Warner Bros. began to develop a live-action Justice League film in 2007 with George Miller set to direct, but the project was canceled due to production delays and budgetary concerns. Principal photography took place from April to October 2016. After Snyder stepped down from the film following the death of his daughter, Whedon was hired to oversee the remainder of post-production, including writing and directing additional scenes, as well as reshooting a large portion of the film, which changed many aspects of it; Snyder ultimately retained sole credit as director. With an estimated production budget of $300 million, Justice League is one of the most expensive films ever made.
Justice League premiered in Los Angeles on November 13, 2017, and was released in the United States four days later. The film grossed $657.9 million worldwide against an assumed break-even point of $750 million, becoming a box office bomb and losing Warner Bros. an estimated $60 million. It received mixed reviews from critics, with criticism aimed towards the plot, pacing, generic villain, direction, cinematography, and computer-generated imagery, while its humor and disjointed tone were met with polarized responses, although the action sequences and performances were praised. Whedon's major involvement during post-production also received harsh criticism especially from the cast, particularly Gadot and Fisher. A director's cut, titled Zack Snyder's Justice League, was released on HBO Max in March 2021, after fans had begun to advocate for Snyder's original version of the film since the film's theatrical release.
Thousands of years ago, Steppenwolf and his legions of Parademons attempted to take over the Earth using the combined energies of the three Mother Boxes. The attempt was foiled by a unified alliance including the Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, humanity, and extraterrestrial beings.[c] The Mother Boxes were separated and hidden in different locations. In the present, humanity is still in mourning two years after the death of Superman, which triggered the Mother Boxes' reactivation and Steppenwolf's return to Earth. Steppenwolf aims to gather the boxes to form "The Unity", which will destroy Earth's ecology and terraform it in the image of Steppenwolf's homeworld.
Steppenwolf attacks an Atlantean outpost to retrieve the next Mother Box, forcing Curry into action. Stone retrieves the last Mother Box for the group, revealing that his father used it to rebuild Stone's body after an accident almost killed him. Knowing this information, Wayne decides to use the Mother Box to resurrect Superman, not only to help them fight off Steppenwolf's invasion but also to restore hope to humanity.
Clark Kent's body is exhumed and placed in the amniotic fluid of the genesis chamber in the Kryptonian scout ship, along with the Mother Box, successfully resurrecting him. However, his memories have not returned, and he attacks the group. Batman enacts his contingency plan: Lois Lane. Superman calms down and leaves with her to his family home in Smallville, where his memories come back. In the turmoil, the last Mother Box is left unguarded, allowing Steppenwolf to retrieve it. Without Superman to aid them, the five heroes travel to a village in Russia, where Steppenwolf's lair is located. They fight their way through the Parademons; just when all hope seems lost, Superman arrives and assists Stone in separating the Mother Boxes. The team defeats Steppenwolf, who is attacked by his own Parademons when they smell his fear.
After the battle, Bruce and Diana set up a base of operations for the team. Diana and Arthur resume their heroic duties; Barry acquires a job in Central City's police department; Victor continues to enhance his abilities with his father in S.T.A.R. Labs; Superman resumes his life as reporter Clark Kent and protector of Earth.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman: A wealthy socialite, and the owner of Wayne Enterprises. He dedicates himself to protecting Gotham City from its criminal underworld as a highly trained, masked vigilante equipped with various tools and weapons. Affleck noted on how the film gave him an opportunity to reinvent Batman and portray a more classic take on the character. He described that in the film, audiences will see Batman as more heroic, and more of a leader. "Batman is by nature, [while] not necessarily anti-social, pretty private, pretty a loner," Affleck says. "And then in this movie he's thrust into the role of having to not only work with people, but bring them together and convince them to come in and try to ... somehow with Wonder Woman hold all that community effort together. That was a really interesting thing to play for me, and it also does take us to a more traditional role for Batman in the Justice League comics, and his role with the Justice League versus the sort of less typical version we saw in Batman v Superman, where he was blinded by rage and wanted to take on Superman."
Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman: Half-human and half Atlantean metahuman with superhuman strength and aquatic abilities. Momoa was cast as Aquaman in June 2014, and made a cameo appearance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg: A former college athlete who, after being cybernetically reconstructed after a nearly fatal car accident, is turned into a techno-organic being enhanced by reactive, adaptive biomimetic alien technology. His enhancements include the abilities of flight, variable weaponry and technopathy. Fisher portrays the character through the use of motion capture for the cybernetic portion of his body. Fisher was cast as Cyborg in April 2014, and made a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf: An alien military officer from Apokolips who leads an army of Parademons and is searching for the three Mother Boxes held on Earth. The character is described as "old, tired" and trying to find a way to escape his role of servitude under Darkseid. Hinds portrayed the villain through use of motion capture and received some advice in the process from Liam Neeson, who had recently done similar work in A Monster Calls. After the release of the film, Hinds was reportedly unhappy with the final cut of the film, which trimmed down the backstory and characterization of Steppenwolf.
Amber Heard as Mera: A princess of Xebel who approaches Curry to discuss the nature of the Mother Boxes.
We're going to make a Justice League movie, whether it's now or 10 years from now. But we're not going to do it and Warners is not going to do it until we know it's right.
—Producer Gregory Noveck, on whether Warner Bros. is going to do a Justice League film, 2008.
In February 2007, it was announced that Warner Bros. Pictures had hired husband-and-wife duo Michele and Kieran Mulroney to write a script for a Justice League film. The news came around the same time that Joss Whedon's long-developed Wonder Woman film was canceled, as well as The Flash, written and directed by David S. Goyer. Reportedly titled Justice League: Mortal, the script by Michele and Kieran Mulroney was submitted to Warner Bros. in June 2007, receiving positive feedback, which prompted the studio to immediately fast track production in the hope of beginning filming before the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike. Warner Bros. was less willing to proceed with development of a sequel to Superman Returns, having been disappointed with its box office. Brandon Routh was not approached to reprise the role of Superman in Justice League: Mortal, nor was Christian Bale from Batman Begins. Warner Bros. intended for Justice League: Mortal to be the start of a new film franchise, and to branch out into separate sequels and spin-offs. Shortly after filming The Dark Knight, Bale stated in an interview that "It'd be better if it doesn't tread on the toes of what our Batman series is doing," and felt it would make more sense for Warner Bros. to release the film after The Dark Knight Rises.Jason Reitman was the original choice to direct Justice League, but he turned it down, as he considers himself an independent filmmaker and prefers to stay out of big budget superhero films.George Miller signed to direct in September 2007, with Barrie Osbourne producing on a projected $220 million budget.
However, the writers strike began that same month and placed the film on hold. Warner Bros. had to let the options lapse for the cast, but development was fast tracked once more in February 2008 when the strike ended. Warner Bros. and Miller wanted to start filming immediately, but production was pushed back three months. Originally, the majority of Justice League: Mortal was to be shot at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney, with other locations scouted nearby at local colleges, and Sydney Heads doubling for Happy Harbor. The Australian Film Commission had a say with casting choices, giving way for George Miller to cast Gale, Palmer and Keays-Bryne, all Australian natives. The production crew was composed entirely of Australians, but the Australian government denied Warner Bros. a 40 percent tax rebate as they felt they had not hired enough Australian actors. Miller was frustrated, stating that "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Australian film industry is being frittered away because of very lazy thinking. They're throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that the rest of the world is competing for and, much more significantly, highly skilled creative jobs." Production offices were then moved to Vancouver Film Studios in Canada. Filming was pushed back to July 2008, while Warner Bros was still confident they could produce the film for a summer 2009 release.
With production delays continuing, and the success of The Dark Knight in July 2008, Warner Bros. decided to focus on the development of individual films featuring the main heroes, allowing director Christopher Nolan to separately complete his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Warner Bros. relaunched development for a solo Green Lantern film, released in 2011 as a critical and financial disappointment. Meanwhile, film adaptations for The Flash and Wonder Woman continued to languish in development, while filming for a Superman reboot commenced in 2011 with Man of Steel, produced by Nolan and written by Batman screenwriter David S. Goyer. In October 2012, following its legal victory over Joe Shuster's estate for the rights to Superman, Warner Bros. announced that it planned to move ahead with the Justice League film. Shortly after filming on Man of Steel was complete, Warner Bros hired Will Beall to write the script for a new Justice League film. Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov explained that Man of Steel would be "setting the tone for what the movies are going to be like going forward. In that, it's definitely a first step." The film included references to the existence of other superheroes in the DC Universe, and set the tone for a shared fictional universe of DC Comics characters on film. Goyer stated that should Green Lantern appear in a future installment, it would be a rebooted version of the character, unconnected to the 2011 film.
With the release of Man of Steel in June 2013, Goyer was hired to write a sequel, as well as a new Justice League, with the Beall draft being scrapped. The sequel was later revealed to be Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a team-up film featuring Henry Cavill as Superman, Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg, the latter three in minor roles that became more significant in the Justice League film. The universe is separate from Nolan and Goyer's work on The Dark Knight trilogy, although Nolan was still involved as an executive producer for Batman v Superman. In April 2014, it was announced that Zack Snyder would also direct Goyer's Justice League script. Warner Bros. was reportedly courting Chris Terrio to rewrite Justice League the following July, after having been impressed with his rewrite of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. On October 15, 2014, Warner Bros. announced the film would be released in two parts, with Part One on November 17, 2017, and Part Two is announced but release date not confirmed. Snyder was set to direct both films. In early July 2015, EW revealed that the script for Justice League Part One had been completed by Terrio. Zack Snyder stated that the film would be inspired by the New Gods comic series by Jack Kirby. Although Justice League was initially announced as a two-part film, with the second part set for release two years after the first, Snyder stated in June 2016 that they would be two distinct, separate films and not one film split into two parts, both being stand-alone stories.
Justice League had a troubled production. During filming, it was reported that the rewrites by Geoff Johns caused issues with Chris Terrio and Warner Bros. executives. Warner Bros. was unsatisfied with how the film was shaping up under Snyder due to the negative feedback that the theatrical version of Batman v Superman received. It was reported that Warner Bros. held a footage summit for writers that include Joss Whedon, Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg, Seth Grahame-Smith, and Andrea Berloff. This caused numerous rewrites as Justice League was filming. Whedon was eventually hired by Warner Bros. He then took over as director of the film after Snyder stepped down during the post-production. Filming wrapped in October 2016.
In May 2017, Snyder stepped down from directorial duties during post-production of the film to properly deal with the death of his daughter, Autumn Snyder. Joss Whedon took over to handle post-production duties in Snyder's place. In July 2017, it was announced the film was undergoing two months of reshoots in London and Los Angeles, with Warner Bros. putting about $25 million into them, more than the typical $6–10 million additional filming costs, which brought the budget of the film up to $300 million. The reshoots coincided with Cavill's schedule for Mission: Impossible – Fallout, for which he had grown a mustache which he was contracted to keep while filming. While Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie initially gave the producers of Justice League permission to have Cavill shave the mustache in exchange for the $3 million it would cost to shut down production on Fallout and then digitally fill the mustache in, executives from Paramount Pictures rejected the idea. Justice League's VFX team was then forced to use special effects to digitally remove the mustache in post-production.
Whedon received a screenwriting credit on the film alongside Chris Terrio, while Snyder received sole director's credit. Producer Charles Roven said in an interview that the film was shot originally by eighty to eighty-five percent. Conversely, Snyder estimates that only a fourth of his material was used in the theatrical version based on what he has been told of the theatrical cut, as he has not watched it. Cinematographer Fabian Wagner estimates that only 10% of the original footage shot by him and Snyder was used in the final cut. Whedon's rewrites were around 80 pages, further confirming that the theatrical cut was mostly his work.
Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara mandated the film to be under two hours. In consequence, the final cut runs for that exact time. The company also did not opt to delay the film's release despite the fact that there had been numerous problems in post-production, so that the executives would receive their cash bonuses before the company's merger with AT&T. In February 2018, it was reported that Snyder was fired from directorial duties from Justice League, after his cut was deemed "unwatchable" according to Collider's Matt Goldberg. "I'd heard similar things from separate sources over the last year as well, I also heard that Snyder's rough-cut of the movie was 'unwatchable' (a word that jumped out at me because it's rare you hear two separate sources use exactly the same adjective). Of course, even if that's true, there's obviously more to the story since rough cuts can be fixed up with reshoots, rewrites, etc.", Goldberg wrote. According to DC Comics publisher, comic book artist Jim Lee, Snyder was not fired. Speaking at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Lee stated "that [Snyder] was not fired at all and that he stepped down from the production due to a family matter", as far as he knew. In July 2020, Ray Fisher claimed that Whedon's on-set treatment of the film's cast and crew was "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable."Justice League and Batman v Superman writer Chris Terrio called the theatrical cut an act of vandalism, and attempted unsuccessfully to get his name removed from the film.
Superman was intentionally left out on all early Justice League marketing materials, including trailers, clips, and posters, which actor Cavill commented as "ridiculous". Despite his character being hidden from promotional materials, Cavill still joined the rest of the cast on the film's press tour. Clark Kent was revealed in a final trailer before the release of the film, but edited in a way that writers felt Lois Lane was dreaming about Clark. Sponsorship and marketing partners of the film included AT&T,Gillette,Mercedes-Benz, and TCL.
The film was released on digital download on February 13, 2018, and was released on Blu-ray Disc, Blu-ray 3D, 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray, and DVD on March 13, 2018, in various international markets. The Blu-ray features two deleted scenes titled Return of Superman. It is also notable for having no director commentary from either Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon. As of August 20, 2021[update], it has made $30.4 million in DVD sales and $41.5 million in Blu-ray sales, totaling an estimated $71.9 million in domestic video sales according to The Numbers.
Justice League grossed $229 million in the United States and Canada and $428.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $657.9 million. It had a worldwide opening of $278.8 million. Up against an estimated break-even point of as much as $750 million,Deadline Hollywood reported that the film lost the studio around $60 million. Due to the film losing the studio money, the movie was deemed a "box office bomb" or "flop".
In the United States and Canada, industry tracking initially forecast the film debuting to $110–120 million from 4,051 theaters (including 400 IMAX screens). It made $13 million from Thursday night previews, up from the $11 million made by Wonder Woman the previous June. However, after making $38.5 million on its first day (including Thursday previews), weekend projections were lowered to $95 million. It ended up debuting to $93.8 million, down 45% from Batman v Superman's opening of $166 million, and being the first film of the DCEU to open under $100 million. Deadline attributed the low figure to lukewarm audience reaction to the film and most of its predecessors, as well as poor critical reception, and film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes not posting their aggregated score until the day before release, causing speculation and doubt from filmgoers. In its second weekend, the film dropped 56% to $41.1 million, finishing second at the box office, behind newcomer Coco. It was the second-best second weekend hold of the DCEU, behind Wonder Woman's 43%, but the lowest overall gross. In its third week it again finished second behind Coco, grossing $16.7 million. It made $9.7 million in its fourth week and $4.3 million in its fifth, finishing a respective second and fifth at the box office. In 2018, Forbes compared the drastic incohesive shift from Snyder's darker films Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the lighter Justice League (co-written by Whedon), to the similarly drastic and incohesive change in tone experienced from the older 1989 and 1992 Tim Burton's Batman films to the direct light-hearted sequels directed by Schumacher, although noting the former shift in tone was better received than the one in Justice League, affecting box office, due to going against the expectations of Snyder fans in its attempt to reach a higher demographic, while alienating its own established core audience.
In other territories, the film was projected to debut to $215–235 million for a worldwide opening of $325–355 million. It made $8.5 million on its first day from nine countries, including South Korea, France, and Brazil. It ended up having a $185 million international debut from 65 countries, including $57.1 million from China, $9.8 million from the United Kingdom, $9.6 million from Mexico, and $8.8 million from South Korea. The film broke a record in the Philippines with a debut of $1.12M (PHP 57.3M), making it the biggest industry opening day for a film in 2017 and eventually becoming the 7th-most successful film of all time. In Brazil, the film opened to $14.2 million, the biggest opening in the country's history. Outside North America, the film's largest markets were China ($106 million), Brazil ($41 million), Mexico ($24.8 million), and United Kingdom ($24 million).
Justice League received mixed reviews. It was praised for the action sequences and performances (particularly Gadot and Miller), but was criticized for its plot, pacing, generic villain, cinematography, and CGI. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 39% of 411 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The website's consensus reads: "Justice League leaps over a number of DC movies, but its single bound isn't enough to shed the murky aesthetic, thin characters, and chaotic action that continue to dog the franchise."Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 45 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, and those by PostTrak gave the film an 85% overall positive score (average 4 out of 5 stars) and a 69% "definite recommend".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising the cast, especially Gadot, and saying "It's a putting-the-band-together origins movie, executed with great fun and energy."Owen Gleiberman of Variety gave the film a positive review, which conceived the film and described it was not "messy or bombastic", and light, clean, and simple.Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice similarly gave it a positive review, and said the action scenes of the film went "start and stop and then start again, [and] then go in different directions." Ebiri also describes the film had a "few moments into the Big Climactic Face-Off," but the "rhythms actually lend the film a pleasant unpredictability." Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, praising the cast but criticizing the action sequences and writing, saying: "The scenes of the League members together, bickering and bonding, spike the film with humor and genuine feeling, creating a rooting interest in the audience. Without it, the film would crumble." Conversely, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter, while praising Gadot and Miller, called the film visually ugly and boring, saying, "Fatigue, repetition and a laborious approach to exposition are the keynotes of this affair, which is also notable for how Ben Affleck, donning the bat suit for the second time, looks like he'd rather be almost anywhere else but here."
Writing for The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg also returned with a negative review, and described the film was a "symbol of just how entrenched superhero movies have become in the Hollywood ecosystem, it's also a potent illustration that success hasn't necessarily artistically elevated the genre." Rosenberg felt the film was nearly identical to lots of superhero films that "have come before", and featured some of "the ugliest, most pointless special effects."James Berardinelli gave it 2 out of 4 stars, said that the film and DC Films "came late to the party", as Marvel Studios planned their Cinematic Universe, which they were "sometimes criticized for overthinking and overplanning," and compared to The Avengers, which has its "formula worked", and The Avengers was "a popcorn bliss [and] a superhero nirvana". Writing for the Film Ireland Magazine, Ellen Murray found the characters interesting, but their setting unworthy, said that "there is something undeniably thrilling in seeing these iconic characters work together on the big screen."
Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins particularly disliked Justice League because the film itself seemed to contradict her film, as both she and Zack Snyder worked together to keep continuity between their films, in details like not changing Wonder Woman's costume, but Joss Whedon reshot the film to the point the characters were not being portrayed as previously shown in past films.
The divisive reaction towards the theatrical cut of the film, with Zack Snyder leaving directorial duties and the final cut of the film in the hands of Joss Whedon, has led to an argument comparing the situation to the one experienced by the film Superman II. Both Justice League and Superman II feature a director who was replaced, for different reasons, before completion of a film, which led to a second director coming in and making substantial changes to the tone of each film. Although the reasoning behind each director's departure differs, Richard Donner was able to complete his Superman II cut in 2006. In the belief that Snyder had shot enough material for a finished film, a campaign for a "Snyder Cut" was started to allow Snyder to receive a similar treatment to Donner. Arguments were made that Snyder's vision would be more cohesive to the previous films than the actual theatrical cut, which Snyder has refused to see. Warner Bros. initially remained silent regarding any intention of making a "Snyder Cut".
In March 2019, Snyder confirmed his original cut existed, and stated that it was up to Warner Bros. to release it. In November, an insider claimed that Warner Bros. was unlikely to release Snyder's version of Justice League in theaters, calling it a "pipe dream". In December, Snyder posted a photo in his Vero account, which showed boxes with tapes labeled "Z.S. J.L Director's cut", and with the caption "Is it real? Does it exist? Of course it does". Snyder officially confirmed in May 2020 that his cut of Justice League will be released for HBO Max service in 2021. The cut cost $70+ million to complete the special effects, musical score, and editing. Some of the film's original cast, including Affleck, Fisher, and Miller (remotely), returned to help complete the project, which also included limited additional filming. Jared Leto, Amy Adams, and J. K. Simmons appeared in the cut as the Joker, Lois Lane, and James Gordon respectively. As a result of the new cut, the original theatrical cut is referred to by fans as the "Whedon Cut" or "Josstice League", referring to the film's replacement director Joss Whedon. Despite being far better received than the theatrical version, Snyder stated that his cut would not be made canon to the DCEU, with Warner Bros. still considering the 2017 cut to be the official version.
A sequel was originally scheduled to be released in June 2019 but was subsequently delayed to accommodate the release for The Batman. By March 2017, producer Charles Roven said that Zack Snyder would direct the film and in October J. K. Simmons stated that the studio was working on the script of the sequel, alongside The Batman. Shortly after the release of Justice League, Henry Cavill said that he was under contract with Warner Bros. to play Superman for one more film. In December, it was revealed that there were "no immediate plans" for Zack Snyder to direct any future DC films, being relegated to an executive producer position instead. This came after a reshuffling of film production staff at Warner Bros. due to the film's mixed critical reception and disappointing financial performance. By 2019, Warner Bros. had prioritized solo films over the project.
Though Snyder's cut of Justice League has been described by DC Films executives as "a storytelling cul-de-sac" with no sequels planned, Snyder stated that he would be willing to return to direct the sequels if the studio offered him the chance. In January 2021, Ray Fisher (who had a fallout with Joss Whedon, Geoff Johns, Jon Berg and former DC Films president Walter Hamada) stated that he would only be willing to reprise his role as Cyborg in a future DCEU film if Justice League Part Two were to be made by Snyder. However, shortly after the 'Snyder Cut' was released Warner Bros CEO Ann Sarnoff said in March that there were no current plans in place for Snyder to return as a director/writer for future DCEU films suggesting a direct sequel to his version of Justice League remained unlikely. Later in August, DC Films producer Charles Roven stated that a Justice League sequel was still possible, though it would be several years away. A sequel was once again under consideration while De Luca and Abdy were in charge of DC Films (later renamed DC Studios), before James Gunn and Peter Safran took over in 2022.
^Snyder was the director during principal photography, but was replaced by Joss Whedon during post-production. Snyder retained directorial credit for the finished film, though reports have indicated Whedon reshot a majority of the film.
^ abIn home release, RatPac-Dune Entertainment was replaced with Access Entertainment (RatPac's current owner) and simply Dune Entertainment, following the rape and sexual harassment allegations against RatPac-Dune's CEO, Brett Ratner.