Why Zach Snyder’s Justice League Never Had to be Good
A look at why the movie never had to be better than its predecessor. The real winner here is AT&T and HBO Max.
I’m writing to you in a sleep-deprived state. My son woke me up in the middle of night after having a nightmare, which led me to being wide awake to watch Zach Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max at 3am. It was serendipitous to see Bruce Wayne’s nightmares really come into the fold, for someone who was also kept up all night.
No spoilers ahead. This isn’t so much a review of the film as it is a look at the grand marketing strategy behind its release, and why no matter how well or harsh the film is criticized, it doesn’t matter. The entire internet has been talking about this same movie for FIVE YEARS. That’s a lot of free marketing HBO Max has been capitalizing on.
A Brief Justice League Movie History
Justice League (2017) was slated to be the third installment in Zach Snyder‘s Superman and Batman films. Snyder would eventually depart the film, leaving Avengers director Joss Whedon in charge of what would become a pretty subpar film. A film so bad that producers Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder made a pact to make sure Zach Snyder never watched Whedon’s final film.
For years after its release, hardcore Snyder fans demanded that Warner Bros. release the original edit of the film without any of Whedon’s influence. Dubbed the “#snydercut” on social media, Warner Bros. was constantly mentioned in posts asking for the film to be released.
In 2018, AT&T purchased Time Warner for $84 billion, which included the Warner Bros. studio and catalogue. It also gave AT&T control of WarnerMedia, the parent of HBO. Thus setting up an opportunity to cash in on fan demands, while also remaking content they own for an upcoming streaming service they would also control.
The new cut gave Snyder complete control, which he earned by giving up his own salary to make the film, and earned him a new budget to complete VFX sequences and shoot missing footage. The film is certainly one of the most unique releases ever, blending the “Directors Cut” and “Remake” into a bizarre retelling of a story that was never told.
AT&T launched HBO Max in May of 2020, but its biggest title, and most anticipated release, would be Zach Snyder’s Justice League (2021), which finally launched today.
All About Those $ubscribers
The distribution game is all online. After the rapid adoption of new streaming services made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, every studio and media conglomerate is fighting for a piece of the revenue. Where Netflix reigned supreme for years, multiple platforms have popped up, creating a new Wild West of content platforms.
While Netflix is still the runaway leader worldwide—with over 200 million subscribers across the globe, 73 million being in the U.S. as of 2020—new platforms are gaining ground quickly. Amazon Prime has been their only serious competitor for the past few years, with 150 million subscribers, but it’s not quite the same. Prime members mainly sign up for free shipping and other benefits, one being the video streaming platform with select exclusives and originals.
The big winner of 2020 was Disney, which amassed their Disney+ three-year target goal of 100 million subscribers in only about 16 months. Disney also controls Hulu (39M subscribers currently), ESPN+ (12M), and Hotstar (19M). Depending on the type of accounts people have, that’s roughly 170 million subscribers worldwide, making Disney a bigger streamer than Amazon Prime.
Other big players include YouTube Premium (which includes music) and several video platforms abroad, like Tencent and iQIYI in China. All the other U.S. studios are on a constant merger and rebrand in an attempt to stay relevant. Perhaps the most talked about recently is HBO Max, which is a rebrand and restructure of traditional cable subscribers, HBO GO and HBO Now subscribers, and even those from other AT&T services.
While other platforms rebrand—most recently CBS All Access becoming Paramount+, which merged multiple Viacom brands with roughly 18 million subscribers—HBO Max seems to be the one that’s talked about in league with Netflix and Disney+.
There are multiple reasons behind this. Specifically, the HBO Max subscriber count in convoluted. It’s hard to say how many subscriptions are solely for the HBO Max platform itself vs. how many users have access through existing cable packages, or AT&T bundles and offers.
The other big reason are the MAX originals. HBO Max today is much more of an AT&T company, as many old HBO executives and employees have since left. Having the HBO brand name associated with high-quality is a big benefit for AT&T. HBO was home to legendary series like The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers, and many more. AT&T leveraged that brand to build the future of their streaming services and, right now, they’re spending a lot of money for people to know all about it.
Bring out Another Couple Million and Make More
To make a big splash, HBO Max invested an initial $30 million into Zach Snyder’s Justice League. The budget apparently ballooned to $70 million, but still the move is absolutely genius. If we look at Wonder Woman 1984, Warner Bros. spend $200 million to produce the film for theaters and it wound up premiering on HBO Max anyway. WW84‘s release caused HBO Max subscription numbers to double for its premiere.
With the Snyder Cut, they get an even larger spectacle film (the original Justice League cost $300 million), which was considered a flop in theaters. Pump another $70 million into the film and get a boatload of press for the past year, and HBO Max got A-list actor power for a bargain.
So, What’s Next?
This is just the beginning. With the entire Warner Bros. lineup premiering on HBO Max, they have set themselves up for massive subscription gains based on the large variety of content. Family films like Tom & Jerry and Space Jam: A New Legacy, the Oscar-nominated Judas and the Black Messiah, and action blockbusters like Mortal Kombat, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Suicide Squad, and The Matrix 4 are all slated for release this year.
As for their subscriber count? I’m sure we’ll see a spike in monthly users, and I’m anticipating the next quarterly reports to see if HBO Max can maintain growth with the original films slated for this year.
For the movie industry itself, it’s bad news for theaters, yet there’s still work for production crews and staff. It’s still too early to tell how the switch to online premiere will impact the industry going forward.
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Cover image via Clay Enos/HBO Max.
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