5 Ways The Hunger Games Prequel Film Will Be Different Than The Original Films (Without Major Book Spoilers)

Rachel Zegler in West Side story and Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox/Lionsgate)

Nearly seven years after Katniss Everdeen drew her last arrow in Mockingjay Part 2’s epic finale, the Hunger Games franchise is gearing up to return on the big screen in the form of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, hitting theaters in late 2023. As we await the upcoming Hunger Games prequel, there’s a few things about it that are different from the original films to take note of. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the entire book if you have not yet read it. 

Ahead of production soon beginning, the movie has cast a young President Snow in Billy The Kid’s Tom Blyth, and its District 12 tribute of the past, Lucy Gray Baird, will be played by West Side Story breakout star Rachel Zegler. Lionsgate also recently released a teaser to hype up the movie even further. Now let’s delve into the aspects of Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes that differ from what we know from the previous films, via Suzanne Collins’ bestselling 2020 book.  

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

President Snow Is Far From The Tyrant We Know

When it was first announced that Suzanne Collins was exploring the origins of President Snow prior to Katniss Everdeen’s treacherous journey to rebellion, many fans were understandably uninterested and disappointed. He’s the villain of The Hunger Games books and movies, and a quite serious and horrid one at that. "Do we really need another villain origin story?" many of us instantly thought. And understandably so, as we’ve seen stories of the sort in the Star Wars franchise with Darth Vader, as well as with Joker and Cruella in recent years. In terms of meeting Snow in Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, he’s in a much different place in his life and as a person than the tyrant we know. 

Yes, the Hunger Games prequel will continue a trend in movies and storytelling we’ve seen more of lately, but that doesn’t mean it's lazy storytelling or delivering a completely unlikable character. Snow is an intriguing character to follow in his youth. As The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’  director Francis Lawrence teased, a young Snow is “a survivor, a loyal friend, a cutthroat, a kid quick to fall in love, and a young man ambitious to his core,” and Blyth will bring the “complex ambiguities” we learn about the character throughout the book. 

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta in Hunger Games: Catching Fire chariot sequence

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games Is Not Yet The Massive Event Katniss And Peeta Experience

Another aspect of The Ballad of the Songbird and Snakes that is much different from the original movies, and also has to do with the time in which it takes place, is the Hunger Games themselves. Katniss and Peeta first became tributes for the 74th Hunger Games. During the events of the prequel film, it's the 10th Hunger Games. Songbirds and Snakes' storyline involves an 18-year-old Snow mentoring a District 12 tribute, and at this point the Games have not yet become the massive and well-oiled machine of an event it is during first The Hunger Games books and movies. Throughout the film, we'll get to see how aspects of the game were not only different, but were starting to evolve into what we know it as. 

Also, because the story is not told from the tributes’ perspective, it has a different tone regarding the Games. As fans, we get to see how the Games are like from the inside rather then take the same journey from District 12 to the arena. 

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss doing three finger salute in The Hunger Games

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Its District 12 Tribute Is A Much Different Character

When Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute, she became a symbol for a rebellion that would later take down President Snow’s tyranny. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' District 12 tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, is key to the story, but in a way that contributes to Snow becoming Panem’s all-powerful and vicious leader down the line. 

Lucy Gray Baird isn’t really from District 12 like Katniss because she’s a member of a traveling troupe called the Covey, who sheltered in the district after the rebellion collapsed, and are Lucy's found family after the death of her parents. While Katniss is stubborn and shy, Lucy is much more outgoing and amazes Panem ahead of the games with her powerful singing voice and personality, so being an instant crowd favorite is more effortless to her than it was for Katniss. 

Rachel Zegler as Maria singing Tonight in West Side Story 2021

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Prequel Is More Musical Thanks To Its Singer Tribute

Jumping off the previous point, because Lucy Gray Baird is a singer, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is much more music-focused. Throughout the book, there are a number of song moments for Rachel Zegler’s character to perform at pivotal moments throughout the story that will give the movie a different feel than prior Hunger Games movies. From Suzanne Collins’ book, there is enough for a very musically-driven story. 

The prequel includes the origins of “The Hanging Tree,” but there are other original songs within the book complete with lyrics, like “Nothing You Can Take From Me” from her reaping, “The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird” from her interview before the Games and “The Old Therebefore,” which she sings during the games. (There’s even more, but we won’t dive too deep for the sake of spoilers.) Zegler is already known for her singing in West Side Story, so her casting makes complete sense and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will allow her to use her singing talents in a way we’ve yet to see from a Hunger Games movie. 

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta in the cave in The Hunger Games

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Ballad Of Songbird And Snakes’ Story Is Even More Tragic 

This point we won’t spend too much time on, because again, we don’t want to straight up spoil the experience of the story on the screen or page. But if you’ve gotten this far, you’re intrigued about what to expect from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Here’s a teasing, but fair warning: when it comes to a plotline that exists within the story, it is arguably more tragic and sad than Katniss and Peeta’s journey through the games.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set to be released on November 17, 2023. Until then, you can keep track of upcoming 2022 movies, along with news and opinions about them here on CinemaBlend. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.