The loss of Gary Ross as a director of The Hunger Games sequels has been absolutely devastating for devoted fans of burgeoning franchise. As a rabid fan myself (and as a friend of many other rabid fans), I can’t even begin to tell you how crestfallen we are. Ross was truly one of us – an ardent admirer of the series who happened to also don a director’s cap. His respect for the source material was well known, which is why many supporters trusted him with Suzanne Collins’ words. Now, we’re all left scratching our heads and anxious about what’s to come.

Still, the beat must go on, and I have to put my optimism and faith in the people at Lionsgate. They did it right the first time; they can do it right again. Having continuity through the entire film franchise would have been the best-case scenario, but tributes can’t be choosers. And there are plenty of directors who might just be able to fill Gary Ross’s shoes, while maybe adding a few sprinkles of their own magic. Here is my list of people who could realistically take over (otherwise Martin Scorsese would be on here):

1. Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh is the obvious best choice because his fingerprints are all over the franchise already. Brought in as a Second Unit Director on the first film, he commandeered one of the finer scenes in the picture: the rebellion sequence in District 11. It was a hailed by critics and fans as a flourishing addition, and his talent as a director was on full display.

Soderbergh’s credentials are also impressive. Not only is he close with Ross, but his accomplishments are considerably superior. Director of Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, and Contagion, he clearly has the chops. The only concerns about him are his rumored casting preferences (Alex Pettyfer for Finnick? No thanks!) The other problem is – and this will be a common theme – he is allegedly too busy to step in on such short notice.

2. Kathryn Bigelow

The former wife of James Cameron is a hot commodity these days after winning the Oscar for Directing with Iraq-war sensation The Hurt Locker. As the first and only woman to snag the award, it puts her in extremely elite company, and what better way to further the message of female empowerment than to put Katniss Everdeen in her hands? With The Hurt Locker, Bigelow demonstrated her ability to tackle violence and war, which she could display in spades during Catching Fire sequences.

It’s unclear whether she would be interested, but Lionsgate should certainly extend some overtures. One big problem: She’s currently working on Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the Navy Seals who tracked down Osama bin Laden. Timing could be impossible.

3. Ang Lee

Known for lauded films like Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, perhaps my favorite rendition of his was actually Sense and Sensibility, where he so deftly tackled Jane Austen’s nuanced text. That ability to adapt from novel to screen could serve him extremely well here with Catching Fire. Throughout his career, Lee has proven his versatility – the kind of versatility needed for the District 12 scenes, coupled with the violence in the Arena. Imagine the mountains of Brokeback juxtaposed with the combat of Tiger. It does seem like a great fit.

However, critics might question his tendency for slow pacing. After all, his target market is made up of mostly young adults, who may not have the patience for his scenic deliberation and andante tempo. To be successful, he would have to adopt a more electric style. I think he can do it.

4. Brad Bird

I’ve been throwing Bird’s name out anywhere and everywhere, because so far his track record has been simply phenomenal. The architect behind two Pixar gems (the exhilarating The Incredibles and the culturally resplendent Ratatouille), Bird also showed his mastery over the live action technique with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a herculean effort that resurrected what appeared to be a dormant franchise. So far, he has earned platitudes from every sector, for both a steady hand in the director’s chair and an intelligent appreciation for artistry.

My concerns are twofold: 1) The lack of experience, but more importantly, 2) Would he respect Collins’ source material enough? The fact that there’s a question mark on the latter makes me hesitant to throw my whole heart behind him. All of his previous efforts have been self-constructed – would he do right by Collins and the fan base? I think he would, but I don’t have proof, and in these harrowing times, reassurance is needed.

5. Duncan Jones

Now here’s a candidate I could realistically see taking over. Jones is a hot name in fan circles and for good reason: his first two flicks have been categorical successes (Moon and Source Code). In both cases, he managed to feature science fiction topics and make them stimulating (in the case of Moon, with basically one character). Source Code was hardly on the silver screen radar, but it proved to be a frenetic, down-to-the-wire picture – just the kind of suspense-building Catching Fire could use.

The cons? He’s still relatively unproven, and to pick him might be a serious gamble. Then again, it’s a gamble that could pay off with huge dividends, and he might just appreciate the opportunity more than the others above. His availability is also a major plus, but the question of the hour: Is he as much of a Hunger Games fan as Ross, and could he work directly with Collins?

6. Joe Wright

Wright has quite the accomplished record, dazzling viewers (including me) with Pride and Prejudice in 2005, and going on to garner tremendous acclaim for Atonement. He also integrated music and style extraordinarily in Hanna, which has caused some to recommend him for Catching Fire (since it’s a similar genre).

I absolutely loved what he did with Pride and Prejudice, but I have some serious holdups. Would he be willing to direct Catching Fire the way the fans want? I’d expect him to bring his own unique vision, which could be spectacular, but it also could stray far too much from the basic story. While that might delight ambivalent filmgoers and reviewers, the franchise has an obligation to appease Collins and her fans. This is dangerous territory, but it could also turn out magnificently.

7. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

What can you say about a director who spearheaded one of the greatest movies of our time (The Lives of Others) and then an awards-show punchline (The Tourist)? I’m inclined to give German pioneer von Donnersmarck the benefit of the doubt, especially since The Tourist’s flaws rest less with the directing and more with the laughable plot. These are highly skilled hands, and von Donnersmarck’s attention to detail seems right up Ross’s alley.

Of course, it would be a huge risk to take on a foreign director who may not even have familiarity with the series. He makes my list, however, because of his incredible talent and the possibility that he could bring The Hunger Games franchise to a new level of grandeur.

8. Debra Granik

Granik is really known for one great movie: Winter’s Bone. Coincidence that it’s the film that put Jennifer Lawrence on the map and drew the notice of Gary Ross (who confidently cast her as Katniss)? Clearly, the two of them work wonderfully together, and the setting in Winter’s Bone has some striking similarities to The Hunger Games District 12. This could be a match made in heaven.

If you thought any of the previous suggestions were unproven, however, Granik takes the cake. She has never worked on something in the limelight like this, and one wonders if her inexperience with action sequences could stunt the series. It’s definitely a risk, but it could be one worth taking in light of her rapport with Lawrence. (And let’s face it – this movie hinges more than anything on Katniss.)

9. Tom Hooper

Now here’s a case of a scorching hot director who has never attempted a picture quite like Catching Fire. He’s so low profile, in fact, that most people probably have never heard of him – even though he’s just one year removed from winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. Hooper would be a peculiar choice, but he has performed beyond the call in every project he’s ever directed. This includes a string of exceptional miniseries: Daniel Daronda, Love in a Cold Climate, Elizabeth, and John Adams were all extremely well received.

Hooper is not my top choice for obvious reasons, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had it in him to dazzle everyone. You could certainly do a lot worse, and you may not be able to do better.

10. Cary Fukunaga

This is my dark horse selection. I doubt he’s on anyone’s short list, but maybe he should be. Fukunaga did a stellar job directing two recent films: Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre. With Jane Eyre, Fukunaga showed incredible loyalty to Charlotte Bronte’s text, more so than in any previous adaptation. That’s the same kind of devotion Hunger Games fans would love to see in Catching Fire.

This would be a much greater challenge for him in his young career, but it could also be a springboard into fame and recognition. He probably wouldn’t assuage everyone’s fears right off the bat, but in time, he might just be the right ingredient to continue Ross’s superlative vision.

Alternates:

Ron Howard, Robert Redford – Both would be what I would define as “safe” picks. In other words, you could count on them to stay true to the story, but they probably wouldn’t connect with the core fan base the way some of the others could. Redford especially is a lot more capable than people realize, directing Quiz Show with profound intelligence and grace.

Absolutely Nots:

  • Alfonso Cuaron – His name is being floated out there far too often for my tastes. Ask any fervent Harry Potter fan and he/she will tell you what a nightmare Prisoner of Azkaban was. Cuaron is an OUTSTANDING director, but he makes all his films far more about his own artistic interpretation than the material he’s working with. Cuaron would be a dream director for non-fans and an apocalypse for lovers of the books. STAY AWAY!
  • Michael Bay – Does this even need an explanation? Sure, he would be great at having things blow up in the Cornucopia, but you may as well forget about depth and acting. That he is being mentioned at all is frightening.
  • Catherine Hardwicke – If there is one thing The Hunger Games franchise should unequivocally avoid, it’s having ANYTHING to do with Twilight. Under Ross’s fine direction, The Hunger Games has come out of the gate drawing little comparison to the much maligned Twilight series, and keeping away from directors like Hardwicke would ensure that continues. Plus, if Lionsgate were even to consider Hardwicke (she is among the rumored choices), the fans might just burn down the studio. We don’t need a literal case of “catching fire” before Catching Fire hits pre-production.

Who do you think should replace Gary Ross on Catching Fire?