Zack Snyder’s Justice League Movie Recut Is a Brilliant Strategy
The next big theme—and a very exciting and entertaining theme—is the fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has just hit HBO Max. I’m as excited as anyone to see four hours of this monumental epic. But if you’ve been following what has happened, you know that Justice League was released many years ago, and it was regarded as a failure, a flop in the market. Many people are surprised that HBO Max, or WarnerMedia, the holding company, spent something like $70 million, giving Zack Snyder permission to come back and re-edit his movie. The history is quite interesting because he was brought in to do the initial Justice League, but the WarnerMedia executives didn’t like the direction the movie was going in, so they asked another director—who had worked on the Avengers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—to come in because they liked his style of having these very comical storylines, and humor, which is what Marvel movies are famous for.
Think about this for a second. You spent tens of millions of dollars building a storyline and a theme and a mood in the Zack Snyder style, which is gritty and dark. They’re epic, dramatic scenes. He almost paints superheroes as gods. Now, after spending all that money going in one direction, you’re going to bring in another director to take it in another direction? How would that work out? Well, it didn’t work out very well. The movie received bad reviews. I watched the first Justice League, and I didn’t think it was that bad. Everyone thought it would disappear, but AT&T, WarnerMedia and HBO Max have decided they’re going to spend $70 million, bring back Zack Snyder and tell him, “We want you to do this movie the way you wanted.” Of course, the criticism in the media has been quite extensive because what they’re saying is, “Look, it was a terrible movie. Why do you want to do anything? Just let it die a peaceful death and forget about it.”
Let’s think about the strategic insights here. On one hand, you have other superhero movies, which are very good but different. Those superhero movies are made because they’re profitable. Some of them are multibillion-dollar franchises. But here comes WarnerMedia. People say this movie isn’t going to make money, but they’re going to plunk down $70 million to please fans who started a campaign to get Zack Snyder to come back and finish his movie, a movie that almost everyone says is not going to be profitable. How do you think I feel as a fan when I know a company is doing something for me, spending $70 million, but they are not expected to make money from it? They’re just doing it because I asked for it.
This may be one of the most brilliant strategies of all time to create raving fans. There are many deep, layered insights here. First, if you have a child and this child is an epic embarrassment—you take him out and he puts his finger in his nose, he does all kinds of silly, ridiculous things—do you lock your child in a dungeon for the rest of his life? Of course not. You have to develop your child, coach him, mentor him and love him. He’s a child, but he’s also an asset. Maybe it’s not a very good way to think about your children, but maybe it is. You have to develop that asset.
The Justice League, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman—they’re assets. WarnerMedia has to keep trying to develop those assets. It has no choice. The asset is valuable—they just haven’t figured out the best way to make the world love those assets. The operative word is the “world,” and I’ll come back to this in a second. They have to keep taking shots. They can’t say, “We failed at the Justice League. Let’s bury this, and we’ll try again in 10 years.” No, they have to keep trying until they get it right. They have to manage this asset, nurture it and fix it.
But there’s another, deeper insight. Clearly, Marvel movies are different from Zack Snyder’s, or the DC model, which is: Batman is serious, Superman is serious, everyone is serious in the DC Universe, and they’re mocked for that. But that’s what makes them different, and they need to play to that strength because strategy is about being different. Yes, people are going to mock them, but there are people who mock Marvel movies too.
Here’s the other insight. I don’t know what the Rotten Tomatoes score is for the first Justice League, but let’s assume 50% of people did not like that movie, but 50% clearly loved it. Fifty percent of the total audience is still a big number. Now, what should WarnerMedia do? Should they think that 50% of people did not like this movie and they are probably Marvel movies fans, who watched Justice League and didn’t like it because it’s not exactly serious, its not exactly humorous like a Marvel movie? WarnerMedia wasn’t able to convince many of those people to like this hybrid version, but clearly 50% of people loved this movie, and they could have loved it more if WarnerMedia had picked a direction and stuck with it.
WarnerMedia is saying, “We’re going back to what we’re good at. Yes, we’re going to upset a lot of people, and many people are not going to like this movie. But the people that we have chosen to serve are going to love this movie.” Look at the tradeoff here: Do nothing and appease the people who don’t like the movie and may never like the movie, or do something and serve those crazy, lunatic fans who like these dark, gritty movies and will always know that WarnerMedia and some executive in Texas spent $70 million greenlighting a movie that nobody said should be made just to please a bunch of fans. It’s a four-hour epic. I have to cancel meetings to watch this movie, which I’ll probably be doing at some point. They have made a very good move here because as long as they keep a core group of raving fans and please them, there’s a chance they can expand that group of raving fans. But if you don’t please that core group of raving fans, there’s no chance you can ever expand that because you have killed the core.
Think of Apple. When Apple started off, it was up against Microsoft, the dominant behemoth of the computing world. But Apple kept a core group of fans super excited until it found a way to expand that core. Of course, AT&T is involved in an epic streaming war with Disney and Netflix, and they keep dropping powerful, amazing content onto their platform. Maybe they’ll struggle and get it wrong, but you can’t get it wrong repeatedly. If they keep trying, at some point, they’re going to get it right.
So, they get criticized in the media a lot. I can imagine the CEO of AT&T seeing that the share price is not doing well. You spend a lot on 5G spectrum, you’re spending a lot on streaming, so what’s the plan? Unless you keep trying, you don’t have a plan. So, they should keep trying, find that core group of fans, lean into them, not be apologetic, and give the world some gritty superhero movies. That’s what the world needs—not everyone wants to watch comedy in superhero movies. You have to understand who your market is and play to your market. But if you don’t play to your market and try to please a market that doesn’t like what you’re doing and may never like what you’re doing, that’s a problem. It’s about strategy. It’s about deciding where you want to play.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #21. Many of you have found Monday Morning 8 a.m. so useful that you’ve asked us to release a book version of these newsletters. We’ve obliged and released a Kindle version, which you can find on Amazon under “Strategy Insights.” It contains the insights from previous Monday Morning 8 a.m. issues, edited into a bite-sized format that’s very easy to use. And you can learn about other FIRMSconsulting books here.
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