At an unidentified future date, the nation of Panem has risen out of the ruins of what was once known as North America. Due to an unsuccessful uprising by the districts of Panem, a raffle (known as the "reaping") is held to choose one boy and one girl, aged 12–18, from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games, a competition in which each contestant, or tribute, battles until only one is left. The winner receives honor, gifts, and enough food and supplies to never worry about anything ever again. The Hunger Games are a yearly reminder to the 12 districts of the Capitol's authority, and punishment for their rebellion over 70 years ago, in which the 13th district was supposedly destroyed.
In District 12, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) cares for her mother (Paula Malcomson) and her sister Primrose "Prim" (Willow Shields) since her father died in a mine accident when she was 11. Each year, since the age of 12, Katniss' name has been placed in the reaping more than once. In return for taking this extra annual risk, she receives extra tessarae, which is grain and oil for her family. In addition, Katniss has been illegally hunting for food outside the boundary fences of District 12 with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), whose father died in the same mining accident.
Prim, now age 12, has her name placed in the reaping for the first time-only once-and it is unexpectedly drawn. Katniss volunteers to replace her sister in the Games. She competes against other tributes, including "Career Tributes" who have been training illegally for the Games their entire lives, as well as Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from District 12, who has secretly loved Katniss since childhood, and who once showed her a kindness she could never forget.
Before the Hunger Games begin, she is given a stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and a prep team to help her make a good impression with the sponsors. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the official District 12 escort, brings Katniss and Peeta to the Capitol and helps them prepare for the opening ceremony and their interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunk and the only living victor from District 12, mentors both Katniss and Peeta before and during the Hunger Games.
Once in the arena, Katniss must rely on her hunting skills, her stealth and speed, and her wits in order to survive. She may have an unlikely ally in the Games' smallest member: Rue from District 11, and she quickly makes enemies in the Career Tributes from Districts 1 and 2, who are threatened by her popularity with the audience. She also has to fight her anger for the Capitol and 'put on a good show' in order to receive food and aid from sponsors.