To be honest, I wasn’t too excited to watch The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. I hadn’t read the prequel book that Suzanne Collins wrote after her popular Hunger Games trilogy. I knew the movie would explore the backstory of the villain, President Snow, which seemed like a typical Hollywood prequel cashing in on a dormant franchise. So I was pleasantly surprised after seeing the movie – Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was pretty good!
This is how a prequel should be done. We know young Coriolanus Snow becomes the ruthless leader of Panem from the original books, but this movie successfully lays the groundwork for his transformation in a compelling way. It lets us understand and lament his turn to the dark side. The movie also weaves in things from the original franchise without feeling forced (though one reference was super obvious). Yet it also works as its own standalone story, enjoyable for Hunger Games fans but also accessible to newcomers.
While the world-building and Snow’s arc stand out, a few other things make the movie exceptional – namely, Viola Davis’ fun, campy performance and the director Francis Lawrence correcting a mistake from the original movies.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Trailer
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes release date
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes premiered on November 5, 2023, in Berlin, Germany, and then in London on November 9, 2023. The is scheduled to hit theaters globally on November 17, 2023.
Rachel Zegler accidentally made a comment on Nicki Minha’s appearance in The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. He leaked this information on The Tonight Show.
— The Tonight Show (@FallonTonight) November 16, 2023
The Cast of The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
The cast of this new Hunger Games movie has a few new faces. Here is the complete list of actors.
- Tom Blyth as Coriolanus “Coryo” Snow (Billy the Kid, The Gilded Age)
- Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird (West Side Story, Shazam! Fury of the Gods)
- Josh Andrés Rivera as Sejanus Plinth (West Side Story)
- Hunter Schafer as Tigris Snow (Euphoria)
- Peter Dinklage as Casca “Cas” Highbottom (Game of Thrones)
- Jason Schwartzman as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman (Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel)
- Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul (The Help, Fences, How to Get Away with Murder)
- Fionnula Flanagan as Grandma’am (Lost)
- Burn Gorman as Commander Hoff (The Dark Knight Rises)
- Ashley Liao as Clemensia Dovecote
- Max Raphael as Festus Creed
- Zoe Renee as Lysistrata Vickers
- Nick Benson as Jessup
- Isobel Jesper Jones as Mayfair Lipp
- George Somner as Spruce
For people who aren’t familiar with the original Hunger Games books like we were, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is set 64 years before the first Hunger Games movie with Katniss Everdeen.
The main character is Coriolanus Snow, whose family was ruined by the war that split up the country into the districts and the Capitol. But because of his father’s legacy, Coriolanus still gets opportunities to succeed in rebuilding Capitol City.
One of those opportunities is mentoring Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12, in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Coriolanus forms a close connection with Lucy Gray over the course of the story.
Basically, this prequel shows how the young Coriolanus Snow became the ruthless President Snow that we see later on in the Hunger Games trilogy. It provides a backstory on the early days of the Hunger Games competition and the start of Snow’s journey to the dark side.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes- Runtime
This is a big, expansive story, as evidenced by the nearly 3-hour runtime. But it justifies that length and avoids a mistake from the original Hunger Games movies, where Mockingjay was split into two parts. This prequel could have easily been stretched into two movies, but the filmmakers wisely chose to tell the full story in one complete film rather than drag it out.
Director Francis Lawrence deserves credit for helping to create a distinct Hunger Games world, different from the original trilogy (with help from Suzanne Collins’ source material and the screenwriters). The look of the recovering post-war Capitol and the more rudimentary early version of the Hunger Games are fascinating new elements. Lawrence also shows he’s skilled at staging thrilling arena action sequences, like he did in Catching Fire. The arena scenes here are a highlight, just like in the best parts of the original trilogy.
Overall, Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes justifies its long runtime with an engaging prequel story that expands the Hunger Games world in compelling ways, avoiding the mistakes of splitting one book into two movies. The filmmakers let the story breathe while keeping the pace moving.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes- Filming location
The Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, was filmed in several locations across Poland and Germany. Principal photography began in July 2022 in the city of Wrocław, Poland. Iconic landmarks like the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig, Germany, and the Centennial Hall in Wrocław served as backdrops for various scenes.
Additional filming took place at the post-industrial Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany, before production wrapped up in Berlin in November 2022. With its mix of futuristic architecture and gritty industrial sites, the production made use of the unique urban landscapes across these two countries to bring the world of Panem to life. Shooting on location grounds the dystopian setting in a tangible reality across Central Europe.
There have been a lot of bad prequels in Hollywood that are full of distracting references to original movies, making audiences roll their eyes. Or they focus on characters and events that didn’t need more exploration.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes avoids these problems – it provides a worthwhile look at one of the more fascinating and mysterious characters from The Hunger Games, Coriolanus Snow. The movie isn’t perfect, but it will likely grab and hold your attention throughout. You can also watch The Hunger Games movies on Netflix before watching The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.