A non-canonical director's cut was released on home video and streaming services in March 2021.
Thousands of years ago, Steppenwolf and his legions of Parademons attempted to take over Earth with the combined energies of three Mother Boxes. They were foiled by a unified army that includes the Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, mankind, and a Green Lantern. After repelling Steppenwolf's army, the Mother Boxes were separated and hidden in locations on the planet. In the present, mankind is in mourning over Superman, whose death triggers the Mother Boxes to reactivate and Steppenwolf's return to Earth. In an effort to regain favor with his master, Darkseid, 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 retrieves the Mother Box from Themyscira, prompting Queen Hippolyta to warn her daughter Diana of Steppenwolf's return. Diana joins Bruce Wayne in his attempt to unite other metahumans to their cause, with Wayne going after Arthur Curry and Barry Allen, while Diana tries to locate Victor Stone. Wayne fails to persuade Curry, but manages to recruit an enthusiastic Allen onto the team. Although Diana fails to convince Stone to join, he agrees to help them locate the threat if he discovers their location. Stone later joins the team after his father Silas and several other S.T.A.R. Labs employees are kidnapped by Steppenwolf seeking to acquire the Mother Box from mankind.
Steppenwolf attacks Atlantis to retrieve the next Mother Box, forcing Curry into action. The team receives intel from Commissioner James Gordon leading them to Steppenwolf's army, based in an abandoned facility under Gotham Harbor. Although the group manages to rescue the kidnapped employees, the facility is flooded during combat, which traps the team until Curry helps delay the flood so they can escape. Stone retrieves the last Mother Box, which he had hidden, for the group to analyze. Stone reveals that his father used the Mother Box to rebuild Stone's body after an accident almost cost him his life. 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 mankind. Diana and Curry are hesitant about the idea, but Wayne forms a secret contingency plan in case Superman returns as hostile.
Clark Kent's body is exhumed and placed in the amniotic fluid of the genesis chamber of the Kryptonian ship alongside the Mother Box, which in turn activates and successfully resurrects Superman. However, Superman's memories have not returned, and he attacks the group after Stone accidentally launches a projectile at him. On the verge of being killed by Superman, Batman enacts his contingency plan: Lois Lane. Superman calms down and leaves with Lane to his family home in Smallville, where he reflects and his memories slowly come back. In the turmoil, the last Mother Box is left unguarded and Steppenwolf retrieves it with ease. Without Superman to aid them, the five heroes travel to a village in Russia where Steppenwolf aims to unite the Mother Boxes once again to remake Earth. The team fights their way through the Parademons to reach Steppenwolf, although they are unable to distract him enough for Stone to separate the Mother boxes. Superman arrives and assists Allen in evacuating the city, as well as Stone in separating the Mother Boxes. The team defeats Steppenwolf, who, overcome with fear, is attacked by his own Parademons before they all teleport away.
After the battle, Bruce and Diana agree to set up a base of operations for the team, with room for more members. Diana steps back into the public spotlight as a hero; Barry acquires a job in Central City's police department, impressing his father; Victor continues to explore and enhance his abilities with his father in S.T.A.R. Labs; Arthur embraces his Atlantean heritage; and Superman resumes his life as reporter Clark Kent. In a post-credits scene, Lex Luthor has escaped from Arkham Asylum and then recruits Slade Wilson to form their own league.
- Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman
- Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman
- Amy Adams as Lois Lane
- Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
- Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash
- Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman
- Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg
- Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth
- Diane Lane as Martha Kent
- Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta
- J. K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon
- Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf
- Amber Heard as Mera
- Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
- Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke
Justice League had an infamously troubled production. Its script and photography underwent major changes before and during production, and there was a change in directors. This resulted in the theatrical release of a version that was reported to be markedly different from how the film had been conceived of during pre-production and principal photography.
Most of the changes were driven by the negative reception to the previous installments of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Justice League had been helmed by director Zack Snyder through most of its production, but Snyder stepped down in May 2017 during post-production needing to grieve the suicide of his daughter, and Joss Whedon took over at that point, completing the film as an uncredited co-director. Whedon oversaw script rewrites, reshoots and other changes meant to bring in a brighter tone and more humor to the film, and cut the runtime down to 120 minutes in accordance with a mandate from Warner Bros. Pictures. The theatrical release of Justice League was a commercial failure, and was met with a mixed-to-negative reception from critics and audiences, who disparaged the inconsistent tone, weak story, and underdeveloped characters, leading Warner Bros. to re-evaluate the future of the DCEU.
When details surfaced about the film's behind-the-scenes problems (including allegations of abusive behavior from Whedon towards the cast members) and the state of the film before Snyder stepped down, some expressed interest in the idea of releasing an alternate cut that would be more faithful to Snyder's vision for the film. Fans of Snyder's works, members of the cast and crew, and other film industry figures petitioned for the release of this alternate cut of the movie using the hashtag "#ReleaseTheSnyderCut". At the time, Warner stated that they had no plans to release an alternate cut of Justice League. However, on May 20, 2020, Zack Snyder personally confirmed that it would be released on HBO Max as Zack Snyder's Justice League during a watch party for Man of Steel. The film was released on March 18, 2021.