Bold visionary or Michael Bay with a library card? Or both? Zack Snyder’s brash filmmaking style is pretty unique. Personally, I find it to be breathtaking and frustrating at the same time. Whatever you think about him, he’s impacted pop culture pretty significantly. Films like ‘300’ and ‘Watchmen’ were crucial for the advancement of cinematic adaptations of mature graphic novels. And whether you like them or not, Snyder’s DCEU entries have stirred up a public discussion as few other films could – just look at the hundreds of thousands of fans who signed a petition for the release of the upcoming Snyder Cut. As much as his most fervent critics would like to, there is no easy way to categorise Snyder. Nor is it easy to rank his best films. But I’ll give it a go.
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Here Are Zack Snyder Movies, Ranked:
- Dawn Of The Dead (2004).
Zack Snyder’s debut is a solid remake of George Romero’s zombie classic. It centers on a group of survivors who band together against the apocalypse, ending up in a shopping mall surrounded by a huge, undead army.
‘Dawn Of The Dead’ is very fast-paced (the zombies run literally sprint). It never lets up from the very beginning, which makes it more immediately entertaining than some of the other films on this list. It boasts many seriously intense scenarios, such as human-to-zombie pregnancy and a crazy, family-shattering opening scene. The story is extremely simple, which arguably plays to Zack Snyder’s strengths as a visual rather than narrative storyteller. The situation speaks for itself, so the plot convolution present in ‘Batman vs Superman’ and ‘Watchmen’ (to a lesser extent) isn’t a problem here.
‘Dawn Of The Dead’ is not as good as the more charming original, though it doesn’t need to be. It also suffers from basic, bland characters who you don’t really care about. The main character is particularly hard to read emotionally – she suffers a tragedy that would tear most people apart in the opening scene but never shows any kind of discernible reaction to it.
For these reasons ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ occupies the fifth spot, but it is still one of Snyder’s best thanks to its unrelenting showcase of gory thrills.
- Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice Ultimate Edition (2016).
Set after the chaotic events of ‘Man Of Steel’, ‘Batman vs Superman’ finds Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, and a whole bunch of other people not taking so kindly to the existence of Superman.
You may be wondering why I have written (Ultimate Edition) next to the title. If you didn’t know, there is a director’s cut of the film that adds extra 30 minutes of content. To those who absolutely hated the film, this won’t change anything. But to those who, like me, were left confused yet conflicted by the initial theatrical cut, this version is at least worth watching. The first two acts are far more coherently edited – the choppy, static arrangement of scenes that enraged cinemagoers is nowhere to be seen here. Additionally, Superman’s arc works much better. The extra scenes are crucial in making you realize that he is actually bothered by Batman and that he cares about the fact that most people seem to be ambivalent about him.
Secondly, and hear me out, but I think I just have a soft spot for ‘Batman vs Superman’. I am completely aware of and agree with the reasons why it is largely panned – narratively, this film could (and has been) absolutely ripped apart. Still, I am able to enjoy it in spite of its faults. Zack Snyder’s brash, mythological approach to superheroes is one that I find enjoyable in general and especially fitting for the world’s two greatest superhero characters. Ben Affleck’s paranoid, basically villainous Batman is actually really engaging even though his motivations are weak.
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Superman is at his most interesting when he’s challenged, and boy does Snyder challenge him. Some of Snyder’s greatest set-pieces are in this film – the titular fight is glorious, the Wayne murder opening looks ripped from a comic-book and the warehouse fight scene is fantastically brutal. More generally, the film looks and sounds great (Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL rise to the epic occasion). ‘BvS’ is quite messy, but at least it’s a beautiful mess.
Still, some of its faults are difficult to defend. Jesse Eisenberg’s chaotic performance as Luthor leaves a lot to be desired, which is a shame given that this novel approach to the character had potential. Moreover, so many of the crucial plot points are fundamentally flawed in execution. The infamous Martha scene, the Death Of Superman, and the character motivations are weak no matter which edition you watch. The Doomsday, Wonder Woman inclusion, and Justice League set-up still feel like forced superhero overload.
‘Batman vs Superman’ is a bad film, but the Ultimate Cut is much better. It is by no means great, but it is at least worth watching as a gargantuan, unapologetically brash spectacle that manages to do new things with two very well-worn characters.
- 300 (2006).
Sparta. Persia. War. Three words that comprehensively describe the plot of ‘300’, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
We have ‘300’ to thank for iconic lines like “This Is Sparta”. We also have it to thank for the introduction of hyper-stylized, comic-accurate graphic novel adaptations. Few are better than Zack Snyder at visually adapting frames from comics, a trait that carries over throughout his work. ‘300’ still looks beautiful today – it’s as close as it gets to seeing an illustrated novella come to life. Like ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ it benefits from being simple. There are few pretensions of philosophy or grand ideas being presented – it’s a film about comically ripped soldiers who love the idea of going to war. And still, it isn’t completely devoid of emotional impact. The final “glorious” death is well played and pretty powerful.
A downside to ‘300’’s simplicity is that the film does start to wear thin once the fighting starts. It is essentially one big battle, which is limiting in some ways.
Still, as pure entertainment goes, ‘300’ is a fantastic time.
- Watchmen (2009).
‘Watchmen’ is an adaptation of the highly-acclaimed graphic novel of the same name. It offers an alternate depiction of the Cold War with anti-hero superheroes added into the mix.
‘Watchmen’ is the most beautiful and engaging world Zack Snyder has created. The level of detail in every frame is astonishing. It’s easy to label him a merchant of style-over-substance, but his knack for visual storytelling shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a real skill.
Additionally, ‘Watchmen’ isn’t completely devoid of depth. There are some brilliant moments – Dr. Manhattan’s backstory is beautifully, and dare I say, powerfully conveyed. Some credit has to go to the source material too. I am no ‘Watchmen’ expert, but the characters are immediately engaging – Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias are all compelling anti-heroes with understandable motivations. The film is extremely brutal in a way that is tailor-made for its director’s style – Snyder wants his heroes to be more super than heroic, and ‘Watchmen’ is the perfect property for this distorted vision of the genre.
Sometimes, you do wonder if more could have been made of this story, as Snyder does often seem to be more obsessed with the surface detail than with the meaning of the content. That doesn’t mean he completely disregards any substance, but there is a clear imbalance. Still, the notable glimmers of brilliance make it one of Snyder’s best.
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- Man Of Steel (2013).
Perhaps controversially, I have decided to go with Snyder’s highly divisive take on Superman as his best film to date. It applies the ‘Batman Begins’ treatment to Kal-El’s origin, to mixed but occasionally jaw-dropping effect.
‘Man Of Steel’ is spectacular. It is the first Superman film to emphasise the enormity of the character in every way possible – it feels like an epic, as it should. The operatic, booming Hans Zimmer score is coupled with some truly breathtaking set-pieces that have been in my opinion, unfairly overlooked. So much of the content is captivating. Snyder’s Superman take feels more like a sci-fi world than a superhero one, which is a plausible avenue for a hero who is supposed to be an alien. ‘Man Of Steel’ is also a Superman film for our time – the highly criticized darkening of the character has its merit. It was about time for a version of this character that was slightly more ambiguous and free of excessively patriotic cheese. General Zod (Michael Shannon) is an understandable, well-conceived villain – the opening on Krypton is a brilliant introduction to the central problem of planet conservation.
Henry Cavill looks the part – I thoroughly believed he could crash through buildings. Beefy superhero portrayals are the norm these days, but Cavill’s shape is crucial in selling this more bombastic vision of Supes.
Unfortunately, the ending loses the character focus somewhat – the finale suffers from action overload. The problem isn’t that the mayhem is so catastrophic but that the film doesn’t seem to care about the level of casualties. Superman isn’t ‘Watchmen’, so this level of death should and could have been addressed more forthrightly.
Still, this is the closest Snyder has come to achieving visual excellence coupled with a decent story. ‘Man Of Steel’ could have been more consistent, but its strengths are indeed, super.
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Amhara Chamberlayne is a graduate in English Literature from Warwick University who shares Hollywood Insider’s passion for cinema. When he is not watching films he is writing about them. Uninterested in gossip and agenda, Amhara instead believes in sharing his honest individual reaction to cinema. He enjoys the multi-variant reactions films elicit and believes his take is just as valid as others. For Amhara, the joy lies in the exchange of opinions.