Why Can't Zack Snyder Release His Director's Cuts Theatrically?

Last week I watched Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition. I'm sure you've read about this — it's Zack Snyder's three-hour director's cut of the film. The Ultimate Edition has had quite a few positive reviews as opposed to the half-hour shorter theatrical cut which was eviscerated by critics and moviegoers. The Ultimate Edition is a better film than the theatrical cut, I'm sure of that. So why did they release an inferior version of the movie in theaters? Why can't the Zack Snyder release his director's cuts theatrically?

Batman v superman ultimate edition

The Ultimate Edition Is a Better Film, But...

Before we get crazy, I should explain that while the Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition is better, it still has all of the problems I had with the theatrical cut. Jesse Eisenberg is still over the top and his character's motivations are non-existent, the film is still too concerned with addressing criticisms of Man of Steel, the Batman versus Superman fight is only a few minutes long and is still rather boring, the story still feels convoluted, characters still make laughable unmotivated mistakes that only seem to service the grand choreography, and the Justice League set-up still feels crammed in.

But Batman v Superman is a better film when viewed in the extended edition.

This is not the ranting of a DC fanboy who wants a longer movie, but the opinion of someone who has gotten thousands of hate messages over his rather fair 6 out of 10 review. The pace of the Ultimate Edition allows room to breathe, giving us a deeper look into Clark Kent's story, and Batman's motivations are much clearer. I can't point out any huge change that dramatically changes the film – it's a lot of little cuts here and there throughout the story. Plot points that didn't seem to make sense in the theatrical cut are better explained in this Ultimate Edition. Watching this version of the film, I don't understand why Warner Bros. released the theatrical cut over this version, other than they needed the running time to be 30 minutes shorter.

extended editions and unrated cuts

The History of Extended Editions

But this isn't something that is limited to Batman v Superman.

At the height at the DVD boom, almost every movie had its own extended edition. It still happens today. Recently Ridley Scott's The Martian was released with an extended cut, and Bryan Singer's X-Men Days of Future Past got a Rogue Cut. Extended cuts have tended to be a marketing gimmick used to sell a movie on home video, and sometimes a double-dip special edition later down the line. A lot of comedies have released unrated cuts that just throw in more raunch and jokes that were better left on the cutting room floor.

Some worthy extended editions have been released. Peter Jackson has famously released extended editions of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films that add a lot of extra moments rewarding fans of the franchise and the books, but that were probably rightfully left out of the theatrical release. And every once in a while, a filmmaker is able to release their original (sometimes more indulgent) vision like Cameron Crowe did with his Almost Famous Untitled cut (which I prefer on most days).

Zack Snyder directors cuts

Zack Snyder's Career Is Filled With Director's Cut Home Video Releases

Zack Snyder's career is filled with theatrical cuts that are much shorter and messier than his extended edition director's cuts.

I don't personally know one person who enjoys Watchmen over Watchmen: The Director's Cut. Running almost 25 minutes longer, the director's cut included the death of Nite Owl (a very notable sequence left out of the theatrical adaptation), alongside a handful of smaller additions that add perspective and clarification to plot and relationships.

The Sucker Punch Extended Cut added almost 18 minutes of additional footage, making the film much more dramatic and coherent. Notable additions include a subplot involving Jon Hamm's character The High Roller, who was originally out to take Baby Doll's virginity (a rating-related deleted ending that was to be intercut with her lobotomy) and five musical sequences. Like Batman v Superman, the film at the center of Sucker Punch Extended Cut is still messy, but it is a more understandable and enjoyable experience. While it may not hit its Pan's Labyrinth aspirations, the Sucker Punch Extended Cut is more meaningful than the violent, sexy and strange video game-like experience that was seen on the big screen.

Zack Snyder directing Sucker Punch

Why Are Zack Snyder's Films Neutered for Theatrical Release?

Who is responsible for Zack Snyder's theatrical cuts?

In the case of Sucker Punch, the studio's push for a PG-13 rating was led to many of the sequences getting deleted.

Years ago I heard that the reason Watchmen had to be cut down for theatrical release was due to the limits of IMAX 70mm film. I have never been able to confirm this with creatives, but I do know that using a 70.2" platter, the longest an IMAX film could run is 158 minutes in length. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had an incredible display of native IMAX footage, almost 30 minutes in total. Those IMAX sequences were so good that I made it a point to highlight them in my review. I really do value this IMAX film experience, and it was probably the best since the one in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. It should also be noted that releasing a film that has less than a two and a half hour running time allows multiplexes to fit one more screening in on weekend days.

Why the Ultimate Edition Wasn't the Theatrical Cut

As for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Ultimate Edition was originally planned to be the theatrical version but studio pressures resulted in a 30-minute-shorter cut. Before the theatrical release of the film, Snyder told Collider that the extra footage was in the movie "until very recently." He explained:

It was really just a function of time, to be honest. Because the movie's long now, long-ish—I don't think it's long, but when you get over two and a half hours the studio starts getting nervous. I'm not James Cameron who's like 'No it's three hours, suck it!', which is cool by the way. I just wanted to try and get it to a length that is work-able.

It's not like the studio took the film away from Snyder and kicked him out of the editing room. It seems like the filmmaker was amenable to their concerns and delivered the shorter theatrical cut in response. When you're hired to work on a film that has budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, there is a responsibility to the studio that is funding the endeavor.

I know you're probably sitting there thinking: "Why can't Zack Snyder just make a two-hour movie so that there wouldn't have to be extensive cuts?" It's a good question. But the studio is responsible for greenlighting these scripts before production begins, and many times they know what they are getting themselves into.

It's interesting that Snyder's Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen have extended editions labeled as "director's cuts" while the Sucker Punch release is called an "extended cut" and Batman v Superman's is deemed the "Ultimate Edition." Its unclear who made the decisions with the previous releases, but whoever is making the decisions on the theatrical cuts of these movies are doing the films and stories a disservice.

Why can't the Zack Snyder directors cut be the theatrical cut? I'm willing to sit in a movie theater an extra 20 or 30 minutes if it means the films and stories will be better. I think general audiences would as well.