Although the DC Extended Universe has always been on rocky ground in one form or another since its debut movie, Man of Steel, was met with polarizing reception, late 2017 was a particularly rough period for the franchise. That was when the theatrical version of Justice League was released, with nearly all of that movie’s footage coming from the reshoots helmed by Joss Whedon following Zack Snyder’s departure. More than half a decade after this Justice League’s run on the big screen, former DC president Diane Nelson has admitted Whedon’s cut of the movie was “terrible,” although she didn’t go so far as to totally back Snyder.
Nelson was among the guests interviewed as part of The Wall Street Journal’s podcast series With Great Power: The Rise of Superhero Cinema, where she discussed her time being involved with the making of Justice League. As those who followed the movie’s development closely know, Snyder exited during the postproduction process, and Whedon, who’d already been tapped for rewrites, was selected to take over directorial duties in his place. Here’s what Nelson, who ran DC Entertainment from 2009 to 2018, said about the product the director behind the first two Avengers movies put together (via Bleeding Cool):
My characterization is Joss was a bit of a shiny penny during a time when they were looking for something shiny to grab onto… Yeah, I mean, I thought the final film was terrible. Yeah, I mean, I would have much preferred a darker-than-I-wanted or longer-than-I'd hoped-for Zack Snyder cut than the Frankenstein cut we got in theaters. The Trinity characters of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman should have, by any measure, blown any other superhero movie away, and they didn't.
Diane Nelson certainly isn’t the only one who feels Justice League was a letdown. The movie ranks at 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its reputation has only diminished following the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, with that four-hour cut ranking at 72%. Furthermore, while Justice League did make close to $658 million worldwide, the production budget fell at about $300 million, so it certainly can’t be classified as a financial success for Warner Bros. Pictures. Like Nelson said, a superhero team-up on this scale should have made a huge splash at the box office, at the very least surpassing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s $873.6 million, if not easily clearing $1 billion.
However, just because Diane Nelson would have preferred seeing Zack Snyder’s fully realized Justice League vision on the big screen rather than Joss Whedon’s doesn’t mean she was all in on the 300 and Watchmen filmmaker. The executive said the following about how it wasn’t accurate to classify Snyder as DC’s version of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige at this point in the DCEU’s lifespan, nor would she have wanted him to be:
Unless there were meetings that happened that no one told me about, which is possible, I don't know that there was ever any conversation where it was decided that Zack would be leading the DC slate for any particular period of time. So even if it wasn't a conscious decision that Zack Snyder was our Kevin Feige, from a consumer standpoint, that's kind of what happened for a while there. There's a place for Zack's movies, and I would've always wanted Zack to be a part of the DC filmmaker lineup. But should he have been the one defining that universe? Maybe not, in hindsight. Hard questions.
While both Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s versions of Justice League laid groundwork for sequels, ultimately those never materialized, with the DCEU instead prioritizing standalone stories. The Flash is the closes audiences came to a Justice League reunion, with Ezra Miller’s title Scarlet Speedster reuniting with Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The DCEU era is set to wrap up with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and after that, the new DC Universe will unfold, with Creature Commandos and Superman: Legacy being the first projects on the Chapter One slate, a.k.a. Gods and Monsters.
You can check out both versions of Justice League while going through the DC movies in order with your Max subscription. If you’re a Netflix subscriber interested in Zack Snyder’s work, his next movie for the streamer, Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire, comes out on December 22, with Part Two: The Scargiver following on April 19, 2024.