The DC fandom came to a shocking realization recently when they had to face up to the fact that the live-action Justice League curse is an actual thing. Following the rebirth of the DCU — with James Gunn and Peter Safran at its head — the Snyderverse Justice League is pretty much officially dead, making them just the latest depiction of the iconic superhero team that never got to conclude their story as intended.
Yes, despite pre-dating Marvel’s Avengers in the comics, the Justice League have sadly had a much rougher time of it on our screens, from aborted TV series to questionable variety show specials to — most famously — major blockbuster releases mired in controversy and behind-the-scenes turmoil.
And yet the various screen adaptations of the JLA still mean a lot to fans who adore the group more than any other, thanks to their legendary status in DC lore. So, without further ado, let’s rank every single live-action version of the Justice League of America there’s been to date from worst to best.
Honorable mention: Justice League: Mortal
Although they can’t be accurately included in the ranking by the fact that we never actually got to see them, the iteration of the JLA from the infamously unmade Justice League: Mortal movie nevertheless deserves a mention.
For those unaware, Mad Max‘s George Miller was all set to helm the team’s inaugural cinematic outing back in the mid-2000s. The lineup would’ve consisted of Superman (D.J. Cotrona), Batman (Armie Hammer), Wonder Woman (Megan Gale), Flash (Adam Brody), John Stewart’s Green Lantern (Common), and Martian Manhunter (Hugh Keays-Byrne).
A combination of production delays and Warner Bros. temporarily cooling on crossover projects after the success of The Dark Knight killed this one off, which is a bit of a shame as, aesthetically speaking, Mortal could’ve been great — the leaked costumes are mostly top-draw.
Justice League of America, Class of ’97
Even if Mortal had happened, it wouldn’t have marked the live-action debut of the JLA. That honor actually goes to what has to be one of the most unlikely DC adaptations ever made. Namely, 1997’s Justice League of America, a TV movie pilot for a show that failed to materialize.
Avoiding the Trinity due to rights issues, the team here consists of Guy Gardner/Green Lantern (Matthew Settle), Ice (Kim Oja), Fire (Michelle Hurd), Atom (John Kassir), Flash (Kenny Johnston), and Martian Manhunter (David Ogden Stiers).
While its fidelity to the comic books — not to mention its overall quality — is laughable, Justice League of America deserves plaudits in another area. With its (incongruous, but whatever) inclusion of cutaway interviews, it previewed the rise of mockumentary TV shows that occurred in the following decade.
Legends of the Superheroes
Here’s another Justice League adaptation you’d be forgiven for never having heard of. In 1979, NBC aired the two-part special Legends of the Superheroes, which is something of an unsung milestone in DC history as it marked the first time a ton of comics characters appeared in live-action.
The big hook of Legends was that it brought back Batman‘s Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, facing off against Frank Gorshin’s Riddler once more, as well as joining forces with various heroes. Including, but not limited to, Green Lantern (Howard Murphy), Captain Marvel/Shazam (Garrett Craig), Black Canary (Danuta Wesley), and Hawkman (Bill Nuckols). Other villains involved include Sinestro (Charlie Callas), Solomon Grundy (Mickey Morton), and Giganta (Aleshia Brevard).
Unfortunately, while this might sound like a lost classic, Legends of the Superheroes was produced like a typical ’70s-era variety show — on videotape and with a laughter track. Still, it earns points for its Batman reunion and cavalcade of cameos.
Yes, 2017’s theatrical cut of Justice League — or Josstice League, as it’s come to be known — is just a bastardization of Zack Snyder’s original movie, but it’s different enough to warrant its own entry in this ranking. Mostly because the team, under the inauspicious direction of Joss Whedon, is much dumber than they otherwise were.
As we all know, the theatrical Justice League movie starred Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and the resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill). Unfortunately, that stellar cast was mostly wasted on irratating, sub-Avengers quips and embarrassing slapstick humor.
And yet, despite that, the Josstice League team still has to come fairly highly on this list by dint of its talented lineup and the few moments that do actually work — the occasional action sequence and character beats that show off the team’s chemistry.
Say what you will about The CW, but the Arrowverse remains the biggest and most cohesive live-action DC universe we’ve had to date. And thanks to Arrow, The Flash, and their sister series populating the franchise with an abundance of costumed heroes, that meant the CW-verse finally got to debut its own league of heroes in the epic “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event in 2019/20.
Following Oliver Queen’s death, the founding members of this team consisted of: Flash (Grant Gustin), Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), Batwoman (Ruby Rose), Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), Black Lightning (Cress Williams), White Canary (Caity Lotz), and Martian Manhunter (David Harewood).
OK, so due to the movies hogging the brand, this team never actually got to declare themselves the Justice League, plus they sadly never teamed up again due to the slow, sad death of the Arrowverse, but their union at the end of “Crisis” was still a real punch-the-air moment for long-term fans.
For a series that started out with a firm ban on overt superheroics (the famed “no tights, no flights” doctrine), Smallville sure ended up with an overflowing roster of supporting super characters who aided Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. In fact, the back half of the 10-year prequel series saw the soon-to-be Superman portrayed as a card-carrying member of the nascent JLA.
Forming in season five’s suitably titled “Justice”, the team consisted of Clark, Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), Aquaman (Alan Ritchson), Impulse (Kyle Gallner), and Cyborg (Lee Thompson Young). Later additions include Black Canary (Alaina Huffman), Zatanna (Serinda Swann), and Martian Manhunter (Phil Morris).
While Smallville‘s lineup likewise never officially called themselves the Justice League, the team deserves credit for its fan-pleasing world-building and for predicting the MCU’s method of success by introducing the characters individually before having them team up.
Four years after Josstice League disappointed, the tireless #ReleasetheSnyderCut fan campaign finally achieved its goal when HBO Max released Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the 4-hour ultimate cut of the movie that delivered everything Snyderverse obsessives could’ve asked for.
As well as revealing the authentic union of Cavill’s Kal-El, Gadot’s Diana Prince, Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, Miller’s Barry Allen, Momoa’s Arthur Curry, and Fisher’s Victor Stone, ZS’s JL also threw in a cameo from Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) — a character who is surprisingly the most consistent Justice League hero across their live-action history.
Sure, the Snyderverse Justice League isn’t to the tastes of every fan, but the divisive director is certainly the one to capture the mythic, legendary quality of DC’s premiere superhero team better than any other previous iteration. But, who knows, maybe James Gunn’s rebooted version of the JLA will manage to be the new definitive live-action League when they eventually appear on our screens.