Gary Ross
"The Hunger Games" director Gary Ross won't direct the sequel, "Catching Fire." Reuters

A collective gasp went through Hollywood -- and Hunger Games fans -- when it was announced that director Gary Ross would not be returning to direct the film's sequel, Catching Fire.

Now Lionsgate has picked director Francis Lawrence for the job, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The task of directing this second installment was whittled down to Lawrence and director Bennett Miller, according to a report.

Lionsgate decided to go with Lawrence, and a source told the Hollywood Reporter that he would be offered the job Thursday afternoon.

Catching Fire is the second book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy about a post-apocalyptic world in which children are forced to fight each other to the death in an annual competition. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.

Director Lawrence, who is not related to the Winter's Bone actress, is no stranger to post-apocalyptic films. His film resume includes I Am Legend, as well as Constantine and Water for Elephants. He's also directed a long line of music videos.

Miller's film directing credits include the critically-acclaimed Capote, for which the title character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and Moneyball, another Oscar-nominated film that starred Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

It looks as if both men could do a fine job of adapting Catching Fire for the big screen, but Lawrence's experience makes his potential directorial move seem a bit more sensible.

The job won't be without its challenges. Adapting a popular book series for the big screen is no easy task - there are all those rabid readers to think about, for one thing - and the expectations of the sequel can shift dramatically once the first installment is out.

Such was the case with the Twilight and Harry Potter series.

The Harry Potter film series, like The Hunger Games, involved creating a brand new world. Family-friendly director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) was tapped for the first two movies, and his directing the second film meant a sequel that didn't stray too far from the first.

Then came Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who helmed the third film in the 8-part franchise. Columbus stayed on as a producer for this one, but Cuarón's take on the story resulted in a darker look and feel, one that won a great deal of critical acclaim. The series was finally getting more mature along with the books, paving the way for subsequent directors Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and David Yates, who did the final four Harry Potter films.

The Twilight series, on the other hand, did not fare too well with the second installment, New Moon. Catherine Hardwicke did a decent job of adapting the first book in Stephenie Meyer's trilogy. The plot moved forward, the action was good, the chemistry between the two leads believable. The sequel, directed by Chris Weitz (About A Boy, The Golden Compass), struggled a bit more. To be fair, though, that was a tough book for Team Edward fans, as that character was absent for a good chunk of the story.

Catching Fire has certain elements in common with The Hunger Games (warning: spoiler alert to those who don't know the whole story), which could help for a smoother transition.

In Catching Fire, we see Katniss and Peeta, played respectively by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, initially living a better life than they did before. The two end up having to go back into another arena competition, this time as part of the 75th anniversary of the original Hunger Games. Their task is to compete - again, to the death -- against previous winners, which essentially defeats the purpose of winning the Hunger Games in the first place (ie getting to live a life free from want).

Indeed, there is much intrigue that goes on in this installment, plus a whole slew of intense action scenes, including one that features evil monkeys. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta develops more and the former Hunger Games winners are, for the most part, vivid characters who see Katniss as a potential leader in the quest to defeat the corrupt Capitol that rules over them.

Lawrence will have a lot of expectations to live up to, should he take on this new project, but the presence of strong original material and a stellar cast should make for a fair shot.

Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the type of animal the tributes encounter in Catching Fire.