Every Zack Snyder Comic Book Movie Ranked From Worst To Best
How do Zack Snyder‘s comic book movies rank from worst to best? Snyder is one of the most polarizing directors working in Hollywood, but he’s also a staple of what is currently the most popular movie genre in modern studio filmmaking. In a culture where comic book fandom has become inextricably bound with film fandom, Snyder represents an interesting figurehead. A voracious comic book reader as a kid, a major goal in his career as a director seems to be to bring their visual language to the big screen.
His success at that mission has been undeniable. Naysayers can ding him for his deficiencies at crafting compelling characters or for his ponderous style, but his passion for translating the vibrancy of a graphic novel into cinema has been evident since his breakout hit 300. Based on the work of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, that film became an instant phenomenon and forever changed action filmmaking. It also announced Snyder’s distinctive style, a combination of machismo excess, sepia coloring, and slow-motion that colors his filmmaking to this day.
In 2021 , Snyder emerged from the tragedy of his daughter Amber’s death to release two new movies, one of them being the infamous “Snyder Cut” of 2017’s Justice League. A visual stylist and master maximalist who has continued unfettered to make the films he wants to make, for better or worse, Snyder is without a doubt the most visually distinctive modern superhero director. Here are his comic book movies ranked from worst to best.
It’s a fun schoolyard exercise: “Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?” Somehow, though, inflated to two and a half hours (three in the better, but still lacking “Ultimate Edition”) and injected with all the pomposity Zack Snyder brings, fun doesn’t even enter the equation here. It’d be easy to say Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is too dark, but that’s ignoring the fact that it’s also just a remarkably dull, joyless film. Snyder is as striking a visual stylist as ever, but his deficiencies at dealing with the humanity of these mythic characters wind up harming his attempts to deconstruct the two most iconic superheroes of all time. Henry Cavill cuts a striking figure in his second turn as Superman, but he’s light years away from the three-dimensional movie star performances he gives in films like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The same can be said of Ben Affleck’s Batman, who has a fantastically graphic, “bruiser” quality to his look, but whose performance feels so hampered by the film’s alienated and ponderous take on the character that it becomes lifeless. In a way, these performances represent the dichotomy of all Snyder’s work: sleek, stylish visuals laid onto subpar storytelling. However, Dawn of Justice also never really gets around to justifying its central battle, handwaving it away with a poorly executed plot about Batman being manipulated by Lex Luthor (a stunningly miscast Jesse Eisenberg). Half-heartedly setting up the Justice League doesn’t help the film’s focus, either, although a third-act appearance by Wonder Woman gives the film a much-needed jolt of electricity.
The first DCEU film to launch after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy reached completion, Man of Steel sees Warner Bros. attempting to mimic those films’ dour aesthetics to shaky results. It’s a flawed plan for several reasons, chief of them being that the neo-noir grittiness of Batman doesn’t translate well to the adventures of a spandex-wearing flying man meant to symbolize hope. The bigger problem, though, is that Snyder isn’t Nolan, and while that’s more than fine in theory, the film’s insistence that the director ape the style of his predecessor sets him up for failure. Nolan is a tactile, nuts and bolts filmmaker; Snyder a fantastical maximalist, much more interested in myth-making and capturing the splash-page excess of the most graphic of comic books. That talent serves the film well in its opening sequences as the destruction of Krypton is pure pop fantasy filmmaking, and the Malickian visual lyricism of Superman’s origin story is refreshingly spare and lovely. Unfortunately, the film both wants to hone in on the psychology of the character and is completely inarticulate at doing so. This results in a movie that actually doesn’t give Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent that much to do rather than look like a Greek God and level entire cities. Its somberness never feels justified and deflates the wings of a superhero who’s meant to, above all else, soar.
Fans wanted the Snyder Cut, and they got it. For better or worse, this is the purest distillation of all things Zack Snyder: a massive superhero epic painted in a desaturated hue, dripping with ambition, pretentiousness, and loads of slow motion. Much of its appeal is no doubt due to the bizarre confluence of events that led to its existence, with Snyder stepping away from the troubled post-production of the 2017 film after the tragedy of his daughter’s death, Warner Bros. bringing in Joss Whedon to inject some Marvel-esque humor to the film, the Frankenstein film bombing, fans petitioning for the “original” (nonexistent) cut, and HBO Max looking for buzzy content to program in the midst of a global pandemic. Zack Snyder’s Justice League arrived at a prime moment when Whedon’s star had fallen and Snyder was perceived as an auteur underdog, and all this context made the film into an event. Taken on its own terms, the film is undeniably better than the theatrical version. For a superhero film, it’s unquestionably and refreshingly the vision of a single artist. Its characters are more clearly drawn, in particular Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf is given a more compelling design and arc. However, one can’t call a film a triumph just for being better than another, far worse version of itself. At four hours, this is still an overstuffed and unwieldy piece of work that hardly congeals into a cohesive film. This is the work of a maximalist throwing everything on the screen to see what sticks; for fans wanting a true Snyder Cut, one couldn’t ask for better. For casual filmgoers looking for an engaging film, however, mileage may vary.
No one has ever called Snyder a subtle filmmaker. His basic filmmaking philosophy is that films based on comic books should look exactly like the comic books they’re based on. They should be big, loud, graphic, and filled with massively proportioned humans that resemble superhuman gods. To that end, he’s never made something more cohesive than 300. An instant phenomenon that had a major impact on action filmmaking upon its release, this sepia-toned bloodsport of a film is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The action sequences are brimming with the vitality and pop-artful composition of these artists, the slow motion, speed-ramping, and CGI blood on display from beginning to end. It also means Snyder either shares or doesn’t want to challenge the book’s neoconservative spine, with earnest shouts of “Freedom isn’t free,” a catchphrase mocked only two years prior in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police. Of course, the film is also drenched with homoeroticism, so perhaps its confused politics were never really meant to be explored. 300 is a movie better felt than dwelled upon, and indeed Snyder has such a ball dismembering his cast and forcing Gerard Butler to shout things like “THIS. IS. SPARTA!” at the top of his lungs that it all does become intoxicating even for naysayers.
Maybe comic books were never meant to be turned into movies. Maybe their graphic, pop sensibility and mythic characters have always been suited to two-dimensional drawings sketched by phenomenal visual artists. In many ways, Watchmen is the apotheosis of that tension, and Snyder the biggest champion of seeing these works faithfully and visually represented on the big screen. So much of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel’s power lies in its inherent comic book-ness, seeing as how it’s subverting heroes like Superman and Batman and revealing how problematic their existence would be in the real world. Removed from the comic book context, Snyder is left recreating the striking visuals from the book. While the result is a film far hollower than its source material, it’s also the filmmaker’s charm writ large: his fanboy dedication and passion leading him to want to translate the evocative artistry of a two-dimensional image into cinema. In many ways, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen was ahead of its time; now that the cinematic marketplace feels like a comic book store, this 2009 film finally feels like the grown-up cinematic subversion it should. What it always has been is Zack Snyder‘s most human effort, filled with phenomenal performances, and proof that underneath the slick visual style, there really is a beating heart.
Next: Zack Snyder Movies Ranked Worst to Best (Including Army of the Dead)