What does the future hold? Big Brother, ape leaders, death sports, and more dire dystopian predictions from some of our favorite novels-turned-films.
Big Brother is watching: John Hurt starred as Winston Smith in the 1984 movie adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984.”
Written by George Orwell (the pseudonym for Eric Blair), 1984 came out in 1949. It painted a picture of Oceania, a future totalitarian state where people are controlled by Big Brother and distracted by a never-ending war. The book has turned into a movie twice in 1956 and 1984.
Both 1984 and The Hunger Games have impacted life today. Protesters in Thailand started using the Hunger Games salute as an act of defiance agains the military government. Orwell’s book changed the English language, introducing the concepts of thought police, doublethink, newspeak and more. Plus now revelations about government surveillance of any kind evoke thoughts of Big Brother.
Let’s hope that Orwell outpaced Collins in his grasp of the future—otherwise in the not too distant future we could be seeing our very own Hunger Games.
Planet of the Apes
Written by Frenchman Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes was published in 1963. His take on the future portrays a fully functioning civilization—unfortunately for humanity, apes now run the show while people have become voiceless animals.
While moviegoers love the Hunger Games, they also have a big appetite for simian-run planets. The first Planet of the Apes movie—when Charlton Heston faced off with a “damn, dirty ape”—showed up on screens in 1968. Audiences liked the changes made to the book, including a twist ending, and the movie was followed by four sequels. Mark Wahlberg starred in a film reboot in 2001, while an origin story showed up on screens in 2011 (with a sequel of its own in 2014).
In addition to writing about possible futures for humanity, Collins and Boulle share an understanding of the horrors of war. Collins witnessed her father struggle with nightmares after his service in Vietnam. As for Boulle, he revealed his association with the Free French to the wrong person during World War II and ended up spending two years doing harsh labor in Hanoi. (Boulle wrote another well-known novel-turned-movie, 1952’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, that was inspired by his wartime experiences).
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale became an international best-seller after its release in 1985. The story takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a male-dominated theocracy that has sprung up in what was the United States. In Gilead, the majority of women are barren, so fertile Handmaids are forced to become surrogate mothers for Commanders and their Wives.
Nothing as exciting as the Hunger Games would ever take place in Gilead, a repressed society where even reading has been banned. In fact, Atwood’s introspective protagonist spends more time reflecting than doing, which partly explains why the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t a success.
What the novels do share are concerned authors. When discussing religious fanaticism, Atwood was alarmed to often hear Americans say, “It can’t happen here.” Collins came up with the premise for The Hunger Games after seeing the juxtaposition of images from the Iraq War and a reality show while flipping through television channels—she was worried about the “potential for desensitizing the audience so that when they see real tragedy playing out on the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.”
With The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthy created a lyrical novel about a father and son traveling through a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. The book won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a 2009 movie that starred Viggo Mortensen.
Family was a strong influence for both Collins and McCarthy. In 2009, McCarthy told the Wall Street Journal, “[A] lot of the lines that are in [The Road] are verbatim conversations my son John and I had. I mean just that when I say that he’s the co-author of the book.”
Collins grew up learning about military history from her father, so the chance to share this knowledge with children was important to her: “If we introduce kids to these ideas earlier, we could get a dialogue about war going earlier and possibly it would lead to more solutions.”
One last note of comparison: Though Panem is a harsh, repressive regime, The Road’s father and son would probably be much happier there. In their travels, they face the threat of being consumed by cannibals, compared to which the Hunger Games don’t seem so bad. After all, as Katniss notes in the first book of the trilogy, “There are no rules in the arena, but cannibalism doesn’t play well with the Capitol audience, so they tried to head it off.”
Veronica Roth wrote and sold Divergent while still a student at Northwestern University. The book, which was published in 2011, takes place in post-war Chicago, where inhabitants are forced to choose one lifelong faction at age 16. However, Tris (Shailene Woodley), the heroine, finds out that she’s Divergent, meaning she doesn’t have just one faction she belongs to.
Insurgent (2012) and Allegiant (2013) completed the popular Divergent trilogy. A successful movie adaptation of Divergent debuted in 2014, and the other two books are headed for the big screen as well.
While the Divergent series shares similarities with the Hunger Games trilogy, it’s nice that Katniss isn’t the only female protagonist charged with making life-changing, society-defining decisions. With Divergent, another “girl takes part in life-changing ceremony, girl breaks the rules to survive, girl enters into a fight-to-the-death showdown” story has found an audience.