Sci-fi prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now in cinemas across the UK. Our helpful content guide provides more information about the age rating and what you can expect to see in the film.
Adapted from Suzanne Collins’ novel, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes us back over 60 years before the events of the first Hunger Games instalment. We join a young Coriolanus Snow in his formative years - a mentor for a young woman competing in the 10th Hunger Games tournament - which would eventually lead him on a path to becoming the tyrannical leader of Panem.
Rated 12A for moderate violence, threat, drug misuse
A dark and brooding story of betrayal and mistrust, this sci-fi fantasy prequel sees a singer paired with a conflicted mentor in a deadly game. The violence among teenagers is consistent with previous films in the franchise.
Teenagers use blades, guns and heavy objects to kill each other, but with limited bloody detail. There are executions by hanging. A teenager uses a broken bottle to stab a villain's neck.
Threat and horror
Teenagers are forced to murder one another as part of a dystopian game. Screaming teenagers are pursued by fantastical snakes which swarm over and bite them. A drunk man attempts to grab a woman, but she fights him off.
There is use of mild bad language such as 'piss' and 'ass'.
A person calls a teenager 'mentally ill' in a derogatory manner. There is discrimination among the fantastical social tiers of a dystopian society.
A dislikeable man misuses morphine, with negative consequences.
People are seen to be bloody in the aftermath of violence. The corpses of teenagers lie in a gladiatorial arena.
A young man says he has recently considered suicide.
We also produce an easy-to-read visual scale of our content advice that ranges from 1 - 5, enabling parents and families to identify key content themes at a glance. Visit the film’s release page on our website for more.
Why is The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes rated 12A?
(Please note: this section may contain spoilers!)
The theme of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, like the previous films in the franchise, presents a dark reality: teenagers forced to fight to the death in a televised tournament. Careful consideration of the difficult and potentially disturbing nature of this premise has underpinned our classification decisions for each film instalment.
Our Classification Guidelines allow room for challenging subjects at 12(A) if they are treated sensitively for the anticipated audience. Our compliance officers considered the presentation of the themes in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, along with a number of key classification issues, to be containable at 12A.
The classification decision brings it in line with the preceding films in the franchise: The Hunger Games (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015).
As with these films, violence is one of the key issues that determined the classification. Scenes involve people, including younger teenagers, using bladed weapons, guns and heavy objects against one another. A notable moment involves a teenager using a broken bottle to stab a woman in the neck.
However, such scenes are visually discreet, with minimal blood and injury detail meaning they can be accommodated according to our Classification Guidelines at 12A. On violence, our Guidelines state that: ‘There may be moderate violence but it should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood, but occasional gory moments may be permitted if justified by the context.’
Scenes of violence are accompanied by sequences of threat. While sequences of ‘moderate physical and psychological threat’ may be accommodated at 12A according to our Guidelines, these ‘should not be frequent or sustained.’ There might also be some scenes that are ‘disturbing, [but] the overall tone should not be.’
Indeed, scenes of threat in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes are sometimes sustained in nature as people try to avoid those hunting them and use their wits to stay alive. As part of the elaborate Hunger Games themselves, there are intense scenes of people hiding from their fellow tributes and dangerous additions which drive the opponents together, such as drones and masses of multi-coloured snakes that swarm unfortunate victims.
When weighing up if a film is suitable for 12(A) audiences, we consider the distancing effect of sci-fi or fantastical settings and to what extent that might impact on audience responses to issues like violence and threat. The dystopian world of Panem - where the Hunger Games take place - is presented as an unsettling urban space, at once futuristic and anachronistic, and filled with disturbing scenarios for the young protagonists. Although it has parallels to the world today, it is nonetheless removed from our reality. Furthermore, the world of the Hunger Games and the brutal conditions it presents have previously been explored in great depth: both from the source novels and the previous film adaptations, which starred Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Most audiences approaching The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will therefore have preconceived ideas of the tone, style and content of the film.
Another element determining the 12A classification of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is drug misuse. At 12(A), our Guidelines state that: ‘Misuse of drugs must be infrequent and should not be glamorised or give detailed instruction.’ The film contains scenes depicting a man using morphine to help with his feelings of guilt and trauma. The depiction of drug misuse is relatively undetailed, unglamorous, and the character is not someone the audience is likely to support.
What does our research tell us?
Our Classification Guidelines underpin all of the decisions that we make when granting age ratings to films and other audio-visual content. These guidelines are a product of extensive research conducted with people from across the UK - updated every four to five years - and so are shaped by a diverse range of parents, families, teenagers and educators.
We know from this research that the issues of threat and horror, in particular, can potentially feel more intense for viewers if reminiscent of a real-world scenario or context. Other elements, such as to what extent a film presents a despairing view of the world, and the moral positioning of its characters, can also contribute to how people feel when watching a film. All of these things fed into our 12A classification for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Although a dark tone colours some of the action and leads to intense moments, the film’s premise is firmly rooted in sci-fi, fantasy tropes. Scenes of violence and threat are broken up by other sequences that spotlight the inherent goodness in some of its characters. Audiences familiar with the previous films in the Hunger Games franchise will also come to the new release with the knowledge that this is the origin story of a character who inevitably turns evil. Despite the bleakness of this story, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes contains elements that are well-precedented at 12(A).