Hunger Games 2023 Movie Reviews: Critics Share Strong First Reactions

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Hunger Games the ballad of songbirds and snakes

The first reviews for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes have been released online ahead of the November 17 release.

Releasing annually from 2012 to 2015, the four-movie Hunger Games saga received rave reviews in that era, although most concur the two-part Mockingjay finale marked a significant drop in quality.

Now, the dystopian franchise is back on the big screen for The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, a prequel exploring the rise of Panem's tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow (played in the original movies by Donald Sutherland).

The Hunger Games Prequel Receives Exciting First Reviews

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes snow

Following the first press screenings of 2023's The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, critics have revealed their first social media reactions to the prequel, and things are looking good.

Film Posers' Josie Marie praised the movie as "a hell of a rush," drawing particular attention to its "delightful cast:"

"'THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES' is a hell of a rush. Refreshing to be back in Panem because of the nostalgia, but the most delightful part is the cast. From Hunter Schafer to Josh Andrés Rivera, it lives up to the original splendor of the franchise."

Rama's Screen even told how the prequel is "more gripping than the original," although criticized the runtime and "ambiguous" ending:

"'THE HUNGER GAMES THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES' was more gripping than the original. Suspenseful & gritty especially the tributes' fights. Runtime could've been trimmed down & the ending could've been less ambiguous. But I liked it"

Variety's Jazz Tangcay noted Trish Summerville's impressive costume design and "the nods she pays to Katniss," while naming Viola Davis, Rachel Zegler, and Jason Schwartzman as standouts of the cast:

"Viola Davis playing evil in 'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' is everything I needed to see. Rachel Zegler is a marvel, and of course, Jason Schwartzman steals the show. In love with Trish Summerville's costume design and the nods she pays to Katniss."

As a fan of the 2020 book on which the movie is based, BuzzFeed's Nora Dominick "adored the movie" and drew comparisons to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - the franchise's best-reviewed entry on Rotten Tomatoes:

"'ballad of songbirds and snakes' was my favorite book in 2020, and i adored the movie. it felt like catching fire in all the best ways. backed by incredible performances by tom blyth, rachel zegler, viola davis, and more — watching it all come to life, oh man"

Dominick went on to declare how it "felt darker and more high-stakes" than any of the previous movies in The Hunger Games world:

"also, listen, i know it's the 'HUNGER GAMES', but somehow ballad of songbirds and snakes felt darker and more high-stakes than any of the other previous movies. i cannot stress enough how much i loved how the movie took you through this story"

CineXpress's Fico Cangiano called the prequel "colder, twistier, and more interesting," and stated how "well executed" the tale of Coriolanus Snow is:

#TheBalladOfSongbirdsAndSnakes is one of the best #TheHungerGames films. Coriolanus Snow’s “rise to power” story is well executed by F. Lawrence in this colder, twistier & more interesting prequel. Tom Blyth impresses, Rachel Zegler shines bright & Jason Schwartzman is hilarious."

Next Best Picture's Daniel Howat took things one step further in calling it the pinnacle of the franchise, calling it "more of a character study than anything:"

"'THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES' is the best #HungerGames movie yet. It’s darker, more of a character study than anything, but always genuinely entertaining. With high stakes, solid action, and killer performances, it’s a thrilling return to Panem."

He went on to note that the long 2-hour-38-minute runtime "doesn't drag:"

"It’s long for sure, but doesn’t drag. It works well by doing something fairly different from the first series. I had a great time with this one."

BuzzFeed's Lauren Garafano offered an expansive thread with her thoughts on the movie, praising how Tom Blyth brought the "nuance" of Snow to life:

"also, having read the book and knowing how president snow is, tom blyth was so spot on with his performance — like he totally *got* the nuance of playing a character who wasn’t born evil but is a result of his own choices. there’s SUCH a shift in tone when coryo becomes snow"

She noted Rachel Zegler's Lucy Gray as another standout, saying how her portrayal "has hints of Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss:"

"and of course i fell in love with rachel zegler’s lucy gray, because literally how could you not??? rachel’s portrayal has hints of jennifer lawrence’s katniss, but at the same time is totally her own. also i could listen to “the hanging tree” forever it’s so good"

Is The Hunger Games Prequel Really That Good?

The early reactions to the new Hunger Games prequel paint the picture of another compelling entry in this universe that fits right in with the other four movies. While the movie will still be able to bring something unique to the table with its character study focus that is bound to allow its talented cast to thrive.

The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes' runtime may have once sounded daunting, but it appears director Francis Lawrence has managed to utilize that extra room to create a dark and sprawling character-driven tale filled with twists and turns.

But only time will tell how fans respond to the latest entry in The Hunger Games universe, as the general audience and critics don't always see eye to eye.

In an age where word-of-mouth has become an increasingly important factor in achieving box office glory, these reviews combined with the iconic nature of The Hunger Games brand may be setting up the prequel for great success. 

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes hits theaters on Friday, November 17.

Release Date
November 17, 2023
Jason Schwartzman
Peter Dinklage
- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.