Everyone loves a good urban legend, and for superhero movie fanatics, no subject is quite as fascinating as the 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 rumors persisted that Snyder’s original cut of Justice League existed in some form, ready and waiting to be loosed upon the world. The obsession over that lost cut even inspired a full-blown “Release the Snyder Cut” movement.
That movement wound up paying off. Not only is the Snyder Cut real, it’s going to be released on HBO Max in March 2021. It even has multiple trailers now. While we wait for that release — and as we get excited for IGN’s FanFest, which will include an exclusive panel with Snyder himself discussing the film — let’s trace the long, strange history of the project.
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. Vanity Fair reveals the studio also tasked executives Geoff Johns and Jon Berg with acting as “watchdogs” over Snyder.
“My job was to try to mediate between a creator whose vision is instinctually dark and a studio that perceived, rightly or wrong, that the fans wanted something lighter,” Berg told Vanity Fair. “I was respectful of the director and didn’t pursue things that were coming at me from the corporate side that I thought weren’t in line with what would make the best movie.”
IGN’s 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.”
However, the aforementioned Vanity Fair story paints a slightly different picture of the situation. While Johns had already brought Whedon on board to rewrite certain scenes and advise on the tone of the film by this point, Snyder was still officially the director of Justice League. But with his family still reeling from Autumn Snyder’s death and facing the prospect of a long, uphill battle with the studio over the movie’s tone and runtime, Snyder and his wife and producing partner Deborah made the decision to step away.
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. Even Martian Manhunter was meant to play a role in the movie, with Snyder intending to reveal Harry Lennix’s character Lt. General Calvin Swanwick is actually J’onn J’onzz in disguise.
Vanity Fair reveals Snyder originally intended to include a romantic subplot between Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane, which would have played into Bruce’s desire to resurrect Superman.
“The intention was that Bruce fell in love with Lois and then realized that the only way to save the world was to bring Superman back to life,” Snyder told Vanity Fair. “So he had this insane conflict, because Lois, of course, was still in love with Superman. We had this beautiful speech where [Bruce] said to Alfred: ‘I never had a life outside the cave. I never imagined a world for me beyond this. But this woman makes me think that if I can get this group of gods together, then my job is done. I can quit. I can stop.’ And of course that doesn’t work out for him.”
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.
Even before the Snyder Cut became official, Snyder himself 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.
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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.
According to Ray Fisher, the reshoot process was anything but smooth. In 2020, Fisher went as far as to accuse Whedon of toxic, abusive behavior on-set and DC higher-ups like Geoff Johns and Jon Berg of enabling Whedon’s alleged bad behavior.
While Fisher didn’t reveal specifics behind his accusations at the time, WarnerMedia launched an internal investigation into the director’s conduct during filming. The investigation finally closed in December 2020, with the studio revealing “remedial action” had been taken. However, Fisher has continued to criticize WarnerMedia’s handling of the investigation and the aftermath. Members of Whedon’s former Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast have also begun speaking out against the director’s history of abusive behavior.
The Snyder Cut Becomes a Reality
But let’s bounce back to 2019. At that point, there was no question as to whether Snyder’s version of Justice League existed in some form. It was more a matter of whether that footage was in a state fit to be consumed by the general public. How much money would be required to convert Snyder’s footage from rough cut to finished movie? Was that a price Warner Bros. was willing to pay?
Warners continued to downplay the Snyder Cut throughout 2019. 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.”
However, Jason Momoa delivered a very different message to fans that same month, revealing he had seen the Snyder Cut and implying it actually did exist as a completed film. “I think the public needs to see it,” Momoa told MTV News.
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By early 2020, the winds seemed to finally be shifting when it came to 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.”
The dam finally burst in May 2020. Following a livestream director’s commentary of Man of Steel, Snyder reunited with Cavill to tell fans the Snyder Cut of Justice League will debut on HBO Max in 2021.
“I want to thank HBO Max and Warner Brothers for this brave gesture of supporting artists and allowing their true visions to be realized.” Snyder said in a statement alongside the announcement.
“It’s still unclear if the Snyder Cut will be released in episodic chapters or as a full director’s cut, but the Snyders are reportedly currently “reassembling much of their original postproduction crew to score, cut, add new and finish old visual effects, and, yes, maybe bring back many of the actors to record additional dialogue”, reported THR.
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In the months since that confirmation, Snyder has been giving fans teases of the big changes in store. Darkseid will actually appear in this version, and Superman will don his black suit. Both characters featured in a trailer for the Snyder Cut.
The extent of the reshoots has also become apparent. While only amounting to a few extra minutes’ worth of content, the new scenes will add more characters to the plot, including Joe Manganiello reprising his role as Deathstroke and Jared Leto’s Joker appearing as an apparent ally to Batman in the “Knightmare” flash-forward setting. That new Joker content will also shed more light on the history between Batman and Joker in this universe.
Vanity Fair has finally settled the question of just how complete Snyder’s cut of Justice League was before Snyder left the project. The director reveals he brought a roughly four-hour cut home with him, one that lacked music, sound effects and finished visual effects. He also reveals Warners originally wanted to release that rough cut as-is, an idea to which Snyder flatly refused. Instead, the budget for completing the Snyder Cut is roughly $70 million, with Snyder himself refusing additional payment in order to maintain a greater degree of control over the project this time around.
Not only is Snyder’s version a much longer and darker version of Justice League, it’ll also be presented in a full-frame aspect ratio and Snyder also has a black and white version he’s calling the “Justice Is Grey” edition in the works. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is slated to debut worldwide on HBO Max and in theaters on March 18, 2021.
So there you have it. The Snyder Cut is not only real, but it’s actually going to see the light of day very soon. But will it actually live up to the expectations that drove all those hashtags? Or those crowdfunding sites? That plane back at Comic-Con? Only time will tell.
Note: This story has been updated with the latest information available as of Feb. 22, 2021.
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