Snyder Cut aspect ratio explained — why is this movie not in widescreen?

Snyder Cut aspect ratio
(Image credit: HBO Max)

The Snyder Cut aspect ratio is a confusing visual for a high-budget 4-hour long superhero epic.  As seen above, the film will be presented with big black bars on the left and right sides of the screen. Yes, this film isn't being presented in 16:9 (or wider) widescreen. Instead it looks boxy, as it's been trimmed to a 4:3 aspect ratio.

And there's a surprisingly good reason behind this change. Unfortunately, it's also the kind of reason that has little benefit considering it's exclusively being released on a streaming platform. That being said, I can confirm that this isn't a huge problem. Having watched The Snyder Cut (check out our Snyder Cut review) I feel comfortable saying the film has bigger problems than its seemingly old-school format.

In July 2020, two months after the May 2020 reveal that The Snyder Cut was coming, the director explained his intent at a panel at the Justice Con online stream. It turns out that he became enamored with this format — in his words, "obsessed with the big square" — when editing the IMAX scenes for Batman v Superman. 

And so, when he began filming on Justice League, he was shooting with that aspect ratio in mind. Of course, Snyder himself didn't have the final say in the theatrical release, so we had to wait for the Snyder Cut to see the film in the director's intended framing. That said, I don't know anyone who will be streaming the Snyder Cut at an IMAX theater this weekend — it's an HBO Max exclusive.

This unaltered press image of Steppenwolf, the shiny and chrome villain of Justice League, just looks wrong. It's as if something's been done to break the original image. 

Snyder Cut aspect ratio 4:3

(Image credit: HBO Max)

While this took a moment to get used to, I eventually stopped thinking, "wow this is weird." Maybe this wasn't a big distraction, as I sit not too far away from the screen. The film's 4-hour length, though, is a much larger hurdle to get over.  

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.