A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Has several cynical, Machiavellian, and absolutist themes, since it's ultimately about a future sociopathic dictator. But also a message that, even in extreme circumstances, people can keep true to their moral compass, even as others learn that they'll do anything they have to -- not only to survive, but to get ahead.
Positive Role Models
Lucy Gray is brave, smart, talented. Sejanus is empathetic, kind, selfless, but also naive and reckless in his activism. Coriolanus is disciplined, intelligent, ambitious -- but also deceitful, cunning, and willing to murder, not just in self-defense. He betrays people who considered him a friend and prioritizes his prospects above his relationships.
Main character Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is a White man, but other key characters are Black, Asian, and Latino (including co-star Rachel Zegler). Noticeable disability representation among the tributes, including one who has Down syndrome and others who have eye and limb differences. Although the story is primarily focused on Coriolanus, Lucy Gray (Zegler) has agency in her actions, particularly in the last third of the movie. And Dr. Gaul (Viola Davis) is a woman of immense power.
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Violence & Scariness
Lots of violence, mostly perpetrated by Capitol peacekeepers and the teen Hunger Games tributes. Two children see a man about to hack parts off of a dead body for food. The tributes kill one another with spears, axes, knives, chains, and clubs, as well as poison. Real and engineered snakes bite different people to the point of injury or death. People are executed via hanging or shooting. A young man is strung up and left to die. One character mercy-kills another. People are tortured (off camera) in prison. Explosions leave characters injured or killed. A character repeatedly shoots a gun to kill birds and to hurt another character.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Coriolanus and Lucy Gray hold hands, hug, nearly kiss, and eventually kiss. They embrace, cuddle, and caress each other, but only briefly. A few scenes of Coriolanus shirtless while showering or changing.
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Insults like "savages," "trash."
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Products & Purchases
Nothing on camera, but many tie-in franchise products off-screen.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults and young adults drink at receptions and in taverns. A supporting character is addicted to "morphling" (a drug like morphine) and occasionally acts high or inebriated.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is adapted from Suzanne Collins' same-named prequel to the epic Hunger Games franchise. It's a villain origin story that introduces viewers to 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) six decades before he becomes the diabolical President Snow of the main series. Here, he's mentor to a tribute from District 12 (Rachel Zegler) who captivates Panem with her beautiful singing voice -- but does that mean she can survive the arena? Like the other Hunger Games films, this one features lots of teen-on-teen violence (some of it pretty grisly) during the games, as well as violence perpetrated by the government, including on-camera executions and off-camera torture. People are injured or die via explosions, poison, shooting, snake bites, hand-to-hand combat with weapons, and more. Characters also flirt, kiss, and embrace, and some drink and use a morphine-like drug. The movie's complex themes about humanity, the nature of power, and governmental control mean that families will have plenty to talk about after watching. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a faithful, well-acted adaptation that's part villain origin story, part forbidden romance, part bluegrass concert. It's always tricky to watch or read about someone who you know from the start is going to turn into a megalomaniacal dictator, a bloodthirsty criminal, or a serial killer. When done right, these stories (which aren't for the faint of heart) can humanize and provide nuance to characters we collectively hate. Suzanne Collins' book The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes managed to do that for Coriolanus Snow, while also introducing a new District 12 tribute to root for. The main problem with this adaptation is that, without all of the book's detailed inner monologue and context, the characters aren't as fully fleshed out, particularly Lucy Gray. While Coriolanus' growing narcissism and devotion to the Capitol -- not to mention his family's reputation -- is conveyed well thanks to Blyth's impressively layered performance, Zegler's role is reduced to her songbird persona. She's an amazing singer, and the movie's music is memorably good, but audiences don't get to know her (or her family) beyond her voice. And because the action is split between the Games-observing mentors and the tributes who are trying to survive, viewers likely won't have time to invest in any of the District teens save for Lucy Gray (completely unlike Katniss and Peeta's two trips to the arena).
On the plus side, fellow academy student Sejanus, as portrayed by Josh Andrés Rivera, is a classic foil for Coriolanus. He's earnest, critical of the Capitol, and almost painfully naive. But the movie's two most fascinating characters are the two central adults: Dinklage and Davis don't disappoint as they steal scenes from the younger actors. (And Jason Schwartzman provides much-needed comic relief as the first Flickerman to host the Games live on the air.) Overall, there's plenty to appreciate about the movie: the performances, the production design, Nashville producer/songwriter Dave Cobb's music supervision, and the many Easter eggs and references for Hunger Games fans. Just don't expect to feel particularly attached to the central characters, because, ultimately, we know that despite brief moments of tenderness, Coriolanus grows up to become a power-obsessed monster.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.