After a recent draught in quality popcorn entertainment, Zack Snyder unveils his long-awaited sci-fi adventure Rebel Moon in limited theaters this Friday. The project was originally conceived as a Star Wars spin-off, but was eventually passed over by the House of Mouse. Only time will tell if Snyder’s opus can match the epic highs and crushing lows of that iconic saga.
To whet your appetite for more Snyder, here are some of the greatest action sequences in his movies to date.
Opening Sequence – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Snyder leapt out of the gates with this dark, humorous horror feature. Sarah Polley and a group of survivors camp in an abandoned mall during a zombie apocalypse. Snyder starts the film with a thrilling sequence that sees Polley’s character, Ana, fight off her zombified husband and daughter — a harrowing glimpse at the chaos through the eyes of our fearless heroine. The remaining film is an absolute treat for fans of action and horror alike.
First Battle – 300 (2006)
Bursting with style and testosterone, Snyder’s first big hit has it all. Admittedly, the splashy video game aesthetic doesn’t pop quite as well as it did nearly 20 years ago, but Snyder’s virtuoso slow-motion still dazzles, Larry Fong’s desaturated cinematography aptly captures the endless slaughter, and Gerald Butler’s raspy war cries — “This is where we fight!” — still induce goosebumps. Yeah, 300 is still a solid action flick.
Snyder makes audiences wait a good while for the carnage, but when it finally arrives via the film’s first big set piece, it doesn’t disappoint.
Prison Scene – Watchmen (2009)
There are moments of pure cinematic brilliance in Snyder’s misunderstood adaptation of Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen. For example: the jailbreak sequence that sees Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II (Malin Åkerman) take on a group of prisoners to save their pal Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley). In a precursor to Snyder’s take on Batman and Superman, our heroes punch their way through the mob and take the time to strike a cool-looking pose or two.
Attack – Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Snyder’s ambition is unmatched. He could have used his Hollywood moxie to adapt anything, and he decided a book about owls was his best bet. To his credit? It turned out to be a real hoot.
Ga’Hoole’s best bit sees our taloned heroes clashing with enemies in mid-flight. The action is gripping, even with non-human protagonists. If you’ve always wanted to see a deadly serious movie featuring karate-chopping owls, this is the one for you!
Baby Doll v Samurai – Sucker Punch (2011)
Sucker Punch may go down as an artistic misfire, but there’s still plenty to admire from a visual perspective. The trippy action extravaganza doesn’t skimp on the spectacle, delivering a handful of thrilling, video game-esque set pieces scored to an impressive soundtrack. The best is Baby Doll’s battle with a trio of larger-than-life samurai warriors in a snow-covered arena. Of course, this is all happening inside Baby Doll’s head (I think?), but that doesn’t make the scene any less enticing.
Smallville Battle – Man of Steel (2013)
After Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch flopped at the box office, Snyder came back with a vengeance, directing the magnificent (and divisive) Man of Steel. Sure, the narrative may be a tad clunky, and that tornado scene induces more laughs than tears, but Snyder’s ambition is on full display.
The best of the bunch remains the Smallville battle, which finds Henry Cavill’s muscle-packing Superman squaring off against two incredibly powerful Kryptonians. Surprisingly, Snyder refrains from his trademark slow-motion action and instead cranks up the chaos via handheld cameras, allowing audiences to feel the full force of every punch. As the proverbial icing on the cake, Faora (Antje Traue) uses super speed to take down a garrison of soldiers — a sight that still gives goosebumps today.
Warehouse Fight – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel proved just as divisive, but remains a surprisingly thoughtful deconstruction of superhero mythology. Sure, it’s relentlessly bleak, but given its place in the Justice League trilogy, it works as a dark middle chapter that gives way to a stirring third act.
In terms of action, there are four terrific bits to choose from: namely the impressive opening Metropolis prologue that follows Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne through the events of Man of Steel, the titular promised fight sequence, the acclaimed warehouse fight between Batman and a group of goons, and the climactic Doomsday battle — tough choice. I’ve probably watched the Doomsday fight more than any comic book action sequence — I love Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman — but I think the warehouse sequence is more iconic, if only because it’s the first genuinely marvelous live-action Batman fight sequence.
Flash Uses the Speed Force – Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Another tough one. Snyder’s Justice League stands as one of the best superhero films. Epic in scope and emotionally rich, this 4-hour blockbuster packs everything a DC fan could ask for into a larger-than-life spectacle on par with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Snyder treats his heroes like gods rather than run-of-the-mill caped crusaders and weaves a wondrous story about fractured souls uniting to take down an unstoppable force before he destroys the planet.
For me, the best action beat of Justice League remains Flash’s use of the Speed Force following Steppenwolf’s victory. All is lost until Barry uses his power to travel back in time and give his friends another chance. The music, effects, writing, and acting combine to create the best sequence in the entire picture and one of the most emotionally satisfying comic book moments ever put to film.
Casino Escape – Army of the Dead (2021)
Snyder’s first foray onto Netflix was a mixed bag. I wanted to love Army of the Dead, but the film we received was far from what I expected. Rather than a wild, raucous action picture about mercenaries robbing a casino in a zombie-filled Las Vegas, Snyder presented a dark, somber character drama that took itself far too seriously, which would be fine if any of the heroes/villains were worth rooting for. It’s not a bad film by any means — just not as good as it could have been.
Surprisingly, action is lacking in Army of the Dead, which doesn’t fully come alive until the third act. Thankfully, there’s enough blood-soaked carnage to satisfy action junkies, even if it is too little too late.