12 things you need to know about The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Could this prequel to one of the biggest YA franchises of all time live up to the OG films? May the odds be ever in our favour. Based on Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels The Hunger Games, about a society that holds annual battles to the death for kids from 12 districts, The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes reveals the history of Panem through a whole new, retro-futuristic lens.

Scroll for everything we know about the upcoming movie’s cast, connections to The Hunger Games, behind-the-scenes details, and more. We’re hungering to check this one out ASAP.

1. The prequel series takes place 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins released a prequel to her novels The Hunger Games in 2020, fleshing out the bleak backstory of the fictional country Panem’s most brutal tradition. Set only a decade after the war which first caused the controlling Capitol to punish Panem’s districts by sending their children into the yearly ritual, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes received positive reviews from literary critics, and Lionsgate quickly announced their plans to adapt it into a prequel film. Director Francis Lawrence, who helmed three of the four Hunger Games films, is back behind the camera.

2. It’s the backstory of sinister President Snow, here an 18-year-old student

Lawrence has revealed that the most difficult aspect of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes lay in re-establishing President Coriolanus Snow as a hero: “How do we make this person that’s going to be the antagonist of our story the protagonist of our story? How can we get audiences behind him in his struggle, and see him change and be groomed and turned into the Snow of the later series?” The bloke was played by legendary actor Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games as a merciless tyrant, and we can hear the older man’s voice close out the trailer above: “It’s the things we love most that destroy us.”

But six decades before that nastier version of Snow, English actor Tom Blyth gives Coriolanus (his mates call him “Coryo”) a softer side. “I am gonna get you out of here”, he promises to his tribute, secretly hungering to help the victims of the Capitols’ wrath with new strategies for the Game that may ultimately turn him into the villain we already know he will become. Coryo’s wealthy family has fallen on hard times since the Panem war, and together with his cousin Tigris (Euphoria star Hunter Schafer), he’s ready to learn the truth behind the Games.

3. West Side Story star Rachel Zegler’s character is like an early Katniss Everdeen

See that sarcastic bow in the image above? It’s a direct callback to one Katniss Everdeen, the District 12 rebel played by Jennifer Lawrence in her star-making Hunger Games role. Also hailing from District 12 with a burning desire to change the game, Zegler’s Lucy Gray Baird ain’t happy about being chosen as tribute (fair), and will use her charisma and snake-charming abilities (okkk) to survive by any means necessary. It’s no wonder that in the future, President Snow will be so shaken by Katniss’s determination to fight: he’s basically dealing with the spiritual successor of the tribute he once mentored.

4. Zegler sang her own rendition of an iconic Hunger Games ditty

We all know Zegler has some serious pipes on her, after witnessing her debut screen role as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. In the clip below, she takes up a guitar to sing a gorgeous rendition of “The Hanging Tree”, a haunting folk song that Katniss will wield for a protest movement six decades on.

Zegler sings live in the completed scene. Her character’s a travelling musician in the group the Covey, who must leave her romantic relationship with fellow player Billy Taupe (Dakota Shapiro) for a more tumultuous relationship with Coryo Snow. It’s giving the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle all over again, really.

5. Two of the cast members are dating! D’awww.

Enough about Zegler’s fictional love life: let’s appreciate that the woman herself is in an IRL relationship with Josh Andrés Rivera, her co-star in both West Side Story and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes! You’ll recognise this guy as the snitch Chino from West Side Story, but offscreen he and Zegler have been an item for the last two years. Very, very cute. In The Hunger Games prequel, Rivera plays a classmate of Coryo’s at the Capitol’s austere academy, who is chosen to mentor a tribute from his home of District 2.

6. Viola Davis looks wild as the gamemaker and creator of The Hunger Games

EGOT-winner Davis is a serious get for the sci-fi prequel, and she’s been given an appropriately awesome name for her sinister villain role: Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the mad scientist who first implemented the child-slaying Games. The character poster above definitely cements her as one of the vicious “snakes” of the film’s title. Don’t miss the exclusive clip below of Gaul slithering out of her laboratory to deliver an eerie lecture to Snow and his mates.

7. Peter Dinklage’s character is the “intellectual author” of the Games

Davis and Dinklage form a fascinating contrast in this new clip: while she’s giggling maniacally about her students’ responsibility to their death cult society, he’s boozin’ it up at the back of the auditorium, seemingly guilty about his position as the Academy’s dean. Dinklage’s character, Casca Highbottom, puts it hilariously plainly: “we choose two children from each district to throw into the Capitol arena to fight to the death in The Hunger Games.” It’s hard to feel too sorry for the guy when he’s so responsible for the sadistic Panem tradition, even if only partially.

8. Jason Schwartzman plays the flamboyant ancestor of Stanley Tucci’s character

Does the surname Flickerman strike you as familiar? In The Hunger Games, a blue-haired Stanley Tucci played Caesar Flickerman, the white-toothed host of the battle’s broadcasts. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Schwartzman is a great pick to play Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, seemingly the dad (or granddad?) of the Tucc. Working with far more antiquated, analogue technology, Lucky is lucky enough to present the first ever televised Hunger Games—but the 10th ceremony isn’t likely to go the way he’s planned.

9. Costume designer Trish Summerville says the film’s look is completely different from the OG series

Returning from her excellent work on Catching Fire, Summerville has said that “aesthetically”, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is “completely different from the world we saw in the other films.” Summerville and her team accented the story’s period setting by choosing post-war silhouettes for the moneyed Capitol citizens, while Zegler’s rainbow-ruffled gown (above) had to appear as though it was inherited from the impoverished kid’s mother’s wardrobe. The celebrated costume designer’s chat with Vogue also included some gorgeous original sketches from fashion illustrator Gloria Kim, which are worth checking out.

10. Filming took place in Poland and Germany

Taking place from July to November of 2022, filming for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes made good use of some ornate Eastern European architecture, which was no doubt sauced up by dystopian CGI. Leipzig’s Monument to the Battle of the Nations and Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall already look incredible as Capitol hotspots and (seemingly) the blood-soaked arena in which the 10th Hunger Games will play out. Wroclaw’s mayor even took to Twitter to celebrate the arrival of Hollywood in southwest Poland, saying “such projects are worth bragging about!”

11. The film’s promotion can go ahead despite the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike

Since the studio behind The Hunger Games, Lionsgate, is not part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers targeted by the current Hollywood actor’s strike, their latest film has been granted an interim agreement, meaning the stars are able to promote the film before it hits cinemas. Good thing, too: the movie cost $100 million to produce, and is the first risky film in the franchise without megastar Jennifer Lawrence. Variety reports that over 100 films, including Ferrari and Priscilla, have been able to power through the strike due to similiar agreements.

12. Pop phenomenon Olivia Rodrigo might have a new song in the film’s end credits

Good 4 U, Liv! Known for her feisty yet intimate tunes about coming-of-age and heartache, Rodrigo has been rumoured to feature on the soundtrack for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, perhaps contributing a solemn Panem ballad to the prequel’s closing credits.

This would be a clever move for both the franchise and the pop singer, considering that Taylor Swift—an artist that’s inspired Rodrigo and often been compared to the newer talent—gave us the song “Safe and Sound” for The Hunger Games soundtrack back in 2012. Fingers crossed, pop girlies!!