Since the opening weekend of the theatrical cut of Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon, 2017), #ReleaseTheSnyderCut transitioned from an online trend to an all-out movement. The hashtag amassed millions of tweets and became one of Twitter’s most discussed topics ever. Fans were clamoring to restore director Zack Snyder’s original vision of the superhero team-up film, and they were using the megaphone of social media to do so. It is ironic that this is exactly how fans were empowered to disrupt the original production in the first place. The conversation gained so much traction online that a Warner Bros. executive was finally forced to respond, admitting that while fan discussion was appreciated, there were no plans to actually release the Snyder cut.
That was of course until two very important things happened. On one hand, an explosion of streaming services overtook the entertainment industry. Different corporations and companies began establishing respective streaming services, chasing the success of Netflix. On the other hand, the Covid-19 pandemic effectively hit the pause button in Hollywood. No new films were being made, and there were no theaters open to screen them anyway. When combined, these two aspects created the perfect storm, and a reason to dredge up the Snyder cut. For WarnerMedia, it was twofold: There was enough footage already shot of the film to assemble it relatively quickly. Most of the work needed yet was editing, which didn’t require any large-scale production settings. The Snyder cut also provided an exciting draw as an exclusive production of HBO MAX, WarnerMedia’s newly established streaming service.
While critics were more reserved with their ratings of the four-hour epic, Zack Snyder’s Justice League premiered to instant acclaim from fans. Never before has there been two distinct versions/directors/release dates for a film, least of all a blockbuster of this magnitude. This unprecedented event has vast implications for the future of filmmaking and fandoms. Previous examples illustrate how the advent of streaming has given filmmakers the chance to exercise complete creative control without the financial risk that comes with a theatrical release. The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2015) was re-released on Netflix as a four-part miniseries brimming with extended scenes and different cuts. The Snyder cut may take this to a new level, as an example of such a film with record high viewership and positive reviews. What will be the takeaway of the fans? The millions who tweeted #ReleaseTheSnyderCut may just perceive this as their victory, unaware of all of the other factors that made it possible. If audiences feel their demands are being met, they will keep making demands. Director James Mangold warns that fans’ claimed ownership over franchise films can “push creatives away” from making them, as they fear an adverse response. It is a lively game of tug of war between the makers and viewers of film, and I am curious to see who will prevail.