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Why DC won't release the Zack Snyder Justice League cut

The chaos surrounding the production of DC Films' big-screen bomb Justice League — you know, the movie that was supposed to be Warner Bros.' answer to Marvel Studios' The Avengers — has been well-documented. But despite it all, a contingent of fans is still clamoring to get a look at original director Zack Snyder's singular vision for the project.

Snyder, who directed the critically panned DC Extended Universe outings Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, started work on Justice League before leaving due to a family tragedy. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in to finish the film, and shepherded quite a bit of reshoots and additional photography in the process. The final product was a mishmash of styles, with Snyder's set pieces and kinetic action mixed with lighter, funnier character moments that have become a trademark of Whedon's work.

Rumors still abound about the potential existence of a version of Justice League left behind by Zack Snyder, but there's little reason to believe Warners will ever put it out. Here's why DC won't release the Zack Snyder Justice League cut.

The movie was a box office dud

Regardless of any other logistics surrounding the completion of an unfinished cut of a movie, it all comes down to dollars for Warner Bros. — and the studio would almost certainly balk at the idea of pumping more money into an alternate cut for a movie that turned out to be the DCEU's least successful film to date. Put simply, it'd be absurd to pump cash into a failed movie to release a version that has even less mass market appeal than the first one.

On paper, Justice League was poised to be the crown jewel of DC's film slate, bringing the universe's A-list heroes all together in the same movie. But a combination of production problems, lackluster reviews, and an apparent fatigue for the direction of the DCEU left the film with a final domestic box office take of $229 million, with total worldwide profits of $657 million. 

For the sake of comparison, DC's Suicide Squad, filled with a roster of little-known characters, brought in $746 million worldwide. The only comparable film to the Justice League concept, Marvel Studios' The Avengers, more than doubled Justice League's numbers with $1.5 billion. When DC put Justice League on its calendar, it was almost certainly hoping for a film that could crack the billion-dollar threshold, but it didn't deliver in that regard. Not by a long shot.

Fan campaigns are rarely successful

Fan campaigns aren't a new or unique idea — they seem to pop up when pretty much anything gets canceled, or doesn't look like its getting a sequel. That said, most of them fail — and fail miserably. For every Jericho or Star Trek that escapes cancellation, there are still dozens and dozens of other movies and TV shows that stay on the ash heap of history without a sequel or new season.

The DCEU might not be blowing the top off the box office, but it still has a solid contingent of fans out there. Considering the final product was a mish-mash of styles between Snyder and replacement director Joss Whedon, the fans of Snyder's more dark and serious take on the DC universe really want to see what his singular vision may have looked like. Tens of thousands of fans have rallied to sign online petitions, but when it came time to put boots on the ground, the campaign came up lacking. A planned march and protest at Warner Bros. resulted in around a dozen or so fans outside the studio pushing for the mythical Snyder cut in person. Not exactly the massive march the supporters would have liked when it comes time to show the studio you're serious.

The effects are almost certainly unfinished

Zack Snyder likely left behind some semblance of a working assembly cut when he exited Justice League, showcasing many of the major beats and scenes for the story he was trying to tell. Though a decent amount of footage was shot, it's important to remember that its existence definitely doesn't mean the effects work was ever actually commissioned or completed. Post-production on a film of that scope can take quite a while — easily as long as a year — and even if Snyder did have a rough cut laid down, it stands to reason a majority of the effects work for his version would still be incomplete. It takes time and a lot of money to do effects work for a blockbuster film of that scope, and that'd be money DC would have to sink into a film that has already failed. It's hard to believe Warners execs would see that as a solid investment.

It probably doesn't even exist

Though Zack Snyder obviously shot a good bit of footage and had it put into some working order before he left Justice League, no one actually knows how much of that cut was complete or even sensical. Films come together in editing, and Snyder hadn't really started putting this thing together when he exited. And even if there was enough in the can to theoretically be turned into a film, there's no indication that it was something that could be put together into a coherent narrative. Most likely, Snyder put together some set pieces and major story beats, but whatever he left behind would almost certainly be missing the connective tissue that makes a film complete. Put simply, a "Snyder Cut" likely doesn't exist in a workable form that could be released, and would instead require even more shooting and work to tighten up.

It'd mess with DCEU continuity

Whatever some fans might think of the final cut of Justice League, it's exactly that — the final cut. The version of the movie fans saw in theaters is the version that is now an official part of the DCEU continuity. Superman was resurrected in that way; the characters interacted in that way; the film ended in that way. Going back and putting out a new cut — one fundamentally different enough to warrant a completely different release — would almost certainly not jibe with the story as it was told. It might not be obvious from the box office take, but Justice League is the centerpiece film in the DCEU film universe. That's a big deal when it comes to continuity, and the events of that film will likely have a far-reaching impact on the next few installments coming in the franchise. Introducing a second, different cut would be extremely hard to reconcile from a continuity standpoint — and almost certainly confuse casual fans who may not follow the minutiae of the DCEU.

The studio wasn't happy with it

Though we don't actually know how complete it was, the studio execs at Warner Bros. did reportedly get a look at what would have been the "Snyder Cut" early on, and they understood how the film might have looked if the director stayed on the project. According to reports surrounding those test screenings, the studio deemed that version of the film virtually "unwatchable," which obviously strongly implies execs weren't pleased with the direction of the project even before Snyder exited for personal reasons. The final cut put together by Whedon didn't blow critics away, but it was a passable superhero flick that scored largely mediocre reviews from critics (with its 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes still above Snyder's Batman v Superman, which landed at an abysmal 27 percent). So it stands to reason that if Warners was so displeased with Snyder's cut then, the studio likely isn't interested in reviving some zombie version of it a couple of years later.

Snyder made it clear he's done with Justice League

Snyder has spent his time since leaving Justice League to focus on some smaller, more personal projects that aren't $200 million blockbusters in the DC universe — and he seems a whole lot happier. He devoted several years to helping launch the DCEU, between Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League. That's a lot of time to spend in the grim dark of this universe. Looking back at his time on Justice League, Snyder said he's happy to have moved on and wouldn't want to meddle in the film Whedon was finishing. "I'm at a place where I feel excited about it," he explained. "I'm happy for my guys and I love these people that are working on it, and they're my family and I think they're doing an amazing job." The director added he'd like to let the cast and crew "do their thing" with the film Justice League evolved into after his exit. Considering his ambivalence toward the project, one would have to wonder if Snyder would even be interested in revisiting what could have been.

The 4K release is as close as you're gonna get

Instead of putting together a wholly different cut of the film, it seems Warner Bros. used the film's 4K release, which arrived on digital in February 2018 and in stores on physical formats the following month, as an opportunity to sate some of the demand with the next best thing — a lot of that excised footage from Snyder's original cut. Like a lot of home video releases, Justice League's 4K version features behind the scenes featurettes as well as deleted scenes — the majority of which focus on the project as it was evolving under Snyder. It's obviously not a wholesale new cut, but the special edition does at least fill in some of the gaps to give fans a taste of how the project could have turned out. Considering how much the deck is stacked against a full-on "Snyder Cut" of Justice League, this is likely the closest we'll ever get.