Battle of the Dystopias
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
There was no greater time in history to be a fan of young adult fiction books than the early 2010's. Not only did so many iconic books come out, but this was also the time when Hollywood began to notice the profitability of turning those books into films. While the genre as a whole experienced a growth in popularity, none garnered quite as much attention as Divergent and The Hunger Games. In the years since the inception of these movies, both series have been endlessly compared to one another. So today I'm here to answer the question: "who won the Battle of the Dystopias?"
On March 23rd, 2012, Lionsgate released The Hunger Games in theaters, much to the enjoyment of millions of fans worldwide. After grossing $694.4 million dollars worldwide on a budget of $78 million, the film is Lionsgate's highest grossing movie to this day. On March 21st, 2014, Lionsgate released what they thought would be their next Hunger Games. Veronica Roth's Divergent. Ever since its release, Divergent has been compared to The Hunger Games for various reasons. Not only are they both dystopians with teenage girls for protagonists, they also both have three installments, and the exact same demographics. In the early 2010's, if you were a fan of one you most likely were a fan of the other as well.
For this piece, I'm going to take you back to 2014. Picture a 10 year old Rua, with her stack of dystopia books, walking around on Halloween night in her Divergent costume, and then her 11 year old self in her Hunger Games costume. I was an absolute fanatic and I can't think of a better person to discuss the Battle of the Dystopias than myself. Although my taste has changed greatly since my time in elementary school, there's a clear winner here.
There is a reason why Divergent always gets compared to The Hunger Games and not the other way around. There is a serious difference in quality between both series. Even though the young adult dystopian genre had existed for quite some time before The Hunger Games was written, it undeniably popularized the genre to perhaps the most valuable consumers there are...teenagers. The series had all the necessary elements to succeed, a strong lead; a love triangle, political tension, plenty of action, and some genuinely adequate writing. Most of which are present in the Divergent series...except the last one.
While Divergent struggles the most with originality, that's not to say that everything else about it is perfect. The performances span from okay to straight up bad, the decision to cast a 30 year old Theo James as an 18 year old character will never cease to baffle me. The world-building feels painfully derivative at times, as the film's runtime progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Veronica Roth wrote the entire first book over her winter break in college. That's right...three weeks. However with all that being said about the first movie, it is without a doubt the best one in the series, and that isn't a compliment. Insurgent and Allegiant are both infinitely worse in terms of performances, special effects, and of course, writing. The series didn't even get a proper conclusion, the last film ended on a cliffhanger and there was supposed to be a follow-up television show that was never created. As far as the world is concerned, Divergent is over, whether we like it or not.
It's safe to say that in terms of performances, writing, and overall world-building, The Hunger Games is a better dystopian series when it comes to both books and movies. However, an underrated aspect to The Hunger Games' superiority is the series progression. Nowadays, it's not an unpopular opinion to believe that the sequel, Catching Fire is actually better than the first installment, which is a feat that not many series are able to accomplish, certainly not Divergent. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of both dystopias are their interpretations of bravery. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen doesn't win the games out of sheer ruthlessness and behaving like a daredevil. She wins by gaining the support of sponsors through her compassion for character like Peeta and Rue. Her ultimate moment of bravery isn't her winning the games, it's in the beginning when she volunteers to take her sister's place at the reaping ceremony. Katniss is a well-written character because Suzanne Collins understands that being brave is more than a surface level concept, it has to do with being compassionate and standing up for what you believe in to protect the ones you love. However Divergent deals with the concept of bravery in a very elementary way. According to the world of Divergent, being brave or "Dauntless" means jumping off buildings, not flinching while having knives thrown at you, and putting yourself in direct danger just for the hell of it. When it comes to having a young audience, it's safe to say that Katniss Everdeen stands as a better role model than Tris Prior.
Both Divergent and The Hunger Games deal with themes of class and wealth however Suzanne Collins has a vastly superior interpretation of the matter. In the book as well as the movie, there are themes of extravagance vs. bare bones living, exploitation of the poor, and rebellion. The Capitol and the districts represent the widespread issue of exploitation that certain wealthy areas do to less fortunate countries. It's a complex idea that is made digestible by the way the story is written. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Veronica Roth breaks down class in Divergent to be between the factions and the "factionless" (homeless). It's a much more shallow and inaccurate version of what Suzanne Collins was trying to accomplish in The Hunger Games.
While both of these series remain dear to my heart and I'll always experience an awesome wave of nostalgia whenever I watch them, it's clear which one dominates the other in terms of quality. But when it comes to the enjoyment of cinema, does quality even matter?