Depending on who you ask, WarnerMedia confirming a Snyder Cut version of Justice League will arrive in 2021 is either a win for a cluster of Zack Snyder devotees or a disturbing precedent in enabling toxic entitlement in fan culture.
Regardless of where people fall in the debate, the uncontested winner — and the sole reason why the Snyder Cut is seeing the light of day — is HBO Max.
The history behind the Snyder Cut is winding and complex. Justice League was a moderately successful film in 2017 hailing from a director who Warner Bros. maintained a steady relationship with since his 300 days in 2007, but it wasn’t what Snyder aficionados were expecting. Upset with the final product, diehard fans of Snyder catapulted the idea of an unfinished cut into a piece of mythology, working day and night to spread awareness of Snyder’s true vision.
While those fans took part in elaborate campaigns, doing everything from protesting outside of Warner Bros. headquarters in Burbank, California, to more positive ventures like taking out advertising in Times Square, the studio moved forward with its own DC Universe. Wonder Woman’s success quickly garnered director Patty Jenkins a sequel; Aquaman performed well at the box office in 2018, and Shazam! was praised by critics. Even the less-than-well-received Suicide Squad is returning for a second film, this time with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn behind the camera.
The uncontested winner, and the sole reason why the Snyder Cut is seeing the light of day, is HBO Max
Warner Bros. didn’t need another shot at Justice League. The shared Justice League universe envisioned by Snyder wasn’t working the way Warner Bros.’ needed, and the focus shifted to solo superhero movies, including Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Aquaman. At the same time, Warner Bros.’ parent companies, WarnerMedia and AT&T, needed an ace in the hole for their shiny new streaming service, HBO Max. There wasn’t an apparent winner at launch, but they had the promise of their own Mandalorian — even if it would take millions of dollars and months of work to turn that promise into reality.
“It’s been months of discussions with Zack and the producers to figure out how to do it,” WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt said on a recent Recode Media podcast episode. “Because it isn’t as easy as just going into the vault and there’s a Snyder Cut sitting there to put out.”
Once they figured out the economics behind the project (one that’s going to cost more than the previously reported $20-$30 million figure) and ensured they could move ahead after consulting with the right union groups, it came down to announcing it. WarnerMedia wasn’t trying to keep the announcement a secret, Greenblatt argued, but he added the team tried “very hard to announce it before the launch because we knew it would be very well-received.”
Obviously. It’s no coincidence that Snyder and WarnerMedia made the announcement six days before HBO Max’s launch. The Snyder Cut represents WarnerMedia’s major tentpole tease — an exciting series set within a massive franchise that drives signups. Whether fans will prefer Snyder’s new version over what landed in theaters in November 2017 is entirely irrelevant; the movie or mini-series or whatever it ends up being will drive sign-ups for a streaming service executives have reiterated needs to grow fast and consistently.
“Because it isn’t as easy as just going into the vault and there’s a Snyder Cut sitting there to put out”
A key component to understanding why the Snyder Cut is the perfect HBO Max tentpole tease is understanding its controversial fandom. Fans on Twitter and Reddit reiterated the importance of paying for whatever WarnerMedia and Snyder released, not pirating.
“I know some of us have financial issues, me included, but we showed all of this support and for [Warner Bros.] to see what we did as a true success, they have to see a big rise in subscriptions for HBO Max,” one fan wrote on Reddit. “We CAN NOT pirate this movie. We are all here to support Zack anyway, so I would be ashamed if anyone in here would pirate one of his movies, but we absolutely can not pirate this one!”
Money — a tangible, financial commitment to supporting an artist — is core to fandom culture. It’s partially why overzealous Marvel fans spent weekend after weekend going to see Endgame in theaters. Endgame was on track to beat James Cameron’s Titanic as the most successful movie of all time, and that became the new goal for fans.
The rationale isn’t much different in this case; just replace spending money every week at the movie theaters with pledging support through HBO Max subscriptions.
Here’s where we find ourselves: after nearly three years of relentless campaigning, a version of the Snyder Cut, in whatever form it might be, is happening. The response was immediate: Snyder devotees vowed to sign up for HBO Max, and AT&T’s corporate Twitter accounts started engaging with the rowdiest fans. Even though Snyder’s version of Justice League won’t hit HBO Max until sometime in 2021, an army of aficionados became convinced that AT&T — one of the largest telecom companies in the world that, until last week, Snyder fans mentioned relentlessly on Twitter — was on their side.
“The dangerous thing at work here is a multibillion-dollar corporation’s concession to its worst online critics”
WarnerMedia managed to secure a fan base, ready to show their support with monthly or annual credit card payments. Much like Star Wars fans who were likely going to sign up for Disney Plus regardless of a new Star Wars show but were incentivized further by The Mandalorian, Snyder fans who may have signed up for HBO Max just for access to the DC Universe films have another reason.
WarnerMedia, and AT&T at large, cares about one thing above all else: profit. Corralling paying customers for HBO Max any way that makes sense is paramount. The Snyder Cut is the perfect product: an extremely vocal, visible built-in fan base that will pay whatever they can, however they can to see Snyder’s vision come to life and market the film for AT&T as much as possible for free, is the kind of dedication a company like WarnerMedia dreams of at night.
As Vulture’s Abraham Riesman wrote, “the dangerous thing at work here is a multibillion-dollar corporation’s concession to its worst online critics.” That’s irrevocably true, but it’s only part of the entire situation. The Snyder Cut fiasco is bigger than HBO Max; it’s a perfect lens into how social media and the internet at large are commandeered by the loudest groups to command attention and influence the direction of mega-conglomerates.
They have AT&T’s attention; now AT&T is coming for their pocketbooks.