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The 12 best original songs from the Hunger Games soundtracks

Melody Lau

The popular Hunger Games film series reaches its grand finale today with the release of the fourth and final instalment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. The films, which are based on the dystopian sci-fi book series by Suzanne Collins, followed in the footsteps of other successful young adult franchises that have made the leap from page to big screen such as Harry Potter, Twilight and Divergent. Much like Twilight’s marketing strategy, The Hunger Games have capitalized on their box office fortune by not only releasing a variety of related merchandise, but also a stellar soundtrack.

Each Hunger Games film has so far been accompanied by a compilation of original songs inspired by the themes presented throughout the series written by a variety of artists, from pop heavyweights like Taylor Swift and Lorde (the latter whom curated the most recent volume) to indie darlings including Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and the National.

While soundtracks are sometimes a hit-or-miss extension of a film — at best producing a standalone product, at worst completely forgettable — The Hunger Games has consistently created interesting mixtapes that thoroughly convey the emotions and motifs displayed onscreen.

To celebrate the release of the final film, we’re taking a look back at the 12 best original songs written for The Hunger Games soundtracks. May the odds be ever in your favour of acquiring a movie ticket this weekend.

Lorde, 'Yellow Flicker Beat' (Mockingjay, Part 1)

New Zealand pop star Lorde went from casual contributor to full-on curator between the franchise’s second and third films. She appeared on a number of tracks on the Mockingjay, Part 1 soundtrack in varying capacities, either adding small vocal parts to big collaborations or performing songs on her own.

"Yellow Flicker Beat" stands out as one of her best tracks, which worked within the confines of the movie but also extremely well as a standalone single for the pop star. In many ways, Lorde’s quick ascent to fame and the hurdles she faced along the way can be comparable to protagonist Katniss's journey, making the singer the perfect musical parallel. The end results on the Mockingjay, Part 1 soundtrack are proof positive that Lorde was the ideal conduit, channeling the film's ideas through a diverse list of artists but reining it all into one cohesive album.

Lorde, 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World' (Catching Fire)

On the Catching Fire soundtrack, Lorde covered Tears For Fears’ 1985 hit, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." The new version cloaks the original’s sunny riffs with an ominous doomsday darkness that transforms the words to perfectly match the sombre atmosphere and tone of the films.

Stromae feat. Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip and Haim, 'Meltdown' (Mockingjay, Part 1)

It’s tough not to litter this list with Lorde tracks, but we promise you this is the last one. The Mockingjay, Part 1 soundtrack kicks off with "Meltdown," a powerful opening statement that charges out of the gates with verses by Pusha T, Q-Tip and Stromae while Lorde and Haim bridge the gaps with irresistible harmonies and hooks. A revolution requires a diversity of voices all coalescing together into one collective movement; "Meltdown" is the musical army that leads the crusade.

Major Lazer feat. Ariana Grande, 'All My Love' (Mockingjay, Part 1)

Each film’s soundtrack has taken on a musical persona of its own. The first film favoured softer folk ballads and was described by country-turned-pop star Taylor Swift in an interview with Entertainment Weekly as "Appalachian music 300 years from now — what Americana and bluegrass music would sound like in the future." The second introduced more electronic beats and a heavier thump, and the third and most recent finds most of its energy swirling around dynamic dance and synth machinery.

One prime example would be the electrifying collaboration between EDM/dancehall club masters Major Lazer and pop favourite Ariana Grande. The song’s views on the hardships of love aren’t necessarily tailored to the movie, but its universality allows this song to shine outside of the context of The Hunger Games. It’s a song that may be buried in the catalogues of both artists involved (the track was even accidentally left off of the soundtrack’s original tracklist), but it’s a gem that’s worth uncovering.

Glen Hansard, 'Take the Heartland' (The Hunger Games)

There are the quieter moments on the first soundtrack and then there are fiery bursts of energy, like Glen Hansard’s "Take the Heartland." This rumbling track represents the determination and fight hidden inside of Katniss as she enters her first Hunger Games, and the power that continued to fuel her in later battles against the Capitol. "I’m gonna find my knife and run it through those stitches/ throw my friends down in the ditches," Hansard sings, with a combustible spirit.

Coldplay, 'Atlas' (Catching Fire)

The British rock band’s grandiose sounds are tailor-made for cinematic moments like those in The Hunger Games. "Atlas" exercises Coldplay’s penchant for explosive choruses as lead singer Chris Martin dramatically bursts into the promise that he’ll "carry your world." Elsewhere, the band is restrained, accompanied by just a piano and a tense, looming guitar riff. While Coldplay’s theatricality can be a bit cloying at times, it finds a fitting home on a soundtrack like this.

Patti Smith, 'Capital Letter' (Catching Fire)

Legendary rocker Patti Smith is admittedly a huge fan of The Hunger Games. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she discussed her fandom and her song for the Catching Fire soundtrack. "It’s like a letter to the Capital," Smith told the magazine. "Warning them about Katniss, but warning them in a proud way." She also noted that her son played the guitar on the track and her daughter played the piano and calls the song "an homage to Katniss." And what a beautiful homage it is.

Sia feat. the Weeknd, 'Elastic Heart' (Catching Fire)

"Elastic Heart" was on the Catching Fire soundtrack well before the single made it onto Sia’s 2014 album, 1000 Forms of Fear. This version featured Canadian R&B star the Weeknd on a verse, a perfect pairing of powerhouse vocals against the equally dynamic beats and rhythms created by producer extraordinaire Diplo.

The Civil Wars feat. Taylor Swift, 'Safe & Sound' (The Hunger Games)

Swift recorded two great tracks for the first film's compilation: the country-rock number "Eyes Open" and the gracefully minimal "Safe & Sound," a collaboration with folk duo the Civil Wars. Swift’s voice is often surrounded by fanfare and embellishments on her biggest hits so it’s a truly wonderful treat when she strips it all down on a track like this.

Arcade Fire, 'Abraham’s Daughter' (The Hunger Games)

Arcade Fire really got into the mindset of the movie’s universe when writing this epic track. Instead of taking the literal route, chief songwriters Win Butler and Régine Chassagne turned to the biblical story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac. "There’s something in the story of Abraham and Isaac that I think resonates with the themes in the film, like sacrificing children," Butler told Entertainment Weekly. "So we made a weird, alternate-universe version of that, where it’s as if Abraham had a daughter — kind of a metaphor for Katniss.”

Christina Aguilera, 'We Remain' (Catching Fire)

Christina Aguilera has had her hits and misses in the past five years, but her song for the Catching Fire soundtrack is a definite highlight. The conventional anthemic ballad, marked by chest-pounding drums and soaring choruses, can be found at the centre of many films, but Aguilera still stands as one of pop’s best vocalists and proves it here by providing one heck of a performance. It’s quite subtle in Aguilera terms (vocal acrobatics kept at a minimum), and it’s a nice reminder that the singer never needed flairs or embellishments to create something spectacular.

James Newton Howard feat. Jennifer Lawrence, 'The Hanging Tree' (Mockingjay, Part 1)

While most of the songs off of the Hunger Games soundtracks are merely inspired by the films and rarely even featured in the films themselves, "The Hanging Tree" was a real song featured in Suzanne Collins's book. In Mockingjay, Katniss sings this song for cameraman Pollux. Katniss's father taught her this song before he died, but she hadn't sung it in years. Katniss’s rendition gets captured on camera and soon becomes the anthem of the revolution. In the film, as well as on the track, Katniss’s voice is joined by the voices of many in the revolution who fight back against the militant peacekeepers. The song plays an integral part in the film’s plot, but it also highlighted Lawrence’s beautiful singing voice. (No matter what she says, she really can sing.)