The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Are Two Movies Too Many?

The third chapter of The Hunger Games film franchise, Mockingjay, will be released on Nov. 14. The film, which will be split into two parts, is currently in production in Atlanta, but Lionsgate Entertainment (NYSE: LGF  ) has already started whetting fan appetites by releasing a teaser poster online.

Lionsgate just released the teaser poster for Mockingjay. (Source: Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games is the latest popular book to be split into two parts -- a practice that prominently started with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) /Warner Bros.' release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in 2010.

Some may argue that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, weighing in at 759 pages (U.S. edition), worked better as two full films. Twilight's Breaking Dawn, which is also 759 pages long, also arguably needed to be split into two by Summit Entertainment (a subsidiary of Lionsgate).

But let's not be naive -- the obvious advantage of splitting final books into two is profit, by prolonging an aging, profitable franchise over the span of two years. Together, the two final Harry Potter films grossed $2.3 billion, while the two final Twilight films grossed $1.5 billion.

Splitting shorter books into longer films

Yet Mockingjay, at 390 pages, is a much shorter book than either Deathly Hallows or Breaking Dawn -- it's only slightly longer than The Hunger Games and marginally shorter than Catching Fire.

This fact shines a spotlight on Hollywood's practice of splitting shorter books into multiple films -- Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, released by Warner Bros., is the most extreme example, stretching a 310-page affair into three full films over the course of three years.

By comparison, Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is comparable in cinematic scale, was based on a three-volume series that totaled well over 1,000 pages.

Both franchises have been highly profitable -- The Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed $2.9 billion and the first two Hobbit films have already grossed $1.9 billion.

"This party will go on for a very, very long time." (Source: Telegraph.co.uk)

This is a radical departure from film adaptations of novels in the past. Whereas screenwriters and directors previously streamlined novels into screenplays by shedding excess side stories, they now write scene-by-scene remakes of the books.

For fans of the books, this can be a dream come true. But for other audiences, it can be tedious.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for example, tried to stretch its running time by padding the film with connecting scenes to The Lord of the Rings, prolonged action sequences, and a painfully long dwarf song.

Are books and films now equal to each other?

That leads us to another observation -- top franchises like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games have extremely dedicated fan bases.

The Hunger Games' official Facebook page is currently "Liked" by 12.7 million fans. Most of them aren't keen on seeing radical changes to their favorite characters on screen. Therefore, Lionsgate brought in Suzanne Collins, the author of the series, to help write the screenplay of the first film. Collins did not assist in writing the second film, which was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn.

Catching Fire. (Source: Catching Fire trailer)

My personal experience of watching the two Hunger Games films was the same -- it was exactly, scene by scene, what I pictured in my head when I read the novels. There were some additional scenes, such as those involving President Snow and the "game room," but it never deviated far from the text.

Unfortunately, that meant that some flaws in the book -- such as the cliche love triangle and the shallow explanation of life in District 12 -- were not improved upon in the film.

Should filmmakers radically change the source material?

Let's compare that to two other novels -- Winston Groom's Forrest Gump (1986) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1922).

Both books were adapted to film by screenwriter Eric Roth in 1994 and 2008, respectively, in film versions that radically modified the source material.

In Forrest Gump, Roth eliminated excess plots such as Forrest going into space, landing on an island of cannibals, and becoming a wrestler. Instead, Roth kept the spirit of the novel intact and also added the line, "Run, Forrest, run!," which came to define the film.

In Benjamin Button, Roth stripped out nearly everything from the original story, leaving only the name of the titular character and the concept of reverse aging. He also stretched a 42-page novella into a nearly three-hour film.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (Source: Thecia.com.au)

Yet both the film versions of Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button are arguably superior to their source books. The Hunger Games films, on the other hand, are merely comparable to the original novels.

Why splitting Mockingjay could be a good move

When Mockingjay was published in 2010, it polarized fans. Some fans decried its bleak ending, which killed off several beloved characters, while others criticized its rushed pace and glaring plot holes.

The main problem in the novel was that the story was always told by Katniss in a first-person perspective. This works in the first two books, but it is an awkward perspective for the third one because the final act deals with a nationwide revolution in Panem.

That means the reader doesn't see any of the epic battles that eventually topple President Snow's empire -- they are merely reported on by Katniss from afar.

Therefore, Mockingjay might work better as two films -- in which the final battles are depicted more thoroughly and main characters are given more proper sendoffs.

Of course, two Mockingjays would represent two big paydays for Lionsgate, which has already grossed $1.5 billion from the first two films on a combined production budget of $208 million. The two Mockingjay films reportedly have a production budget of over $250 million and could easily top the box office receipts of the first two films.

The bottom line

Although it's really all about the money in the end, splitting novels into two or three films is not always a bad idea.

While some films can stretch out the source material too far, as The Hobbit has done, the Mockingjay films could benefit from two chapters, which could more fully realize the lofty ambitions of the novel.

What do you think, dear readers? Do you think Hollywood should continue splitting short books into long films? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Read/Post Comments (23) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 5:27 PM, HerbieJPilato wrote:

    ONE movie was too much!

    These films only encourage, mean-spirited and violently-competitive natures in young audiences who are becoming desensitized to such low-grade material.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 5:34 PM, Sneak wrote:

    First of all, it's true that the movie Forest Gump was radically different from the book. However, it's definitely not true that the movie version was superior to the book. Quite the opposite - the movie absolutely sucked compared to the book. Just check the author's (Winston Groom) opinion on that one. How anyone could read that book and think to cast Tom Hanks as Gump is completely beyond me.

    Second of all, the author of this article did not touch at all on one of the main reasons why splitting MockingJaye into two books is a bad idea. Suzanne Collins has a background as a playwright and structured the books to each have "three acts." And also, each book in the trilogy was also one part of the three act structure. Splitting the last book into two completely throws off the symmetry that she so brilliantly created.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 5:37 PM, blackjac5000 wrote:

    It's not that the source material is too long to adequately strip down to two hours' runtime, it's that the story has a definitive guaranteed ending with zero possibility of continuation unlike, say, James Bond or Batman. As such, they're trying to wring every last nickel out of the franchise that they can by splitting up the final installment into multiple portions.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 5:41 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    I stopped reading once you went off on Misty Mountains Cold. The song is taken RIGHT FROM THE BOOK (although they shortened it in the movie). In fact songs and music are deeply linked to the stores of both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, because both works are deeply inspired by the Norse and Anglo-Saxon saga, and particularly the Kalevala. Which were--guess what?--SUNG.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 6:42 PM, Thunderflare99 wrote:

    I thought it was a big mistake from the moment they announced that "Mockingjay" would be split into two movies. The last book is the least of the series, and I don't see the story being strong enough to stand on its own between two movies. I have heard from fans of the first movie that they were disappointed by the second partially because it was not Katniss on her own against the arena any longer. Imagine the disappointment they will have with "Mockingjay." A well written adaptation could get the point across in one 2.5 hour movie.

    It made perfect sense to split "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" into two movies - there was an obvious shift in the plot and two movies did justice to the story and wrapping things up as a whole, although the final confrontation is radically different and sensationalized in the movie.

    I think it's disgraceful to split "The Hobbit" into three movies; two movies would have been about right.

    I can't comment about "Twilight", but there was an obvious plot shift in the two movies. I think it would be a big mistake to split "Mockingjay" and I think fans will be disappointed.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 7:01 PM, NESAuryn wrote:

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!

    Change the ending to this story. Seriously, I have never read a book series where the ending just tossed all the good will it had earned out the door and set it on fire like the last 50 pages or so of Mockingjay.

    Seriously. Did anyone actually enjoy how this ended? I don't need a "Happily ever after", but it was almost as if the author was "trolling" her own fans with all the shenanigans at the end. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so I am woefully short on examples here)

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 7:44 PM, j0em1n wrote:

    When I first heard the Hobbit was being split into 3 movies I was furious. I felt like it was clearly a money grab and Peter Jackson and the studio were being greedy. After seeing part 2, I am convinced I was right. I will not be paying to see part 3. I have to agree that Suzanne Collins' work was already divided enough and splitting it even further will be a tremendous injustice to the story. Don't think I'll pay to see that one either. Its bad enough the studios are having trouble coming up with decent movies without remaking older movies, now they have to butcher books just to feed he studio's greed? Despicable.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 7:59 PM, jsnell22 wrote:

    I think it definitely depends on how long the source material is. There are some people who are not fans of the book but actually end up wanting to go and see the movie. So I agree with the notion that for the fans of the book, doing a scene by scene remake would be enjoyable. But for the average film goer who hasn't read the book, it can be quite tedious and long.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 9:02 PM, jessikareeve wrote:

    You have to do two movies for Mockingjay. There are two distinct parts of the movie. It's the least best of the three also, so in film it can be greatly improved upon.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 9:03 PM, taintedwisp wrote:

    The write is a moron, "The Hobbit" book is only a very loose outline of the main sub-plot of the trilogy, "The Hobbit" trilogy is based off the story of the hobbit, Unpublished works from J.R.R Tolken himself, and the lexicon.

    The hobbit movies are actually an expansion on "the hobbit" through the notes of Tolken himself. as he intended to re-write the hobbit book into a multi-book story.

    So no the hobbit book that is less than 400 pages, is NOT what is being made into a trilogy.

    The hobbit book, much of Tolkens Notes, and much of the lexicon(being over 1,000 pages) are being put together into a trilogy.

    This movie series is the only Re-Write of the hobbit that there will be, and it is mostly Tolkens own notes.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 10:08 PM, sj2288 wrote:

    I only hope since it's two movies we will get to see more things like Peeta's Hijacking.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 10:30 PM, EllenA wrote:

    Yes two of these is too much. Actually one Hunger Games movie was enough. I am sick and tired of hearing about the Hunger Games movies.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:12 AM, wasukasa wrote:

    Leo, I would put a lot more stock in your opinion if you could show that you have a handle on subject/verb agreement. Are two movies too much, not is. Or are even paid writers giving up on proper usage of the English language now?

    And you're wrong about the song being padding for The Hobbit. It was in the book, used at that part of that scene, and perfectly expressed the feelings they had for losing their home.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:19 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @NESAuryn -- I didn't hate Mockingjay's ending, I just thought it was rushed, especially after Katniss wakes up after the last big battle and she updates the reader on "the status of her team". The ending was also very contrived and deus ex machina, after the Coin/Snow choice.

    @taintedwisp -- Sure, hardcore Tolkien fans might think that The Hobbit needed 3 films, but most people who have not read the "Lexicon" and other supplementary materials simply think it is overkill for a single 300 page novel.

    @Sneak -- Sorry, but I still think Forrest Gump as a film is superior to the novel. That's just a matter of personal taste, though.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:28 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @wasukasa -- I usually don't reply to snarky replies, but the title of this article was not my original title for the piece. It was re-titled by the editors.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:51 AM, Dull wrote:

    Glad i'm not the only one that thought it was crazy. The Hobbit should have only been 2 films. Three was way too much.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 1:12 PM, kcshawman wrote:

    Well strange, what I have learned reading the comments is that a lot of people don't like going to the movies. I did read the Hungar Games and the movies do a good job. I think they left out enough as it is; so I am very happy they are splitting the books up into several shows. I just hope I live long enough to see them all.

    I never knew about a novel Forest Gump so the one show was great and good. If I had read the book maybe I would have thought it was too short.

    I suggest those who don't like sequels in movies just stick with the books, oh darn books have sequels also.

    I do not hold to the equation that one novel equals 2.5 hrs of movie time.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 1:15 PM, boromir96 wrote:

    Well, for my two cents - I think splitting the book into two movies in this case made sense - *SPOILER ALERT* because the action takes place over too many different arenas - First we have to get into District 13, its whole back story, it's government, operations, etc. Then there are the field trips to Districts (the hospital for the vids and then the Nut) and then Finally, the Capitol itself. When I first read the book I knew they would split it. As for the ending, I too was a bit disappointed in the way it was handled and I hope the script writers, directors or editors can somehow salvage it... but I don't think so.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 1:27 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @boromir96 -- Yes, there's a clear way to split Mockingjay after *SPOILER ALERT* they rescue the brainwashed Peeta. Peeta strangling Katniss is the ideal way to end the first half.

    Meanwhile, I think the ending can be salvaged, especially by actually acting out the "update on my team" after she regains consciousness after her last battle.

    The Coin/Snow finale, however, is a bit of a mess.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 1:49 PM, wasukasa wrote:

    @Leo, since it was your editors I have to give you a pass. While you're right, it was snarky of me, it was also my crying out at the sad state of affairs that has become of writing since the advent of the internet. Bloggers and commentators can do whatever they want, but editors???? Please pass on to them my condolences at their lack of editing skills.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 3:38 AM, DanielleWright09 wrote:

    From someone who has read all three books in the Hunger Games series, it's necessary to split them into two movies. There's just so much that happens in the second half of the book!

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 5:59 AM, Riggerwo wrote:

    There were three books....why not three movies????

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 2:48 PM, confed2001 wrote:

    Sorry Taintedwisp but the moron here is YOU! Tolkien was NEVER going to re-write the Hobbit into several books. The Hobbit was published several years before Rings & was ALWAYS intended to be a children’s book. The other crap that Jackson added to his POS films is either taken from the Appendix in the Lord of the Rings, or made up completely by Jackson & his idiot staff! And like Jackson everything you stated was fabricated by you!

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