In the race for the next big franchise, Lionsgate is now casting up their film series based on Suzanne Collins’ worldwide best seller The Hunger Games. Joining previously announced Jennifer Lawrence are now Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth for the Gary Ross-directed big screen version, which is set to open March 23, 2012. Lionsgate is obviously hoping they have the next Twilight-ish success with this franchise.

We say that because they haven’t gone after names. At all. Hutcherson started as a child actor, and though he’s had some high profile titles like he 3-D remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth, he’s not that well known yet. Liam Hemsworth (brother of Thor, Chris) is best known for starring opposite Miley Cyrus in The Last Song. These are up and comers. much like the Twilight cast pre-release.

Lionsgate is casting as if the title and the premise is enough to get people in the door. It should be, the books are huge, and it doesn’t make sense to plunk down more money for better known names when you’ve already cast Jennifer Lawrence – who’s proved to be a good actress, but still something of an unknown (even with an Oscar nomination). Sure, she’s in X-Men: First Class, but she’s playing a shape-shifting character, so likely she won’t get too much heat from it.

Here’s the press release:

LOS ANGELES, CA, April 4, 2011- Lionsgate® and the filmmakers of THE HUNGER GAMES are pleased to announce that actor Josh Hutcherson (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT) has been cast in the role of Peeta Mellark, with Liam Hemsworth (THE LAST SONG) joining the film in the role of Gale Hawthorne in the much anticipated film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ worldwide smash hit novel.  Both actors will star opposite Jennifer Lawrence, who it was recently announced will play heroine Katniss Everdeen.

About The Characters

Peeta accompanies heroine Katniss Everdeen into the 74th annual Hunger Games as the male tribute chosen from their native District 12, the most remote and marginalized district of all the subjugated districts of Panem.  At the outset of the Games, Peeta publicly confesses his longtime feelings for Katniss, setting up one of the most fascinating fictional rapports of all time with his supposed arena rival.

Though Katniss and Gale have never had a romantic relationship, they share a transcendent bond, often of few words. When Katniss volunteers to participate in the 74th Annual Hunger Games in her younger sister’s stead, they both presume that bond will carry her far through the horrors she will face in the arena, and they each silently hope they’ll be reunited in safety on the other side of the ordeal.

About The Film

THE HUNGER GAMES will be directed by Gary Ross, and produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik.  Collins’ best-selling novel, which has over 3 million copies in print in the United States alone, is the first in a trilogy of science fiction/action novels which have developed a global following.

“The Hunger Games” chronicles a dystopic Capitol which requires its twelve subjugated districts to pay tribute in the form of a teenage boy and girl, forced to participate in the annual “Hunger Games,” a fight-to-the-death live televised event.  Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen in the lottery to participate and Katniss volunteers to take her place.  Although persevering through hardship is commonplace for Katniss, she must start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love in order to win the games and return home.  The Hunger Games novel has been on the New York Times best seller list for over 100 consecutive weeks. Foreign rights for the book, published by Scholastic have been sold in 41 countries.

Lionsgate will release “The Hunger Games” on March 23, 2012.

Are you ready for The Hunger Games?