Movie Monday: The Hunger (and the Ratings) Games

Movie Monday: The Hunger (and the Ratings) Games

TheHungerGamesMovieMonday.jpgWe all saw this coming.

The Hunger Games, one of the most hotly anticipated movies of 2012, screamed to an estimated $155 million opening weekend take, obliterating the rest of the field (21 Jump Street finished a distant second with $21.3 million) and setting all sorts of records in the process. It was the third highest opening of all time (just behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight) and the highest debut ever for a non-sequel.

But let’s step back for just a moment and ask something: What, exactly, does that sky-high number mean? It doesn’t tell us whether The Hunger Games is a great movie. It doesn’t tell us whether people liked the film. It doesn’t tell us even how many tickets were sold—just how much was spent. Sure, it’s helpful. Sure, it tells us something about where The Hunger Games fits into our culture. But at the end of the day, it tells only a sliver of the story.

Which brings us to another number: 3.5.

The 3.5 figure is the “family friendliness” rating (out of 5) that Plugged In gave The Hunger Games for our audio, video and mobile reviews. And in the last few days, a handful of Plugged In readers and listeners have contacted us, questioning our rating. A 3.5? Some have asked. Really?

“I'm curious how a film like the Hunger Games, where teens brutally hack and kill each other in violent ways, could receive a 3 1/2 stars family friendliness rating on your site?,” wrote one reader. “It got a higher rating than Big Miracle, a true story about saving whales. Makes no sense.”

I hear where our reader is coming from. Entertainment should inspire discussion, and the fact that folks are really weighing what’s out there—whether it honors God, whether it’s edifying, whether it’s appropriate—is quite encouraging. After all, that’s really part of our mission here: to get people thinking about what they’re watching and listening to.

But The Hunger Games also gives us a chance to ask another important question: What’s in a number?

The Plugged In ratings were created, in part, to serve as something akin to critical shorthand. On the radio, Plugged In spokesman Bob Waliszewski doesn’t have 10 minutes to give a comprehensive review of a film: He has one or two. And we understand that, when you’re perusing Plugged In on your smartphone while waiting for a light to change, you may not be in a great position to read several paragraphs about, say, the sexual content of 21 Jump Street.

But just as you can’t get the full impact of the book of Psalms through SparkNotes, the numerical rating inherently tells just part of the story. And as much time and effort as we put into giving a film an accurate rating, they can be (through no fault of their own) misleading without proper context. Even with that context, we can’t—and would never assume to—tell you what’s appropriate for your family. Though we gave The Passion of the Christ a 5 for “family friendliness,” we did so with the understanding that parents would be the final authority on whether or not to let their children see the film.

In short, our family friendliness ratings are a tool—one of many tools we’d encourage you to use when deciding what entertainment is appropriate for you and your family. We never intended it as a verdict.

Which brings us back to The Hunger Games—a tricky film to quantify under any circumstances. It’s a film that cogently, creatively speaks about a number of growing societal evils. It steers reasonably clear of problematic sexual and language content. It shows us hints of humanity in the midst of an inhumane game. It models sacrifice and even, at times, kindness.

And it also ladles out loads and loads of violence: Kids killing kids in very brutal ways.

Bob Hoose and Steven Isaac’s online review tackles the film from any number of different angles, and I know how much they worked on getting the tone of the review just right. I also know how much the team considered what sort of rating The Hunger Games should garner: After much discussion, the team involved decided on 3.5.

The rating, again, is a guide—not a verdict or judgment. We’re not out to condemn Hollywood for making “bad” movies. The fact that most movies have bad stuff in them is a given; few folks make films with God in mind. What we want to do is give you as much help as we can to discern what might be appropriate for you and your family. Our ratings system on the radio and our app is part of that effort.

What you do with our ratings and our reviews, our podcasts and blogs … well, that’s up to you. We’re just here with you, praying with you and for you, offering input when you ask for it and walking beside you, step for step.

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  • Comment by  Corr:

    I saw The Hunger Games yesterday, and I throughly enjoyed it. It's no-where near as violent as people are saying, nor as violent as Plugged In's review made it sound. In fact, I was very impressed with the violence. They could have made it a blood-bath, and instead they really toned it down. Not so far that it's non-existent, but enough to get the point across with-out making it gory. The film did a great job capturing the essence of the book and characters, and I hope it continues to do well in the Box Office. Definitely can't wait for the following sequels.

  • Comment by  Lisbeth:

    March 22/23, 2012-- BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!!!!!  I LOVED The Hunger Games and felt so lucky to get to be one of the first people to see it.  About 400 of us ended up going to the private midnight screening at the local mall.  There were two rooms just for us, along with FOUR other rooms for the general public.  And boy what an experience it all was!  We all laughed at Effie's one-liners (it would have to be a tie between "I just love that!" during the Reaping video and "That. Is. Mahogany!" on the train), cried when Rue died, screamed when Katniss and Peeta got chased by the mutts (those mutts seriously jumped out of nowhere), and applauded when Thresh killed Clove.  One of the moments that I remember the most was the shot of Katniss' face as she turns around to look at Cinna after the launch tube's doors closed.  The terror in her eyes was so palpable.  As the final 20 seconds were counted out, we all whispered along with the announcer.  The shaky camera cinematography definitely made the experience so much better because it felt like you were along for the journey with the 24 tributes, especially during the first few minutes of the Games themselves.  At the end, we gave the movie a standing ovation.  Sunday afternoon, I cheered in front of my computer when I found out about the box office totals.  I have now seen all of the three-biggest-grossing-opening-weekend movies of all time: the last Harry Potter, The Dark Knight, and The Hunger Games.

    PS-- I eagerly anticipate your podcast on The Hunger Games.

  • Comment by  ryanatatlantis:

    I agree with the team's decision to give The Hunger Games a 3.5 score.  The film definitely isn't for kids or pre-teens, yet it gives the audience a lot to meditate on after the credits roll.  And of course violence involving children is awful no matter what context it's in, but the film strikes a near-perfect balance between being realistically unsettling and restraining itself as to not exploit the violence for shock value.

  • Comment by  Corr:

    I think they did a wonderful job portraying Effie, Elizabeth Banks was a perfect actress for that role.I didn't get emotional about Rue dying (of course, I'm a guy, so that's probably why lol), but others in the theater I was at did. A lot of people jumped when the Mutt's came out. (Especially the guy sitting next to me, it was actually hilarious. I honestly think he got like 2 seconds of air over his chair.) There were so many great scenes in the movie. I agree with you, it was really awesome. My first movie that I actually went to see on opening weekend, and it was worth it.

  • Comment by  Beth B.:

    I admit, I was a bit surprised about how, um, un-negative, the Plugged In review of The Hunger Games was, but having read this explanation I totally understand where you all are coming from. I have been on other family friendly review sites that while they give accurate reviews, they do not look at media from a Christian perspectives, and sometimes recommend things that have some questionable content that I know Plugged In would have pointed out. You all have been so valuable to me over the years in making educated media decisions, and even though I don't always agree completely with every review, I still appreciate and deeply respect what is said. I can't tell you how much I appreciate Plugged In being around.

  • Comment by  Stephanie:

    While the movie is admittedly violent and brutal, it leaves you with some serious things to consider.  Are we, as a society, in danger of becoming like Panem?  Are we so bloodthirsty that we are willing to sacrifice children for our entertainment?  I think THG has some solid messages to deliver, even if they are a little blood-spattered.  I laid awake the night that I saw it going over and over the themes in my head.  Seeing it has stuck with me, and the messages I left with?  That was worth it, in my opinion.  THG is a wake-up call for us because we are so blood-hungry in our films and TV shows.  We could very easily become a culture like Panem and the cold-hearted (wealthy) citizens therein.

  • Comment by  kate:

    I saw the Hunger Games too, and I absolutely loved it!!! The 3.5 rating is fair but I find it curious that Passion of the Christ got a 5/5 for ''family friendliness''...really? That movie was incredibly violent even more than Hunger Games (in my opinion). Anyway, I'm glad Hunger Games did so great; I'm not sure why it didn't do just as well overseas (it made $59 million for first place).

  • Comment by  hmk:

    I went to watch The Hunger Games, which I wasn't too impressed with. I honestly would not let my 11 year old watch it. I do think it was violent not as violent as some tv shows but then again what we watch a lot of times tends to desensitize us. So I watched it and didn't think it was too violent but for my 11 year old who watches mainly Disney it would of been too violent.

  • Comment by  Tevey:

    Interesting anecdote about the movie and our culture:

    I went to see the movie at midnight like so many of you and was reasonably impressed at what the filmmakers put together. But one thing particularly disturbed me. During the scene where Katniss is attacked by Clove, the audience started applauding when Clove was killed. This seemed to me to be sadly ironic; they had fallen into the very thing that Collins was trying to warn against. And as laudable as the book's central message of violence awareness is, I think it's largely lost on many of the book's fans.

  • Comment by  Sarah:

    Good, well-written article.  The help provided by this website is indispensible to our family when we choose movies and videos to watch - I thank you for that!

  • Comment by  Bob:

    I think its rating was due to it being satire. It was showing us in the future when we were desentised to the actual killing of humans. That was the main driving force behind it. It showed a culture and asked "Is this who we really are?" 3.5 I think was pretty accurate.

  • Comment by  Raixfeather (Kristin):

    Exactly. Even if Clove was cruel, she was just a child! T_T All of the tributes' deaths were tragic, even the Careers.

  • Comment by  Lana T.:

    The Hunger Games has spurred on much discussion at our house and it has made me realize how important it is to read the literature my teenage children are reading.  It has been a conversation starter at our church as well.  This is the most thoght provoking book/movie we as a family have ever all been interested in.  When I was in college, I had to take a classs entitieled "Calling,Task and Culture".  This movie spurs on discussion in all of these areas.  As Christians, we are not to be "of" the world, but are deinitely "in" it whether we want to be or not.

  • Comment by  YetAnotherTeen:

    Is the Hunger Games madness over yet? I want to get back to making fun of movies for not making any money. It's not any fun when they actually make a movie that makes money...

  • Comment by  Sherry:

    I was surprised at the 3.5 rating. My husband and I did not find this movie entertaining.It left us with a feeling of sadness. America's current state could become what they portray in the movie: No hope and government bullying to those who oppose the killing of their children. This movie is NOT something children should be watching. It is violent--we have children killing each other in our schools; in Florida 5 children dismembered and burned another child, another child on a school bus being beaten unconscious by a gang of kids while the bus driver does nothing. This movie just carries out what is happening everyday in America. Lisbeth seems to enjoy movies that show death in violent ways. If you are a Christian and love the Lord, how can you write that you applauded when Clove was killed?