How Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes avoided R-rating in “brutal” story

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
Snow firing a gun in ballad of songbirds and snakesLionsgate

Being a Hunger Games prequel, the Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was no doubt going to be violent, but the creative team managed to dodge an R-rating and keep it PG-13.

The Hunger Games prequel movie, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, is finally here, and may the odds be ever in its favor.

The prequel follows this synopsis: “Years before he becomes the tyrannical president of Panem, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow remains the last hope for his fading lineage. With the 10th annual Hunger Games fast approaching, the young Snow becomes alarmed when he’s assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. Uniting their instincts for showmanship and political savvy, they race against time to ultimately reveal who’s a songbird and who’s a snake.”

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As we state in our four-star review of the movie, in which we praise the depiction of “the violence within the movie; we don’t shy away from the brutality of the Capitol or the kill-or-be-killed nature of the Games. The fact that the cast looks younger also hones in the central message of the franchise far better.” But of course, this level of violence – especially when involving children – can have some pushback.

Every Hunger Games movie has been rated-R at first – including Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Dexerto had a chance to speak with the director and producer of The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Francis Lawrence and Nina Jacobson respectively. In the interview, we discussed the violence of the movie as a whole, along with how the tribute actors prepared for the games.

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When asked how he balanced depicting the violence, Lawrence explained: “I think there’s two sides to it. Part of what’s great about these books is Suzanne [Collins] has written these really thematic books for teenagers, and then she doesn’t pull any punches. But the truth is you want these scenes to have some intensity, but you also have to make sure they’re not so intense that you don’t get an R-rating, and you alienate the teenage audience.

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“So I always sort of focus on the emotional impact of violence, as opposed to blood and gore or whatever. And there’s always a little bit of a balance, and almost all the movies I’ve done, the Hunger Games ones have gotten R-ratings first, and then we have to work with the Ratings Board to sort of pull back a bit.”

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Jacobson added to these sentiments, saying: “In order for these books to really service their themes and the movies, and have the impact, you can’t soften the story that’s being told. It would be wrong, completely wrong to kind of paper over and gloss up what is in fact a brutal practice of the Hunger Games.

“And at the same time, we don’t want to be exploitative, we don’t want to be guilty of the sins of the Capitol ourselves. And we do want to appeal to a really wide audience. And there was no way we weren’t going to get a PG-13, and we were gonna do what we had to do to get there.”

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As for how the actors prepared for their kill-or-be-killed characters, Lawrence continued: “In terms of the actors, the kids loved it, I think especially now having had had a big series, and all these kids and young adults are quite familiar with the stories, and we started with the Games, and they all come in and they start to do a little bit of training, and learning some of the choreography, and they’re there in the dirt and doing their own stunts, I think they were really enjoying it.”

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in cinemas November 17. Check out our other Hunger Games coverage below:

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About The Author

Lucy-Jo is a Movies and TV Writer at Dexerto, and has previously written for Screen Rant and Girls on Tops. After earning a Master's Degree in Film and Literature, Lucy-Jo now loves covering films, TV shows, and anime, especially if it's something by Mike Flanagan, or anything drenched in camp. You can contact her at