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'The Hunger Games' Prequel Movie: Everything to Know

Viola Davis has joined the cast of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Viola Davis smiling.
Viola Davis will play villainous gamemaker Volumnia Gaul.
Mike Marsland/WireImage

The Hunger Games movie franchise is expanding with a prequel film called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, based on a 2020 book of the same name by Suzanne Collins. While the Lionsgate flick is still awhile off, a flurry of casting announcements in May and June along with a striking, ice-coated teaser have stoked excitement for the games to begin. 

On Aug. 15, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that award-winning actress Viola Davis will appear alongside previously announced stars Peter Dinklage, Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Josh Andrés Rivera and Hunter Schafer.

The film adaptation is scheduled to hit theaters in November 2023, roughly eight years after Mockingjay Part 2, and follows a younger Coriolanus Snow (Blyth) who mentors District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler). A refresh: We know Snow from past movies as the ruthless president portrayed by Donald Sutherland. The original films brought in more than $3 billion globally, according to Lionsgate. Here's more on the cast, the plot and when we'll be making our official return to Panem.

What is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes about?

Collins' novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set 64 years before the events of the initial trilogy. According to Lionsgate, the movie will focus in part on the lead up to the 10th Hunger Games. (For reference, Katniss volunteered as tribute for the 74th.) Teenage Snow, not yet the dictatorial ruler he'd turn out to be, senses some opportunity in Baird, the tribute he's given to mentor.

Here's the full Lionsgate synopsis: "Years before he would become the tyrannical president of Panem, 18-year-old Coriolanus 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, the young Snow is alarmed when he is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird, the girl tribute from impoverished District 12. But, after Lucy Gray commands all of Panem's attention by defiantly singing during the reaping ceremony, Snow thinks he might be able to turn the odds in their favor."

It continues: "Uniting their instincts for showmanship and newfound political savvy, Snow and Lucy Gray's race against time to survive will ultimately reveal who is a songbird, and who is a snake."

The fifth film in the Hunger Games franchise will be directed by Francis Lawrence, director of Catching Fire and both Mockingjay films. Michael Lesslie (screenwriter for 2015's Macbeth and 2016's Assassin's Creed) wrote the latest version of the script, working off a draft by Collins and Catching Fire screenwriter Michael Arndt. 

The first teaser for Songbirds and Snakes

I have to hand it to the people behind this clip -- it doesn't reveal a smidgen of the actual movie, but it still sucked me back into the world of The Hunger Games. We see what looks like an animated version of the book's cover design. A songbird and snake are covered in frost, but the ice breaks off, revealing a gold coat underneath. "You're invited to return to the games," the onscreen text says. "In 2023, the world will discover who is a songbird and who is a snake."

Who's in the cast?

The Hunger Games prequel film stars Tom Blyth as young Snow and Rachel Zegler as Baird. Blyth plays the titular role in Epix's 2022 Western series Billy the Kid and appeared in an episode of HBO series The Gilded Age. Zegler is known for her starring role in Steven Spielberg's 2021 West Side Story adaptation. She's also set to play Snow White in Disney's live-action version of the animated classic and will be in Shazam sequel Fury of the Gods.

Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis will play Volumnia Gaul, the villainous head gamemaker of the 10th Hunger Games. "Dr. Gaul is as cruel as she is creative and as fearsome as she is formidable," director Francis Lawrence said. Emmy-winning Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage will portray the dean of the Academy, Casca Highbottom. According to Lawrence, the dean is "the austere and vindictive face of the games" and "one of the most powerful people in Snow's life." 

They'll be joined by Josh Andrés Rivera, another West Side Story star, who's playing Snow's close friend and fellow tribute mentor Sejanus Plinth, and Hunter Schafer, who's known for her role on the HBO show Euphoria. Schafer is playing Snow's cousin Tigris. Jason Schwartzman, who's appeared in several Wes Anderson films, will play Lucretius "Lucky" Flickerman, a Cesar-Flickerman ancestor and host of the 10th Hunger Games.

When will it premiere?

The movie arrives Nov. 17, 2023. That means there's time to pick up a copy of the book if you're interested -- or you could skip the training and head straight into the 10th games. May the odds be ever in your favor.