Snyder Cut: What is Zack Snyder's Justice League and how is it different from 2017's Justice League?

Zack Snyder's Justice League
(Image credit: HBO Max)

The Snyder Cut – once a dream, now a reality. The director's cut of the superhero team-up, now titled Zack Snyder's Justice League, arrives on HBO Max, and there's a lot to untangle if you're not already submerged in the Snyder Cut movement. 

Zack Snyder's Justice League is a reinvention of the Justice League movie that reached cinemas in 2017, the latest version featuring some scenes specially shot for the new release, and adding more than a few subplots. In fact, the Snyder Cut lasts over four hours and has been split into six chapters and an epilogue – the original version was two hours exactly.

Below, we look at the fan movement that led to Zack Snyder's Justice League, plus a brief explanation of the key differences between the Snyder Cut and the 2017 theatrical release. Settle in, this is going to be one bumpy ride.

What is the Snyder Cut? A brief timeline

Justice League Snyder Cut

(Image credit: DC/Warner Bros.)

Unless you've been following the fan petitions, the flyovers, and the many, many hashtags, you might not have a firm grasp on what exactly the Snyder Cut is and why people care so much. 

First up, let's talk Snyder and the DC universe. The director kickstarted the DC Extended Universe back in 2013 with Man of Steel, which introduced the world to Henry Cavill's Superman. From there, Snyder decided against a Batman origins movie and went straight into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which debuted Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. 

That movie set up Justice League, which Snyder intended to be the first part in a series. A sequel was initially announced for June 2019, but the release date was later delayed to accommodate a solo Batman movie starring Affleck's hero.

Those plans never came to fruition. Following the middling reception to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. began tempering expectations for more Justice League movies. The studio also became more heavily involved with the filming of Justice League, urging Snyder to add more humor and levity to the movie.  

Then, during production on Justice League, Snyder left the project following a personal tragedy. Warner Bros. moved ahead with the movie, bringing in Avengers director Joss Whedon to oversee a reshoot. Whedon ended up drastically changing the movie, reducing its runtime down to just two hours and adding some quips for good measure. The result was a slapped-together version of Zack Snyder's work that was lambasted by fans and critics alike – and even led to Affleck (temporarily) quitting the Batman role.

Word soon started to spread that a mythical "Snyder Cut" – Snyder's original vision for Justice League – existed somewhere behind closed doors, left on the cutting room floor by Warner Bros.' executives. That belief led to the Snyder Cut movement, with fans calling on the studio to release the fabled cut. There was, at this stage, no confirmation that the Snyder Cut was actually a realistic possibility, though that did not stop a petition gaining 180,000 signatures. From there, those clamoring for the Snyder Cut grew in number, organizing a flypast at SDCC 2019 and getting #ReleaseTheSnyderCut to trend on Twitter worldwide on several occasions.

Speculation ramped up as the movie's stars, led by Cyborg's Ray Fisher and Aquaman's Jason Momoa, started talking about the Snyder Cut, with Momoa even saying he had seen the filmmaker's version of Justice League. The biggest turning point came when Snyder posted a none-too-cryptic image on social media site Vero (via EW), not only seemingly showing a physical film canister containing the cut, but also a 214-minute runtime.

The climax came on May 20, 2020. During a Man of Steel watch party, Snyder revealed that – after literal years of speculation, whispers, and rumors – the Snyder Cut was real and would be coming to HBO Max at some point in 2021. 

We then got official confirmation from Warner Bros. and reports that the new movie had been given an additional $35 million funding – the original version cost $300 million. The budget for the Snyder Cut was to be spent on additional VFX, and the cost soon bloated to $70 million as Jared Leto was brought back to film an additional scene as the Joker, who was not in the original version of the movie. There were also reports the Snyder Cut would be split into a four-part series on HBO Max, but due to actors' contracts, this never happened, and we ended up with a four-hour movie that's split into six chapters and an epilogue. 

How different can the two version of Justice League be?

Zack Snyder's Justice League

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Over the years, speculators wondered how the Snyder Cut would be different from the version seen in cinemas. Snyder went some way to reveal a few things himself, confirming that not a single frame shot by Whedon is in the new movie.

The main difference between the two versions is the runtime. Now over four hours long, the Snyder Cut expands and adds many scenes to Justice League, giving a lot more context to each character, changing some motivations, and losing some of the Whedon-esque humor (though some surprisingly funny lines belong to Snyder's version). The biggest benefactor from these changes is Fisher's Cyborg, with his storyline expanded the most.

There are also multiple different story beats and cameos from certain characters. Notably, Superman wears a black suit and has a scene with Jeremy Irons' Alfred. Jared Leto's Joker will also appear in the movie, having been part of the reshoots that took place in 2020. 

To go into too many more specifics would be a spoiler, but rest assured it's a big departure from Joss Whedon's version, even gaining an R rating for violence and profanity. Yes, Batman throws down an f-bomb at one point.

Snyder Cut cast

Zack Snyder's Justice League

(Image credit: HBO Max)

We've touched on a lot of what's different about the Snyder Cut already, but perhaps nowhere are the differences more apparent than in the cast. 

Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Martha Kent),  J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Robin Wright (Antiope), and Amber Heard (Mera) are just some of the returning names. Ciaran Hinds plays the villainous Steppenwolf, though the character has a new look. Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke is likewise set to return, but with a new hairdo.

Ray Porter is set to appear as Darkseid, the master of Steppenwolf. Darkseid was cut from Justice League the first time around, despite being a major character in the new version. His right-hand man, DeSaad, has also been added in the Snyder Cut. Kiersey Clemons' role as Iris West has likewise been reinstated, as has Willem Dafoe's appearance as the Atlantian Nuidis Vulko, who went on to appear in Aquaman.

The biggest difference is the inclusion of Jared Leto as Joker, who was not originally part of Justice League at all. However, Snyder has revealed he couldn't bear the thought of Affleck's Batman and Leto's Joker never having a confrontation on screen, and therefore brought Joker on board during the reshoots.

Somehow, there are even more cameos in the Snyder Cut – but saying anything more would, again, be a spoiler.

Snyder Cut release date and what's next

Zack Snyder's Justice League reaches HBO Max in the US and Sky Cinema in the UK this Thursday, March 18, 2021 (if you don't have HBO Max and want to watch Snyder Cut, check out the best HBO Max prices).

Already, fans have begun petitioning Warner Bros. to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse, hoping the studio will bring back the filmmaker to oversee future Justice League movies – Snyder has revealed that he had plans for three Justice League movies in total. Whether that will come true remains to be seen, and the reaction to the Snyder Cut will no doubt play a major factor. The reviews have been middling-to-positive from critics, which is certainly better than the original theatrical cut. 

Whether or not the Snyder-verse continues, the Snyder Cut movement has been an unprecedented victory for fans, and there will no doubt be huge relief that Zack Snyder's Justice League is not only a reality – but an actual release.

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.