The Hunger Games are back! After 2008’s blockbuster book trilogy and 2012’s blockbuster film franchise, the dystopian young adult series has returned for a new decade with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, hitting theaters this week.
Here’s everything you can expect — or might be wondering about — from the new Hunger Games movie.
What is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes about?
Songbirds & Snakes is a prequel centered on Coriolanus Snow, who appears in the original Hunger Games trilogy as the mysterious and terrifying President Snow, dictator of Panem and chief among the series’ antagonists. He’s played by Donald Sutherland in the movie versions of the first three books.
The movie follows an 18-year-old Snow as he tries to rise above his station in Capitol society by excelling at his final school project: mentoring one of 24 children in the Hunger Games. When he’s burdened with a tribute from the underfed District 12, his chances seem slim, until his mentee, the enigmatic Lucy Gray Baird, turns out to have a talent for captivating a crowd.
When is Songbirds & Snakes set?
Songbirds & Snakes is set 64 years before The Hunger Games, during the time of the 10th annual Hunger Games, 10 years after the Districts’ rebellion against the Capitol. So other than Snow and his cousin Tigris, don’t expect to see many characters you recognize from the original trilogy here: No Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, or Effie Trinket. Even the match’s announcer, Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), is an older relative of the originals’ Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).
Who is in Songbirds & Snakes?
The movie’s cast includes Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid) as Coriolanus, Rachel Zegler (Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story) as Lucy Gray, and Josh Andrés Rivera (also from West Side Story) as Sejanus Plinth, Coriolanus’ closest classmate. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage plays Casca Highbottom, the university dean credited with creating the Hunger Games.
“Blyth does an admirable job of walking the line between sympathetic antihero and cold-hearted villain,” according to our review, “while Zegler plays the role of charismatic songstress well. […] The supporting cast also brings their A-game, particularly Viola Davis as the cruel Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul. Davis fully commits to the twisted mastermind who believes that humanity, at its core, is dark and depraved.”
Does Songbirds & Snakes have a credits scene?
Nope! If you need to get up and out of the theater before the final credits roll, you won’t miss anything except the names of the people who made the movie for you.
Is Songbirds & Snakes based on a Hunger Games book?
Yes! Suzanne Collins returned to the series to pen The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, published in May 2020. In an interview for Scholastic, she said the book gave her an opportunity to tell the untold story of Lucy Gray.
“In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, I make reference to a fourth District 12 victor. Katniss doesn’t seem to know anything about the person worth mentioning. While her story isn’t well-known, Lucy Gray lives on in a significant way through her music, helping to bring down Snow in the trilogy. […] Beyond that, Lucy Gray’s legacy is that she introduced entertainment to the Hunger Games.”
You can grab a copy of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes below, or from the bookseller or library of your choice.
Is the Songbirds & Snakes movie faithful to the book?
It’s a pretty close adaptation in terms of the characters, dialogue, and overall arc of the book, but it does cut quite a bit, particularly about the Tributes at the 10th Hunger Games besides Lucy Gray, about her fellow Covey (a group of traveling minstrels who all have colors in their names, and have similar accents and colorful clothing), and about Coriolanus’ classmates other than Sejanus. In particular, characters like Clemensia Dovecote (Ashley Liao) are reduced down to bare essentials.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes also changes various pieces of the action, possibly so book readers won’t already know everything that happens at the 10th Hunger Games as they’re watching. In particular, some of the Tributes in the arena have different fates. A few small details have also been filled in here and there, like exactly how Coriolanus’ father died.
What song does Lucy Gray’s name come from?
You might not think this is an important detail going in, but it’s actually pretty useful to know in order to understand some significant action in the third act! William Wordsworth’s 1799 poem “Lucy Gray” is the source of the character’s name, and it gets a little more play in the book than in the movie.
In the film version, Lucy Gray sings a very short snippet of it to Coriolanus near the end of the movie, but doesn’t identify it, and he asks a question about it that doesn’t make much sense unless you know the poem. Knowing specifically that it’s about a girl who disappeared into thin air, leaving an interrupted track of footprints behind her, is important to Songbirds & Snakes’ story — and it’s a lot clearer in the book, so reading the poem before watching the movie is definitely helpful for following the action.