Zack Snyder may be polarizing, but there’s no denying the impact he’s had on the film industry. Where he goes, audiences inevitably follow. From 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake right through to 2021’s Army of the Dead, the director has built up a considerable fanbase who laps up every single frame of his work – even spilling over into vocal demand for Ultimate Cuts and extended runtimes well beyond the norm.
If you’re only familiar with his DC output, it might come as some surprise to learn that Zack Snyder’s body of work is considerably deeper and far more interesting than it seems at first glance. Snyder has gone from Sparta to Mars; dived into animation and re-energized the zombie genre – all while delivering his own inimitable brand of adrenaline-pumping action and modern-day mythmaking.
But which of his films is the best? Snyder, inevitably, has caused some heated debate. We’ve polled writers on GamesRadar+ and Total Film to arrive at a final ranking that could prove controversial. Here are the best Zack Snyder movies, ranked – but we’re only taking theatrical cuts into account here. Don’t @ us. Please?
10. Justice League (2017)
Let’s be clear, this movie is here on a technicality. Yes, Zack Snyder’s name is listed as director but, as we’ve seen from the 'Snyder Cut' on HBO Max, it’s very much not his work. In fact, Snyder has never seen the theatrical cut of Justice League.
Having stepped down from production after a family tragedy, Snyder was replaced by Avengers director Joss Whedon. Whedon then set about chopping and changing various aspects of the DC team-up. The story of Superman’s resurrection and the unification of the world’s greatest heroes against Steppenwolf – including newcomer Cyborg – was delivered with a messy, inconsistent tone that relied too heavily on quips and distracting CGI. Henry Cavill’s upper lip – need we say more?
While Justice League ultimately arrived amid unfortunate circumstances, that doesn’t excuse the rushed finished product. The exact same story was made bigger, better, and more in line with Snyder’s vision in 2021’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
9. Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
AKA, The Zack Snyder Movie You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of. Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, to give it its impossibly long-winded title, sees Snyder turn his attention towards animation in a by-the-numbers fantasy adventure.
Barn owls Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are captured by the evil Pure Ones after a bout of sibling jealousy goes wrong, and it eventually falls on Soren’s feathered shoulders to attempt to save the owl kingdoms from the clutches of Joel Edgerton’s fearsome Metal Beak.
While The Owls of Ga’Hoole might have you craving some meatier fantasy, it’s still a kid’s movie with some serious edge – and more than one horrific death. It also shows off Snyder’s deft hand as one of the finest adapters of source material around (Owls of Ga’Hoole is based on a '00s book series). Ultimately, though, it’s the animation, not Snyder’s vision, that catches the eye in this solid, if forgettable, flick.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Dark, moody, and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice followed Man of Steel as the second installment in Snyder’s DCEU trilogy. While it’s become something of a Snyder fan-favorite since its release, it was not well received by broader audiences or critics. Many didn’t like its gritty portrayal of the titular characters, the movie's violence, or Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as a more manic Lex Luthor. Plus, famously, that Martha scene has been memed almost to death.
Still, Wonder Woman’s DCEU entrance is a major highlight, and Snyder’s trademark visuals and intense action sequences are present and accounted for. Ben Affleck’s Batman is also one of the more popular live-action iterations of the Caped Crusader. Love it or hate it, Batman v Superman certainly got everyone talking.
7. Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch signified the moment where Zack Snyder finally struck out on his own. The 2011 actioner is, predictably, not short on imagination – even if the execution is lacking and the director’s supposedly ironic take on male gaze falls a little flat.
Emily Browning plays ‘Babydoll’, a woman wrongly institutionalized after being framed for murder by her abusive stepfather. Ahead of her impending lobotomy, she fantasizes a series of increasingly surreal and bizarre scenarios in an attempt to escape her fate.
The film flits from mobsters to ‘Feudal Japan’ and beyond in a series of hit-and-miss action sequences that really are a case of style – incredible style, it has to be said – over substance. For better or worse, there’s not a film out there like Sucker Punch, even if it stands as a microcosm of some of Snyder’s most pressing flaws.
6. Army of the Dead
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Army of the Dead is the most recent entry on this list and shows off what Snyder can do away from the confines of a pre-established universe. Army of the Dead features Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward leading a ragtag group of mercenaries (as well as his own estranged daughter) as they head into a zombie-infested Las Vegas in search of a score of a lifetime.
Unlike Dawn of the Dead, Snyder chooses to revel in action over horror – taking cues from action movies such as Die Hard and Aliens to create an intense, gory, over-the-top caper filled with larger-than-life characters and a zombie tiger. It’s uneven in places and the most un-Snyder of things – safe – in others, but this is by far the director’s breeziest film to date. Well worth firing up on Netflix.
5. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
The so-called Snyder Cut achieved near-mythic status after the release of 2017’s Justice League, with theatrical release having almost no resemblance to Snyder’s original vision. And when Zack Snyder’s Justice League finally arrived on HBO Max, the new version did not disappoint.
While it’s long (very long), the Snyder cut delivered a complex and interesting villain in Steppenwolf, restored Ray Fisher’s Cyborg to the heart of the movie, and featured tons of slo-mo action. It might not be considered DCEU canon, and the "Restore the SnyderVerse" campaign might never secure those sequels, but the Snyder Cut still stands alone as an impressive team-up – and a fascinating slice of film history.
4. Man of Steel
Man of Steel marked Snyder’s second foray into the world of DC Comics adaptations, after his take on Watchmen. The director took a serious approach to Henry Cavill’s eponymous hero, giving us a Superman who’s struggling to find his place in the world – before going up against Michael Shannon’s General Zod in a hugely destructive final fight that practically wipes out Metropolis.
While the darker tone wasn’t for everyone, it did kickstart the now infamous SnyderVerse, and paved the way for the rest of the DCEU (which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view). While Cavill’s future as Superman is uncertain, if this is the only solo movie he’ll star in, it’s a more than worthy addition to the super-canon.
3. Dawn of the Dead
Zack Snyder had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of horror icon George A. Romero for his first directorial effort, Dawn of the Dead. Acting as a remake of the 1978 classic, Snyder adds a dash of his own kinetic, restless energy which is best characterized by the shamblers of the original being replaced by faster, more menacing zombies.
Bolstered by a script co-written by none other than a certain James Gunn, Dawn of the Dead may tread the same paths – a shopping mall, a small group of survivors, an all-out siege – but Snyder (as would become his outspoken trademark) beats to the sound of his own drum. Dawn of the Dead is a sinewy, snappy horror that, whisper it, might even be more watchable today than the original.
Snyder’s ultra-macho take on the Battle of Thermopylae sees most of its star-studded cast strutting around in little more than capes and helmets – and also features the emergence of his trademark hyper-stylized visuals. Snyder’s second movie, 300 followed his directorial debut Dawn of the Dead.
Focussing on the 300 Spartan soldiers as they attempt to stop Persia’s considerably larger army from invading. Slow-mo, intense color grading, blood, bravery, guts, and glory: 300 has it all. A bold, imaginative, and immersive take on the classic historical story, adapted from Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s comic book series of the same name, so it’s no surprise it’s landed so high on our list. It made enough of a mark that, chances are, even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen Gerard Butler roar ‘This. Is. SPARTA!’ before.
You’ve waited the entire list for a controversial statement, so let’s not disappoint: Watchmen is a masterpiece. Truth be told, much of that is down to the exceptionally strong source material, but Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel was long thought to be impossible to adapt. Somehow, Snyder made it work.
His opening sequence, scored to Bob Dylan’s "The Times They Are a-Changing", sets the scene for a confident, chaotic retelling of a story involving a world which has cynically turned its backs on superheroes.
It’s hard work to wrangle all the interweaving storylines of the Batman-esque Rorscharch hunting for clues, a murder conspiracy, and the origins and omniscience of Doctor Manhattan, but Snyder’s sculpted production crams it all in there. Crucially, he does so without making the adaptation feel incomplete or otherwise missing the heart and soul of what makes Watchmen still so timeless. Better yet, the tweaked ending feels like a slight improvement on what was the graphic novel’s silliest hour as the clock ticked closer to Doomsday and an artificial squid turned up in Manhattan. This is, simply put, Snyder at his bold, brilliant best.