Snyder's Justice League Plans Were Derailed By The Avengers' Success

The future of the Justice League on the big screen is unknown after the departure of Zack Snyder and subsequent failure of his (significantly and fundamentally altered) Justice League movie, and the whole situation can trace its roots back to the success of The Avengers. The DCEU is known for its struggles the past few years, and while the blame for that failure has been attributed to a number of different causes of individuals the changing landscape of the superhero and blockbuster movie market hasn't gotten as much attention.

What Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder set out to accomplish with their Superman reboot in 2010 was fundamentally different from what Marvel Studios was doing with their own properties, and the environment Man of Steel and subsequent DCEU films were released in was a completely different paradigm than the one in which they went into production.

Related: Justice League: Every Confirmed Change to Zack Snyder's Version

At the turn of the century, Hollywood was beginning to crank out comic book movies covering myriad tones. There were the more relatively serious X-Men Moviesthe quirky but dramatic Raimi Spider-Man movies, corny Fantastic Four, fantastical Hellboy from Guillermo del Toro, the more mature V For Vendetta from The Wachowskis and Watchmen from Zack Snyder, the hyper-violent and adult Sin City from Robert Rodriguez, and the grounded and cinematic Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan. But when Marvel arrived and proved these movies could exist in a larger interconnected universe that appealed to all ages and set box office records, much of the oxygen got sucked out of the room, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the franchise to emulate, ultimately signing the death warrant for Zack Snyder's DCEU.

How The Dark Knight Trilogy Inspired The DCEU

Batman standing in the wreckage in The Dark Knight

The plans for a Superman series were spearheaded by Christopher Nolan during the production of The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight trilogy had been such a huge success, revolutionizing the comic book movie genre, so Nolan and David Goyer set out to explore the character of Superman in a similar manner to what they had done with Batman. The difference was the same grounded approach wouldn't work since Superman's powers make him a more fantastical character. In order to translate this into live-action, they brought aboard Zack Snyder.

During this time, Zack Snyder developed a plan for what we now know would have been a 5-part Superman story. Snyder has never explicitly spoken about the details this plan on the record - other than confirming that it was supposed to be a self-contained story like The Dark Knight - but he did explain his approach to developing a fully realized DC universe and how Superman needs to be at the center of that story.

Related: What Was Zack Snyder's Original 5 Movie DCEU Plan?

At this time, The Avengers had not yet become the benchmark for cinematic universes. Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was still seen as the gold standard, so the idea of individually establishing multiple disparate sub-franchises and eventually bringing them together in a team-up wasn't an expectation of fans or critics. In fact, the standard for ensemble movies was to introduce all the characters in a single story, and there was no reason to argue any other way was superior. The Lord of the Rings trilogy told a sprawling, massive, epic story featuring a team of heroes much bigger than the Avengers, and nobody ever questioned if stand-alone movies for Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gilmi, Boromir, or the Hobbits were even necessary.

Batman The Dark Knight Rises poster

In an interview leading up to Man of Steel, Snyder explicitly addressed this question when asked about plans for a potential Justice League movie.

"I've said that Justice League is a top-down affair in my opinion. There's two things you've got to do. One, you have to get Superman's house in order. And two, you have to look at the rest of the DC universe. What I try to do with this movie is imply that there are other DC characters in this world. We don't see them, but there's evidence that they're out there. So, just like you top-down Superman, you have to sort of top-down the rest of the DC characters. Not to say that they need their own movies or anything, perse, like, say the Marvel model, but - by the way I'm also not ruling that out - but I do think there's an opportunity to think about how you might introduce other DC characters and whether that's a Justice League movie, or whether that's just a way of expanding Superman's universe, those are things that I think - that's the next conversation I think, for me."

Over the years, a narrative would form that DC was rushing into a Justice League movie without establishing all the members through solo movies, but it sounds like Snyder always intended to either bring them in through Superman's story, like he ultimately did with Batman and Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or introduce them in a Justice League movie, like he did with Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg (although all 3 also got brief cameos in Batman v Superman).

Related: The DCEU Ruined Batman And Superman (But It's Not Zack Snyder's Fault)

While the more serious and introspective approach that led to the success of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy originally inspired the approach to Man of Steel and the 5-part plan Zack Snyder would spin out of it, things started to shift after the arrival of The Avengers. For years, the buzzword for directors describing their next movie was to compare it to The Dark Knight, but now the objective had shifted and everyone wanted to build universes like The Avengers. With a massive box office take, high critical praise, and nearly endless sequel opportunity (unlike The Dark Knight trilogy, which was already wrapped up conclusively), Hollywood had a new goalpost, and fans wanted all their favorite properties to get the MCU treatment.

Page 2: Marvel's True Impact on the DCEU

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Key Release Dates
  • Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
  • Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
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