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Zack Snyder says Netflix saved his zombie heist movie ‘Army of the Dead’ after it sat on the shelf for over 10 years — and ‘mind-boggling’ sequels could be coming

Summary List PlacementZack Snyder is returning to his roots. Seventeen years after his directorial debut, "Dawn of the Dead," Snyder has circled back to the zombie genre with "Army of the Dead," a heist movie where no one is safe from the undead.  We could have seen a version of "Army" years ago. Originally a project at Warner Bros. in 2007 with another director, the film gathered dust at the studio for over a decade.  In that time, Snyder moved on and directed "Watchmen" (2009) and "Sucker Punch" (2011) before going down a DC Comics' rabbit hole, starting with "Man of Steel"...

zack snyder army of the dead interview insider

Summary List Placement

Zack Snyder is returning to his roots. Seventeen years after his directorial debut, “Dawn of the Dead,” Snyder has circled back to the zombie genre with “Army of the Dead,” a heist movie where no one is safe from the undead. 

We could have seen a version of “Army” years ago. Originally a project at Warner Bros. in 2007 with another director, the film gathered dust at the studio for over a decade. 

In that time, Snyder moved on and directed “Watchmen” (2009) and “Sucker Punch” (2011) before going down a DC Comics’ rabbit hole, starting with “Man of Steel” (2013) and culminating in March’s long-fabled “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

It wasn’t until Netflix approached Snyder in 2018 that the film got off the ground again. The streaming service saw immediate potential in a franchise.

Starring a wide-ranging cast, including David Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro, and Garret Dillahunt (“FearTWD”), “Army” is the first in a series of original Snyder-produced zombie projects.

“It’s a really rich canvas and … what happens after this, it’s just mind-boggling,” Snyder told Insider earlier this month.

army of the dead zombie dave bautista zack snyder“Army” follows a group of mercenaries, led by Bautista’s Scott Ward, who are hired to retrieve $200 million from a casino vault in Las Vegas. It sounds simple enough, but Scott’s team, who only has 32 hours to accomplish the mission, must bypass a group of the undead undetected, and get out of the city before it’s nuked. Also on the line is Scott’s touch-and-go relationship with his estranged daughter, Kate, who unexpectedly joins the mission.

Warner Bros.’ loss appeared to be Netflix’s gain and the mutually beneficial partnership officially began. 

At Netflix, Snyder found the freedom and support of a studio he’s been searching for to fully stretch his visionary wings and build out an original IP all his own. In Snyder, Netflix had an architect to build out a potentially huge zombie universe.

Over Zoom, Snyder detailed the over decade-long journey to raise his army to life, how Netflix is going all in on the dead with prequels (and potentially sequels), and how this is likely where he’ll be for a bit since any hope to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse over at Warner Bros. seems pretty bleak.

Warner Bros. could never figure out ‘Army of the Dead.’ Snyder said it was probably too expensive. 

I want start at the beginning. I read this movie was originally supposed to be a joint project between Warner Bros. and Universal in 2007. Do you remember why it never got off the ground?

Frankly, I thought it was, at the time, maybe too expensive, the way that we wanted to make it. It kind of went back into development … and then we kind of brought it around one more time and Warner Bros. had a look at it and still couldn’t make it work by themselves. 

Finally, when I was at Netflix, I just, off the cuff, just started talking about this idea for a group of guys going into a zombie-infested Vegas to take the money that was left there. And they were like, ‘Uh, yes. Let’s make that. That’s a good movie.’

army of the dead scott daughter kate

The original draft had Bautista’s character saving his daughter from inside a zombie-infested Vegas

How much of the script changed from the original drafts, which were written by Joby Harold? I believe the original bare bones premise about a father and daughter stayed in tact?

Essentially, I think it’s very similar. There was always a father and daughter at the heart of the movie. That was the sort of the jumping off point for us. There was always the money in Vegas, the team he put together to go get her.

In the very original version Kate [the protagonist’s daughter] was inside of Vegas and they had to go rescue her. Little elements like that changed. 

Was “Army of the Dead” the original name or was there something else? 

It was always called “Army of the Dead.” I think there was a time when I wasn’t the director where we kicked around some other names, something like, “Vegas Rising.” I can’t remember it. Don’t hold me to that. 

army of the dead group

Netflix is all-in on a Snyder zombie-verse. Prequels and potential sequels are either finished or thought out.

When you first had discussions with Netflix, was it always the plan to create one movie or was it to build out a universe as you’re doing now? There’s now a live-action prequel called “Army of Thieves” that wrapped last December and an animated prequel, “Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas,” which will reunite some of the cast.

I mean, I don’t know. Of course, it was always in the script that there would be slightly a cliffhanger ending. So, these are things that I think, as a piece of IP, it’s always an amazing problem and an uptown problem when there’s an open-ended ending. Everyone gets excited by that. But, in the course of it, now doing the animated series and the prequel with [director and star] Mathias [Schweighöfer], we really have built out the universe.

We’ve already figured out where the … movies could go if need be. But, one day at a time, as they say. Zack Snyder

I asked because I write about “The Walking Dead” and the entire series streams on Netflix. That’s how many fans binge. It’s my belief that Netflix has been trying to find its answer to “TWD” universe. Did Netflix hear your pitch for “Army” and go, “Hey, we’re looking for someone to build out a zombie franchise for us. We want you to be our guy. Go wild!”

You know, I don’t really think about it in that way. That would be — that’s amazing. That’s cool and we kind of have done that sort of organically, and that’s probably a good thing because we’re not really forcing it. It’s just where it makes sense. It grows. When you see the animated series and you sort of go on this journey to where the zombies come from … it goes to a place that — even just in the animated series — where you can’t imagine. 

I wanted to not only watch a sequel after this, but also a prequel. You touched on this a little, but are there possibilities for sequels?

Yeah, that’s what I was talking about when I was saying that Shay and I completely … we’ve already figured out where the movie, movies could go if need be. But, one day at a time, as they say.

army of the dead zombies

With Netflix, Snyder feels completely in control and supported, something that has been missing in the past.

I’ve spoken with other content creators at Netflix previously about what attracted them to work with the streamer and they mentioned the freedom. What were you allowed to do at Netflix with this film and this universe that Warner Bros. or a traditional studio wouldn’t let you do?

It’s the relationship I have with the studio itself and just the partnership is really one of trust. They really were like, “Look, Zack, we want you to do your thing.” If this is the canvas that you chose to do it on, then by all means, let’s see what you’re capable of in that world.

That’s really been the refreshing and kind of super exciting thing. All the crazy decisions and all of the sort of challenges that I’ve put for the audience, the studio has been really excited about, and I’m really kind of encouraged.

That’s the kind of thing that makes a movie like this pop because there’s all those memorable scenes where you’re like, “How about that time when that thing happened or this thing, or that zombie tiger tore that guy’s head off?” Where a studio might go, “That’s too much” or “Let’s not do that or this.” I really feel like, in the end, that’s the why of making it. That’s what separates it. You’re going to get one person who watched the movie three times because they got taken into a world that’s so immersive and that’s what I would hope for.

zack snyder zeus zombie

Snyder’s freedom allowed him to explore a different kind of zombie, one who’s sympathetic

The mythos and the thought process into the undead and how they work is fascinating. There’s more to them than just being flesh-eating thoughtless monsters. I kind of sympathized with them. What made you lean into that and what made you come up with the idea for the zombie tiger?

So as far as the Alphas go, when I did “Dawn” originally, I knew that it was really difficult to have the zombies be sympathetic because they move and eat and that’s pretty much their whole deal. But I thought the best monster movies and the most incredible horror is when you sort of sympathize with the monster and you find yourself going, “What am I doing? Why am I on #TeamZeus suddenly? How did that happen?”

From the beginning, I was like what if … we treated the zombies almost like a wolf pack or like a pride of lions in the sense that if you were out in the forest and surrounded by a pack of wolves, you couldn’t really reason with them there. They’re not going to think. They’re just going to look right through you. You have no way of stopping them. There’s no communication you could have with them. What if they were a pack hunting species that could communicate with each other, in subtle ways, in the same way as, you know, wolves do.

I liked this idea that the zombies aren’t just killing us, they’re here to replace us in some way … like eventually there could just be a planet of the dead. There’d be no one left and it might be better. Who knows?

I found myself being a little #TeamZombieQueen at the end, to be honest.

The actress, Athena [Perample], who plays the zombie queen is amazing, and all in, and just so cool.

zack snyder army of the dead

What about #RestoretheSnyderVerse? Never say never, but Snyder’s not sure how he could continue that world right now.

Do you feel like you’ve left the superhero genre behind now? Are you done with it and is this your baby now? I know your fans are so passionate about restoring the SnyderVerse, but is that something that would even make you happy at this point? There just seems to be some bad blood there.

Well, I mean the truth is that, you know, Warner Brothers, they’ve been pretty clear … that they’re not interested in Zack’s take on the DC universe. That’s not conjecture. They say that directly. But, of course, they also said that they had no interest and/or we’re never going to release the “SnyderCut” of “Justice League” so that’s, um, you know…

Do I love those characters and do I love that world? Yes. I don’t know how to necessarily continue in that world, but, I do love those guys. And by the way, those are my good friends who play those parts. So it’s a little bit, I don’t want to say, it’s sad, but it’s just… It is what it is.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Netflix’s “Army of the Dead” will debut on May 21. Before that, it will have a one-week theatrical run in roughly 600 theaters, starting May 14

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