Morgan sold the script on spec to DreamWorks in 2008, but it transferred to Warner Bros. by the time Eastwood (who has a long-standing relationship with Warner Bros.) had signed on to direct in 2009. Principal photography ran from October 2009 to February 2010 on locations in London, San Francisco, Paris, and Hawaii.
On assignment in Thailand, French television journalist Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) is shopping for souvenirs for her lover Didier (Thierry Neuvic)'s children. She finds a stand where a mother and her daughter work; they sell gifts to Marie for a dollar. Didier looks over the balcony and witnesses the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami coming into shore. It hits as Marie watches from a distance. She grabs hold of the girl and runs away from the shore but is quickly swallowed by the wave. Pulled lifeless from the water, she is resuscitated by rescuers but is left for dead. She gasps back to life after having a near-death experience in which she sees a vision of human figures inhabiting a realm of light, among them the silhouettes of the mother and daughter holding hands. Marie and Didier are soon reunited as the disaster subsides and they return to Paris. Marie's experience, however, interferes with her work performance to the point that Didier (who is also her producer) sends her on a leave of absence to write the book they've discussed, which would add to her prestige.
The story then turns to San Francisco where former professional psychic George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is persuaded against his wishes to perform a reading for Christos (Richard Kind), a wealthy client of his brother Billy (Jay Mohr). A genuine medium with a gift for communicating with the dead, George abandoned his old career because he was unable to deal with the emotional impact of the reunions and the often disturbingly intimate family secrets revealed. While doing the reading, George hears the word June and asks if a date in June means anything to him. Christos at first denies that it means anything, but privately reveals to Billy that June was the name of his late wife's nurse, whom he was in love with for ten years.
From there, 12-year-old London twins Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) try desperately to prevent their alcoholic, heroin-addicted mother, Jackie (Lyndsey Marshal), from losing them to social services. After evading the authorities yet again, the boys' mother sends Jason to the chemist (pharmacist) to pick up her detox prescription, having finally decided to get clean. On the way home, Jason is attacked by street thugs, and while trying to escape, he is hit by a van and killed. No longer able to protect his mother, and barely able to cope with life without the brother he idolizes, Marcus is sent to a foster home.
Now writing a book and with more time to contemplate her near-death experience, Marie travels to Switzerland to meet a renowned specialist in the field. As the director of a hospice who has seen her share of dying patients, the doctor describes herself as a former skeptic who was convinced by the evidence that the afterlife exists and that people like Marie have had a genuine view of it. She persuades Marie to write a book on her experience in the hope that the scientific community will ultimately accept the reality of life beyond death.
Desperate for one last reunion with his twin brother, Marcus steals money from his foster parents (Niamh Cusack and George Costigan) and goes around London seeking someone to help him contact Jason. He encounters only frauds and pretenders. While he is trying to board the underground at Charing Cross, Jason's cap, which has become a talisman for Marcus, blows off his head. Delayed by trying to find the cap, he misses his train and sees it explode in the tunnel during the 2005 London Bombings.
George enrolls in a cooking class taught by one of San Francisco's leading chefs. Its students are paired-up, resulting in George being partnered with a young woman named Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). The two soon hit it off and after attending their second class decide to put their new culinary skills to use by preparing an Italian dinner at George's place. All goes well until they hear an ill-timed phone message from his brother, which inclines George to reveal his past as a psychic to Melanie. Curious, she presses George to do a reading for her. George explains his reluctance, but acquiesces. They contact the spirit of Melanie's father, who ends the session by asking her forgiveness for what he did to her as a child. Melanie flees George's home in tears, and she doesn't return to the cooking class.
Having been in talks with a publisher before her trip to Thailand about a biography of François Mitterrand, Marie now stuns them with her new manuscript entitled "Hereafter: A Conspiracy of Silence". The publisher (Jean-Yves Berteloot) rejects the manuscript but soon steers her toward other publishers who might be interested, the most promising of them in London.
Marie learns from Didier that he does not intend on having her back at the job he urged her to take leave of, because her public interest in the hereafter damages her reputation as a serious journalist, and that he is having an affair with the woman who replaced her on the TV news program.
George is laid off from his factory job, and is persuaded by Billy to revive his psychic practice. Still heartbroken over the fiasco with Melanie, he changes his mind and impulsively leaves San Francisco to make a new start elsewhere. He travels to London and listens every night to audiobook readings by Derek Jacobi of Charles Dickens' works. As a Dickens devotee, he also visits the Dickens Museum and attends a live reading of Dickens at the London Book Fair. There, one of the presenters is Marie, reading her now published book, Hereafter. While handing a signed copy of her book to George, their hands touch and George has a psychic flash of Marie's tsunami drowning.
Marcus and his foster parents are also at the London Book Fair. Asking leave of them, Marcus spots George, someone he has read about and seen online. Marcus attempts to speak with the medium, who brushes him off and returns to his hotel. Marcus follows him, standing outside the hotel until nightfall. Eventually George asks him in and agrees to do his reading.
Through George, Jason tells Marcus that he is happy in the afterlife. He instructs Marcus to stop wearing his cap and says it was he who knocked it off his head at the train station. It was used, he says, to keep Marcus from the doomed train but now he must stand on his own. Jason tells him not to fear this "because we are one". As Marcus leaves George, he says he is sorry about "the French woman" as he could tell that "you like her." The last time we see Marcus, he is visiting his mother in a rehab center. She is visibly better and he is not wearing Jason's cap.
Marcus lets George know where Marie is staying. George leaves an anonymous note for Marie, saying he believes her book to be true. She decides to join the anonymous fan for lunch and discovers George. While she is looking for him, George sees a vision of them kissing at the same meeting. Their shared glimpses of the hereafter having made them appreciate this life all the more, George and Marie walk away hand-in-hand.Matt Damon as George Lonegan, an American factory worker and "a reluctant psychic [...] who can speak to the dead but prefers not to". Damon previously starred in Eastwood's Invictus, and was cast in Hereafter because Eastwood was so impressed by him. The original Hereafter production schedule clashed with Damon's filming commitments to The Adjustment Bureau, so he emailed Eastwood, suggesting that the director recast the role of George for either Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Hayden Christensen or Josh Brolin. Instead, Eastwood altered the filming schedule to accommodate Damon, and the actor was able to complete both films.
Cécile de France as Marie Lelay, a French television journalist who survives a tsunami.
Frankie and George McLaren as Jason and Marcus, twin brothers. At the beginning of the film, Frankie McLaren plays the role of Jason, and George McLaren plays the role of Marcus; then both play Marcus alternately. Jason is killed in a car accident early in the film, and Marcus later attempts to contact him in the afterlife. Eastwood selected the two actors to play the brothers despite their never having acted before because he did not want "child actors who'd been over-instructed in Child Acting 101."
Jay Mohr as Billy Lonegan, George's older brother.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Melanie, a woman with whom George tries to start a relationship.
Thierry Neuvic as Didier, Marie's lover. Neuvic was on holiday in Corsica in September 2009 when he was called to audition for a role in the film. His audition, which took place at a Paris hotel, lasted 15 minutes, and he read two scenes for Eastwood. Most of Neuvic's scenes were filmed in Paris.
Marthe Keller as a doctor and the director of a hospice in Switzerland who speaks with Marie.
Derek Jacobi appears as himself. He reads Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit at the London Book Fair.
Lyndsey Marshal as Jackie, Marcus and Jason's mother, a heroin addict.
Richard Kind as Christos Andreou, a wealthy client of Billy's who asks Billy for George's psychic assistance to communicate with his late wife.
Steven R. Schirripa as Carlos, the cooking instructor
Jenifer Lewis as Candace, Christos' neighbor of whom he tells about George's psychic reading; she comes to ask for his assistance in contacting her dead child.
Franz Drameh as teenager attacking Jason
Mylène Jampanoï as reporter Jasmine
Stéphane Freiss as Guillaume Belcher, the boss interviewed by Marie Lelay on TV
Laurent Bateau as Marie's TV producer
Jean-Yves Berteloot: Michel, Marie's publisher.
Niamh Cusack as Angela, Marcus's foster mother
George Costigan as Dennis, Marcus's foster father
Mathew Baynton as college receptionist
Tom Price as the man
Céline Sallette as secretary
Peter Morgan wrote the script on spec, and it was bought by DreamWorks in March 2008. The deal was reportedly worth a "low-seven-figure advance". Executive producer Steven Spielberg was initially concerned that the low-key ending to the script would put audiences off the film, so Morgan rewrote it to be grander. However, subsequent drafts restored the original ending. Following its split from Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks retained the script, and began talks with Clint Eastwood to direct. Eastwood was signed on in November 2008. By the time of Matt Damon's casting in 2009, the script was being developed under the supervision of Eastwood's Malpaso Productions for Warner Bros.. Eastwood was attracted to the script because he was keen to direct a supernatural thriller, and liked how Morgan incorporated real-world events into fiction. Eastwood told LA Weekly, "There's a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people's beliefs that there's some afterlife, and mankind doesn't seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you’re here, and that'll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don't have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don't know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story."
Production was based in the United Kingdom, due to tax incentives and funding from the UK Film Council, though filming locations spanned three countries. Filming commenced in France on October 19, 2009. A days filming was done at the old Belle Epoque, Le Grand Hôtel-Restaurant du Montenvers, in the village of Planet, near Chamonix. The hotel building was transformed into a Swiss hospice for scenes between Cécile de France and Marthe Keller. A cordon was set up around the area to prevent local residents and paparazzi taking photographs of the set, though the mayor of Chamonix was allowed through for a brief meeting with Eastwood. Production then moved to Paris for four days. On October 21, a short scene between de France and Mylène Jampanoï was filmed in a stairwell inside the France Télévisions building.
In the first week of November, production moved to London for three weeks of filming in locations including Bermondsey and in Walworth. Scenes were also filmed on the Heygate Estate. On November 7, scenes were filmed in Petticoat Lane Market and at the Cafe Le Jardin in Bell Lane. Scenes were also filmed in an auditorium at Red Lion Square and at Camberwell New Cemetery. The room was redressed to represent a fictional Center For Psychic Advancement, which the Marcus character visits. De France filmed the underwater scene in a studio tank at Pinewood Studios. After these scenes were shot, production was halted, as Matt Damon was working on another film.
Filming resumed on January 12, 2010; Eastwood filmed scenes with de France for three days on the Hawaiian island of Maui. On the first day, scenes were filmed in the lobby and guest rooms of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. On January 13, scenes were filmed on Front Street in Lahaina. A hundred crew worked on the scenes. The location managers were given permission by Lahaina authorities to close a small section of the street in order to film scenes depicting "an unnamed, South Pacific-type outdoor marketplace, complete with outdoor shopping stalls and street vendors". The location manager explained to the Lahaina News, "Front Street's proximity to the water and the architecture of its buildings help supply a look that will require much less transformation towards this goal than other locations which were under consideration". The street was closed off to vehicles on the evening of January 12. The scene—the first scene of the film—depicts Cécile de France's character coming out of her hotel just as a tsunami hits the island. The aftermath of the tsunami was filmed on January 14 at a property in Kapalua.
Production next moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. On January 19, scenes featuring Damon were shot at the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company refinery in Crockett, California, and the exterior of C&H Sugar is seen on screen. The location was not announced until filming had concluded, for fear that large crowds would gather to watch. Filming also took place in Nob Hill, San Francisco and Emeryville. While production was in the Bay Area, it employed 300 local extras and crew members. Production returned to London on January 29 to shoot Damon's final scenes. On February 3, scenes were filmed at the Charles Dickens Museum. Later in the month, the London Book Fair was recreated inside the Alexandra Palace for a scene featuring George and Marie. Publishers including Random House had their stands built for the three-day shoot, two months before the real London Book Fair took place. Filming wrapped afterwards.
Visual effects work was carried out by Los Angeles-based Scanline VFX. 169 effects were created, the key sequence of which was the tsunami, which features "full CG water shots and CG water extensions to water plates, digital doubles, CG set extensions, matte paintings, digital make-up fx and full CG environments with extensive destruction, from toppling digital palm trees to colliding digital cars". An effect described as the "hereafter effect" also appears, "[giving] the viewer glimpses into the afterlife".
After initial speculation by Variety that the film would be released in December 2010, Warner Bros. announced that Hereafter would go on general release in the United States and Canada on October 22, 2010.
A pre-release screening of Hereafter was held on August 10, 2010. The film had its world premiere on September 12, 2010 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. The theatrical trailer was attached to The Town and Life as We Know It. Hereafter was also screened on October 10, 2010 as the Closing Night Film of the 48th New York Film Festival. The film was given a limited release on October 15, 2010.
The film premiered in Japan on February 19, 2011. A few days after the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the film was withdrawn from all cinemas in that country, two weeks earlier than originally planned. "Warner Bros. spokesperson Satoru Otani said the film's terrifying tsunami scenes were 'not appropriate' at this time."
Hereafter has received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 46% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 217 reviews, with an average score of 5.7 out of 10. The critical consensus is: "Despite a thought-provoking premise and Clint Eastwood's typical flair as director, Hereafter fails to generate much compelling drama, straddling the line between poignant sentimentality and hokey tedium." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 56/100 based on 41 reviews. Roger Ebert, however, gave the film four stars (out of four), calling it a film that "considers the idea of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. I was surprised to find it enthralling."
The film received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but lost to another Warner Bros. film, Inception.