Late in 2019, a grassroots campaign saw its cause gain a huge spike in validity thanks to Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck. That cause: The release of director Zack Snyder’s original cut of Justice League. Since the release of the theatrical version of the DC film in November of 2017, a group of Snyder’s dedicated fans – and at least a few websites – had used the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut as their rallying cry. It was also this hashtag that Gadot, Affleck, and co-star Ray Fisher used last November on the second anniversary of the film’s release, and Snyder himself retweeted Gadot’s and Affleck’s posts. Before too long, it was announced that HBO Max would release Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021. But what would the Snyder Cut look like? How would it be different? And in what format would show up? We’ve got the answers, and everything else we know about the Snyder Cut, below. [Updated on 10/21/20]
On October 21, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that the Snyder Cut would feature a return of the Joker as portrayed by Jared Leto in 2016’s Suicide Squad. It was a surprising announcement because Leto’s Joker was nowhere to be found in the theatrical cut of Justice League, and Leto specifically had to be called in to shoot new scenes that Snyder had originally envisioned for the film. Beyond that, we don’t really know much about the role Joker will play in the film-turned-miniseries, or what it might mean for Leto’s future as the character, being that we’ve already gotten another iteration of the Joker in Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning turn in 2019’s Joker, and we’re also getting another, separate iteration of Batman in The Batman, due out next year.
After an online screening of Man of Steel on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Zack Snyder announced that the Snyder Cut of Justice League is indeed real, and that it would be debuting on the upcoming new streaming service HBO Max sometime in 2021. Snyder reiterated that he has yet to watch the theatrical version of the film, which was completed by Joss Whedon when Snyder stepped away from the film due to a personal tragedy (more on that below), and further stated that what audiences saw was “probably one-fourth of what I did.” Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Snyder said that “It will be an entirely new thing, and, especially talking to those who have seen the released movie, a new experience apart from that movie.”
Fans got their first real look at the other three-fourths of Snyder’s vision when a new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League premiered at online convention DC FanDome in August 2020. Set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – a song Snyder used in his Watchmen film – the trailer revealed a few things, among them:
Before revealing the teaser trailer, Snyder told viewers that compared to the original theatrically released Justice League, fans can expect to see “tones more of the flash,” including a scene that will show an ability we’ve not yet seen on screen, and “a little bit more of his emotional arc.”
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) August 22, 2020
Snyder also said that after so much of Victor Stone story was sacrificed in the first version of the film – including the aforementioned character of Iris West – his cut would center Cyborg. “Cyborg is the heart of the movie,” Snyder said. “Cyborg is the thing that I think in the end holds the team together in a lot of ways.”
As mentioned, the director’s cut of Justice League will release on HBO Max in 2021. At DC FanDome, Snyder revealed it will release in four one-hour parts, but that there will be a way to watch it as one bundled-together piece once all episodes are out. He also said that international fans worried they would not get the Snyder Cut because HBO Max is only available in the U.S. should not fear: distribution deals are being worked on.
Another interesting development is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be presented in a different aspect ration to the original film. The Snyder Cut will be available in the 1.66.1 ratio, known widely as “European widescreen,” which will result in viewers seeing black bars on either side of the image when they watch on HBO Max.
At fan event Justice Con in late July, Snyder dropped some big Justice League news. First up, he revealed that the world would get its first look at his cut of Justice League with a teaser that will drop at DC FanDome; then he threw red meat to the fans by showing a tiny bit of footage that revealed Henry Cavill’s Superman in a black suit in a deleted Justice League scene in which he flies to Bruce Wayne’s hideout and runs into Alfred. You may recognize the deleted scene from Justice League‘s home release, but in that available scene the suit is still the usual red.
And fans were treated to the scene in un-cropped IMAX formatting, which is the format in which the entire Snyder cut will be released. The story goes that Snyder always wanted Cavill’s Superman to don the black suit but that Warner Bros. felt it was too dark a turn for the Man of Steel’s character. The latest teaser revealed at DC FanDome confirmed we’d be getting the dark Super suit.
For more information, let’s go back a few years to uncover the history of the Snyder Cut and how we speculated it might have been possible back in November.
When it was first announced, Justice League was intended to be a two-part film with Snyder and stars Henry Cavill, Gadot, Affleck, Jason Momoa, Fisher, and Ezra Miller convening to film the bulk of the first film and portions of the second at Leavesden Studios in London. Much like the efforts of Warner Bros. Pictures’ cross-town superhero competition, the plan was for these two films to serve as a culmination of storylines began in Man of Steel and through Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, and Suicide Squad. Although, once the scripts were developed, Snyder said the two films would tell distinct stories.
Then, as filming commenced on Justice League in April of 2016, Batman v Superman was released to the derision of critics (it is at 28% on the Tomatometer) and, seemingly, the industry deciding en mass that the film was a creative disaster. In London, this meant the quiet cancellation of the second Justice League film and a hasty rewrite of the first film’s script to bring its story to a true conclusion. As we now understand it, the first Justice League movie was meant to end with the resurrection of Superman with the second film seeing the League assembling to fight cosmic-level bad guy Darkseid. In the years since it dissolved, Snyder offered fans glimpses of design art and storyboards from the abandoned second film thanks to his social media accounts, and lately has been teasing the first trailer for the Snyder Cut on HBO Max.
But even as the film soldiered on in production, it was clear to Snyder and his partners at the studio that a period of reshoots would be required. Most big-budget tentpole releases schedule some additional photography these days, but the high-profile nature of Justice League – and the growing bad buzz around Warners’ attempts to bring the DC Comics heroes to the screen – meant the work was regarded with suspicion. Of course, no one would know just how extensive these reshoots would be until Snyder delivered his first cut.
As with the myth of the six-hour version of David Lynch’s Dune, the notion of the Snyder Cut begins with an assembly of the film – a compilation of the best takes chosen by editors David Brenner, Richard Pearson, Martin Walsh, and Snyder himself representing the scenes as written in the script. Lacking complete special effects, utilizing a temporary soundtrack, and featuring the background studio noise of the scenes as they were filmed, an assembly is meant more to reveal what to cut from the script once the actors, technicians, and filmmakers fill in the gutters left behind by the screenplay. An actor’s expression may more effectively convey a piece of written dialogue, for example. But an assembly will give a director of a multi-million-dollar film the first inkling of what he may need to reshoot to massage the story into shape. For Dune, Lynch went back and reshot the scene in which Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) drinks the Water of Life to unite ideas and clarify ideas from a number of scenes in the assembly which were ultimately cut from the theatrical release.
And while assemblies are not typically released to the public, 20th Century Fox Home Video did release an “assembly cut” of Alien3 in its Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set and the subsequent Alien Anthology Blu-ray set. Roughly 30 minutes longer than the release version, it is a surprisingly finished product which more closely reflects director David Fincher’s vision of the film before the studio took it out of his hands and removed the religious overtones and an entire chase sequence. In fact, we’re inclined to believe the original “Snyder cut” fans were calling for, before production began again in earnest on the project, was more a fine assembly or early director’s cut than a true early assemblage of material.
Even before Snyder announced his departure from the film in May of 2017, rumors around town indicated footage from London had failed to wow Warner executives. At this point, reshoots were scheduled and Joss Whedon entered the story. At the time, he was reportedly working on a Batgirl film, but was also assisting Snyder and Warner Bros. with writing new Justice League material. Around this time, February of 2016, rumors circulated indicating Snyder had been fired, but both he and the studio quickly shot this down.
But then Snyder’s family experienced an unimaginable tragedy when his daughter Autumn took her own life on March 20, 2017. Snyder subsequently said he continued to work on the film for nearly six weeks after her death in the hopes it would mitigate his grief, but it proved to be no comfort at all. He willingly handed the reins off to Whedon for the reshoots and the post-production phase.
In that moment, Snyder’s cut was characterized as unfinished – and considering the realities of major Hollywood filmmaking, that is reasonable to believe. Any extensive visual effects would still be in process for months to come. Color grading, sound mixing, and other stages of the final post-production efforts would not occur until the reshoots were completed.
Nonetheless, members of the production like storyboard artist Jay Oliva (who also directed many of the DC Universe Animated direct-to-video titles), Momoa, and composer Junkie XL (who was replaced by Danny Elfman for the theatrical version) all claim the film was in a much more finished state than was suggested at the moment Snyder walked away.
Turning a director’s cut from a file on a hard drive somewhere to a marketable product is a specialty of the home video market – a tradition carried through now to streamer HBO Max and Justice League. A 2006 DVD release of Dune offered fans a widescreen version of the film’s television cut, supervised by the same Universal employees who prepared the infamous “Love Conquers All” version of Brazil. Both cuts of that film emerged on a celebrated Criterion Collection laserdisc set which was later released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Like Alien3, Alien and Aliens also came to DVD and Blu-ray with alternate director’s cuts representing versions of the films those directors felt more aligned with their original visions.
And it was out of this ethos that Alien director Ridley Scott and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment assembled its fabulous DVD and Blu-ray releases of Blade Runner. Its high-end collector’s edition came complete with five cuts of the film and a 45-minute deleted scene compilation which almost counts as a sixth cut. As with Alien, Scott wanted fans to experience every extant version in addition to his preferred “Final Cut.” It was the sort of philosophy perfect from home video at the time and one we wish more directors would subscribe to.
But in all of these cases, the films are in finished states. Has there ever been a case in which a director walked away from a film, saw it completed by someone else, only to find his vision restored many years later? As it happens, yes – and in an odd twist of fate, it is a film featuring Superman.
In 1979, Richard Donner was fired from the two-part Superman production after butting heads with producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler throughout an arduous 18-month shoot. According to multiple sources, Donner managed to shoot around 70% of Superman II before it was decided to concentrate on making Superman the best it could be – which included moving Superman II’s intended ending to the first film. The suggestion may have come from A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester, who was on set as a consultant and would go on to finish Superman II after Donner’s departure. As Director’s Guild rules require the credited director shoot over 50% of a finished film, Lester remounted a number of scenes completed by Donner.
And like Whedon’s changes to Justice League, Lester infused Superman II with a broader sense of humor. An off-screen voice shouts “I know some judo!” when the citizens of Metropolis threaten the Kryptonian criminals. A minute later, sight gags dominate while Ursa (Sarah Douglas) “blows them a kiss.” But unlike the theatrical release of Justice League, Superman II was considered the more creatively and financially successful of the two original Superman films until a critical reappraisal some years later.
In 2001, editor Michal Thau approached Warner Home Video and Donner about reassembling his version of Superman II from extant material. A few years later, footage of Marlon Brando shot for the film but later deleted became available, making the Donner Cut a possibility. Working with Donner, Thau produced “The Donner Cut,” which accurately depicts the director’s plans for the film – right down to the original ending he later co-opted for Superman. It is a noble effort which cuts down on the broad humor and ups the drama, but also underscores the missed opportunity. Donner never had the chance to find a new ending for Superman II, leaving his “cut” of the film feeling strangely repetitive.