Zack Snyder is directing Army of the Dead for Netflix, but it took nearly eleven years to get his zombie action movie off the ground and running. Interestingly enough, the polarizing filmmaker actually made his feature directorial debut on another zombie film - the Dawn of the Dead remake - back in 2004. The movie was a success at the global box office (where it grossed $102 million on a $26 million budget) and paved the way for Snyder's hit adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book, 300. Since then, the director has become all but synonymous with geek-friendly projects of both the comic book and/or fantasy variety.
In the wake of Snyder's departure from Justice League ahead of Joss Whedon's reshoots (and following a personal tragedy), it wasn't clear what the filmmaker planned to work on next. Snyder released a short film titled Snow Steam Iron and confirmed his desire to adapt Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead novel last year, but the latter has yet to find a studio backer. In the meantime, Snyder will move forward with Army of the Dead: an action-horror project that follows a group of mercenaries as they attempt to carry out a heist amidst a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas.
Snyder and Netflix confirmed their plans to make Army of the Dead together this week. The film is budgeted at $90 million and will begin shooting this summer, with a potential 2020 premiere date target in mind. As it turns out, however, Snyder's been trying to make the movie happen for more than a decade already. That said: it has since come to light that the current script draft by Joby Harold (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) is a brand-new take and completely different from the controversial Army of the Dead screenplay written back in the 2000s.
Why Army Of The Dead Never Happened
Back in 2007 (when Snyder was working on his Watchmen movie), the plan was for commercials director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. to call the shots on Army of the Dead in his feature debut, with Snyder serving as a co-producer. However, the film never came together and Heijningen ended up making his debut on 2011's The Thing prequel instead. In an interview with CS around the time of The Thing's release, the filmmaker revealed that pre-production for Army of the Dead had gotten well underway by Fall 2008, before Warner Bros. put the project on hold in 2009. The decision was motivated by a handful of factors, ranging from Warner Bros.' concerns over the growing budget to the studio's wariness of making such a costly film in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis (with no real guarantee it would be a success).
It stands to reason that Watchmen's under-performance at the box office and mixed (initial) critical reception may've also contributed to WB's caginess about giving the green-light to another expensive R-rated Snyder venture. As such, Army of the Dead found itself on the back-burner while its director moved on to different projects, starting with The Thing. Shortly after, Snyder set to work on his animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole adaptation and genre-blending action film Sucker Punch. He thereafter turned his attention to getting WB's shared DC universe up and running (starting with Man of Steel) and only had time to turn his attention back to Army of the Dead this past year.
Netflix Acquiring Army Of The Dead Makes Sense
All things considered, it makes sense that Army of the Dead ultimately landed at Netflix. WB's relationship with Snyder is strained right now, in the wake of the Justice League snafu and the filmmaker's departure from the larger DCEU. It isn't even the first time a WB project has migrated over to Netflix either; the streaming service only just acquired WB's Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle last year. The situation is a little different this time, seeing as Army of the Dead hasn't been filmed yet (as opposed to Mowgli, which was already completed). Nevertheless, it's been reported that Netflix is focusing on developing more original big-budget movies to go with its lower-budgeted offerings (specifically, romantic comedies and YA films), and a Zack Snyder-directed zombie action movie definitely sounds like something the company would be interested in.
Snyder has already expressed his excitement about the creative freedom that comes with having Army of the Dead set up at Netflix, saying in a statement "No one’s ever let me completely loose [like this]". The company is generally known for placing fewer restrictions on their creatives since, at the moment, their main objective is to produce more original content. This is also why either long-gestating projects like Army of the Dead or those that aren't necessarily an easy sell for a mainstream studio (see this Friday's contemporary art world horror-satire Velvet Buzzsaw, for example) have begun to pitch their tents at Netflix in increasing numbers of late. For Snyder personally, of course, it's the chance to make a movie that he's had in the back of his mind for quite some time.