The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes had a disappointing opening weekend at the box office, and this could come down to a number of factors. Despite the high projections for the Hunger Games prequel film, there seems to be something about Coriolanus Snow’s story that hasn’t been enough to draw audiences to theaters. This is especially frustrating considering the overall success of the original Hunger Games movies and years of fans hoping for an on-screen return to Panem. Unfortunately, Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hasn’t answered this call.
Of course, there’s always a chance Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will turn things around at the box office. However, on its opening weekend, the film only managed $98 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo). This is especially concerning since the domestic box office is at $44 million. Considering the first The Hunger Games movie brought in $152 million globally in its opening weekend, and even Mockingjay – Part 2, the original film franchise’s lowest-grossing film, managed $102 million its first weekend, this is a significant disappointment. Though it’s challenging to figure out precisely why these numbers come in lower than expected, there could be a few viable reasons.
Things had begun to fall apart for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes before its official theatrical release. Critic reviews began streaming in the days before, and they revealed mixed opinions about the Hunger Games prequel film. The critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is only 62 percent, significantly lower than the other films within the franchise (which range between 70 and 90 percent). The audience score for Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is 91 percent, but it’s possible that the reviews from critics deterred those who were on the fence about the prequel from heading to the theaters.
A significant part of an actor’s role leading up to the film’s release is promotion, and the cast of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was barred from fulfilling this duty until shortly before the film was released. The SAG-AFTRA strike, which started in July 2023, meant that those like Rachel Zegler and Tom Blythe could not appear on talk shows to bolster audiences for their new film until the strike ended on November 9th. This meant there was minimal time to get those not already following Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes through production interested enough to make it to opening weekend.
As a whole, the Hunger Games movies were massively successful. However, the box office numbers for the four films starring Jennifer Lawrence were on a steady decline. As far as opening weekends go, the first movie made $158 million globally. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire followed this up with $153 million, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 only made $122 million and $102 million on their first weekends, respectively. When considering this, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ $98 million opening weekend aligns with this downward trend despite the predictions for a triumphant return.
The Hunger Games established audiences’ expectations for Panem’s brutal event, but The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes threw all this out the window. While Katniss’ story was all about her experience as a tribute in a high-tech futuristic world, the prequel movie centered more on Corio’s experience as a Capitol citizen and Hunger Games mentor. Additionally, being set 64 years before The Hunger Games and so soon after the devastating war, the arena seen in Lucy Gray’s games is nowhere near as advanced as what audiences were used to. Therefore, the simple, less action-packed version of the games may have fallen flat in comparison.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 was released eight years before The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hit theaters, and this may have been just too long for the prequel film to garner the desired amount of interest. Returning to such a massive franchise requires a delicate balance of relevancy and nostalgia, and the Hunger Games prequel may have missed the mark for both. It has been too long for interest in Katniss’ story to have remained high, but perhaps not quite long enough for a strong sense of nostalgia. Of course, predicting this Goldilocks period isn’t an exact science, but Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ low numbers indicate something gone wrong in this regard.