Credit Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Post-divergent dystopian

By Merryn Hill

Dune 2 and a new Hunger Games film may start a resurgence in the the genre.

The Hunger Games became an international success as soon as it was released. It sparked a wave of other dystopian franchise films, such as The Maze Runner and Divergent, but each Hunger Games sequel made less money than its predecessor, and the final film in the Divergent franchise was dropped completely. Instead, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has come to dominate the box office, especially since the first Avengers film dropped in 2012. There are now thirty MCU films, as well as multiple television series’, such as Loki and Wandavision. Each one of these features has seen significant box office success, with Avengers: Endgame (2019) being the second highest-grossing movie of all time, making $2.8 billion.

Dystopian films, meanwhile, have failed to reclaim any significant financial success. Some critics have posited saturation as an explanation for its decline, but the sustained popularity of superhero films suggests this cannot be the whole story. Instead, adaptations of dystopian films have failed to evolve. Subsequent films imitating The Hunger Games make use of the same old tropes: the same type of characters live under the same kind of oppression, while being caught in an angst-filled teenage love triangle. The Hunger Games was so successful because it explored chilling and relevant themes relevant to today, such as anxieties surrounding inequality, capitalism and power. The features that followed simply regurgitate these same themes, shoving in a few violent gimmicks, and calling it a day. The characters and settings of the copycat Hunger Games are only explored on a surface level, and using the same derivative tropes, depriving them of uniqueness or individuality. 

Most dystopian films are based on popular fantasy novels, a genre that requires significant world-building and storytelling. For the majority of fantasy novels, a two-hour movie simply isn’t enough to fully explore the worlds that the authors created, or the experiences of the characters. Consequently, film adaptations have to push important narratives around mental health and anxiety aside, stripping the meat from the story. Dystopian TV shows, on the other hand, have been more effective: shows such as The 100 and The Handmaid’s Tale are examples of book adaptations that successfully explored their own dystopian worlds, and delved into their characters’ experiences and emotions, without stripping away the essential elements of the dystopian story. However, there are hopes of the dystopian genre successfully returning to the big screen. Dune 2 is set to hit the cinema on November 3 in the UK, while a prequel to The Hunger Games is reportedly in the works, in which the origins and the rise to political power of President Snow, the main villain of The Hunger Games, will be explored. Following the commercial success of the first Dune film, there is a chance that if these films avoid the mistakes of their predecessors, and stick more closely to telling the stories of original source material, the dystopian film genre can be re-established to its former glory.


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