Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The 1997 Version Of Justice League You Never Knew Existed

Forget the Snyder Cut of 2017's Justice League; there's another adaptation that you never even knew existed, and this one's actually available for viewing.

Justice League is perhaps the most maligned entry in Warner Bros.' uneven DC Extended Universe, the venerable studio's answer to Disney's industry-dominating Marvel Cinematic Universe. While fans have responded well to a handful of Warner's DC offerings, including Gal Gadot-starrer Wonder Woman and Todd Phillips' non-canonical Joker, Justice League isn't considered to be among the best that the DCEU has put out.

The flick had a somewhat tortuous path to the screen. Original director Zack Snyder had to take a leave of absence in the middle of production to deal with the death of his daughter. He was replaced by Avengers filmmaker Joss Whedon, and most fans found the Frankenstein-y result to be... underwhelming. The disappointing final product that arrived in the theaters led to an uproar among fans demanding to see the near-mythical "Snyder Cut" of the film, and while Warner Bros. has repeatedly poo-pooed the possibility of releasing another cut of Justice League, that doesn't mean fans have to settle for what they were handed in 2017.

Back in 1997, there was a not-so-heroic attempt to bring DC's most famous super-powered crime-fighting team to screen. The oft-overlooked television version from nearly a quarter-century ago is — how shall we put this? — completely bonkers, and it has the added benefit of being out there in the world to watch, unlike the Snyder Cut of 2017's Justice League. If you didn't tune in to CBS when the made-for-TV movie originally aired, here's what you missed.

CBS came early to the superhero adaptation game

Almost 20 years to the day before Warner Bros. unleashed the big-screen Justice League on the world, CBS aired a TV film based on the very same gang of heroes (kind of). 1997's Justice League of America was directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala, and its plot concerned the induction of a super-powered female meteorologist, Tori Olafsdotter (Kimberly Oja), into the vaunted League. Her discovery and induction proves timely, as the newly expanded Justice League is called upon to thwart a terrorist holding the fictional city of New Metro ransom with a weather control device.

While the premise is certainly outrageous, the format of the film is even more off-the-wall. The movie is threaded with talking head segments (think: The Office, Parks and Rec). During these mock interviews, the standard Justice League members offer retrospective takes on their crime-fighting lives in the context of the film's present events. Just picture the Green Lantern — in street clothes — sitting with his legs crossed while he addresses the camera documentary-style, and you'll have a pretty good idea what you're in for with Justice League of America.

Despite being destined for the small screen, Justice League of America actually landed a pretty stacked cast. Matthew Settle (Band of Brothers) played Green Lantern, backed by John Kassir (Tales from the Crypt) as the Atom, Kenny Johnston as the Flash, and Michelle Hurd (Blindspot) as B.B. DaCosta, AKA Fire.

Are you sold yet? Don't worry, it gets even better.

Justice League of America is so bad, it's good

First thing's first: CBS was unable to obtain the rights to any of the Justice Leaguers you actually want to see on screen. That means no Batman, no Superman, no Wonder Woman – not even Aquaman. For that reason, we're stuck spending 90-odd minutes with the likes of the Atom and the Flash. Second — and there's just no other way to put this — the whole thing is a visual train wreck. Neither the costumes nor the special effects would have passed muster for Adam West's 1960s Batman series, let alone for a CBS movie produced 30 years later. This total lack of visual panache means that the flick was left to sink or swim on the strength of its script alone — which, as noted above, is patently absurd.

The cumulative effect is a production that needs to be seen to be believed. Paste Magazine rendered a pretty harsh judgment of Justice League of America, arguing that, "This kind of looks like Justice League presented as a high school play." And that's a pretty accurate assessment. 1997 may sound like the Stone Age in movie terms, but keep in mind that it was only one year before Blade hit theaters, and three years before Fox's original X-Men film set the modern era of superhero cinema in motion.

Justice League of America was caught between two eras

Still, it's a little unfair to hold CBS to the standard of today's comic book blockbusters; this Justice League was never meant to be The Avengers. Setting aside the fact that CBS couldn't obtain the rights to use any of the marquee members of the Justice League, the network's entire approach to the adaptation was blatantly tongue-in-cheek. It's no wonder someone over there thought a multi-camera sitcom featuring the same mockumentary motif would make the perfect format for the horrendously received film.

Paste Magazine breaks it down pretty frankly, writing, "This film was a victim of its window of release. It's just too early to have been taken seriously by the people writing, designing, directing and acting in it... This is 1997, and this version of Justice League was intended as a TV movie that would be a backdoor pilot for a Justice League series... You have to wonder how different this might have been if it had come a few years later. Although I suppose we did get the DCEU's Justice League 20 years later in 2017, and it's not like that went any better."

Nice dig. Although 1997's Justice League isn't a good movie by any sensible metric, it's certainly worth a chuckle-inducing viewing while we all wait for the next entry in the DCEU — which, thankfully, seems to have found its footing.