With this week’s release of the long-anticipated “Snyder Cut” of “Justice League,” filmmaker Zack Snyder joins a long, distinguished list of directors who have fought for their final vision to make it to the screen. While Snyder’s path from the so-called “Whedon Cut” of his DCEU film (the theatrically released version of the film, both a box office bomb and a critical disaster) to the nearly four-hour version of his film, hitting both theaters and HBO Max, has been a relatively short (just four years between releases) one, it’s also been one of the most public.
Yet, in many ways, it’s not a new story: for as long as Hollywood has existed, creators have seen their original ideas snipped down, cut up, and presented for ready consumption. Over the decades, many filmmakers have attempted what Snyder has pulled off, often with very different results. Even the entries that appear on this list of best director’s cuts often come with an asterisk: yes, this cut is close to what its creator envisioned; no, it’s still not “perfect.”
In viewing Hollywood’s fraught history of director’s cuts, it’s also important to note that few filmmakers are immune from studio interference, and even heavy-hitters like Francis Ford Coppola, Orson Welles, and George Cukor have entries on this list (Coppola even has two!). Ridley Scott, who also appears on this list, has so many director’s cuts under his belt that those versions have even inspired their own rankings over the years.)
Other talents (typically not white males) have struggled even more to translate their own final visions to the screen. Directors like Charles Burnett and Elaine May both place on this list, but they each had to wait decades for their versions to be available to the public, often in limited fashion. And that’s to say nothing of the many filmmakers whose careers were entirely upended by unapproved versions of their films, from May’s “Ishtar” to Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate.”
Director’s cuts aren’t just curios, they’re part of a long (and often, quite painful) history of studio interventions, lost material, and fighting for a vision. Here are 15 of the best (and, oh yes, definitely complicated) director’s cuts in Hollywood history.
Eric Kohn, Christian Blauvelt, Chris O’Falt, Zack Sharf, and Ryan Lattanzio contributed to this article.