The Plinth Prize
One of the first changes from the book occurs mere minutes into The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, when Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) speaks to his family and his classmates about potentially winning the Plinth Prize. In the world of the movie, the Plinth Prize — donated by Strabo Plinth, the father of Coryo’s classmate Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera) — is a scholarship any of the Academy’s students can win, completely unrelated to the Hunger Games.
In the book, meanwhile, the Plinth Prize is not introduced until midway through the games, as Strabo’s attempt to make up for Sejanus sneaking into the arena and needing to be saved by Coryo. This then adds an extra layer to Coryo’s incentive for his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), to win the games.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes delivers one of the book’s most spine-chilling moments — when Clemensia Dovecote (Ashley Liao) gets mauled by Dr. Gaul’s (Viola Davis) mutant snakes, after lying about her involvement with Coryo’s essay about changing the Hunger Games.
In the movie, Clemensia passes out and is not heard of again, which is a wildly different fate from the book. Coryo begins to get paranoid about Clemensia’s condition, especially after discovering in the hospital that she is growing colorful snake-like scales across her body following the accident. She then returns to participate in the Games, mentoring Reaper and forming an alliance with Coryo in the final showdown.
One of the biggest liberties The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes is with regards to the timeline, with the mentors and tributes getting just a matter of days together before the Games begin.
As a result, a number of story beats that usually take place across a few weeks get truncated down. Coryo’s stay in the hospital following the bombing is very brief, as opposed to the multiple days. The mentors and tributes only get one meeting session together instead of several. Also, the Capitol does not hold massive public funerals for some of the recently-deceased mentors, as well as public desecration of the recently-deceased tributes.
In the movie, Coryo and Lucy Gray come dangerously close to sharing a kiss through the bars of the zoo, before Coryo pulls back and begins to question if their relationship is real. They, frustratingly, are then unable to kiss until they spend time together in District 12.
By comparison, the book has Coryo and Lucy Gray kiss in their final mentoring session, with all of his classmates looking on.
Lepidius and Pluribus
Entire characters from The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes novel do not make it into the movie. This includes Lepidius Malmsey, an up-and-coming reporter who covers the Games and Lucy Gray’s rising popularity. Lepidius’ role is portmanteau-ed into Lucky Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), the Capitol weatherman and Games announcer who gets a slightly larger significance in the movie.
The movie also does not include Pluribus, a nightclub owner and black market dealer who is essentially part of Coryo’s family at the Capitol. Some story beats Pluribus is involved with in the books — like revealing more about the relationship between Coryo’s dad and Dean Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), and securing Lucy Gray with a guitar for her on-camera interview — still happen, just without him.
Additionally, the movie all but cuts out Sejanus’ parents — and as a result, Coryo’s relationship with them from the books. Coryo ends up bonding with Ma Plinth during and after Sejanus is found in the Arena, and his act of saving Sejanus gets him in the good graces of Strabo. Once Coryo is banished to District 12, he and Sejanus both receive care packages and baked goods from Ma — and once he returns to The Capitol, the Plinths and the Snows essentially blend their families.
The Plinths don’t play nearly as significant of a role in the movie, instead very briefly appearing when Coryo and Sejanus successfully make it out of the arena. Unfortunately, this means that Coryo’s inevitable betrayal of Sejanus doesn’t hit in the exact same way.
The Hunger Games
The actual events of the 10th Hunger Games occur very differently from the book, beginning with the Capitol having access to camera feeds in nearly every catacomb in the Arena. This isn’t the case in the source material, leading to stretches of the book where viewers and mentors wait for visible movement from any of the tributes.
For starters, the massive snake moment — and Lucy Gray singing as she tames them — occurs as the Games’ finale, as opposed to midway through in the book. Multiple characters end up getting completely different deaths, as Dill dies drinking from a poisoned bottle planted by Lucy Gray, Treech gets poisoned by Lucy Gray dropping poison from an air vent, and Reaper, Mizzen, and Wovey all succumb to the snake attack. In the book, Wovey drinks the poisoned water, Treech is bitten by one of the leftover snakes, and Mizzen falls to his death after fighting off wayward drones. Initially, Lucy Gray and Reaper are the final two, before she discovers he’s been poisoned by rabies, and wins the Games by having him chase her to the point of exhaustion.
The Covey — the surrogate family band that Lucy Gray is a part of — do appear in the movie, but in not as nearly of a significant role. Maude Ivory Baird (Vaughan Reilly) is the only one who is meaningfully named in the movie, but the Covey largely exist as background fodder to Coryo and Lucy Gray’s world.
This differs a bit from the books, which contain multiple conversations between Maude Ivory and Coryo, as well as some story beats for Barb Azure Baird, Tam Amber, and Clerk Carmine.
One of the last twists of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes — Coryo getting accepted for officer training in District 2 — is wildly different from the book. In the movie, Coryo just-so-happens to qualify to study as an officer, after Commander Hoff (Burn Gorman) notices how smart he is. Coryo then has two weeks to maintain a perfect record — which gets complicated by his implication in the murders of Billy Taupe and Mayfair Lipp.
In the book, Coryo is much more personally invested in the prospect of becoming an officer, studying and stressing over the test for weeks. He does not discover that he could qualify to be transferred to District 2 until one day before he and Lucy Gray are supposed to flee the district together, which completely changes his motivations in his final confrontation with her.
Erasing the Games
And finally, Coryo returns to the Capitol and discovers Gaul’s role in his recent life events — albeit, with one key detail. In the book, Gaul informs Coryo that all evidence of the 10th Hunger Games has been erased entirely, after the Capitol realized that having children mentors was way too risky. Outside of Gaul having a single copy of the footage in her personal vault, Capitol citizens would have no way of rewatching or revisiting the Games.
The movie takes an opposite turn, with Gaul simply excitedly telling Coryo that the Games were a resounding success, and already greenlit for next year.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now playing exclusively in theaters.