Justice League Snyder Cut length is nuts — but not for HBO Max

justice league snyder cut length
(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Shocked by the news of the Snyder Cut length? The more we thought about it, the more its HBO Max release makes sense.

Yes, sometimes movie directors can go a bit too far with their work, no matter what studio executives or producers do to try and intervene (or interfere in some cases). That’s especially true of Zack Snyder, director of ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ which is debuting on HBO Max next week.

The theatrical version of Justice League was 2 hours long. It’s far from the shortest film, but it’s also not particularly long either. The ‘Snyder Cut’, as it’s known, is double the size, clocking in at a couple minutes over 4 hours. That makes it one of the longest Hollywood movies ever made, beating the likes of Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ben Hur (1959). Those are all considered “epics” these days, at over 3 and a half hours.

Thankfully the movie is not coming to theaters, it’s coming to an on-demand streaming platform. Frankly, when it comes to directors like Snyder, streaming is the best place for these movies to be. So while you might like watching movies in actual theaters, this would not have been a great fit.

The Snyder Cut length is peak Snyder

Zack Snyder is not exactly known for making short films. He even has  a tradition of extending the runtimes of his movies when they eventually make it to home release. 

The ‘Ultimate Edition’ of Batman v Superman added an additional 31 minutes of footage, bringing with it some extra context and adding new subplots to the movie. Likewise Watchmen’s ‘Director’s Cut’ added an additional 24 minutes of footage onto the 162 minutes theatrical runtime, and an ‘Ultimate Cut’ that pushed the total up by an extra 53 minutes. 

Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Sucker Punch have extended cuts as well, though in those cases the changes were less about length and more about MPAA ratings.

In the case of both Watchmen and Batman v Superman the extended editions of the film were met with more favorable reviews. Collider noted the Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition solved a lot of the film’s smaller problems, but didn’t fix them all — concluding that “it’s a lot easier to forgive a few things than a dozen”. Meanwhile Den of Geek called Watchmen’s Ultimate Cut “an enormous, ambitious film that is, by any standard, a classic”.

In other words the cuts, while making the runtime more tolerable for audiences in theaters, resulted in a movie that just wasn’t as good.

Who has four hours for the Snyder Cut?

When on-demand streaming is involved, a 3-to-4-hour movie isn’t quite such a feat of endurance.

Four hours may not seem like a lot, but it is a big chunk of your day. If you have kids or a job (perhaps even jobs plural), you might not have 4 hours to spend marathoning your way through a single movie. Think about back when we went to theaters. The four-hour Snyder Cut would actually take an even bigger bite out of your day, since it would likely get peppered with ads and trailers before the movie begins.

It would also be a lot to ask of your bladder. Those theater drinks are large, and they’re often caffeinated. Both of those things are the perfect mix for needing the bathroom halfway through a regular 90 minute movie, let alone a four hour epic. Even if you skip the overpriced beverages and avoid drinking for an hour or two before the movie starts, there’s still a good chance you may need to take a quick trip to relieve yourself partway through the flick.

Not to mention the fact that theater and box office takings are reliant on getting as many people in seats as they can. A single movie that’s the length of two ordinary movies is going to eat into the profit margins. 

Streaming comes to save the day

None of that is an issue with streaming, because of the big ol’ pause button.

Only have an hour to spend? Watch an hour now, and pick up the rest at another time. Need a quick trip to the bathroom? No problem. If your kids suddenly decide to flood the kitchen, or something else happens that needs your immediate attention, you have the ability to stop what you’re doing without losing your progress.

While theater takings rely on maximizing the number of screenings each day, streaming services don’t have that problem. For starters there’s no physical limit on how many people can watch a movie at any given time. Plus streaming income comes from subscriptions, rather than individual sales. The fact watching a four hour movie may eat into time they could spend watching something else is irrelevant.

And for filmmakers like Snyder, who seem to love their extra-long movies, all of that is a blessing. Snyder for one has been very critical about the way Warner Bros executives interfered in the production of Justice League. One of the studio’s demands was that the film had to be under 2 hours, with Snyder recently revealing that he initially thought it was a joke.

It’s not entirely clear what the studio’s reasoning was, but it has been speculated that it was a response to criticism of Batman v Superman’s initial two and a half hour runtime.

The fact that you’re streaming a long movie, rather than seeing it in theaters, isn’t going to stop complaining that it’s too long. The final 20 minutes of Avengers: Endgame is a slog, even on Disney+. It also doesn’t forgive the fact that Batman and Superman stop fighting 45 minutes before the end of the movie.

But at least with streaming, the obvious issues related to making a very long movie are less important. For that reason you’re less likely to have directors in the same situation as Snyder, with directors hassling them about run time. Because run time is pretty meaningless.

How will this affect a new generation of movies?

Sure, some movies are unnecessarily long, and suffer as a result. But not all of them are. Lawrence of Arabia is 3 hours and 48 minutes long, while the Godfather Part 2 is three hours and 20 minutes long. Few people have anything bad to say about the contents of those films, and these days the prevalence of home media means length is far less of a concern.

More recently we also had Quentin Tarantino, who rarely makes a movie under 2 and a half hours. You could make an argument that had Kill Bill been made in 2021, and debuted on streaming, it would have been available as one continuous 4- hour film — as the director originally intended. Not that Tarantino, who has spoken about his dislike for streaming, could ever be convinced to release a movie that way.

As streaming services continue to ramp up production of their feature-length content, there’s more room for directors who create movies that don’t have to be made with theaters in mind. No worrying about maximizing box office takings, or patrons heading to the bathroom in the final act. Provided they have the right budget and script, there’s no reason why there have to be limits on how long those movies can be.

Even Zack Snyder is getting in on this, with Army of the Dead coming to Netflix on May 21 this year. The movie is 2 hours and 29 minutes long, making it one of his shorter films, but it still isn’t “short” by any means. But it’s on streaming, so it doesn’t actually matter. Just as long as the movie is good.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.