Everyone loves a good urban legend, and for superhero movie fanatics, no subject is quite as fascinating as the so-called “Snyder Cut” of 2017’s Justice League. It’s no secret that director Zack Snyder’s vision for the film didn’t align with that of Warner Bros, and that the tone and direction of the film was significantly changed once Snyder was replaced by Joss Whedon. For years now, rumors have persisted that Snyder’s original cut of Justice League exists in some form, ready and waiting to be loosed upon the world. The obsession over that lost cut has inspired a full-blown “Release the Snyder Cut” movement.
You may be wondering – does the Snyder Cut actually exist, or is it mere rumor and hearsay? And if it does exist, is the Snyder Cut a full, finished film or merely a work-in-progress marked by incomplete plot threads and unfinished visual effects? We may not know the full truth behind the Snyder Cut until the day Warners finally decides to release it, but we can at least trace the history of the rumors and explore what we do and don’t know about this lost Justice League adventure.
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Why Was Zack Snyder Removed From Justice League?
Justice League was originally intended to be the third act of Snyder’s larger, five-movie DC saga, one that would later be followed by Justice League: Part 2 and an unknown, fifth DC film. However, while Snyder had largely been given carte blanche on 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman, the lukewarm critical and commercial reception to the latter film in particular seems to have resulted in the higher-ups at Warners taking a heavier hand with Justice League. Among other details revealed during a 2016 visit to the Leavesden set, IGN learned Justice League was now planned as a standalone project.
That set visit also made it apparent how much the relatively lighter tone of Justice League was aimed at countering the criticisms leveled at Batman v Superman. Even star Ben Affleck noted later that year that Justice League was more in line with traditional portrayals of Batman, compared to the dark and brooding hero seen in Batman v Superman. “This is more the Batman you would find if you opened up your average Batman comic book,” Affleck told Entertainment Weekly.
Ultimately, Snyder left the project in May 2017 in the wake of a family tragedy, with Warners turning to The Avengers director Joss Whedon to oversee reshoots and complete the tumultuous superhero crossover. Snyder retained the sole directing credit on Justice League, while Whedon was given the screenplay credit.
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While Snyder’s exit was certainly understandable given his personal struggles, several reports have suggested his job was already in jeopardy before that point. Collider corroborated a series of tweets from journalist Josh L. Dickey suggesting Snyder had effectively already been fired from Justice League in early 2017. Reportedly, executives at Warners were deeply unhappy with the rough cut of the film.
Collider wrote, “I also heard that Snyder’s rough-cut of the movie was ‘unwatchable’ (a word that jumped out at me because it’s rare you hear two separate sources use the exact same adjective). Of course, even if that’s true, there’s obviously more to the story since rough cuts can be fixed up with reshoots, rewrites, etc.”
Whatever the exact reasons for Snyder’s Justice League departure, the end result is that the film became the product of two directors with divergent goals. It wasn’t long before speculation began to grow that a very different version of Justice League exists somewhere within the Warners vaults.
How Different Was Snyder’s Version?
During the marketing ramp-up for Justice League, all involved seemed to downplay the impact Whedon’s hiring would have on the finished film. “The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing a baton to Joss but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.”
However, Variety indicated the reshoot process was both extensive and costly, in part because of the looming release date and scheduling conflicts with the various actors involved. Henry Cavill’s facial hair alone created unexpected production headaches. Because Cavill was required to maintain a mustache as part of his commitment to Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Justice League’s VFX team was forced to digitally remove the mustache in post-production.
It doesn’t take much detective work to see just how much the scope and direction of Justice League changed with time. Between trailers featuring scenes that aren’t in the final film and characters like Kiersey Clemons’ Iris West, Robin Wright’s General Antiope and Willem Dafoe’s Vulko being cut from the film entirely, there’s clearly a great deal of Justice League footage left on the cutting room floor. That’s to say nothing of the 2015 Aquaman poster featuring the tagline “Unite the Seven,” which implies there was once meant to be a seventh member of the Justice League (Green Lantern? Martian Manhunter?) who was cut from the plot.
Superman’s face serves as a telltale clue as to which scenes were shot by Whedon as opposed to Snyder, given that the digitally removed mustache is… somewhat less than convincing. With the majority of Superman’s scenes plagued by that Uncanny Valley effect, it stands to reason Whedon directed quite a bit of the footage that made it into the final cut.
Snyder himself recently gave fans an idea of how much material was cut from the finished film. Snyder posted an image on Vero of what appears to be film canisters labeled “Z.S. JL Director’s Cut, Running Time 214.” Whedon’s Justice League clocks in at a relatively lean 121 minutes, suggesting Snyder’s story was significantly chopped down after he left the project.
The Rise of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut
Once it became apparent just how much the theatrical release of Justice League differed from the version Snyder envisioned, a segment of the DC fanbase became very vocal in demanding the original version be released. That led to the rise of the Release the Snyder Cut movement and a concerted push online to lobby Warners for the film’s release.
Though a studio executive told The Wall Street Journal in 2018 there were no plans to release any sort of alternate cut of Justice League, the Snyder Cut movement continued to gain momentum in the months that followed. The campaign even began raising money through crowdfunding sites, with the goal of using half of the funds to boost awareness of the Snyder Cut and the other half being donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Snyder’s late daughter Autumn.
The fruits of that crowdfunding effort were made apparent in 2019. Several forms of advertising were spotted at San Diego Comic-Con, most notably a plane flying a banner reading “WB #ReleaseTheSnyderCut of Justice League.” Later in 2019, the group purchased billboard space in Times Square during New York Comic-Con. By the end of 2019, it was safe to say even casual DC fans were aware of the Snyder Cut phenomenon.
Even the Justice League cast began joining the fray. In November 2019, Gal Gadot tweeted an image of herself as Wonder Woman with the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Snyder and Affleck, along with Cyborg actor Ray Fisher and Deathstroke actor Joe Manganiello, followed her example. Clearly, it’s not just DC fans who want the Snyder Cut to see wide release.
Does the Snyder Cut Actually Exist?
The simple answer is yes, there’s surely at least one version of Zack Snyder’s Justice League movie in existence. Directors working on expensive studio blockbusters are frequently tasked with assembling rough cuts of their work-in-progress films to screen to producers and executives concerned about how their money is being spent. And according to the Collider story referenced earlier, it was precisely that rough cut that caused Warners to lose faith in Snyder.
As discussed already, Snyder has more or less confirmed the existence of the Snyder Cut on multiple occasions. He even shed more light on his abandoned plans for the DCEU during a live director’s commentary for Batman v Superman. And as time has passed, members of the Justice League cast have begun to speak more openly about the Snyder Cut and throw in their support for its release. Ben Affleck in particular seems bothered about the way Snyder’s exit was handled and how the studio elected to finish the film, referring to the theatrical release as “kind of a cow’s body with a horse’s head a little bit.”
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Of the main cast, only Cavill claims to be unaware of the Snyder Cut’s existence, though even he acknowledges there are probably rough cuts assembled from Snyder’s footage. Cavill said in February 2020, “I have not seen any Snyder Cut – I don’t know if there is anything that exists that is a Snyder Cut. I’m sure there is footage out there which has probably been pieced together over the years. I’m always interested to see how that stuff turns out, but that is very much a chapter of my past.”
At this point, there’s little debate as to whether the Snyder Cut is real. The more germane question is whether Snyder’s version of Justice League exists in a form that can be consumed by moviegoers. Does the Snyder Cut actually exist as a cohesive, finished film? That’s a bit harder to say. The narrative that’s built up over the years is that Snyder was wronged by studio execs who didn’t support his vision, and that a very different, far superior version of Justice League exists locked away in a vault like the Ark of the Covenant. The reality is surely far less glamorous.
Even if Snyder was able to complete the main round of filming Justice League before his departure, he never had a chance to go back and do reshoots. The reshoot process is essential for ambitious blockbuster movies like this, allowing directors to flesh out scenes that are incomplete or not working properly and basically plug all the holes that exist in the rough cut. It also seems highly unlikely the Snyder Cut would have completed visual effects, given the gap between when Snyder left the film and its release. After all, if Justice League was completely done and ready to be screened by the time Snyder left, would Warners have gone through the hassle, expense and PR nightmare of hiring a new director?
That said, Jason Momoa revealed he’s seen the Snyder Cut and implied it actually does exist as a completed film. “I think the public needs to see it,” Momoa told MTV News in November 2019. “I’m obviously indebted to Warners and DC. I don’t know how they feel about it, but as a fan, I’m very, very happy that I got to see it.”
If the Snyder Cut is ever publicly released, we imagine it would be comparable to 2006’s Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Donner was also fired from his DC movie before completing production. Warners Bros. tapped Richard Lester to complete filming and even reshoot a significant portion of the movie. The Donner Cut was a belated attempt to release Superman II in a form more closely resembling Donner’s vision. But because Donner never finished his version, The Donner Cut is only an approximation of that vision, using deleted scenes and archival footage but still, out of necessity, utilizing some of the material Lester shot. Similarly, the Snyder Cut would probably have to draw at least partly on Whedon’s footage in order to give viewers a coherent story.
Will The Snyder Cut Ever Be Released?
Regardless of how complete and fully realized the Snyder Cut might be at this point, Warners has shown little desire to actually release it. Even when Gadot and her castmates fueled rumors of an impending Snyder Cut release through their #ReleaseTheSnyderCut posts, nothing actually came of it. The rumors that the Snyder Cut could debut on the upcoming HBO Max streaming platform seem to be just that – rumors.
The studio has repeatedly downplayed any rumors of a Snyder Cut release, when executives choose to comment on the subject at all. In November 2019 The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Despite the groundswell and speculation that a Snyder Cut could go to Warner Bros.’ upcoming streaming service HBO Max, insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter no announcement of a release of any such cut is imminent.”
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Warner Bros. is a business, and its reasons for withholding the release of the Snyder Cut are surely all about the company’s bottom line. If the Snyder Cut requires more expensive, time-consuming VFX work to complete, Warners may not see enough payoff in completing an alternate cut of a film that didn’t perform terribly well at the box office to begin with. And if Snyder’s version of the film is as bad as some insiders have claimed, the studio may be concerned a release could damage an already troubled brand. Add to that the fact that so much about DC’s future movie slate – including whether or not Justice League will ever get a proper sequel – seems in flux now. Releasing the Snyder Cut may only create further confusion.
On the other hand, Heroic Hollywood reports that Snyder screened his personal working cut of Justice League to DC executives in early 2020. Why would such a screening happen if there weren’t serious discussions about finally releasing the Snyder Cut?
Heroic Hollywood wrote, “Zack Snyder held a private screening of his cut of Justice League in the first quarter of 2020, with executives from DC in attendance. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, something is happening with Snyder’s cut of the film, and discussions are currently underway.”
There are many who would argue the sustained interest in the Snyder Cut proves there’s value in finally unearthing this lost DCEU relic. It may only be a matter of time before Warner Bros. relents. If past director’s cut releases like Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and Blade Runner: The Final Cut have proven anything, it’s that lost movies have a way of resurfacing, even if it takes a while.
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