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‘Hunger Games’ feeds the need for teen entertainment

For the last four weeks, audiences worldwide have flocked to movie theaters in droves to see Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” This young adult novel, like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” before it, is poised to spark a global phenomenon.

What is it that gives films such as “Hunger Games” this much power? Certainly studios have tried to copy the Potter/Twilight formula before, with mixed results. “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” “The Golden Compass” and “Eragon” all attempted to turn a strong cult following into box office gold, but to no avail.

What separates those failed adaptations from the cinematic juggernauts of “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and now “The Hunger Games” is the fan base. While several young adult series have very loyal followings, they pale in comparison to the readers who make the Boy Wizard, Sparkling Bloodsuckers and the Girl on Fire million (or even billion) dollar franchises.

The tween audience lives and breathes young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels. Anxiety and hormone-ridden teenagers such as Harry Potter, Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen act as surrogates for their numerous readers, who feel like they are living the adventures of their heroes as they read about their larger-than-life exploits.

As the economy grows worse, producers search for that rare property that attracts both men and women of all ages. “Harry Potter” was one of those rare franchises. “Twilight” appealed almost exclusively to women, but the husbands and boyfriends who were dragged with them to the films contributed greatly to that series’ enormous financial success.

Now “The Hunger Games” have come along, and with “Potter” gone and “Twilight” ending this year, Katniss Everdeen is ready to become the next big thing in Hollywood. Collins’ trilogy of post-apocalyptic survival novels has entranced readers on a global scale, amassing a fan base large enough and just as loyal to rival the likes of “Twilight” and “Potter.”

The presence of a strong female protagonist caught in a love triangle draws in the girls, while the unforgiving action, violence and science fiction aspects attract the boys. Unlike “Twilight,” there’s something here for everyone. Guys will go see the movie and read the books because they want to, not just to please their lady friends.

It also helps that “The Hunger Games” is an extremely well-made film that adapts the source without betraying the fans, simultaneously introducing casual moviegoers to the brilliance of Collins’ unique world. Failure to keep the novel’s core themes and stories intact was what doomed films like “Percy Jackson,” “The Golden Compass” and “Eragon” into underperforming in theaters.

However, unlike “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” which had multiple novels to maintain a long running franchise, “The Hunger Games” is merely a trilogy. Either Hollywood will go the route of the last two franchises and split the finale into two films, or they will accept the series is coming to an end and seek out the next big fan-fueled phenomenon.

Whatever the future holds, the fact remains that “The Hunger Games” has won the coveted role of the new franchise to look out for, with the odds increasingly in its favor.

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