The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Certificate: 12A

Starring: Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis

Release date: 2023

3 out of 5


Eight years after the release of the last Hunger Games movie (Mockingjay Part 2) comes this prequel to the Young Adult dystopian films, based on the bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games, of course, showed us how ‘tributes’ (young teenagers) were selected to represent their district in a to-the-death competition designed to keep the masses entertained. The deadly contests were overseen by President Coriolanus Snow, the sadistic ruler of Panem, and now the vicious leader gets his own back story in The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes.

That’s a problem to start with – do we really want to get warm and fuzzy over Snow’s origin story, and discover that he was really an okay guy to begin with before he became a psychopath? It certainly makes him a hard character to engage with (even though he’s just 18 in this prequel, and – awww – an orphan), so the story links him to feisty female tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler).

As a member of the elite (hiding the fact that he and his cousin Tigris have barely any money to live on unlike his wealthy classmates) Snow is chosen to mentor Lucy in the lead up to the 10th Hunger Games, bringing him into contact with the eccentric head gamemaker, Dr Gaul (Davis) and the calculating Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).

The stage is then set for action sequences as Lucy defends herself in the arena against the other contestants and lots and lots of snakes, as well as backstabbing and betrayal out of the arena as a brooding Snow realises he has feelings for her and has to decide whether she is worth risking everything for.

Directed by Frances Lawrence (who helmed every HG movie except the first) this has plenty of dramatic moments, violent fights and lavish sequences to appeal to fans of the original movies and books, and it keeps fairly closely to the Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes novel, too.

But it is also very long (157 minutes – with the first third dragging and the final sequences feeling a bit rushed), and despite some strong performances from Blyth (as Snow), Dinklage, Hunter Schafer (as Tigris) and Josh Andres Rivera (as Snow’s classmate Sejanus), and a deliciously bonkers one from Viola Davis, it never quite meets the heights of the first HG movie, or gives us a good reason why we should give so much time to the story of how a bad guy first decided to be bad.

Is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...

This is aimed at young adults (age 12 and over) and does feature a lot of violent sequences.

Characters commit suicide, or are killed in various grisly ways, while many are suffocated by a sea of snakes in the arena. One character is killed by a bottle to their neck, and there are also hangings.

As a guide, the level of violence is similar to the other Hunger Games movies.

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