In my past blog posts, I have discussed the evolution of the relationship between the producer and the consumer. But how does the dynamic of power operate in this relationship? Film audiences have always held some degree of power when it comes to the final product. The “test-audience” is often thrown around when discussing the creative decisions made behind the scenes of a film. These are limited audiences that are able to review available footage during the post-production stage. These test-screenings let the filmmakers (and more importantly, the corporate executives) know if they are on the right track to making a successful film. While they are still used today, I believe the power of the consumer extends far beyond test-screenings in the contemporary mediascape. Sonic the Hedgehog (dir. Jeff Fowler, 2020) is a great example. The titular character’s CGI design received such a vitriolic response on social media that the film’s release date was pushed back an entire year and an estimated $5 million dollars was spent to redesign the character. This particular case made headlines, but it certainly wasn’t the first time a film has been changed drastically to satisfy audiences. In fact, this is almost exactly what happened to Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon, 2017).
In response to the success of Marvel Studio’s The Avengers (dir. Joss Whedon, 2012), Warner Bros. decided to fast-track a cinematic universe revolving around DC comics. Zack Snyder was chosen to oversee the films and directed the first two installments: Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). The latter was the first time Batman and Superman have appeared together in live-action film – but it barely broke even at the box office due to incredibly poor critical reception. Snyder’s dark and often violent visual style was supposed to make DC films stand apart from Marvel, but the overwhelming negative response panicked executives, who immediately worked to ensure that Justice League (which was already in production) would lighter in tone like The Avengers. So, when Zack Snyder stepped away from the film due to a family tragedy, the director of The Avengers himself, Joss Whedon, was brought in to complete the film. After reshooting and rewriting most of the material, the theatrical cut (dubbed the “Josstice League”) was completed, leaving most of Snyder’s original material to the wayside.
While the financial and critical performance of a film is a standard measure of success for studios, fan feedback to the first two DCEU (DC Extended Universe) films clearly played a large role in the mess that was Justice League. In the current day and age, we as consumers have been able to gain more power due to the nature of social media. Across social media platforms, it has become easier for fans to have their voice heard. When a collective opinion regarding a film begins to take root online, it is a convenient space for others to agree and join in on the discussion. Once this gains traction it can have an actual influence on the filmmaking process. Regardless of whether or not this power consumers now have is good or bad, it played a large role in developing the “Josstice League”. Conversely, the voice of the fans in the years that followed is what also led to Zack Snyder’s Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder, 2021), one of the most unprecedented film events to occur in recent years.