Ranked

Every Zack Snyder Film, Ranked

As the bombastic filmmaker's four-hour cut of Justice League arrives on streaming platforms, we look back at his career so far...

Whatever you make of his output, Zack Snyder is a director defined by his distinctive visual filmmaking style. Throughout his career, he has shown an ability to conjure up striking images through a combination of dynamic composition, speed ramping action, and a desire to steer clear of fast edits and shaky camera movements.

Starting out as a director of music videos for the likes of Morrissey, Rod Stewart and ZZ Top, Snyder has often been called out for a supposed preference for style over substance. That said, whether he's drawing closely from comic book panels or using the latest visual techniques to bring the images in his head to life, there is something undeniably sincere about Snyder's works that elevates them beyond the merely disposable.

This week marks the long-awaited arrival of Zack Snyder's Justice League, the much discussed, four-hour-long re-edit of his critically-derided 2017 blockbuster, after he was given the chance to go back and fully realise his vision. To mark the occasion, I have conducted the task of definitively ranking the works of the man who has brought us everything from giant blue gods to armoured owls…

 

8. Justice League (2017)

Where to watch: Various streaming services

Rather fittingly, the film which Snyder himself didn’t actually manage to finish is the one at the very bottom of this list. Following a family tragedy, Snyder decided to step away from the production of his DC superhero team-up movie, with Joss Whedon coming in to oversee reshoots and post-production. As a result, it very much feels like a film made by a committee, burdened by a number of strange tonal shifts, an ugly colour correction, and a truncated sense of pacing. For a film that cost $200 million, it looks terribly cheap, with the cracks of its troubled production on full display. As the film that brings all of DC’s most iconic characters together for the first time, it is, sadly, a damp squib of an event movie. Here’s hoping Snyder’s new cut will, at the very least, prove more consistent.

 

7. Man of Steel (2013)

Where to watch: Various streaming services

Zack Snyder’s first attempt to bring Superman to modern audiences is one that showed a great deal of potential. The final result proved divisive amongst fans, some praising the introspective approach, others dismissing it as too moody and grey. The idea to treat Superman as a figure dealing with the anxiety associated with coming out to the world is inherently interesting, but the film's biggest issues lie more in its approach to the storytelling itself. Man of Steel employs a needlessly convoluted structure which robs the film of any momentum, and the dialogue doesn't seem to know how it wants its characters to sound, with lines ranging from unconvincing philosophical musings to the hamfistedly corny. The saving grace is a wonderfully grand score from Hans Zimmer, but otherwise, Man of Steel largely underwhelms. And there's no forgiving its overblown finale of bludgeoning mass destruction. This is a movie that leaves its characters, particularly Henry Cavill’s Superman, out in the cold.

 

6. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

Where to watch: Various streaming services

It does seem strange that there is an animated kids fantasy movie nestled in amongst all the violent action movies and comic book adaptations, yet here we are with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Certainly the biggest anomaly in Snyder’s career, this remains a visually spectacular – if slightly baffling – entry in his canon. The animation is often startling, particularly when working with the elements and in its use of slow-motion (Snyder’s much parodied go-to visual crutch). Where the film falters is in the dense Owl-based mythology, which is often treated very seriously (there's only so much gizzard talk one can take). It is aiming for a Lord of the Rings-but Owls-approach, but it frequently reverts to fantasy narrative cliches in order to keep it all within a brisk, kid-friendly package. Interesting, but for the most part dull and overstuffed.

 

5. Sucker Punch (2011)

Where to watch: Various streaming services

The film that most obviously demonstrates Snyder's history as a director of music videos, Sucker Punch delivers a multi-tiered narrative about a young woman (Emily Browning) who's sent to an asylum to be lobotomised, but is able to escape to different fantasy worlds within her imagination. It is another showcase of Snyder’s visual ambition, with a narrative that allows German zombies, robots, and dragons to all exist within the same movie. While Snyder himself has stated that the objectification of his female characters is more a comment on the demands of geek culture than anything else, the film never quite demonstrates enough awareness or wit to back up such an explanation. Still, the excessiveness often leads to some very imaginative sequences, and no film featuring an Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino duet of “Love Is the Drug” over its end credits can be a considered a total write-off.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Lots of moments from this big screen bust-up of a blockbuster found themselves as targets of ridicule back in 2016 (namely a certain moment involving the name “Martha”). As far as this writer is concerned, though, Batman v Superman remains a grandly operatic comic book movie that's hard to resist. Yes, it's overstuffed, and yes, there are frequent gaps in the logic, and yes, positioning both Batman and Superman as mopey, reluctant heroes doesn't make for the most exciting dynamic. But Snyder's everything and the kitchen sink approach makes this a way more entertaining affair than Man of Steel, especially since it operates for the most part in a grand key of camp. It is definitely more bleak than it needs to be, but with an engaging Ben Affleck performance at the centre, not to mention a spirited intro to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Batman vs Superman is as watchable as it is massive and unruly.

 

3. 300 (2007)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Snyder’s second feature 300 – an adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varsey’s graphic novel that's incredibly faithful to its ink and paint roots – was the film that fully established him as a visually dynamic director – and one that put him in very high demand after its huge success at the box office. Through a highly stylised use of visual effects, Snyder creates a visually resplendent film, crafting an entertaining experience that makes up for its slight narrative with a number of striking images. This is also where Snyder first put to use what would become a signature style of speed-ramping amidst the action, with some of 300's epic battle scenes still standing as some of the director's greatest sequences to date. Gerard Butler is also a scenery chewing delight, making the most out of ridiculous, pulpy lines such as: “Tonight we dine in hell!”

 

2. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Where to watch it: Home video only

Snyder’s debut feature, a remake of George A. Romero’s classic zombie flick Dawn of the Dead, is a very different beast to its iconic forebearer. While it shares the same setting (that of survivors holding up in a shopping mall), most of the similarities end there. This is a faster paced, visually hyperactive affair with an aggressive (and often very funny) approach to horror and violence. And Snyder's ferociously paced take on the zombie outbreak is matched by the film's approach to said flesh-eaters. These aren’t your slow lumbering zombies of the 70s; these hordes are fast and desperate, and Snyder revels in the chaos. There may be one too many characters in the mix, but there are a number of performances here that stand out – namely Sarah Polley as our central protagonist and a charmingly gruff Ving Rhames. It is an assuredly confident debut, particularly considering it's riffing on one of the zombie genre’s most sacred texts. But Snyder makes it his own, pairing gleeful bloodlust with tongue-in-cheek antics.

 

1. Watchmen (2009)

Where to watch: Various streaming services

An adaptation of Alan Moore and David Gibbons' seminal graphic novel was long considered impossible. Many directors came and went over a long and drawn out development process, including Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky. But it was Snyder who finally brought the “unfilmable” work to the big screen, resulting in the most accomplished visual spectacle of his career. His solution was, quite simply, to transpose the material right off the page, changing very little. If at times it's too literal an adaptation, Moore’s cynicism remains intact, as Snyder and his regular DP Larry Fong craft a beautiful but hyper-violent world packed with jaded superheroes. Even with the controversial change to its ending, this is perhaps as perfect an adaptation as we could have hoped for, helped by a number of smart casting choices – particularly Jackie Earle Hayle as Rorschach. From the opening credits set to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin,” to the reveal of Dr. Manhattan's tragic origin, Watchmen is Snyder at his most visually astounding and narratively engaging.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is available in the UK on Now TV from 18 March.

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