When it was announced that Warner Bros. was sitting out Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, the news was followed by a reassurance that WB and DC would still have a big presence at the show with a combined booth, but once SDCC rolled around and WB’s films had no virtually no presence, Zack Snyder and the Snyder Cut of Justice League dominated the DC movie conversation instead.
Just a few short years ago, the DCEU had a full slate of upcoming movies centered around Zack Snyder’s Justice League vision, but now, while there’s still a few DC movies releasing each year, the connectivity between films is tenuous at best and instead of simply playing catch-up to Marvel Studios (as many claimed of the old slate), they aren’t even playing at all.
Despite DC taking its proverbial ball and going home, fans of Zack Snyder’s original vision for the universe are still actively campaigning for the version of Justice League he shot and edited (along with a significant amount of other post-production work), and their passionate showing at Comic-Con easily trumped a mostly silent Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. pulling out of Hall H wasn’t initially a big shock or major cause of concern. Big events like that are becoming less and less common for big studios, as a similar trend with E3 has shown. When the internet allows trailers and other announcements to be made en masse directly to a given fanbase without all the same expense, and events like Hall H ultimately don’t have much of an impact on a studio’s bottom line, they aren’t as necessary as they used to be.
It was expected that Warner Bros. and DC would simply release a few trailers and posters directly to the internet over the course of SDCC, or even take a victory lap on Aquaman’s $1 billion box office performance, or market Shazam’s home media release, but instead, they did virtually nothing on the film side. Even the WB/DC both avoided current films entirely, focusing on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy instead of anything with Snyder’s DCEU influence or future DC films.
The only real presence from DC came from the TV side, where Watchmen and some DC Universe shows were a focus. This lack of effort made it even easier for the Snyder Cut campaign to take the spotlight. With multiple upcoming and highly anticipated projects like Joker, Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros. could have very easily diminished the attention of the Snyder Cut at SDCC. Simply releasing a poster or a short teaser for any of those films (all of which have wrapped principal photography and are deep into post-production) would have been more than enough to generate the necessary buzz and headlines for the movies. Instead, WB sat on any potential marketing material and made no effort to control their own narrative.
Meanwhile, the Snyder Cut’s Project Comic-Con campaign generated consistent attention at the convention, on social media, and in headlines. The campaign started with a billboard popping up on a busy highway near San Diego, followed by a full bus stop wraparound ad at a location many attendees passed on their way to the Con, and then even more attention was generated by an airplane that flew over the convention center for two hours towing a banner that said “WB #ReleasetheSnyderCut of Justice League.”
On the ground, fans hosted a scavenger hunt and prize giveaway as others carried around signs a la Watchmen’s Rorshach that read some variation of the “Release the Snyder Cut” mantra, posting dozens of photos of other Con attendees holding the sign.
The reaction to these efforts was ultimately a mixed bag. While a significant number of headlines and social media reactions praised the campaign, especially the decision to donate 50% of all funds to the Association for Suicide Prevention, other reactions were more snarky if not outright negative as the effort to get the Synder Cut released, like Snyder’s films, is a divisive initiative. Regardless, good coverage or bad, every bit of attention given to the Snyder Cut and its campaign was attention not given to Warner Bros. in its SDCC silence.
Pouring gasoline on the fire, Zack Snyder also released more images from his original cut of Justice League, revealing that the plan was for Wonder Woman to decapitate Steppenwolf before he flew through a Boom Tube to land at Darkseid’s feet, teasing the next major conflict to come in Justice League 2. As usual, this generated even more headlines and social media chatter on top of the existing Comic-Con campaign.
Warner Bros. has stated it has no plans to release the Snyder Cut, but it’s clear, especially after Comic-Con, the Snyder Cut will be the monkey on the back of DC Films until it is eventually released. Especially when Warner Bros. isn’t generating buzz with fans for future projects.
While Warner Bros. didn’t do anything to hype up their own films, Zack Snyder posted an image of his Army of the Dead cast to close out the first week of shooting his new Zombie movie in New Mexico. While Snyder has moved on from Warner Bros. after his treatment during his DCEU tenure, Army of the Dead, billed as a sort of “Zack Snyder unleashed” film, is likely to be seen as a clarifying moment for Warner Bros. decision to stifle his vision. Good or bad, it’s going to be seen as a statement on whether WB was wise to move on without him instead of just letting him do his own thing unhindered.
Like the Snyder Cut buzz, the Army of the Dead image also generated excitement for his next project, showing Snyder’s legacy isn’t simply a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” as the director/producer as the DCEU’s original architect, but also as a filmmaker with an exciting future – a complete flip from WB, whose biggest film discussed was one they’re too scared to release and no talk or buzz for their future slate.
The weird thing about the whole situation is that Warner Bros. knew the Snyder Cut campaign would have a presence at Comic-Con. The campaign was very publicly organized in the months leading up to the Con, starting a GoFundMe long before Warners pulled out of Hall H. They should have known that simply not showing anything would surrender the narrative to the Snyder Cut, and yet they seemingly took no effort to avert that situation.
It’s possible Warners thought the Snyder Cut campaign was too small to be concerned about, but when there’s a billboard, bus stop ad, airplane flyover and more generating headlines, the true size of the base of Snyder Cut supporters doesn’t really matter. The absence of effort from WB to establish a counter-narrative that the next big thing for DC Films is in the franchise’s future allowed everyone to spend the year’s biggest week in pop culture talking about the studio’s biggest mistake instead of its next great offering.
Stephen M. Colbert