A roller-coaster week for "The Hunger Games" just got even bumpier: Director Gary Ross has officially announced he won't direct the sequel, "Catching Fire."

The week began positively enough, with "The Hunger Games" topping the box office for the third weekend in a row, earning nearly $303 million since its debut. But that news was quickly followed Monday with a surprising Playlist story claiming Ross wouldn't return for the movie adaptation of "Catching Fire," a report that has now been confirmed via statements from Ross himself and "Games" studio Lionsgate.

"Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct 'Catching Fire,' " Ross said in his statement. "As a writer and a director, I simply don't have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule.

"I loved making 'The Hunger Games' — it was the happiest experience of my professional life," the statement continued. "Lionsgate was supportive of me in a manner that few directors ever experience in a franchise: they empowered me to make the film I wanted to make and backed the movie in a way that requires no explanation beyond the remarkable results. And contrary to what has been reported, negotiations with Lionsgate have not been problematic. They have also been very understanding of me through this difficult decision."

Lionsgate echoed Ross' disappointment in the ended "Games" partnership: "We're very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire. We were really looking forward to making the movie with him. He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work. This will not be the end of our relationship, as we consider Ross to be part of the Lionsgate family and look forward to working with him in the future."

Ross' heartfelt sentiments did not end with his thanks to the studio.

"I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends," he added in his statement. "To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It's been a wonderful experience."

There will likely be a long list of directors gunning to fill Ross' shoes, but until we receive word of an official list of names, we have a very well-thought-out list of our own we hope Lionsgate considers.

Check out everything we've got on "The Hunger Games."

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