Three years after trying to divert from Zack Snyder’s original plan for the DCEU, DC’s movie future once again rests in the hands of the controversial filmmaker who started it all with Man of Steel in 2013. Following Snyder’s departure and the flop of Joss Whedon’s Justice League, the DCEU took its time finding a new identity, seemingly finding it in a disconnected multiverse, but now, but in the end, that may have only paved the path for Snyder’s return.
The DCEU wasn’t a total failure in Snyder’s absence. In fact, there were a number of hits with Aquaman and Joker bringing in over a billion dollars at the box office. Even Shazam! and Birds of Prey, while falling short of expectations financially, still brought in positive reviews. Despite these wins, DC Films couldn’t get out from under the looming shadow of the Snyder Cut.
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Now, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League officially on the way, and the Zack Snyder produced Wonder Woman 1984 also hitting HBO Max on Christmas, Snyder finds himself once again leading the charge for the future of DC movies.
WB Tried to Abandon Snyder’s Plan After Batman v Superman
When Christopher Nolan chose Zack Snyder to apply his Watchmen sensibilities as director of Man of Steel, The Avengers hadn’t yet come out and regular billion-dollar installments and shared universe set-ups weren’t an expectation. That didn’t stop Snyder from thinking big for the sequel, though. During production for Man of Steel, Snyder devised a plan to turn his Superman story into a 5-part arc using the mythological approach of Lord of the Rings, exploring the nature of Superman’s heroism and showing how he inspired Batman to form Justice League who would face off against the looming threat of Darkseid in a trilogy of movies.
While the 5-part series (not including a number of spin-offs like Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman) was a starkly different approach than the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s sprawling continuity, Snyder’s Superman arc had barely started before it was over. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were both big hits at the box office, yet fell short of the newly established billion-dollar super-hit benchmark. Factor in the polarizing love-it-or-hate-it reception of both movies and Warner Bros. got cold feet.
Snyder hadn’t even started shooting the first Justice League movie when he had to rewrite the script due. The rewrite was only a signal for things to come as additional on-set rewrites and creative clashes continued to plague the movie’s production. Snyder finished shooting and was several months into post-production when he finally left in the wake of a family tragedy, though rumors of a less than amicable split have always lingered. After Snyder’s Departure, Joss Whedon was hired to complete Justice League, but not without adding 80 new pages of script and conducting weeks of additional reshoots to overhaul the plot and tone of the movie. While Snyder has reputation for being fun and friendly on-set, Whedon’s time as director is now plagued by claims of abuse and racism by Cyborg actor Ray Fisher and others.
After Justice League, WB abandoned Snyder’s plan for Justice League 2 & 3 and pushed forward with much lighter films like Aquaman and Shazam, but also ventured into R-rated territory with Joker and Birds of Prey. While they all enjoyed positive reviews, Aquaman and Joker were box-office mega-hits, while Birds of Prey and Shazam! brought in significantly less than WB hoped.
Snyder’s Movies Have Been The DCEU’s Most Successful
The controversy of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman loomed over Snyder’s tenure (truly he shouldn’t be blamed for Justice League), and the success of Aquaman was quickly pointed to as a template for the future, as the Jason Momoa-led solo-film was bright and funny and a big hit at the box office, a stark contrast from the Snyder’s days, even though Snyder and his wife/producing partner, Debbie Snyder, were both listed as executive producers.
In many ways, the new direction for DC Films shed a few of the franchise’s biggest criticisms, although Shazam! and Birds of Prey showed the box office gold wasn’t something that goes hand-in-hand with more popcorn friendly films. Not to mention, as DC tried to alter its course, news of the Snyder Cut overshadowed almost all developments with the notion that Snyder’s original Justice League plan could have been something far more compelling than everything else Warner Bros. and DC was putting out. The fact that people were still talking about Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just as much as any new release – and that many people were coming to appreciate the controversial films, didn’t help this new direction take root.
Looking back at Snyder’s time as the driving force in the franchise (excluding Justice League for obvious reasons), Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman (which were all produced by Snyder’s production company with the exception of Suicide Squad) averaged nearly $780 million at the box office, while, despite the big bumps of Aquaman and Joker, the post-Justice League DCEU averaged just under $690 million. Granted, the post-Snyder movies also had lower budgets, which may indicate a higher profit margin (which is offset by mishandling of Joker’s financials and Aquaman‘s international-heavy haul), but when it comes to blockbusters, revenue is the biggest indicator of popularity, and the numbers say Snyder’s tenure was more popular on average.
Zack Snyder’s DCEU Plan is the Only Plan WB Has Had
In retrospect, it’s ironic that many early complaints about the DCEU accused Warner Bros. of not having a plan, considering Snyder had a fairly intricately planned 5-movie saga charted out. It was actually WB who was working against Snyder’s attempts to institute his plan, constantly pushing for a larger interconnected franchise like the MCU instead of one that would be over after a short arc with a complete story like Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight.
After Snyder left Justice League, Lex Luthor’s scene with Deathstroke was repurposed to tease a future conflict with the Injustice League or the Legion of Doom, but nothing ever came of that as Warner Bros. decided to lean away from team-up movies and interconnected stories, going so far as to consider blowing canon up altogether to opt for more one-off movies like Joker, or keeping each sub-franchise separate. It wasn’t until more recently that WB settled on the idea of embracing the multiverse, fitting every DC property ever into the same canon, in a way, just like the multiverse in the comics.
To be fair, the multiverse is more of a template than a plan of its own, as the movies in development don’t tell any kind of cohesive story. However, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League back in play, and speculation over where his franchise could go next (including plans he has for Darkseid in a potential sequel), Snyder’s plan could find itself once again leading the charge.
DC’s HBO Max Future Rests on Snyder Properties
If the circumstances surrounding the future of DC Films already seemed like a perfect storm, it got even crazier with the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to most theaters in the United States closing their doors for months and no clear indication of when people will be going to theaters en masse again (if ever), almost every major movie got delayed. In addition, most productions had to shut down, adding even more titles to the list of delays. Wonder Woman 1984 was supposed to release on June 5th, but got delayed many times until it’s now set to release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day 2020.
Since Wonder Woman 1984 is produced by Snyder’s production company, Stone Quarry, this means the first two major DC releases in 10 months are both Zack Snyder films, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League arriving shortly after Wonder Woman 1984 in Q1 2021. The next DC film currently scheduled to release is James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad in August 2021, followed by The Batman in March 2022, provided neither of those films sees additional delays.
The thing is, even if The Suicide Squad and The Batman don’t see any additional delays, neither one of them represents a part of any sort of larger plan for the universe. Both could get sequels and go off into their own franchises bigger franchises, but neither will eclipse the scale of Zack Snyder’s Justice League plans. As the primary creator with a foothold for DC on HBO Max, if Zack Snyder’s Justice League does well, HBO Max will surely be invested in continuing the story as HBO Max originals.
HBO Max is supposed to have a number of original DC Movies and shows every year, and some have even been announced, like Peacemaker, the GCPD show connected to Matt Reeves’ The Batman, J.J. Abrams’ Justice League Dark, and the Green Lantern series, so there’s already some competition for Snyder, but with none of these series yet in production and Zack Snyder’s Justice League on the way, Snyder’s Justice League story will be the first to hit the platform, meaning most of these other series could be as far out as a hypothetical Justice League 2, making Snyder’s story the platform’s focal point, as it should be, considering it sports a cast of big names like Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, and more.
It was a long and winding road to get to this point, and things are sure to be in flux for some time to come, but one thing’s for sure, and it’s that Zack Snyder is once again, at least for now, the focal point of the DCEU. Whether or not he hits it big enough to get back in the driver’s seat long term remains to be seen, but WB’s efforts to get rid of Snyder weren’t nearly as successful as they hoped, and now that he’s back, he might be just the man they need.
Key Release Dates
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)Release date: Dec 25, 2020
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