Since making his feature film debut in 2004, Zack Snyder has become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after directors for comic book adaptations, to the point where he has played a major role in helping Warner Bros. launch its DC Extended Universe, directing Man of Steel in 2013 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016 (his third entry in the franchise, Justice League, will be out later this year). Snyder is a filmmaker who works almost exclusively in the blockbuster space and for good reason, as he is one of the most visually-dynamic action filmmakers working today.
Unfortunately, while Snyder’s films are regularly huge hits with audiences, he is far from being a critical darling and has just as many stumbles as successes. Still, whatever your opinion on Snyder or his filmmaking style, it’s hard to deny that he’s a visionary with a distinctive cinematic voice and has made meaningful contributions to modern filmmaking despite only being in the second decade of features career.
Here is a look back at Zack Snyder’s entire filmography to date, ranking each of his films from worst to best.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Snyder’s worst film to date is ironically his most successful, managing to rake in an impressive $873.2 million at the worldwide box office. Unfortunately, “it made money” is one of the only positive things you can say about Batman v Superman, a disjointed mess of a film that is a cinematic injustice on almost every front. Snyder made it clear with his prior work that he’s primarily interesting in making darker superhero films with “adult” themes, but Batman v Superman is a film so self important and overly serious that it borders on parody.
Although Ben Affleck fares better than Henry Cavill, the film’s two leads offer largely boring and grim interpretations of two of the world’s most popular superheroes and things get even worse when it comes to the villains, one of which is played by Jesse Eisenberg in what may be his worst performance to date. Throw in a mind-numbing array of plot holes, universe-building that plays like it was dreamed up on a cocktail napkin five minutes for shooting began, and an overall tone that can best be described as contemptuous toward everything these characters represent, and you have the low point of Snyder’s filmography.
Sucker Punch is Zack Snyder’s first and only film he’s done based on an original concept (he co-wrote it alongside Steve Shibuya) and it’s a film that unfortunately showcases all of his best and worst qualities as a filmmaker. Snyder once described Sucker Punch as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns,” which is an apt comparison. Set in the 1960s in an insane asylum for young women, the film follows a woman named Babydoll (Emily Browning) as she attempts to cope with her surroundings by imagining herself and her fellow inmates in a fantasy world where they’re all basically all action heroes. Conceptually, Sucker Punch is an interesting beast but it suffers from poor execution on nearly every front that doesn’t involve a gloriously over-the-top action scene, which are uniformly great.
Although Snyder tried to frame the film as a female empowerment tale, in reality it’s largely infantile and misogynistic, with poor characterization and a plot that feels like it was dreamed up by a sex-starved 12-year-old rather than two grown men. Still, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its many failings, Sucker Punch offers a fascinating window into Snyder’s worldview and cinematic style and is arguably still better than most video game movie adaptations, a genre that Sucker Punch arguably falls into despite not being an adaptation of anything.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
It’s still bizarre to think Zack Snyder actually directed an animated movie involving talking owls but indeed he did and it’s actually one of his better works. An adaptation of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky, the film follows a young barn named Soren as he seeks out the legendary owls of Ga’Hoole, only to become embroidered in a war that will change him and his family forever. Billed as a fantasy adventure film, Ga’Hoole is not actually that great of a family flick, as it’s easily one of the darkest animated pictures made in the last decade. While that probably helps explain why it didn’t exactly light up the box office, Snyder’s unique stylistic flourishes help differentiate Ga’Hoole from other animated features.
As one might expect, Snyder’s knack for shooting exciting action sequences is on full display here and the story is surprisingly emotional, filled with moments of wonder and dread, as the narrative delves into some really dark material, especially in the final act. What holds The Owls of Ga’Hoole back from being a classic in its genre is that it loses steam around the halfway point and while the characters are generally likable, there are none that particularly stand out as memorable. Still, Ga’Hoole represents a nice change of pace for Snyder as a filmmaker and while it’s doubtful we’ll ever see him do a sequel, it would be interesting to see what he could accomplish if here to ever direct another animated feature.
Man of Steel
The most disappointing thing about Man of Steel is that it’s so close to being a great Superman movie, but a lackluster script and Snyder’s misunderstanding of certain fundamental character elements ultimately hold it back. In his first appearance as Clark Kent/Superman, Henry Cavill certainly looks the part but doesn’t quite have the charisma to top Christopher Reeves’ iconic performance. Still, Cavill’s shortcomings pale in comparison to the many deficiencies found in the script, which much of the time feels like filler in order to get us to the next bombastic action scene.
The main problem with Man of Steel is that while it’s a well-executed superhero movie in terms of action and spectacle, it is a bad Superman movie that misrepresents what the character is supposed to stand for. Instead of an aspirational figure to look up to, Snyder gives us a Superman who is more or less a loner with a chip on his shoulder that is reluctant to help people (and evidently has no qualms with leveling a city if it means he can defeat his nemesis Zod). Man of Steel has moments of redemption and is definitely better than most critics gave it credit for, but is not the inspirational introduction to a new Superman — and by extension, the DC cinematic universe — that it should have been.
Snyder is a filmmaker often criticized for making films that are all style over substance but in the case of a film like 300, this is an approach that can work out splendidly. An adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book of the same name, 300 is a visually-striking retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans led by their king Leonidas (played with confident fury here by Gerard Butler) successfully repelled an exponentially larger invading Persian force over the course of three days. 300 is a film that has no interest in historical accuracy, which is totally fine because as an action movie, it absolutely excels. While many films have aped 300’s style over the years, this is a movie that only Zack Snyder could have made.
Although 300’s plot and characters are arguably more nuanced than critics give them credit for, Snyder is much more interested in creating visually-arresting action and well-choreographed fight scenes, all featuring perfectly-sculpted men. Pretty much every scene in 300 looks like it was lifted right off page and while it’s easy to quibble about the film’s many historical inaccuracies or sometimes cringe-worthy dialog, it’s the first film that signaled Snyder as a visionary filmmaker with a style all his own and remains one of his crowning achievements even a decade later.
Dawn of the Dead
Snyder’s feature film debut also happens to be one of his best, which is impressive considering how poorly everything could have turned out. Remaking the greatest zombie film ever made is no small task and although Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead lacks the nuance or social commentary offered in George A. Romero’s 1978 masterpiece, it has enough new ideas of its own to set itself apart from Romero’s work and has become something of a classic in the genre itself. Part of the reason for this is that Snyder’s film changes the whole dynamic of the zombie apocalypse by featuring fast-moving, rabid undead, a stark change from the lumbering horde found in Romero’s film.
Naturally, the action is delightfully visceral and the final mall escape remains one of Snyder’s most thrilling set-pieces, but the film wouldn’t work half as well without its cast, which features some great performances from the likes of Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, and Michael Kelly. Dawn of the Dead also benefits from having been released before Hollywood started pumping out endless awful horror remakes, although it also had the misfortune of being released in the same year as Edgar Wright’s debut feature, Shaun of the Dead, which is a much better film. Still, Dawn of the Dead is an all-around great entry in the zombie genre and a debut that any director would be proud of.
Watchmen remains Zack Snyder’s greatest achievement as a filmmaker and one of the best straight adaptations of a comic book ever made. In Alan Moore’s richly-detailed, thematically complex comic, Snyder finds the perfect outlet for his particular brand of filmmaking, resulting in an adaptation that is luxuriously shot and slickly produced. What’s more, Snyder’s love for dark superhero stories serves him well in adapting Moore’s notoriously grim fiction, as the director embraces the nudity and graphic violence found in the comics and presents it all as stylishly as possible.
Whereas Snyder doesn’t seem to understand that Superman is a symbol for humanity to strive for, Moore’s extremely flawed, extremely human (well, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan), characters fit right in with Snyder’s wheelhouse and he does a phenomenal job of condensing a sprawling, 12-issue comic into a feature length film. Most importantly, Watchmen is proof that when given the right material, Zack Snyder has the ability to be a great director and hopefully he can find a way to top it someday.