Jennifer Lawrence is a star in the smart, tough first instalment of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy.

In a nightmarish future America, 24 randomly selected teens must compete in a savage, televised, fight-to-the-death tournament, a contest that combines the warped exploitation of modern-day reality TV with the bloody spectacle of ancient Rome’s gladiatorial games.

One girl, Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, heroically takes her younger sister’s place. So she is whisked from her dirt-poor home alongside her fellow ‘tribute’, baker’s son Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to the luxurious Capitol where she is styled for the TV cameras and prepped for combat.

It’s a familiar sci-fi idea, but director Gary Ross’ imaginative images make it thrilling and involving entertainment.

Lawrence dominates the film, displaying the grit and grace that makes us both root for her character to survive and believe she can, but the supporting characters are also vividly realised. Hutcherson makes his mark, Stanley Tucci plays a flamboyant talk show host, Woody Harrelson a boozy past victor and Katniss’ mentor, Elizabeth Banks the contest’s perky designer and Liam Hemsworth the love interest.