Zack Snyder is a visionary director. Now, I’m not comparing him to the likes of a Stanley Kubrick or an Alfred Hitchcock. Of course not. But I can say with certainty that when you see a Zack Snyder movie, you know it’s a Zack Snyder movie. Which is why you could tell from the very first scene of the Justice League that it wasn’t his baby. It just didn’t have the Zack Snyder feeling to it.
That said, I’m not necessarily saying that a Zack Snyder “feeling” is a good thing. In fact, while I’m interested in seeing what the Snyder Cut has to offer, I’m not one of the people who was banging on Warner Bros.’ door and demanding that they release the Snyder Cut! Because I saw The Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition, and, well, I didn't think it was that much better than the theatrical edition. But I do still think that Zack Snyder is a talented director who often uses visuals effectively, which is what I aim to talk about today.
Oh, and as mentioned earlier, Justice League will not be on this list since most people don’t consider that a Zack Snyder movie. They consider it a Joss Whedon film. So, while we wait to see the Snyder Cut of Justice League, let's get to the list of Zack Snyder's best feature-length films, so far.
7. Sucker Punch (2011)
Sorry to all the Sucker Punch fans out there, but this is undoubtedly Zack Snyder's worst movie ever. Where do I begin? Well, let’s start with the story. It’s an absolute mess. It’s about a woman named “Babydoll” (played by Emily Browning) who’s in an insane asylum, but she imagines she’s in a bordello, and also imagines that she’s in some exaggerated fantasy world full of samurais and chain guns, and oh God, get me out of this movie.
It’s loud (both sonically and visually), it’s all over the place, and it has next to no character development. I said earlier that Zack Snyder is a visionary when it comes to visuals, but Sucker Punch just gives me a headache.
6. Man of Steel (2013)
I’ll give Zack Snyder this—Man of Steel is an audacious film. It takes one of the most iconic and hopeful characters ever, and turns him into a killer. Nobody can accuse Zack Snyder of not having chutzpah, that’s for sure. Starring Henry Cavill, Man of Steel is an origin story that wants to get right to the action, and it does so, having Superman collide into buildings and get beaten up. It’s like no other Superman movie before it.
But I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. I know it has its fans, but all I can think about when I picture this movie is Superman breaking General Zod’s neck. That and it’s lack of color. It all feels very washed out and blue, which I guess fits its melancholy tone.
5. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
The film that might have single-handedly shuttered any plans for a DC Extended Universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pitted two of the most famous comic book characters ever against each other and should have been the biggest film of all time. Instead, Black Panther, which featured a significantly less popular character, far and away beat it at the box office two years later. What went wrong?
Chalk it up to a number of things, really. It was even darker than Man of Steel, it got negative reviews upon its release, and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor certainly didn’t help matters. Still, there is stuff to like about BvS. The first act is pretty good, Ben Affleck is actually an amazing Batman, and we also got our first glimpse of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. The second and third acts are pretty atrocious (“Save… Martha”), and Doomsday was a wasted opportunity, but it’s not all bad. And yes, the Ultimate Edition is slightly better, but not by much.
4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is the weirdest movie in Zack Snyder’s oeuvre. Visually, it’s Snyder’s most beautiful movie, but it’s also a children’s film. About owls. That said, its tone is actually pretty Snyder-esque since it’s kind of dark. Based on a book series, the movie is strangely against following dreams. So really, it’s the kind of movie that I don’t think I’ll be showing my children anytime soon, but as a film for adults, it’s not terrible.
But again, visually, this is probably Zack Snyder’s most fully realized vision yet. I saw it in 3D when it first came out and remember walking out thinking that it was a gorgeous movie with a weird, somewhat dull storyline. But sometimes, pretty visuals are enough.
3. 300 (2007)
Pretty much the movie that made Zack Snyder’s career, 300 was the film that launched a thousand memes (“THIS… IS… SPARTA!”) and also Gerard Butler’s career. Using Frank Miller’s comic of the same name as an inspiration, 300 is the story of the 300 Spartans vs. the entire Persian army. And… that’s about it. It’s not a deep movie in any way, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a blood-pumping, fist pounding movie, and 300% badass.
Really, when I think “Zack Snyder movie,” 300 is the first film that comes to my mind. His visual style probably comes through the clearest in this CG-heavy masterpiece. And yes, I just called 300 a masterpiece. CG-wise, anyway.
2. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
What a debut! A remake of the beloved George A. Romero original, this version does what all great remakes do, and that’s pay homage to the source material while also being its own thing. The 2004 Dawn of the Dead is scary, frenetic, and visually restrained given Snyder’s later films, but it all works in its favor. Plus, the zombies run, which is very different from the shambling zombies (which was originally a commentary on consumerism) from the original.
In fact, this movie doesn’t really have anything to say, and that’s just fine. As a thrilling horror movie, it’s probably my favorite Snyder film. But I know most people would consider the next film on this list to be his best work, so that’s why I’m including it there.
1. Watchmen (2009)
Is Watchmen as good as the graphic novel? No, since it’s missing a lot of its nuances. But it definitely gets an A for effort. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is a bold project that visually follows many of the same panels from the comics, but also misses some of its subtlety. That’s okay, though, since again, we’re talking Zack Snyder here, so even a somewhat close approximation of what is considered the greatest graphic novel of all time is still pretty great. And of course, it’s a visual feast since it’s a Snyder film.
I would not consider Watchmen to be quintessential Zack Snyder, but I do think it’s the one movie that will live on better than all of his other films. His style and dark tone are at the forefront here, and he handles the source material well enough to make it feel like a worthy adaptation. And isn’t that enough?
In the end, Zack Snyder might get a lot of heat for the stamp he left on the DC universe, but most of his fans are pleased with his work, and the Snyder Cut might just be the Justice League movie we deserve. Here’s looking forward to his next movie, Army of the Dead, which is coming to Netflix. It’s another zombie flick, so you know I can’t wait for that.