Get ready for more twisted games in dystopia with the highly-anticipated release of the Hunger Games prequel – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Using Suzanne Collins' 2020 novel as source material, the Francis Lawrence-directed film is set to focus on a teenage Coriolanus Snow, 64 years before the events of the Hunger Games series that starred Jennifer Lawrence.
As we learnt in the original franchise, the gaudy Capitol of Panem maintains its vice-like grip on the 12 districts by forcing them each to select a boy and a girl, called Tributes, to compete in a sadistic, televised event known as Hunger Games.
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The brutal and bloody games take place every year to remind the districts of their failed past insurrection and to never stage a rebellion again. Every single citizen must watch as the youths fight to the death until only one remains and is crowned the victor.
In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we return to Panem decades earlier, while the games are very much in their infancy. The plot predominantly follows the origin story of Coriolanus Snow, as he attempts to save his family's fading legacy, after the ruin of war.
As it heads to the big screen, here’s everything else you know about the prequel.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes release date
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will be released in UK cinemas on Friday, 17 November. A streaming date has yet to be announced.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes reviews
The Hunger Games prequel has received mixed reviews from film critics, and currently holds a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Yahoo Movies UK praised the film's "fascinating and thrilling story" and called it a "welcome return" to Panem, but The Guardian called it a "pointless new iteration of IP content" and the Evening Standard rued the absence of Jennifer Lawrence. Read the verdicts below:
Yahoo Movies UK: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes marks triumphant return to Panem (4-min read)
The Guardian: Back to an empty future (3-min read)
Evening Standard: Jennifer Lawrence’s hard-bitten gladiator is sorely missed (3-min read)
The Hollywood Reporter: Jennifer Lawrence is sorely missed in dour prequel short on excitement (8-min read)
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes cast
Set six decades before Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen was born, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes features a whole new cast of tributes, mentors and Capitol cronies.
Tom Blyth as Donald Sutherland
Tom Blyth – sporting a bleached crop – plays the film lead, a young President Snow before he becomes the ruthless President of Panem. Portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the original franchise, Snow is a stone-cold tyrant, who rules the districts through fear.
The 27-year-old Blyth is set to bring a whole new side to autocratic Snow and develop the character’s complexity.
The actor has had few roles to his name so far and is best known for his role in the Epix original series – Billy the Kid and a memorable guest role in the HBO series, The Gilded Age.
Erin Westerman, president of production for Lionsgate, has raved about the casting of Blyth, describing the Julliard graduate as an “explosive rising talent” and “perfect for this leading role”.
Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird
West Side Story's breakout star Rachel Zegler plays Lucy Gray Baird, a defiant young tribute from impoverished District 12, who disrupts the Reaping ceremony.
"Like everybody, I first saw Rachel Zegler in West Side Story, and like everybody, I knew I was watching a star who would command the screen for a generation," said Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence.
“The character is bold, independent, and defiant, but also vulnerable, emotional, and loving. Rachel will make this character unforgettable,” he added.
Jason Schwartzman as Lucretius Flickerman
Jason Schwartzman portrays Lucretius "Lucky" Flickerman, the host of the 10th annual Hunger Games.
The actor made his film debut in Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore and went on to appear in multiple Anderson films including The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom
Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage plays Casca Highbottom – Dean of the Academy, who unintentionally created the vicious Hunger Games.
Viola Davis as Volumnia Gaul
Also in the star-studded cast is Oscar winner Viola Davis, who plays Volumnia Gaul, the twisted head game maker of the 10th annual Hunger Games. The multi-award-winning actress is best known for her celebrated roles in The Help, Doubt, and Fences.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes director
Director Francis Lawrence, who helmed three of the four movies from the original Hunger Games series, returns to direct the stand-alone film.
In an interview with Collider, Lawrence confirmed that Suzanne Collins' novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes won’t be split into multiple films and that it will tell a complete story in one movie.
Lawrence has also expressed surprise to be returning to the $2.97bn (£2.38bn) franchise, as he assumed author Suzanne Collins had no interest in really writing a prequel. “It didn't seem like she was going to write anything else," he told Collider in 2022.
Series producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson are also producing with Lawrence and the screenplay is by Michael Lesslie, building on the work of author Collins and screenwriter Michael Arndt.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes plot
"This is very much a story about love," Francis Lawrence, the director of the movie told Vanity Fair. "It's this kind of love story set in a different kind of a world in a different time."
A prelude to the Hunger Games trilogy and set in a post-war Panem, we follow the journey of an 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, years before he becomes a ruthless, rose-clipping president.
In this timeline, a teenage Snow is the last hope for his fading lineage, a once-proud family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol.
With the 10th annual Hunger Games fast approaching, Snow is alarmed when he’s tasked with mentoring a young girl tribute for the upcoming Games – Lucy Gray Baird.
Lucy comes from hugely impoverished District 12, the same district our Mockingjay champ Katniss Everdeen hails from.
Not unlike Katniss, plucky Lucy Gray commands Panem's rapt attention by disrupting the reaping ceremony, when she starts singing.
Upon hearing free-spirited Lucy defiantly sing, Snow thinks he might be able to turn the odds in their favour and sees her victory as a way to secure his, and his family’s future. The unlikely duo team up to try and win the games – while developing mutual and complicated feelings for each other.
Uniting their instincts for showmanship and with newfound political savvy, Snow and Lucy's race against time to survive will ultimately reveal who is a songbird, and who is a snake.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes trailer
The first full trailer for this Hunger Games prequel arrived in late April, giving us our first real glimpse into the world of the movie. In it, we see Dinkledge's game creator Casca Highbottom before getting to know our new heroine, Lucy Gray Baird, played by Rachel Zegler.
"You seem like a good man, Coriolanus Snow..." In late September, we got another look at this colourful new world in the movie's second trailer, where Blyth as a young Snow and Schwartzman as Flickerman take centre stage and explain how the deadly Hunger Games came to be.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will be released in cinemas on Friday, 17 November