Every Zack Snyder Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists Zack Snyder
Every Zack Snyder Movie, Ranked

Zack Snyder may be the first blockbuster auteur more or less created by a release date. Snyder’s Frank Miller adaptation 300 was such a massive hit in the 2007 off-season that it seemed to single-handedly convince studios that they could make bank with March releases, and Warner Bros. that it could make bank by repeatedly rehiring Snyder for their biggest movies (and the occasional passion project), even when they seemed to not actually want what he would make out of them. After studio interference and personal tragedy burned him out making DC Comics movies (and a combination of pandemic, ill-advised streaming pivot, and online crazies conspired to give him an unexpected postscript on Justice League), Snyder moved over to Netflix, which let him imagine spendy new universes of spinoffs, sequels and unnecessary director’s cuts. Now it’s time to rank them.

Zack Snyder’s movies may be dumb (and most of them are quite dumb!) but their making and unmaking, Snyder Cuts and all, do tell a story of post-millennial studio tentpole flailing, the complicated push-pull between conglomerates and expensively visionary geek artists—with the particularly modern complication that the auteur in question has never made a great movie. All of this makes Zack Snyder’s filmography a fascinating conundrum: Visually distinct and instantly recognizable aesthetics that nonetheless imply that he likes thinking about movies more than he’s able to actually wrangle a satisfying final cut. Then again, there’s always another Snyder Cut around the corner. In a blinkered way, it’s sort of inspirational.

Here is every movie by Zack Snyder ranked:

12. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that making an animated children’s adventure about talking animals does not reveal itself as Zack Snyder’s precise forte. But while Legend of the Guardians is not a particularly good animated children’s adventure, perhaps best remembered by a certain crowd as a wait-what’s-actually-real 30 Rock background joke, it is—like Snyder’s more grown-up boondoggles—committed to its ridiculousness. Snyder comes across as a weirdly pumped-up science teacher, mixing fantasy and true nature facts to convince a bunch of third-graders that owls are fucking awesome, dude. And they are kind of fucking awesome! This movie, however, doesn’t have much more to do besides emphasize that point of view via speed-ramped animated action.—Jesse Hassenger

11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It’s tempting to rank this one higher, only because its misbegotten weirdness only feels more distinctive nearly a decade later, with the many cautiously homogenized superhero movies that have followed it. Batman v. Superman is destined to become the kind of bad movie that fans—of either of its titular heroes, of Snyder, of misguided Hollywood spectacle—can’t stop revisiting, not least because (like most Snyder movies) there are two different cuts to pore over. The weight and texture of Snyder’s bummed-out superhero images are undeniable; cinematographer Larry Fong does exceptional work throughout (or at least whenever the screen isn’t choked by CG gunk). There are moments, too, where Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Ben Affleck bring gravity to potentially weightless characters. But the movie simply doesn’t make a lot of sense, and frequently seems to panic itself into ripping off previous incarnations of the heroes, especially Batman, and flirting with a misguided nihilism.—Jesse Hassenger

10. 300

Zack Snyder’s biggest and most beloved hit is sort of undeniable as iconography, even if it’s kind of loathsome as art. He first pledged fealty to a certain style of comic book by so closely adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans battled a much-larger army of Persians. (In case you haven’t heard: This! Is! Sparta!) Whether you look at it as macho near-camp, painterly badassery or straight-faced xenophobia, it manages to be all of a piece (even if you’re not sure what that piece is).—Jesse Hassenger

9. Dawn of the Dead

On one level, you could call it a safe box office call to remake one of the most beloved zombie stories of all time, but at the same time, Zack Snyder tackled that property in a pretty ambitious, risky way. Unlike Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, this isn’t a tribute and homage that is faithfully attempting to recapture the spirit of the original. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is an entirely different beast, trading much of Romero’s cultural commentary for a leaner, action-packed, grisly modern zombie tale. It’s extremely indebted to 28 Days Later, which serves as obvious inspiration for the ghouls themselves. At the time, its “fast zombies” were hailed as revolutionary, if only because it brought the sprinting ghoul to the official Romero Family universe. But the running zombies are indicative of the film’s high-strung energy and vitality, which kicks into high gear immediately with one of the best opening sequences in zombie film history. This truly is a world that goes completely to hell overnight, as Sarah Polley’s character Ana falls asleep and wakes up in the morning, finding all of civilization crumbling around her in an orgy of blood. The survivors we assemble at the mall are well-chosen, especially security guard C.J., who is presented as the principal “human antagonist” early on but then actually goes on to completely redeem himself over time. Such measurable character growth is profoundly unusual for this genre.—Jim Vorel

8. Watchmen

I was a Watchmen defender when Zack Snyder’s film arrived in 2009, and I’m still a Watchmen defender today…more or less. Alan Moore’s infamously “unfilmable” landmark graphic novel is a bit grander in its philosophy at times than a superhero feature film may be capable of, but when it comes to Ozymandias’ argument for cold, calculating utilitarianism, the film fires on all cylinders. It sports a fabulous look, and the universe’s “futurepast” qualities are visually dazzling and dreamlike in execution. Jackie Earle Haley was perfectly cast as sadistic antihero Rorschach, and most of the film’s best scenes revolve around him in some way, or in the slow stripping away of humanity from the nigh-omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. The issue with Watchmen often seems to be that viewers intensely focus on one of several potential issues, from the pointless (there’s a blue penis on screen momentarily!) to the pragmatic (an ending that ties things together much more neatly than in the graphic novel, if we’re being truthful). I’ve often read arguments that Snyder’s film, in the mode of his earlier 300, fails the ethos of Watchmen by “glorifying violence” rather than critiquing it, thanks to the presence of several gratuitously violent action scenes. This feels like missing out on everything else Watchmen does well—as well as anyone could have done.—Jim Vorel

7. Army of the Dead

What Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead sadly reveals is a director with a personal brand and opulent filmmaking style that has undermined whatever vitality existed in this premise. Snyder is trying to do so much here that the whole thing practically collapses under its own weight, a victim of its own attempt at bombast and visual iconoclasm. Army of the Dead is nominally the story of Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a father and mercenary/burger flipper who is wallowing in his own private shame following a disaster in which Las Vegas was overwhelmed by a zombie uprising. Now months or years later, Scott is contacted by a billionaire captain of industry (Mortal Kombat’s Hiroyuki Sanada) who tasks him with infiltrating the walled-off city in order to score the heist of a lifetime from a casino vault before Las Vegas is scheduled to be bombed off the face of the Earth by the U.S. government. There are sequences here shocking in their sheer goriness—we’re talking Peter Jackson-level comic overkill, like a zombie being blasted into sticky red chunks in slow motion by a heavy-cal machine gun—that will have genre geeks guffawing at the chutzpah of everyone involved. It’s other elements of the visuals that actually let Army of the Dead down, as an area you would expect to be a strength for Snyder instead becomes another arena in which he can’t seem to rein in his own impulses to constantly assert his influence. All his hands-on techniques result in a film that is more ugly, underlit and disjointed visually than it really should be. A shallow focus is frequently used, blurring the edges of many shots, making casual introductory conversations between characters feel like something we’re observing through a hotel room peephole. Army of the Dead was meant to be a rare, big-budget zombie action spectacle, a film that would presumably revel in its own silliness, embrace gory comedy and rely on the strengths of its charismatic leads. But the purity of its aim is muddled by its own director’s compulsive stretching of its limited story and embrace of filmmaking techniques that call so much attention to themselves that they constantly break the audience’s immersion in joyful, mindless entertainment.—Jim Vorel

6. Justice League

The real difference between Justice League and Snyder’s previous DCEU entries (and non-DC films) is that the distinct Snyder-ness of it all has been neutered, chastised even. The movie is under two hours, its many typical philosophical conversations generally snipped and tucked, mythology abridged into brisk expositional conversations or relegated to—in the case of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) identifying Aquaman (Jason Momoa)—literally seeing everything one needs to know on a wall mural. All in all, Justice League seems to want to just get on with it, which is probably as good a sign as any that anyone who complained Zack Snyder’s films are bloated, ponderous, humorless slogs of pretentious “adult” populist entertainment will find his latest blockbuster operates at a clip much more—dare we say it—delightful than anything he’s done before. But if Justice League is a more functional film than its predecessors, it also lacks the style and go-for-broke big ideas that made Batman v Superman such a fascinating shitshow. In the place of Snyder’s all-consuming hubris is something seemingly committee-created, too aware of past mistakes to try anything that could make the film something more than a $300M investment.—Dom Sinacola

5. Man of Steel

Man of Steel begins well enough. Zack Snyder brings his signature richness of design to Krypton, treating its final days like the end of a rollickin’ space opera upon which the viewers have stumbled. As Jor-El, Space Ranger, Russell Crowe is less spindly scientist (or bloated Brando head) than the character has ever been, and the final days of Krypton allow Michael Shannon to get a welcomed early start on chewing up the scenery as General Zod. But once young Kal-El reaches Earth, action grinds to a halt, as Snyder breaks apart the classic “growing up supah!” montage, inserting it instead throughout the next lifetime—I mean, hour or so—of the film, which switches back and forth from childhood to present day and the now-grown Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). There are a couple of nice superpowered ninja saves—a bus full of children here, an oil rig crew there—but mainly, the scenes consist of Clark looking angsty, Ma Kent (Diane Lane) giving comfort and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) giving increasingly dubious “advice” that culminates in a nice father-son assisted suicide. Once Zod and crew reach Earth, the action picks up, but so do the film’s issues—there’s the heavy-handed Jesus-ing, the wholesale public endangerment and just overall exposition-heavy, plot-sloppy script. For some, heavy-handed allegory might make Man of Steel worthwhile, and that’s great. If others have become so inured to bombast, sloppy plotting and the substitution of cliché for character in sci-fi blockbusters that they enjoy Snyder’s game attempt at the Superman tale, all the better. However, for those looking for a Superman tale well-told—there’s nothing to see here.—Michael Burgin

4. Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver

The second part of Zack Snyder’s Netflix boondoggle—what a normal one-part movie would refer to as “the climax”—doesn’t have the multi-world whimsy of the first, which visits half a dozen different planets while barely batting an eye at the difficulties of space travel. It’s a little more straightforward, significantly less weird, and less satisfying despite actually wrapping up the story at hand (well, sort of). But The Scargiver also has an earnest sweetness about its band of thinly developed warriors that seems to be carried over from the better moments of Snyder’s superhero epics, sans the usual nihilism. Also, after so many years of space westerns more indebted to Star Wars than actual cowboys, it’s fun to see Snyder mix and match frontier-style homestead defense (there is literally a grain-harvesting montage, and it’s a cornerstone of the rebels’ battle plan) with the kind of large-scale battles he loves. 300 may have more iconic battlefield action, but The Scargiver’s ability to fork over something like an hour of screentime to multi-planed mayhem may be the more impressively overwhelming feat.—Jesse Hassenger

3. Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The denouement nearly undoes the entire enterprise, a sequel-tease wank about how shit’s getting really real next time, and a seeming confirmation that Zack Snyder’s taste in superheroes run more towards edgelord gaming than purported deconstruction. But before that shameless franchise-baiting for a defunct outfit, you kind of have to hand it to Zack Snyder and the four-hour version of his Justice League movie that he never really planned on making until the internet insisted that it already existed. In plot, it’s not wildly different from the bowdlerized, quip-laden theatrical cut; it just has more ins and outs (a Snyder screenplay trademark). But in tenor, Snyder’s version has a kind of emo-brat grandeur, even a generosity afforded to less marquee characters like Cyborg and the Flash. So many superhero pictures strain to feel like epic, global showdowns, and only manage CG smoke and mirrors; that problem is exacerbated by the mythic, godlike characters of the DC universe, often rendered more emotionally remote. That’s what the Whedonized version of this movie tried to fix, with mixed and limited results. But it turns out Snyder himself had a solution via his particular brand of superheroic muchness, which feels more sincere and less self-impressed than it did in the lugubrious Batman v Superman—if also, yes, still pretty exhausting.—Jesse Hassenger

2. Sucker Punch

In the present moment, Zack Snyder is, if not exactly a punchline, known as the kind of acquired taste whose attempted acquisition would make a lot of people laugh. But back in 2011, Sucker Punch was his first high-profile blemish (not enough fanboys paid attention to the owl movie for that to count), a critical and commercial flop that attracted less benefit of the doubt than Watchmen or 300. Those movies were painstakingly translated from the work of comic-book royalty, while Sucker Punch is a pure Snyder original, with the world’s clunkiest narration blathering on to prove it at length. But with years of hindsight and additional Snyder Cuts, Sucker Punch (even with its supposedly compromised form and conceptual convolutions) looks like an even purer shot of his weird, sometimes half-baked sensibility. It’s also a visual feast, embracing a slickly cartoonish aesthetic that was, at the time, understandably mistaken for fetishization of its heroines. Its young heroines are operating in multiple layers of reality, living at a corrupt mental institution that they imagine as a brothel, which in turn becomes a series of fantastical landscapes when the girls perform for their clients. Ridiculous, yes, but also an irresistible literalization of the action-movie-as-musical motif, rolling together comics, video games and music videos into a self-indulgent fanboy critique. It’s all a bit much, as well as punishingly bleak and awkwardly written. It’s also genuinely thoughtful and charismatic action trash—the best kind! I’ll take this over a mindlessly faithful Frank Miller adaptation any day.—Jesse Hassenger 

1. Rebel Moon—Part One: A Child of Fire

Zack Snyder’s bifurcated Netflix blank-check epic—made with the promise of an R-rated director’s cut coming soon, suggesting that he likes Snyder Cutting more than regular moviemaking—is a lot of questionable things: Half a movie, a failed Star Wars pitch and a wholesale Seven Samurai ripoff. But there’s also something kind of delightful about a movie that’s essentially just the fun recruiting-the-outlaws-to-fight-for-the-people section of this oft-told story without having to worry about wrapping it up anytime soon. The broader storytelling mechanics may feel familiar and even inevitable, but the movie’s drawn-out indulgences dissipate much of that predictability; it turns into a bunch of weird little world-hopping alien adventures, bringing gunslinging western dynamics back to a Star Wars knockoff universe. Moreover, this is the closest to a Paul W.S. Anderson movie—silly, whimsically violent, kick-ass lady hero—that Snyder has ever made. And yes, it has a lot of Sofia Boutella spinning, punching and shooting in slow motion. Is it really a problem to linger on one of our most impressive physical performers moving across the screen? The first half of Rebel Moon has all of Snyder’s virtues as a go-for-broke pulp rip-off artist, without the latent fascism, self-conscious heaviness or questionable interpretations of great characters. At very least, what’s the harm?—Jesse Hassenger 

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