Top to Bottom: The Films of Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder is a polarizing director. While he has many, many fans, he also has just as many detractors. One thing that everyone can agree on is that he can make a scene or an actor shine. Snyder’s films are always beautiful, but a lot of times this beauty comes at the expense of story and characters. Style of substance is the name of the game for Snyder.

Here are Snyder’s films, ranked Top (Best) to Bottom (Worst) (Spoilers ahead!!!)

1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

It should come as no surprise that Dawn of the Dead would top this list as it is Snyder’s best film by far. Snyder was not a known property then, so he was able to make the film that he wanted without people judging it before it came out. Actually, people were judging it before its release, but not because of Snyder. They were judging it based on the fact that it is a remake of a classic horror film. Audiences did not know that it was a good film until they actually saw it.

The film has one of the best openings in the last 17 years. It begins as a “day in the life” story before it turns into utter chaos. Now, you have to remember that this film was made and released before zombies became the go-to horror villain. Snyder was the first to make zombies run (28 Days Later is not a zombie film. It is a film about infected people) and this drew a lot of attention to the film. It also made George A. Romero kind of mad because he says that zombies should never run. I disagree on this point because I think that it is scarier for you villain to run instead of walk or stumble. Imagine if Michael Myers ran.

Anyways, Dawn of the Dead is a very fun zombie film, something that we had not seen a lot of in 2004 when the film was released. The film has some great horror bits, some great characters bits, and the action is exciting and exhausting. This is the only film that Snyder would make where green screens were not used, save for a few shots here and there. This was shot on an actual set with real props and set dressings.

2. Watchmen

Everyone said that it couldn’t be done. Many directors, over the years, tried and failed to adapt the graphic novel Watchmen into a film that would live up to the source material. Terry Gilliam, Michael Bay, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass have tried and failed to bring the massive tome to the big screen. Zack Snyder was the only one to achieve this feat.

I have never read the Watchmen graphic novel, so I can only judge the film based on its merits, I think that Watchmen is a monumental achievement. Snyder and company were able to make a comic book film that took the events and characters very seriously while trying to make the film accessible to general audiences. The film deals with nuclear annihilation and war very seriously. I know that there are other things to look at, but the film does an incredible job with all of it. My favorite character is Rorschach, a man who wears a mask that is constantly changing its appearance. He is the one who is trying to figure everything out and he has some of the best scenes in the film. The birth of Dr. Manhattan is also a standout scene in the film and shows that Snyder can tell a story that focuses on characters while still being great to look at.    

3. Man of Steel

It seemed that everyone had a problem with Snyder directing the next Superman film. How will he approach the character? What will the film look like? Where did all the color go? These questions were asked before and after the film came out and they were valid questions.

Snyder’s take on Superman is more of a realistic take on the superhero than any other director before him has taken. Snyder places his Superman in a post 9/11 world where things are not happy go lucky. Things are ugly. The U.S. is at war in foreign countries as well as at home. There is not much trust in our leaders and the housing crisis was still going on. Superman would have to live in this messed up world and try his best to keep people safe.

Snyder presents us with a Superman who doesn’t know his own powers. Papa Kent has made Clark promise not to out himself until the time comes. Of course, that time does come and Superman has to do things that he has never done, including killing. This sparked a lot of outrage as fans would say that Superman never kills. The question that people who liked this new Superman would ask is: Have you ever been put into a situation where you had to do something that you had never done before to save the people around you? Superman had to kill Zod because, if he didn’t, not only would Zod kill the group of people who watched Zod’s eyebeams inch closer and closer to them, but he would also kill Earth as we know it.

Snyder takes all of this very seriously and he got dragged over the coals for it. I think that it is an incredibly brave thing to do and something that Marvel wishes they could have done. Superman was the happy go lucky superhero of old because that is what was needed at the time. Now, audiences would not buy that version of Superman. Snyder knew this and took the risk and I applaud him for it.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

As divisive as Man of Steel was, Batman v Superman was way worse. This sequel to Man of Steel and starting point for Justice League, BvS, in its theatrical version, was a mess of a film. Here was a film that had nine months of build-up and this was what we got. A neurotic Lex Luthor. The killing of Jimmy Olsen. Casting Ben “One Note Acting” Affleck as Bruce Wayne (he is great as Batman, but pales in comparison as Wayne). All of these problems, and many, many more, were what fans hated about the film. Whereas Snyder was taking chances with Man of Steel for the sake of the story and characters, here it seemed he was pushing his luck.

Batman v Superman has some pretty great moments and scenes in it. The scene in the bathtub between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, which gave the film a moment of rest and character development. The introduction of Wonder Woman with that guitar and tribal music. The fight scene between Batman and Luthor’s thugs which is one of the few times that we actually get to see Batman in action. All of these scenes are great in their own right, but they give the film something to talk about, even if it to argue for hours about the merits of the film.

The Ultimate Edition of BvS takes care of a lot of the problems that the theatrical version had, but it doesn’t save everything. Which makes us wonder why this version wasn’t released to theaters. Could it have been the film’s runtime, because we know that a film’s runtime isn’t going to stop too many from seeing the film (remember that all of the Transformers films are two and a half hours long with the fourth film in the series being the longest (almost 3 hours) and the most successful of the franchise)? Could it be the R-rating that it received from the MPAA because we know that people don’t really care about ratings too much? This film was released after Deadpool so Warner Brothers could have released the R-rated version of BvS and the film probably would have done better.

5. 300

Case in point to the previous entry. 300 was based on a graphic novel of the same name and featured loads of graphic violence and several scenes of nudity which would garner the film with an R-rating. That is right, an R-rated comic book film? So why couldn’t Batman v Superman be released with an R-rating? Because the kiddies can’t get into to see their favorite superhero, Batman, in action.

Back in the mid-2000’s, there was a film that was released called Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a film that claimed to be the first big film to be shot exclusively on green screen. No sets, just green screens for the actors to have to figure out how to act with. Since then, lots of films have been shot with no location shooting at all and not having very many sets.

300 was one of those films. In fact, the shooting with no location shooting actually adds to the film’s look and feel. Most of the film takes place in one location which means that Snyder had to make sure that the film had a unique look and feel to it or else audience members might not like the film all that much.

I am one of those audience members. As much as I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making the film, I find 300 to be rather boring. There are plenty of scenes that would go on to become iconic, but for as many times one can yell “THIS IS SPARTA!” I find myself wondering why this film grossed over $200 million in the U.S. alone. I remember walking out of the theater after the film ended (trust me, I wanted to walk out BEFORE the film ended) and thinking that Snyder had taken all the praise and compliments he received for his work on Dawn of the Dead and threw it all away. Of course, the film was a big hit, but that didn’t make it any better. I haven’t seen the film in a while, and I hope that I like it this time, but I have a feeling that it will be the same feeling I had when I saw the film originally. Boredom.

6. Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch is a film that proves the theory about Snyder. This is a film that is all style with zero substance. The film purports to be an empowering film for women, but it turns out to be one male fantasy sequence after another. Sure, women are front and center of the story and they do have the power to take on anything, but they do so in some of the skimpiest outfits the PG-13 rating has ever seen. The effects in the film are great and those sequences are the highlight of the film, but the rest of the story, which takes place inside of a mental institution, is boring and fairly uneventful. The film does feature some great actors, but they are given so little to do that you wonder why they took the roles at all.

7. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

The trailers for Legend of the Guardians showed us some of the best animation I have ever seen. I was very excited for this film and then I watched it. Wow, what a terrible film. The story, pacing, and some of the voice acting are terrible and it left a bad taste in my mouth for a long time. The animation is still awe-inspiring, but the film is just so flat and lifeless. I really wanted this to be a good film because I like Snyder as a director, but I don’t really know what he was going for with this film. It is animated and is rated PG, so it was being targeted towards kids, but I think that kids would have found the film too scary and/or too boring. This will always be at the bottom of a best and/or worst list of Zack Snyder films.

So there it is my ranking of all of Zack Snyder’s films, from Top to Bottom. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again real soon.

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