Eight years after The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 hit the big screens, the film’s prequel has arrived and if it’s anything like the past films, it’s about to make a huge box office debut.
Originally written by Suzanne Collins and screen adapted by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hits theatres on November 16 and is already promising to be one of the biggest blockbuster events of 2023, alongside Oppenheimer and Barbie.
Starring Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer and Viola Davis, the 2-hour 38-minute production revives everything we loved about the original The Hunger Games trilogy: Love, heartbreak and intense, high-stakes action.
But while it’s a prequel to the hugely successful original films, the fifth in the US$2.9 billion ($4.95 billion) franchise still has big shoes to fill.
Coming more than 10 years after The Hunger Games hit theatres and effectively launched its main actors - including Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth - into A-list stardom, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows a trilogy that brought fan fever the film world hadn’t seen since Harry Potter and Twilight.
So will The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes do the same, or will it be a flop?
Here’s everything you need to know about the new film:
What is the plot?
If you haven’t read the book, never fear. The film’s official blurb tells you pretty much everything you need to know.
Centred around the 10th Hunger Games - 64 years before the Panem we came to know in the original trilogy, the film focuses largely on 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (yes, the tyrannical president who found an enemy in Katniss Everdeen) and Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. Assigned to mentor her throughout the games, Snow feels the odds are anything but in his favour, as he desperately tries to grasp at his one shot at glory.
Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird. Photo / AP
But, any good blockbuster wouldn’t be complete without some high stakes. With only one person making it out of the arena, Snow quickly realises every move he makes could lead in the failure or triumph of not only his tribute, but also himself. Showcasing snippets of the crafty president we came to know, he concocts a plan to unite their instincts for showmanship and political savvy to help his tribute survive the games - no matter what it takes.
Exploring dark dystopian themes of corruption, politics, and cruel yet mesmerising relationships, the film is one that centres around a world where life hangs by a thread, constantly teetering on the edge of life and death.
Who are the stars?
The protagonists of the star-studded film are played by Tom Blyth, 28, (Coriolanus Snow) and Rachel Zegler, 22, (Lucy Gray Baird).
The two have had multiple acting credits in Hollywood, with Blythe starring in The Gilded Age and Robin Hood, while Zegler starred in West Side Story and the upcoming Snow White, but they’re relative newcomers compared to their co-stars, meaning this film could be their chance at a “big break”.
Elsewhere, Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer, 24, takes on the role of Snow’s cousin Tigris and Golden Globe winners Viola Davis, 58, and Peter Dinklage, 54, take on the authoritative and potentially villainous roles in the film, starring as Head Gamemaker Dr Volumnia Gaul, and Dean Casca Highbottom. Both have a large part to play in Snow’s defining future.
Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, Peter Dinklage as Dean Casca Highbottom and Hunter Schafer as Tigris Snow. Photo / AP
Elsewhere in the film, Hollywood royalty Jason Schwartzman is anticipated to bring plenty of laughs in his role as Lucretius ‘Lucky’ Flickerman - the first ever host of The Hunger Games, while Josh Andrés Rivera, another West Side Story alum, plays the morally-torn Sejanus Plinth, who mentors the male tribute from District 2.
Do I need to watch the past films?
Due to the complexities of the dystopian world, it may make more sense for viewers if they have seen past films, but since The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel in the franchise, you can relax knowing any pre-viewing isn’t required.
Thanks to some super sneaky pre-release screenings that media were invited to, rating website Rotten Tomatoes already has a score for the film - but it’s one that might not make director Francis Lawrence and entertainment studio Lionsgate very happy.
Coming in at 59 per cent, the website has pulled together the verdicts of 73 reviewers and revealed the overall consensus to be, “An outstanding cast and exciting story help make The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes a worthy return to Panem in spite of a rushed and somewhat frustrating ending.”
Jason Schwartzman as Lucky Flickerman in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. Photo / Lionsgate
However, it’s not all bad news. One reviewer called the prequel “another rock solid addition to the film franchise”, while a second said, “Diehard fans of The Hunger Games will find a lot to enjoy, and the film is definitely more entertainment than the Mockingjay films.”
A third person wrote, “Thanks to its important themes, brilliant performances and solid production values, this is one of the best instalments of its franchise.”
Now for the bad news. Sharing their thoughts on the site, one reviewer claimed the film has “too much singing”, while another added, “I left the screening feeling like I needed a prequel to this prequel, so I would finally understand who the film’s protagonist actually is.”
One person said, “Better than it ought to be, yet still significantly short of greatness, it might have made a superior start to a saga if we didn’t already have the finish.”
Box office projection
The Hunger Games trilogy has quite the legacy and leaves The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes with very big shoes to fill.
In 2012, the first film in the franchise saw a US$694.4 million box office success, with its opening weekend making up US$152.5m of that. In 2013, the second film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire proved to be an even bigger success earning US$865m at the box office with an opening weekend of US$158.1m.
Jennifer Lawrence as protagonist Katniss Everdeen in the 2015 movie THe Hunger Games Part 2: Mockingjay.
By the time the final book, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, was turned into a two-part film saga, it appeared to have lost the interest of some fans, coming in at US$755.4m with the 2014 release of Part 1 making up US$121.9m of that during its opening weekend. The Part 2 release in 2015 earned just US$653.4m, with the lowest opening weekend of the franchise coming in at US$102.7m.
So what will The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes bring in this opening weekend? Current projections estimate the prequel will bring in anywhere between US$97m to US$157m this weekend which could either make it the lowest opening weekend of the franchise or the second highest.
Whatever the result, it seems there is only one thing left to say: May the odds be ever in (your ticket buying) favour.
What: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Who: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer, Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage
Length: 2h 38min
Release: November 16
Lillie Rohan is an Auckland-based reporter covering lifestyle and entertainment stories who joined the Herald in 2020. She specialises in all things relationships and dating, great Taylor Swift ticket wars and TV shows you simply cannot miss out on.
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