10) Sucker Punch (2011)
The only out-and-out misfire in Snyder’s career remains 2011’s trippy Sucker Punch — and that may be due to a theatrical cut that eschews a lot of essential details in favor of a swift (by Snyder standards) run time. At least, that’s the word on the street. There’s a lot to admire here, from the eye-popping production design to the video game-esque series of missions our heroines must complete to escape their physical and mental prisons. Unfortunately, it all becomes a little too repetitive by the third act.
No matter. A handful of colorful set pieces and a few strong performances by Emily Browning, Jena Malone, and Abbie Cornish, at the very least, make Sucker Punch watchable. I think Snyder got a little too cute with this one and turned what could have been a kick-ass action picture into a convoluted mind trip — though I’ll happily watch a Director’s Cut should it ever become available.
9) Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Legends of the Guardians is a strange beast — quite literally.
The animation is superb, and Snyder pushes the PG rating for all it’s worth, conjuring some truly electrifying set pieces that pop with his patented slow-mo flourishes. But … owls? Of the bajillion books out there worthy of adaptations, why choose one about owls? As much as I admire Snyder’s ambitious approach, I can’t get over the fact that I’m watching an overtly serious film about warrior owls. If you can get over that stigma, though, Legends of the Guardians is a rollicking animated thrill ride.
8) Army of the Dead (2021)
Amy of the Dead was an extreme case of false advertising. The ads promised a rip-roaring, action-packed heist thriller, prominently showcasing the main cast—led by Dave Bautista, Ana de la Reguera, Ella Purnell, Matthias Schweighöfer, and Omari Hardwick—standing back-to-back, Avengers-style, blasting waves of zombies in the middle of Las Vegas. The actual film is a more somber, muted affair with a dramatic father/daughter storyline as the anchor. It’s not bad, but certainly not what any of us expected.
With my expectations firmly on the back burner, I can enjoy Army of the Dead for what it is. Not all of it works, but Snyder’s flick stands apart from others of its ilk. His zombies aren’t just walking-eating machines, but an intelligent hoard — created by the world’s most ill-timed blowjob — led by a King and Queen, capable of mass destruction but content to remain in Vegas so long as the outside world leaves them the hell alone. Into this nightmare falls Bautista’s gang, a struggling band of misfits in dire need of a positive exercise in self-fulfillment. They’re tasked with taking a pile of cash from a casino before the US military blows Vegas sky high and must navigate the zombie-infested city without pissing off the locals.
7) Watchmen (2009)
There’s so much to admire in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, from that astonishing opening sequence to the impressive visuals and slavish devotion to Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel. It’s a shame when the entire production all but crumbles under its massive weight in the third act. Visually, the film is all aces — it looks like a comic book come to life! — has a knack for balancing dark, pulpy character drama with epic action.
Unfortunately, the various parts don’t fully come together. Snyder tries to craft a straightforward adaptation of Moore’s novel while delivering a kick-ass superhero epic. Ultimately, the film doesn’t fulfill either objective and frustrates more than delights. I still think it’s one of the most ambitious blockbusters ever produced—a dark, gritty, violent R-rated comic book drama packed with sex, mature themes, and complex characters. That it works at all is a miracle.
6) Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire (2023)
Watching Rebel Moon, I was reminded of great B-movies like Highlander, Flash Gordon, Battle Beyond the Stars, Beastmaster, and (to some extent) The Never Ending Story — pictures too outlandish and silly for general audiences that eventually garnered a cult following. Rebel Moon seems destined for that trajectory, as I’m sure its mix of pulpy action and super serious melodrama will turn off most but delight those willing to let go and enjoy the ride.
Ostensibly a shameless retelling of The Seven Samurai, Rebel Moon follows army deserter Kora (Sofia Boutella) and peaceful farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman) as they assemble a force capable of protecting a small town from the sneering Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein). A series of familiar troupes refurbished with Snyder’s visual zeal follows. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t make Rebel Moon any less enjoyable. Aside from a confusing backstory — something about a slain king? — it’s remarkable how straightforward the plot is.
Rebel Moon didn’t blow me away the way I hoped it would, but I was captivated from start to finish and excited to see A) the R-rated Director’s Cut and B) the second part, which hits Netflix in April 2024. As constructed, this PG-13 cut feels incomplete, with key characters — notably Djimon Hounsou’s General Titus — tossed aside to achieve a tighter runtime.
5) 300 (2006)
Snyder’s claim to fame arrived with 2006’s ultra-violent adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s comic series 300. The film is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), faced overwhelming odds against the massive Persian army led by King Xerxes I.
Snyder lovingly reproduces the comic, including the Spartans’ impressive six packs, crafting eye-popping visuals and violent set pieces ripe with slow motion and buckets of digital blood. You’ll be surprised at how far he stretches the modest $65M budget. As typical, Snyder doesn’t hold back, delivering wild sex scenes, heavy adult content, and the type of bizarro violence that would ultimately define his career, for better or worse.
4) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
After all these years, I still don’t get the hate for BvS. Sure, the plot is needlessly convoluted, and Snyder’s aggressively dark tone gets tiresome. Still, Snyder delivers a complex deconstruction of the superhero mythos that builds towards a rousing finale chock full of the type of large-scale action I dreamed about as a kid. His examination of Batman (Ben Affleck) as a disillusioned warrior in dire need of a positive jolt is unique. At the same time, his iteration of Superman (Henry Cavill), himself a hero seeking purpose in a world that fears him, deserves more props than it receives — if only because he gives the character a mythical, worthwhile journey to traverse. When these two titans battle, there are genuine stakes.
Snyder approaches his heroes with a straight face. Unlike Marvel, he’s not embarrassed by these god-like beings. There are no quippy one-liners, pratfalls, or gags. Every action carries a consequence.
While the screenplay — penned by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer — could have been a little more straightforward, the overarching narrative trumps the negatives. In lesser hands, BvS could have been a silly, cynical cash grab. In Snyder’s hands, it’s an ambitious, sometimes overwhelming, blockbuster that never fails to entertain.
3) Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Snyder’s first foray into the zombie genre resulted in a terrific combination of horror and dark comedy, thanks to James Gunn’s terrific screenplay. The story follows a group of survivors, led by Sarah Polley’s Ana, as they attempt to navigate a zombie apocalypse from within the confines of an abandoned shopping mall. Snyder delivers a motley crew of distinct characters played by Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, and Mekhi Phifer, among others, and tosses them into a series of wild escapades, each more outlandish than the next. The results aren’t subtle and often coated with stomach-churning gore, but few zombie films entertain like Dawn of the Dead — a dazzling thriller that ups the ante in more ways than one.
2) Man of Steel (2013)
Superman (Henry Cavill) is about as far removed from Christopher Reeve as a quiet library from a rock concert. Both achieve their respective visions, but Snyder’s iteration is far more complex, repurposing the Man of Steel as a world-traveling loner afraid to unveil his extraordinary powers out of fear of the consequences they will bring. He grapples with the ideologies of his two fathers. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) believes his son can inspire hope and use his powers to improve humanity. Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) doesn’t think the world is ready for a superman and urges his son to conceal himself until the right moment. It’s an exciting examination of two different perspectives that ultimately have the same goal to save the world.
Viewers willing to embrace Snyder’s vision will enjoy a unique and ambitious superhero experience that doesn’t adhere to comic book conventions. Even at its worst — that goofy tornado scene notwithstanding — Man of Steel soars higher than most comic book films and delivers the kind of impressive disaster epic that defined Hollywood in the 1970s.
1) Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is big, bold, full of heart, and incredible action. WB made a huge mistake abandoning Snyder’s vision. While his pictures may not have achieved Marvel-levels of success, audiences would have embraced Justice League enough to warrant a continuation of the saga.
The League is a ragtag group of fallen/disillusioned warriors that come together to stop an invading threat from global annihilation. Batman feels remorse for the hand he played in Superman’s death and traverses the world in search of means to stop Steppenwolf and Darkseid’s attack. His quest leads to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg dealing with personal tragedy/flaws. Mostly, they struggle to live up to their mantras as protectors of the realm but eventually achieve something extraordinary with the help of their newfound friends.
No, ZSJL isn’t perfect. A few plot points remain underdeveloped, but Snyder’s grand design overpowers the flaws and results in a rousing superhero epic.