Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games." (Lionsgate )
Talk about long-term planning. Lionsgate on Tuesday announced dates for the next three (!) movies in its flagship "Hunger Games" series.
“Catching Fire,” directed by Francis Lawrence, will come out just before Thanksgiving in 2013, while the two “Mockingjay” movies will be released in November 2014 and November 2015. By the time the final “Hunger Games” movie rolls around, so much time will have passed that we'll be long past this presidential-election cycle and knee-deep in the next one.
In making the announcement, Lionsgate revealed its intention not to play the game that “Twilight” studio Summit and “Harry Potter” company Warner Bros. played, in which it switched up the seasons for one or more sequels. (Incidentally, the executives in charge of Lionsgate ran Summit during its "Twilight" days. So they clearly don't want to try that again.)
It’s a smart move, marketing-wise. Consistency is good for consumers, who can now reliably expect a “Hunger Games” movie every November the way a previous generation waited for a new comic book every month, or how most of us anticipated, you know, pre-DVR television. The move certainly ups the ante for competitors, who will think long and hard about releasing anything remotely youth-oriented around Thanksgiving.
But in committing to a new movie every 12 months, Lionsgate is also putting a tremendous amount of pressure on itself. Even with a potential back-to-back shoot for the two "Mockingjay" movies (a la “Breaking Dawn”), that’s still a lot of “Hunger Games” production in a short amount of time — three movies in a little over two years, by our calculation.
Is it too much pressure? “Catching Fire” had a full 20 months to come together after the release of “The Hunger Games” — and still found itself behind the eight-ball when director Gary Ross walked off the franchise. The studio could hire a new director for the "Mockingjay" movies while Lawrence is still in postproduction on "Catching Fire" -- but then, does it risk messing up any mojo and continuity it has with him?
Then again, the alternative would be worse. If it waits for Lawrence, it risks a Ross-like debacle -- and inevitable date postponement -- if things don't work out with the filmmaker.
Even if all does work out, it will still be a monstrous schedule for the actors. Unless Oscar voters fall in love with Katniss Everdeen or some movies she has in the can, Jennifer Lawrence will have to wait a long while for that next Oscar nomination.
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