely categorized as young-adult fiction, but some of the scenes echo brutal real-world tragedies like WWII (Katniss walks over the bones of her incinerated District neighbors at one point). Basically, this is a war movie.

I’m giving a whole paragraph to “The Hanging Tree.” On paper, the song wasn’t a big part of the story. But on screen, it’s probably my favorite scene in the Mockingjay duology. It’s hard to put a finger on why this scene makes me tear up every time I watch it. I guess it’s the rebels singing as they march to their deaths, knowing they’ll die but continuing regardless, stepping over each other’s bodies to complete the mission.

And the fact that the filmmakers took a throwaway line from the novel about a dam attack and turned it into one of the most powerful moments in the film franchise? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mockingjay – Part 1 may be the slowest in pace, but it has everything to say about overthrowing a fascist government. And that’s the point of this whole thing.

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

First of all, this is the most faithful novel adaptation I have ever seen. Absolutely spot-on.

Catching Fire is nearly flawless. It’s got action. It’s got the first glimpse of the revolution, well, catching fire. It’s got great actors, and feels a little more grown-up than the original, mostly because the Games themselves feature previous winners instead of 12-to-18-year-olds.

I saw Catching Fire in theaters three times. Truly loved it, and still do today.

The Hunger Games gave a taste of civil unrest and totalitarian suppression of the districts. Catching Fire took all the most interesting ideas on the table and zoomed in on them. This was never about 24 kids killing each other for our entertainment; It was about a revolution.

My favorite scene? Probably when Katniss wraps that wire around the tip of her arrow, aims at the force field as the music builds, and releases the arrow with a screech of defiance. The music falls as the arrow finds its mark explosively. President Snow, watching from the Capitol, calls for Plutarch as all screens go dark. Plutarch is gone.

I just got chills writing that. *VIGOROUS CHEF’S KISS*

Everything you could want out of an action/scifi/dystopian movie. Of all the Hunger Games movies, Catching Fire is the best. It fires on all cylinders at all times. The effects are better. The story is more intense. There is more being said about the world. The revolution begins.

Speaking of revolutions, you are probably watching and reading a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement lately. Police brutality isn’t just in the movies; it’s a threat in the real world too, particularly for black people. Here is a great resource for learning more, signing petitions, or donating to the cause (even without money). Together, we can make a BIG difference.