In case you didn’t know, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is coming out in 2021. And while yes, that should be pretty self-explanatory, how it works might not be. You see, before Zack stepped away from Justice League in 2017, the estimated budget of the film was going to be $250 million. Looking at the VFX work still needing to be done when he left, I can surmise that about $40 Million was still needed to finish everything.
Fortunately, we never saw that film. Though you wouldn’t be surprised that even before he left, his 214-minute cut was a compromised version. Yes, I would’ve loved seeing 3 hours and 34 minutes of Zack Snyder’s goodness. Alas, it actually wouldn’t have been Zack Snyder’s true vision. Granted, this is a director who created 300 for $65 Million and Watchmen for $130 Million. If his version was compromised at $250 Million, what else did he leave out?
When HBOMax was announced, their hopes were to allow films and shows to become exclusives. They would give creators of the DC Properties $65 Million or less. Now, if that number sounds like a lot, let’s break it down a bit. Assuming shows would be in the 10-Episode range, that allows for $6.5 Million per episode. That roughly equals the same amount given to Game Of Thrones when it aired its First Season. Anyone with some semblance of Quality can see the marked difference between Season 1 and Season 8.
But that doesn’t mean shows can’t be great on a $6.5 Million budget. After all, if a show is more grounded, VFX’s work might be minimal. And depending on how it’s created, the cost may be reduced over episodes or talent. Speaking of minimal VFX, The Mandalorian, on Disney Plus, was about $15 Million per episode, and that show was HEAVY VFX work. Granted, they created the “Volume” to be more cost-effective, it still was a more grounded approach to the Star Wars Universe.
Categorically, budgeting for production on a series is a guessing game. Did you know that Episode One on Boardwalk Empire cost $18 Million? That was one episode that was also directed by Martin Scorsese back in 2010. After that initial episode, however, they reduced their cost to about $5 Million by reusing old sets, props, and costumes. But even back then, HBO was willing to attract top-tier talent and do right by their standards.
That wasn’t the only HBO show to get a massive budget. Westworld’s First Episode cost them about $25 Million to produce, and that was without a built-in audience. They eventually brought their cost to $10 Million per episode. And looking at Game Of Thrones’ later seasons, the cost was averaging around $10 Million to $15 Million each episode. That includes Dragons, Dead Men, and Direwolfs. Even Netflix hasn’t held back its spending. Stranger Things and Altered Carbon ran about $7 Million per episode, respectively. But the most expensive series? The Pacific from Steven Speilberg, on HBO. It was about $21.7 Million per episode for a 10-Episode limited series. It probably helped that Speilberg is the Highest-Grossing Director of all-time.
Now, imagine you’re HBOMax and Warner Media. You have a tarnished relationship (due to Warner Bros.) with a director in the Top 20 Highest-Grossing Directors around the world. In 6 films, he’s brought in almost $2.5 Billion in revenue (not including JL) for the studio. And to stay in favor, you can have the biggest Intellectual Property your studio owns, exclusively debut on your streaming platform. One in which you need subscribers. Would you spend $40-$65 Million to have Zack Snyder release his Justice League series after hearing what you’ve spent for the last 10 years? As far as business-sense goes, I don’t know how you could be blind to that potential.
You win favor from the director and you gain exclusive content. It’s advantageous to everyone involved. Not only do you rebuild that relationship, you rebuild the fan-base relationship that was severed in 2017. HBOMax can establish itself as a Director-Driven studio without saying a word about it. You know the saying: “Actions speak louder than words“. What more can you say when you allow a director to finish a film that was deceptively taken from him over 3 years ago? I don’t know about you, but those actions would speak volumes to other directors wanting an opportunity to tell unique and interesting stories.
How Justice League Can Work
If you haven’t guessed, I’ve laid out how Justice League could continue as a series on HBOMax. You get a director that has created VFX-Heavy films like Watchmen & Batman v Superman (both 3-hours). You work with actors that might have passion projects and work deals to get those produced for a reduced salary. Relatively speaking, this isn’t a zero-sum game. To have some of the best talent working for your studio means more exclusivity. But Zack also knows how to work with a budget.
That’s why he usually has the same production crews in his films. They have all the costumes of the main heroes and most of the props as well from previous films. So continuing Justice League would be fairly easy, all things considered. You could even work in CGI-level assets that help with the overall cost. I briefly mentioned the “volume” that The Mandalorian used earlier. Having technology like that is vital to these immersive shows. Westworld proved you can use that type of tech and still use Film, a cherished thing to Zack.
What Would It Cost?
Every shows budget that I mentioned, never had an established fan-base already built. They had to earn them. Justice League, the IP, is the biggest name HBOMax has. To be able to continue a series would be the smartest thing the studio could do, and for good reason. Being able to have 10-Episodes for two more seasons would be daunting, but manageable. Does it really sound that far-fetching to say each episode could cost $21 Million? HBO was spending that back in 2010 when streaming wasn’t even a thing.
Let’s say they raise it up to $25 Million per episode; this is the biggest IP you have with an established fan-base. Are you really worried about spending when you have Batman, Superman, & Wonder Woman exclusively on your platform? They shouldn’t be. Imagine a 3-episode arc having Ben Affleck’s Batman script being adapted and sprinkled in between events of Justice League II. That would be a more grounded take which would reduce cost. You could even focus on the Amazons, Flash, Or Cyborg to really see their character developments. Did I mention the Knightmare timeline yet?
The Justice League Series Continued
So, you release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It ends with a cliff hanger. How do you maximize your audience base? By announcing a planned sequel in a serialized format that will be spearheaded by the man himself. It’ll focus on his original ideas that were to be in his Justice League Part II without the constraints of run time. And again, he’ll end it on a cliff hanger because that was always the intention; to get to an ending. Which is how we get to Season 3.
What better way to lead INTO another Justice League Series, than finishing another? By that, I mean having other characters explored in their own series’. Like Cyborg or Batman. You already have the script for a limited run, why not take it and work it into a 3-6 episode story? Or what about a Superman series, or animated movies that tie-in to certain events? You can even add in Comic Adaptations to help establish other-worldly characters. The options are boundless because you already have these characters from Zack Snyder’s Justice League. You then line it up with Justice League Dark, a series run by J.J. Abrams (also in the Top 20 Highest-Grossers), and it begins to make sense why HBOMax will be making the most expensive television shows in history. The streaming wars have begun. And those with the best IP will dominate.