Three stars of one of the most hotly anticipated films in Canada walked the red carpet in Toronto on Monday as The Hunger Games got its Canadian premiere.

Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Alexander Ludwig were on hand in the first in a series of openings planned across the country for the film based on the books for young people by Suzanne Collins.

Ludwig, the Vancouver-born actor who plays Cato, one of the teens called on to fight to the death in the film, will also kick off the Vancouver premiere, set for Wednesday.

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Vancouver actor Alexander Ludwig arrives at the world premiere of The Hunger Games in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)

The post-apocalyptic trilogy — The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay — is already a literary phenomenon, spending more than 180 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Producers hope The Hunger Games will be the next Twilight series or better still, Harry Potter, bringing teens and their parents into cinemas.

Like the Harry Potter series, the novels have spanned generations, appealing to both younger readers and adults with their depiction of a society of haves and have-nots.

Chris Szego, manager of Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto, says young adult literature got a huge boost with the Harry Potter series, paving the way for The Hunger Games.

Broad appeal of YA books

"Harry Potter created an audience for reading that simply did not exist before … hundred of millions of people read Harry Potter and then looked up and said, 'What's next?'" Szego told CBC News.

"And there are lots of writers out there and many writers sat up and said, 'Hey wait, if you read that, I do have an idea' … and they wrote books. And what has sprung up in that wake is hundreds of wonderful, fabulous titles aimed at the same kind of age range." 

The Hunger Games falls into the same dystopian genre as classics such as Fahrenheit 451, The Chrysalids and The Giver.

"It is a fabulously exciting read," she said. "Part of what makes it exciting is the danger, and there is very real danger. This isn't cartoon danger. There are serious consequences — people die."  

The books are set in Panem, an America of the near future that has been fractured by civil war. The capital is a rich region that gets the best of everything, but the rest of the country is divided into districts, with widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs. The ruthless tyrant who rules Panem asks each of the districts to send one teen boy and one girl, selected by lottery, to fight in a reality TV game where only one person emerges alive.

Bringing these dark themes to the screen is director Gary Ross, whose credits include Seabiscuit and Dave. He has selected Jennifer Lawrence, the young talent who earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Winter’s Bone as heroine Katniss Everdeen, the girl who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the games.

Hutcherson plays the baker’s son Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect Katniss.

'Smart and independent'

While Katniss is an excellent archer, and tributes such as Cato have been groomed for the games since childhood, Peeta is no fighter and has to rely on quick thinking and his ability to charm the TV audience.

Hemsworth plays Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s best friend and hunting partner, who will eventually be driven to rebel against the capitol. 

Much of the film rides on Lawrence’s performance, according to producer John Kilik.

"To have her be strong, and smart and independent — that's what we had to get right. [Jennifer Lawrence] just brought all that with her amazing talent and incredible work ethic. She just brought the best and carried us all on her back," Kilik told the Hollywood Reporter.

Sara Grimes, an expert in children's literature at the University of Toronto, said she believes that some of the violence of the story will be controversial but that it also is an avenue to talk with teens about issues such as commercialism, spectacle sports and violence in media.

"It contains great exploration of those issues without taking a simplistic good-or-bad stance in terms of how people think about these things," she said. "It’s definitely a great way to talk about those issues and open up those conversations."

In addition to Monday's event in Toronto,The Hunger Games premieres are slated for March 21 in Vancouver, followed by events in Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and Victoria on March 22.

Wide commercial release is set for Friday.

The soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett with songs by Taylor Swift, the Civil Wars, Punch Brothers and Montreal’s Arcade Fire, will be released Tuesday.

According to Rolling Stone, Arcade Fire was asked to provide a track, Abraham's Daughter, after Win Butler and Régine Chassagne met Burnett in October at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit near San Francisco.