Dystopian teen blockbusters The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner have captured the imaginations of young and old. But which is the best?

What is a teen dystopia?

Teen dystopian fiction has seen a sharp rise in popularity lately, perhaps because it provides this generation of adolescents with a way of grappling with important social issues and their own place in the world. ‘The Hunger Games’ and the ‘Maze Runner’ are two of the genre’s most widely-acclaimed films. However, they are in many respects polar opposites of each other; they address different themes and issues, have different narrative styles and focus on very different characters. But which is the superior cinematic work?
 

What’s so great about The Hunger Games?

First of all, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. It’s impossible to discuss ‘The Hunger Games’ without discussing class consciousness. The titular Hunger Games aren’t just a bloody, kill-or-be-killed sport; they’re a means by which the wealthy ruling class in the hyper-decadent Capitol demand a bloody sacrifice from the working class labourers of the surrounding districts. Sorry, but there’s no prize for spotting the allegory to late-stage capitalism. In other words, your level of affection for ‘The Hunger Games’ will probably vary depending on where you fall on the political spectrum. If you occasionally try to break the ice at parties by quoting Karl Marx, you’ll probably love it. Otherwise, you might prefer something a little less overtly politicised.

(Click here to buy The Hunger Games)
 

…And The Maze Runner?

In comparison, ‘The Maze Runner’ has a much tighter focus; it doesn’t let the politics of its wider fictional world seep into its main drama. The film takes a group of boys, drops them at the heart of a deadly maze and challenges them to find a way out. Essentially, it’s Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Cube’ but with teenagers. The drama comes from watching the characters argue, form alliances and factions and ultimately work out how to overcome their situation. Towards the end, the film does give away the reason why the heroes were locked in the maze in the first place. However, as the series is only on its first film, it’s too early to speculate on whether this could be a metaphor for an event or situation in our world.

 

The Characters

But let’s forget the narrative subtext; you want to know which film’s characters are going to win you over. On this point, at least, there’s a clear winner. In ‘The Hunger Games’, Katniss Everdeen is a beautifully flawed, human character. When she volunteers herself as a ‘tribute’ for the Hunger Games, her motivation is to protect her sister. Then, when placed in the games, her only real concern is to stay alive. It’s only through constant trials and pressures that she develops into a more conventionally heroic figure. Meanwhile, her supporting cast are variously funny, sympathetic, spirited, tragic and brilliant. In contrast, the leading man of ‘Maze Runner', Thomas, starts out the film with precisely one motivation (escape the maze!) and never really evolves or develops beyond that. He’s a tabula rasa on whom the audience can project their heroic ideals. Sadly, therefore, he doesn’t really have a character arc. In fact, we’d go so far as to say he has a character flatline.

 

The Action

However, what ‘Maze Runner’ lacks in meaningful characters it makes up for in sheer badassery. While the ‘Hunger Games’ has plenty of physical threats and high-octane battles (the most recent instalment featured a scene in which Katniss shoots down a futuristic helicopter with a bow and arrow), it just can’t compare to ‘Maze Runner’. Why? Because ‘Maze Runner’ has giant robot spider-things with ominous syringes attached to their legs and scenes in which the film’s ragtag heroes have to fight them in a maze that is constantly changing shape.

 

The Box Office

‘Maze Runner’ grossed $102,427,862 (around £68,112,690) at the box office, while the most recent ‘Hunger Games’ movie managed $337,135,885 (around £224,189,315), so it’s pretty clear which film the average moviegoer thinks is best.

 

The Winner?

Both films have compelling narratives - albeit with very different themes and levels of real-world relevance. Meanwhile, while ‘The Hunger Games’ scores points for characterisation, ‘Maze Runner’ offers a far better quality of visceral action. If tightly-focused, heart-pounding sci-fi is more your thing, you’ll appreciate ‘Maze Runner’. If you’re a sucker for social commentary, you’ll love ‘The Hunger Games’.

Which side are you on?

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