‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Stars Rachel Zegler’s ‘Anti-Katniss’ in a Prequel ‘Completely Different’ From the Original Films

The Hunger Games universe is gearing up to expand with its first spinoff movie, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Based on author Suzanne Collins’ widely-successful teen dystopian novels, The Hunger Games was first adapted into a film series in 2012.

After the movie saga wrapped in 2015, many wondered what was next for Collin’s complex universe. Enter The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel story based on Collins’ 2020 book of the same name.

Its director, Francis Lawrence, recently teased that the prequel story will be “completely different” from the original films. This includes its main character, Lucy Gray Baird, who Lawrence described as “the ant-Katniss.”

Actor Rachel Zegler as 'Lucy Gray Baird' and Tom Blyth as 'Coriolanus Snow' film a scene for 'The Hunger Games: the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes stars Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth | Murray Close/Getty Images

‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’: cast, story details, and expected release date

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place roughly 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games. It follows a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) before becoming the tyrannical leader fans know from the original books, as IMBd reports. 

Snow’s family has been going through hard times, but he gets a chance to change his fortunes when he’s chosen to be a mentor for the 10th Hunger Games. However, he must decide between following his ambitions or leaving it all behind for his mentee, Lucy (Rachel Zegler), a tribute from the impoverished District 12 whom he falls in love.

The film boasts an impressive cast, led by Zegler, who burst onto the scene last year thanks to her role as Maria in Steven Speilberg’s West Side Story and Blyth, best known for playing William H. Bonney in Epix’s Billy the Kid.

It also brings in major talent with A-listers like Viola Davis, Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage, and even Zegler’s West Side Story co-star and real-life boyfriend, Josh Andrés Rivera.

In August, Lionsgate teased a first look at The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on social media showing Zegler and Blyth’s characters cuddling in the grass. The studio also announced the movie’s scheduled release date of November 17, 2023.

Director Francis Lawrence: Rachel Zegler’s character in ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ is ‘anti-Katniss’

A large part of the original Hunger Games movie saga’s success is thanks to its leading lady, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. She played District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen in all four movies alongside Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Donald Sutherland.

The movies grossed hundreds of millions of dollars at the international box office, with the second installment, Catching Fire, having raked in a whopping $865,011,746 worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.

But regardless of fans’ love for Lawrence and the character of Katniss, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ director claimed the movie will feature a very different District 12 tribute with Lucy Gray.

“This is not with judgment, but Lucy Gray is the anti-Katniss,” Lawrence said during a recent interview with Vanity Fair. “She’s a musician, she’s a performer, she’s a charmer…. Snow has never met a girl like this before.”

Unlike the original Hunger Games installments, the upcoming film will focus more on the mythology of Panem, and will detail the wars that led to the Hunger Games. “It’s completely different stylistically, in terms of design, character, and point of view,” said producer Nina Jacobson. “To be able to show a different side of Panem at a different time in its history has been really exciting.” 

Production designer Uli Hanisch also teased a “new version” of the dystopian nation, saying: “We also get to remake District 12, remake all of the Capitol, and a brand-new arena.”

Even though Lawrence made it a point to distinguish The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes from its predecessor films, he promised the new movie will still have callbacks to the original saga.

“Suzanne has done such a great job of going back into the mythology and telling a story about the creation of the world,” says Lawrence. “You get a little background of Katniss. You will obviously get a lot of the background of Snow, the history of the Games, the history of some of the music, where songs like ‘The Hanging Tree’ actually come from.”

‘Hunger Games’ fans’ reactions to the new prequel series thus far

Initially, fans of the Hunger Games franchise weren’t too happy upon learning that the prequel would center around a young President Snow. However, after getting a first glimpse at the film, it seems like some social media users have warmed up to the idea.

“Please release it already,” a fan tweeted in response to the movie’s first official image. “This is gonna be iconic,” another Twitter user wrote. “The cast will be serving,” this fan added.

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