Rarely has there been such a divisive filmmaker as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder. The man at the helm of successful adaptations such as 300 and Man of Steel has often been praised for his fan service yet has rarely struck critical acclaim, with many critics and cinephiles considering him the sort of filmmaker who is all style and no substance.
Having initially made his name in advertising and the direction of music videos, Snyder has embraced the fantasy, thriller, horror and animation genres across his eight feature filmography, and it’s those eight pictures that we shall be ranking from worst to best in this edition of Ranked.
From worst to best…
8. Justice League (2017)
To describe the DC/Warner Bros. release Justice League as divisive would be an understatement – the movie was rated incredibly low in our review and even featured on our 10 Worst Films of 2017 list despite many claiming it to be a step in the right direction for a studio struggling to course correct Snyder’s darker and more serious vision for the DCEU – but to class it as a Snyder film would, at this stage, be a disservice to the director whose work was chopped, changed, re-shot and then mangled back together for what would come to be of the ultimate silver screen DC superhero team-up.
The CG was shoddy, likely owing to the re-shoots that were reportedly going on until very close to the film’s release and of course Moustache Gate (Henry Cavill’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout moustache having to be removed in the edit due to contractual obligations with Paramount at the time), and the story didn’t seem to have any real stakes or drama. Visually it was like watching a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie with shot after shot seemingly worked on by entirely different film crews. In the end, even a few funny quips here and there and a movie-stealing role for Aquaman ahead of his standalone debut couldn’t save Justice League from its decisions to wipe out half of Wonder Woman’s home Themyscira and relegate the now vitally important superhero into a background role. Ultimately, it would be unfair to rank this film as anywhere other than the bottom of the list because it can’t truly be classed as Snyder release, with the filmmaker himself stating since its release. Bottom of the barrel as far as Snyder goes, and arguably not his fault, is Justice League.
7. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Zack Snyder’s foray into animation wasn’t all that successful. The critics dismissed the picture’s sensational animation and audiences were about as uninterested as they possibly could be, despite the piece being adapted from a hugely successful series of fantasy books and having the backing of Warner Bros.
It’s not that this film was necessarily bad, it’s more that Zack Snyder’s name isn’t so grandly associated with it as is the case with the rest of the movies on this list (for better or worse), nor is it at all memorable.
Via the process of elimination, number 7 on this list… The Owls of Ga’Hoole.
6. Sucker Punch (2011)
Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch was filled with all sorts of issues during its production but none reared their ugly head more often than the ongoing rumoured confrontations between Snyder and distributors Warner Bros. over the film’s rating.
Despite objecting to any such rumours regarding the battle, Snyder’s vision for Sucker Punch was reportedly one of a more brutal and violent R-rated release, while Warner Bros. wanted to reach a larger target market by making the movie PG-13, a decision that clearly wasn’t in keeping with the film’s themes of mental, physical and sexual abuse. This led many, including lead cast member Emily Browning, to speak out against the film and openly criticise the decision that she felt took something away from Snyder’s original vision.
Despite this, Sucker Punch was mildly successful at the box office and oozed the visual trademarks Snyder has made himself famous for, all the while centring the story around a group of women who straight-up kicked ass; an aspect of the film that Snyder delivered in spades but was never enough to shake off the stench of its convoluted plot and apparently difficult to decipher thematic explorations.
5. Man Of Steel (2013)
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is the sort of movie that leaves many a fan of the alien superhero wondering what could have been. The ideas were promising and some of the visuals were standouts of the genre, but the film really didn’t live up to the billing in many ways including its overly long run-time (a criticism levelled at a lot of the director’s work).
Although it was a success at the box office, negative word of mouth and a number of reviews that criticised the picture for seemingly everything but its “most Snyder moments”, made for a less fruitful financial return than DC expected and did little to kick-off the DC Extended Universe in the manner the studio had hoped for. Coming out of Man of Steel, it seemed audiences had become distracted by the movie’s insistence on other-worldly damage to its host city Metropolis and had engaged only briefly with the actual content of the piece, which could be judged as being reductive and too simplistic of an end result (even for a superhero movie).
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Dawn of Justice was probably the most divisive of Snyder’s collection of hugely divisive pictures, with many an audience member being dismayed at the nonsensical editing of the action scenes and the rather limited explorations of many of the picture’s secondary characters and themes. However, Snyder did successfully oversee the rebirth of the Batman character in a post-Dark-Knight landscape with great effect and managed to present the caped crusader as a viable opponent to the almost overly powerful Superman character. The director also successfully inserted a number of fan-servicing Easter eggs that gifted the movie a sense of being rewatchable and even brought about a fair degree of interest for his reportedly more adult-themed cut of the movie that was released on DVD/Blu-Ray.
Though BvS was far from a success in the eyes of audiences and critics, it did feature an epic score from Hans Zimmer, a top performance from Ben Affleck, and was the first time the key figures in the Justice League had been featured in a film together, all elements that helped to tip the movie beyond that of its predecessor Man of Steel and into the number 4 spot on this list.
3. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
After circulating as a music video and advertisement director (including the Budweiser chariot superbowl ad), Snyder got his first big movie break on the horror remake Dawn of the Dead (2004). It was an over-the-top zombie fest (before Zombies came back into fashion) and was successful both critically and financially for its fresh and visually appealing take on the story.
Though it acted as the catalyst of what was to come of Snyder’s career in a lot of ways, Dawn of the Dead didn’t have the stylistic signature of Snyder’s other work courtesy of its smaller budget and the director’s relative lack of experience, but it definitely made for an interesting and entertaining modern horror/monster movie.
Taking the bronze medal is Dawn of the Dead.
2. Watchmen (2009)
Watchmen (2009) was another divisive DC Comics adaptation by Zack Snyder that you either loved or hated. Yet still, there’s no denying that Snyder went to incredible lengths to ensure that as much of the detail included in the graphic novel was available in his film, and one thing the movie really did have going for it was its sensational opening montage; probably the best to ever feature in a superhero movie.
This 2009 release is an undeniably visually stunning movie that looks as if it is ripped right out of the pages of a comic book and features strong thematic messages in-keeping with its presentation, not least its use of “alternative” pop and/or rock covers that act as reminders as to the movie’s base in an alternative universe.
Perhaps the biggest controversy regarding Watchmen was the movie’s variation from the ending that was presented in the source material, with the two being vastly different to one another and serving almost polar opposite goals, yet this Marmite of a movie seemingly made sense of what it offered nonetheless and did so while presenting the very best of what Snyder brings to the table as a director: the presentation of the darker sides of humanity, modern beliefs in no moral good and phenomenal visual orchestrations.
1. 300 (2006)
Zack Snyder directed something in 2006 that we had never seen before and thus created an overnight success with his relatively small budget stylistic piece telling the mythical tale of three hundred Spartans overcoming the Persian empire as told through the source material of the “300” limited series of comic books created by legendary comic book writer Frank Miller.
It made Snyder an instant household name and spring-boarded the director into the mainstream, undoubtedly landing him many of the central Warner Bros roles that have since followed.
300 was over-the-top, flashy and incredibly violent, while remaining tightly knit and a breath of fresh air to a genre that was, at the time, dead-set on releasing the likes of Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra and Fantastic Four. It was undoubtedly the most Snyder movie of the director’s career and almost certainly the best.
The number one movie in this Zack Snyder edition of Ranked… 300.
And there’s our list! Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!