Murmurs of a “Snyder Cut” of Justice League rippled through social media from the minute the 2017 version came and went from theaters. Zack Snyder was behind most of the hype, teasing what his expanded version might look like at everything from press rounds for Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition to his Vero account. His cut of the movie, the real movie, was four hours long and full of backstory for Cyborg, Flash, Steppenwolf, and even Darkseid, who didn’t even show up in the released Justice League. Like its heroes, the Snyder Cut became a mythical entity — only to be fully realized over the course of 2020 by the content-hungry HBO Max, a reported $70 million budget bump, and a half-year-long, pandemic-timed crunch by multiple visual effects venues.
Zack Snyder’s four-hour version of Justice League is now a Real Thing, available to stream in perpetuity on HBO Max. But throughout the years of mythologizing and a hustle to bring it to the small screen, one question remained: What would Snyder’s version have looked like if it had hit theaters in 2017?
“We didn’t set out to make a three-hour movie,” producer Deborah Snyder tells Polygon. “I think, though, with Zack’s movies, we have a history of having a theatrical release and then, look at Watchmen — we had two other versions of that film on DVD, one of which was over three hours.”
Much of the drama surrounding Justice League focuses on the aftermath of the director’s departure, when writer-director Joss Whedon stepped in to retool the story — mostly by cutting away character-focused detours, as we now know — and reshoot the film’s final act. But the genesis of Justice League was just as turbulent, and even now it’s hard to imagine what kind of movie Snyder could have sculpted out of his original vision. Snyder has said in the past that the original drafts he wrote with Chris Terrio (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) were much darker than even what viewers got this week from Zack Snyder’s Justice League. But writing Justice League during post-production on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, then prepping for the massive shoot in the immediate weeks after the film’s polarizing release, made the epic-sized sequel a challenge from before a single frame was shot.
“It was an enormous script, and it was a little bit different,” Deborah Snyder says. “I think we would have liked a two-and-a-half-hour movie, and the studio really wanted a two-hour movie at the time, which didn’t make as much sense when you have a whole team of Justice League that you’re trying to develop and put together.”
The lukewarm reception to BvS prompted Warner Bros. to request changes to the grimdark script that Zack Snyder and Terrio had cooked up. But even then, the scope was huge — the movie, Deborah Snyder says, shot for nearly 140 days (and new scenes for the Snyder Cut only took three additional days). “So it was quite intense. I guess that was a sign of the journey that this movie would make it, actually, to audiences.”
Zack Snyder has shot down the idea that the four-hour version of his movie was an “assembly cut,” or the rawest version of a completed film with very few editorial excisions. According to one tweet from December 2019, his assembly cut was nearly five hours long. The four-hour version was the actual vision — just not from the beginning. But with the luxury of infinite streaming space, and a mythology swirling around the Snyder Cut, the tightest movie was no longer the one that needed to be delivered. Deborah Snyder says the advent of HBO Max kept all the rules off the table.
“It’s the best-case scenario,” she says. “You can watch it in its entirety, or you can watch it in parts, if that’s how you want to watch it. [HBO Max] made it very easy to pause on each of the parts, so you can go back and look at your favorite things. That also just made it, like, possible for this thing to happen.”
So now, a new question emerges: Is there any part of Justice League left on the cutting room floor?
“I don’t think so!” the producer says, with a glimmer of triumph. But it’s not entirely the movie they set out to make in 2017. During production, their daughter would die by suicide, adding to the couple’s motivation to eventually step away from the reshoot process. Over the years, the country itself would undergo massive upheaval. A Justice League released in 2021, Deborah says, couldn’t possibly be the same as one released in 2017, even if it had been solely Zack Snyder’s creation.
“The movie resonates differently,” says Deborah Snyder. “Our loss and our journey has shaped the movie as well. It’s become a personal journey on so many levels. But when you look at the struggles that some of these characters go through, and you look at the times we’re living in now ... I think it’s best when these characters are a mirror of ourselves in some way. We won’t necessarily have these superpowers, but their struggles, we can relate to them.”