I just watched Battle Royale last night on PPV, a Japanese cult film from 2000. I had never heard of it before, but some of the scenes in the preview looked pretty compelling. Once I got into the film, I was going "Hey, wait a minute...."
Apparently, this is not a new observation. This controversy has been going on for some time, even before the movie version of The Hunger Games. See this story for an example. Of the few that I have read, however, the writers seem to be going out of their way to marginalize those who might suggest that Suzanne Collins took her ideas right out of Battle Royale. OK, sure. There aren't that many original ideas running around anymore, especially when it comes to films. But really... Let's take a bit closer look at this, given that Ms. Collins is saying she had never heard of this film when she was writing The Hunger Games.
The main drama in each comes in when groups of young people are sent out in an isolated area and are required to kill each other to survive. Per the rules, only one can come out alive. (That's the first similarity.) Yep, the two groups came to be in this predicament in totally different ways. But that, as the linked article might suggest, isn't a huge difference in my mind. Each of these contests is government sanctioned. (Second similarity.) Each of these contests creates a media frenzy and is considered to be a huge sporting event. (Third similarity.) Each contestant (for the most part, which I will discuss later) is there against his/her will, being chosen by random lottery. (Fourth similarity.) Each contestant is provided a weapon, all different from each other, with some being much better than others but sometimes, the oddball weapon is of much more use than they might have expected. Bow and arrow or crossbow are highly prized items. (Fifth similarity.) Announcements are made periodically through the contest, mostly to tell everyone who has been killed during the last period. (Sixth similarity.) Smaller alliances within the big group are formed, in order to hunt down the individuals easier. (Seventh similarity.) Survivors of earlier games are included in the current game. (Eighth similarity.) The heroes of the story are a pair, boy and girl, trying to survive together but ultimately know that they may not be able to both survive, given the rules of the game. But they are certainly going to give it a try. (Ninth similarity.)
Now, it is certainly possible that Suzanne Collins had had no exposure to this film before she wrote her books. But boy... That claim certainly seems, to me, to be really stretching at the bounds of credibility. Some of the articles that I noted earlier really played up the differences between the two. Well, sure. If someone was going to copy someone else's idea, you wouldn't do it scene for scene, would you? I mean, The Magnificent Seven is a different movie with different settings and different dynamics, but the idea still came from Kurasawa's classic, The Seven Samurai. And the earlier film was given due credit in the American western version directed by John Sturges. But to have that many, very detailed similarities between the two doesn't seem to be overshadowed by some admittedly different plot aspects (such as why these games are being conducted in the first place).
Like I said, it is possible, but boy. I certainly see why some critics are really howling about how unlikely it is that Ms. Collins really had no idea she was writing something that paralleled so closely a huge hit film in Japan.