Collins says she drew inspiration for the series from both classical and contemporary sources. Her main classical source of inspiration is the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which, as a punishment for past crimes, Minos forces Athens to sacrifice seven youths and seven maidens to the Minotaur, which kills them in a vast labyrinth. Collins says that even as a child, she was stunned by the idea since "it was just so cruel" to force Athens to sacrifice its own children.
Collins also cites as a classical inspiration the Roman gladiator games. She feels three key elements create a good game: an all powerful and ruthless government, people forced to fight to the death, and the game's role as a source of popular entertainment.
A contemporary source of inspiration was Collins' recent fascination with reality television programs. She says they are like The Hunger Games because the Games are not just entertainment but also a reminder to the districts of their rebellion. On a tired night, Collins says that while she was channel-surfing the television, she saw people competing for some prize and then saw footage of the Iraq War. She described how the two combined in an "unsettling way" to create her first ideas for the series.