Zack Snyder Once Felt His ‘Watchmen’ Film Punished Its Audience

Filmmaker Zack Snyder shot a movie that many once felt was un-filmable with his take of Watchmen. The acclaimed director had his own vision for the graphic novel adaptation written by Alan Moore. But ultimately, he felt that vision ended up punishing its audiences in the end.

Zack Snyder set out to make something more than a superhero movie with ‘Watchmen’

Zack Snyder at a movie theater.
Zack Snyder | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Similarly to the graphic novel, Snyder wanted Watchmen to touch on many themes. He used the adaptation to make commentary on prior superhero films like the Joel Schumacher Batman movies for instance. One of the many criticisms Schumacher’s Batman received was the decision to put nipples on the Batman costume. Snyder decided to poke fun at this costume choice by putting nipples on the suit worn by Watchmen superhero Ozymandias.

“Nipples didn’t just show up on that costume cuz we thought it was cool. It’s because we want to say yeah….frickin’ Joel Schumacher made a bunch of superhero movies. It’s crazy,” Snyder once told Collider.

Snyder also felt there were parts of the film that had qualities from films like Dr. Strangelove and Taxi Driver. These elements and others helped make Watchmen stand out from being a typical superhero movie.

“It’s not just superhero movies, you know. It kind of has to, because Alan did it–it wasn’t just, it was comic book movies, or comic book literature, but it was all of literature as well. You know, he’s very, he’s a smart guy. So we tried to, we definitely tried to reference as much sort of superhero cliché, movie cliché as we could without it becoming self-aware. That’s a fine line,” he said.

Zack Snyder felt that ‘Watchmen’ punished its audience

Snyder’s Watchmen received moderately positive reviews from critics. It currently sits at a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating a slight majority of critics enjoyed Watchmen. In response to some of Watchmen’s negative criticism, the Justice League director questioned if the film’s detractors even read the source material.

“The thing I find fascinating about the whole way Watchmen was received is that 10% or less of the critics seemed to have actually read the graphic novel,” Snyder once told The Guardian. “I feel like a lot of them just went to Wikipedia. Because it really is not a movie, in a traditional sense. And if you try to analyse it in those terms – and not in terms of its relationship to pop culture – then you kind of miss the point.”

Snyder also felt that the film might have put off audiences and critics who went in there expecting a traditional superhero. He compared it to The Dark Knight’s own situation.

“What’s popular about The Dark Knight is that it’s a superhero movie at its core. When Batman puts on his costume, that’s badass: ‘Yeah Batman, go kick some ass,'” he continued. “Watchmen is an entirely different experience: it punishes the audience.”

Snyder set out to lure fans of traditional superheroes to Watchmen before subverting their expectations.

“At the same time, I really wanted it to be marketed that way. I wanted people to think it’s going to be a standard superhero movie, and then they’re confronted by all these ideas. Because that’s what the graphic novel did to me when I read it,” he said.

Zack Snyder once shared the original ‘Watchmen’ script was a more traditional PG-13 superhero movie

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The original script Snyder received for Watchmen was a significant departure from the graphic novel that took a friendlier approach to the franchise. Before Snyder got his hands on the screenplay, the film wasn’t even rated-R. It also did away with many of the iconic scenes in the graphic novel in favor of a more modern take.

“The script I was first handed for Watchmen, the studio was like, ‘It’s going to be PG-13, it’s going to be updated [from 1985 and the Cold War] to the War on Terror, Dr. Manhattan goes to Iraq instead of Vietnam, no Manhattan on Mars, no Comedian’s death, no Rorschach being interrogated — just a superhero movie. Just a real franchise-able superhero movie,'” Snyder once recalled to MTV News.

It wasn’t the type of film the Dawn of the Dead filmmaker was interested in making. Especially since he felt traditional movies were irresponsible in some ways, and he wanted to offer something unique in the genre.

“What do superheroes mean? Why do we love the characters? It goes to the violence, the sexuality of it, going as far as it can go in both directions. To say that, you know, we’re used to violence without consequences, it’s fine, nobody gets hurt, everyone gets back up, it’s PG-13. I find that’s really irresponsible,” he said.