The day of “the reaping” is when warriors called “tributes” are drawn for the annual Hunger Games. In the Games, teenaged boys and girls fight to the death to benefit their home districts in the dystopian, hunger-stricken nation of Panem. Effie draws Prim Everdeen’s name to be the girl tribute in a televised gathering.
Katniss, Prim’s older sister, quickly volunteers to serve as the district’s girl tribute in her sister’s place. When Peeta Mellark’s name is drawn to be the boy tribute, Katniss thinks back to a kind act Peeta performed that helped her family survive after her father died years earlier.
Katniss says goodbye to her mother and sister and is given a pin depicting a mockingjay, a bird that symbolizes the districts’ rebellion and resistance against the Capitol. On the train journey to the Capitol for the Games, Effie tells Katniss and Peeta that Haymitch, a frequently inebriated former Games winner from District 12, will serve as their trainer and sponsor advisor.
Alone in her room on the train, Katniss vows to not get too close to Peeta, who is a Games rival despite his kind behavior. She also thinks about times shortly after her father’s death when her mother was not coping well and how that forced Katniss to provide for her family by hunting and living by her wits. The next morning, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch reach an understanding about their working relationship prior to arriving in the Capitol, whose opulence compared to District 12 amazes Katniss.
At an event where the tributes are presented to a crowd at the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta cause a sensation in their matching costumes featuring synthetic flame created by their stylist, Cinna, to evoke District 12’s coal mining traditions.
At the Training Center where the tributes will train prior to the Games, Katniss recognizes one of the servants, a girl with red hair, but Effie says that isn’t possible since she is an Avox, a person who has committed a crime and had their tongue removed. Peeta asks Katniss about her friend and hunting partner, Gale. Katniss tells Peeta about witnessing a girl with red hair and a boy being captured by a government hovercraft one day when she and Gale were hunting and says that she regrets not intervening.
During the three-day training period, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch strategize, and it is decided that Katniss and Peeta will train together and always be seen together. The tributes from the wealthier districts are far stronger, and some (the “Careers”) have been training their whole lives. Angry that the “Gamemakers” are self-centered and oblivious, Katniss shoots an arrow into an apple in the mouth of roasted pig that the Gamemakers are focusing on instead of the training.
When it comes time for the Gamemakers to give scores to the tributes that will partly determine how much sponsorship and equipment they receive, Katniss fears that her act of defiance will be punished, but she is given a high score. Katniss thinks about how her close relationship with Gale is the real version of what she and Peeta pretend to have. Haymitch tells Katniss that Peeta has decided that he now wants to be coached separately from her.
Katniss has an encounter with the Avox in which Katniss says she believes she should have helped her. Effie and Haymitch ineffectively urge Katniss to be friendly in preparation for an upcoming television interview to appeal to sponsors, but it is Cinna’s shimmering dress and his advice to be authentic that lead to a successful interview. In Peeta’s interview he tells the host and the audience that he’s had a crush on Katniss for a long time.
Although the audience goes wild over Peeta’s remarks, Katniss is angry until she is persuaded that his comments will gain them favor with sponsors. Haymitch advises Katniss and Peeta to run away and seek water when the Games start. Cinna places the mockingjay pin on Katniss.
At the start of the Games, Katniss flees to the woods where she hears cannon sounds signaling that some tributes have died, and she wonders if Peeta is among those killed. She is relieved to later learn that Peeta is among the thirteen tributes still alive. While hidden, Katniss hears a pack of Careers hunting down and killing other tributes and is shocked to hear Peeta’s voice among them.
Katniss manages to avoid Peeta and eats a rabbit she caught in a snare, but she becomes increasingly exhausted due to her lack of hydration. Eventually she does find water and a tree to sleep in. In the middle of the night, she’s awoken by a huge fire moving toward her.
Katniss is badly burned but escapes the fire, which she surmises was started by the Gamemakers to hold the interest of the television audience. She climbs a tree when she hears five tributes and Peeta approaching. They are unsuccessful in their attempts to get Katniss. As night falls, Katniss recognizes Rue, a tribute from District 11, in a nearby tree who is pointing at something above Katniss’s head.
Katniss sees that Rue has pointed to a nest of genetically engineered wasps, which she manages to drop onto the tributes below to deadly effect, although she is badly stung herself. As Katniss retrieves a bow and arrows from one of the dead tributes, Peeta comes crashing through the trees. She assumes he plans to kill her, but instead he protects her from Cato at the very moment the venom from the wasp stings causes her to black out.
Katniss awakens to find Rue, who helps her recover as the two agree to become allied in the struggle against the remaining Careers who are no longer allied with Peeta. Katniss and Rue start to work on a plan to raid their camp and destroy their supplies.
Katniss and Rue devise a plan that entails Rue creating fires to distract the Careers and lure them away from their camp while Katniss sneaks in to destroy their supplies. Katniss arrives to discover that the supplies are in the middle of a mine field, but she fires an arrow at them, triggering a massive explosion.
Katniss hides as the Careers come back to the camp and leave again to get revenge on the perpetrators. Katniss later heads back to the rendezvous point she and Rue established, but after finding that Rue isn’t there, she eventually sees Rue tangled in a net and being stabbed by a boy tribute.
Katniss kills the boy who stabbed Rue and comforts Rue in the moments before her death. Katniss’s rage at the Capitol mounts. A change in the rules states that if the last two remaining tributes are from the same district, both will survive and be declared winners. Katniss calls out Peeta’s name.
Katniss decides that of the remaining tributes, the biggest threats to her and Peeta are Cato and Foxface. She finds Peeta badly wounded the next morning, tends to his injuries, and hides him in a cave. When Peeta starts telling her what to do if he doesn’t survive, Katniss quiets him and kisses him as she thinks about how the viewers of the game will believe they are in love.
When it is announced that all the remaining tributes who come to an impromptu feast will be rewarded with a backpack containing something they need, Peeta tells Katniss that it is not worth the risk but that if she goes, he will follow her. Haymitch arranges for the delivery of a sleep-inducing syrup, which Katniss sneakily gives to Peeta.
Katniss thinks about Gale and what he must think about her on-camera romance with Peeta. As soon as the feast commences, bloodshed erupts and Katniss is wounded and spared death only due to the intercession of a tribute from Rue’s district, who declares that any debt Katniss is owed over her kindness to Rue has now been repaid. Katniss arrives back at the cave with a backpack containing medicine to treat Peeta.
Peeta gradually recovers and Katniss expresses her weariness of the Games. Mindful that they need Haymitch to send more food, Katniss pretends for the cameras to be in love with Peeta, but she realizes she feels genuine affection for Peeta. Their mutual displays of affection are rewarded when a basket of food from Haymitch is delivered.
Another tribute death is announced, leaving only Katniss, Peeta, Cato, and Foxface. Peeta’s injuries make hunting impossible, so they split up, with Katniss trapping game and Peeta collecting roots and berries. When they meet up again, just before a cannon sound announces the death of Foxface, Peeta realizes that some of the berries he collected are missing and Katniss notices that there are nightlocks among the berries.
After realizing that Foxface had stolen and eaten berries that were deadly, Katniss and Peeta keep some in case they find an opportunity to use them to poison Cato. Later, they see Cato running toward them and Katniss fires an arrow that bounces off his armor. Cato runs past them instead of confronting them just as Katniss sees strange, awful creatures pursuing all of them.
Katniss realizes that they are being pursued by dead tributes who have been reanimated and turned into blood-thirsty mutations. After Cato is captured by the mutants, Katniss kills him, largely as an act of mercy. When Katniss and Peeta are told that only one of them can survive and win, Katniss realizes that their best hope for survival is for them both to pop the poisonous berries into their mouths. This strategy works, as Katniss and Peeta are immediately declared joint winners.
Peeta is taken away for treatment and Katniss is given sedation. When Katniss awakens, Effie, Haymitch, and Cinna congratulate her, but Haymitch covertly informs her that the Capitol is furious that she outwitted them. Her only hope for survival is to pretend that complete love for Peeta was the motivation for her actions.
Katniss and Peeta are celebrated by President Snow at a victory party where Katniss displays total devotion to Peeta since she knows that Snow and the others are infuriated. As they return to District 12, Katniss and Peeta have a conversation about whether Katniss truly loves him. Katniss is too confused by their harrowing experiences to know for sure.