Despite the DC Extended Universe charting a new path and moving away from Zack Snyder’s original plans for a more self-contained 5-part Superman-centric story, Snyder’s name is still listed as an executive producer on Aquaman. Some fans of the DCEU’s progenitor have seized on this information as evidence that the controversial filmmaker’s relationship with the universe isn’t over, and while it’s true that his influence is still having an impact on the new movies, it’s not a sign of him returning to the franchise in any significant capacity.
Snyder’s involvement with DC movies has always been divisive. After creating two of the boldest and most visually iconic comic book movies with 300 and Watchmen, Snyder had attracted audiences that both loved and hated his work, some praising him for his accurate visual adaptations of comics to the big screen, others deriding some of his creative choices for straying from certain interpretations of the source material.
That split opinion of the director didn’t change with Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, eventually leading to Warner Bros. getting more involved in the production of Justice League, leading to Snyder ultimately being replaced by Joss Whedon after the completion of principal photography. Whedon rewrote and reshot large chunks of the movie, leading to the biggest box office failure in the DCEU, massive leadership changes for DC Films, and a new cinematic approach that nixed many of Snyder’s original plans.
So, if the universe is moving so far from Snyder, then why is he credited as an executive producer on Aquaman? The answer is evident in a recent trend of more and more executive producers being listed on big movies, especially cinematic universes. In the same way comic book writers get credits when their characters are used, even if they didn’t contribute to the script, the executive producer credit is often used to recognize a creative’s contributions to a character in earlier films.
This can be seen in practice in the DCEU already, with Christopher Nolan’s executive producer credit on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, despite not having any involvement in either, likely because of his role in getting the universe off the ground as a producer on Man of Steel. Since Snyder introduced Jason Momoa’s Aquaman to the big screen for the first time, his contract likely involves a similar executive producer credit for the character’s future appearances.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Snyder’s footprints aren’t visible on Aquaman in any way. He collaborated with James Wan when introducing the character in Justice League to make sure he worked with the director’s solo movie plans, giving us the first taste of Atlantis, the Atlanteans. He also cast Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Amber Heard as Mera, and Willem Dafoe as Vulko, although the latter’s role was cut, along with a number of other Aquaman elements there were originally included in the Snyder Cut.
Snyder is, however, a producer (not executive producer) on Wonder Woman 1984 along with Deborah Snyder, and they’ve both posted about that movie on social media, suggesting more involvement there. They also produced the first one, and Zack Snyder even had a cameo, so they’re likely more involved with Patty Jenkins, although still in a minor capacity.
Snyder has said his next project will be The Fountainhead, which is expected to be a series, not a movie, and the only movie in his future is a The Last Photograph, so it’s not clear if or when he plans to return to the realm of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, but when he does, it likely won’t be for a DC movie.