The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Release date, cast, plot for the prequel

This year moviegoers return to Panem in the age before Katniss Everdeen

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.  (Lionsgate)
Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. (Lionsgate)

Get ready for more twisted games in dystopia with the highly-anticipated release of the Hunger Games prequel – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, in November 2023.

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.

Here’s everything we know about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes movie so far.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes release date

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games'. (Credit: Lionsgate)
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games'. (Lionsgate)

Lionsgate chairman Joe Drake revealed that the film was in pre-production in August 2021 and filming of the prequel began in early 2022.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes be released in cinemas on 17 November, 2023, ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend in the US.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes cast

Photo by: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx 2022 12/6/22 Tom Blyth at the premiere of 'Pinocchio' on December 6, 2022 in New York City.
Tom Blyth at the premiere of Pinocchio in 2022. (AP)

Set six decades before Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen was born, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will feature a whole new cast of tributes, mentors and Capitol cronies.

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.

27-year-old Blyth is set to bring a whole new side to autocratic Snow and develop the character’s complexity.

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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”.

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 09: Rachel Zegler poses at the IMDb Official Portrait Studio during D23 2022 at Anaheim Convention Center on September 09, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)
Rachel Zegler poses at the IMDb Official Portrait Studio during D23 2022. (Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)

West Side Story's breakout star Rachel Zegler will play 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.

WESTWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 02: Jason Schwartzman attends Netflix's 'Klaus' Los Angeles Premiere at Regency Bruin Theater on November 02, 2019 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Netflix)
Jason Schwartzman attends Netflix's Klaus Premiere, 2019. (Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Netflix)

Other names attached to the prequel include Jason Schwartzman who 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.

Schwartzman will portray Lucretius "Lucky" Flickerman, the host of the 10th annual Hunger Games.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Actor Peter Dinklage (L) accepts an award from actress Viola Davis onstage during the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
Peter Dinklage (L) accepts an award from Viola Davis onstage during the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 2015. (Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage plays Casca Highbottom – Dean of the Academy, who unintentionally created the vicious Hunger Games.

Also joining the star-studded cast is Oscan winner Viola Davis, who will play 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.

Who is directing the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 09:  Actors Liam Hemsworth,Jennifer Lawrence,Josh Hutcherson,Woody Harrelson and Director Francis Lawrence attend The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Premiere at Le Grand Rex on November 9, 2015 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/WireImage)
Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and director Francis Lawrence at the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 premiere in 2015. (Pascal Le Segretain/WireImage)

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.

Read more: Did Game of Thrones rip off The Hunger Games?

Lawrence has also expressed surprise to be returning to the $2.97 billion 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.

What do we know about the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes plot?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow. (Lionsgate)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow. (Lionsgate)

"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.

More Katniss?... studio boss hints that there are 'more stories to tell' - Credit: Lionsgate
Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. (Lionsgate)

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.

Is there a trailer for the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes teaser trailer dropped on 5 June, 2022 and reveals very little about the cast or plot. Instead, we see images of a frost-covered songbird and snake as the ice breaks away, revealing a golden coat underneath.

The short trailer features mesmerising music composed by James Newton Howard and also includes the cryptic message: "The world will discover… who is a songbird… and who is a snake."

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes be released in cinemas on 17 November, 2023.