As with the comic book source material, the film features prominent pastiche and crossover themes set in the late 19th century, featuring an assortment of fictional literary characters appropriate to the period, who act as Victorian Era superheroes. It draws on the works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Ian Fleming, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Gaston Leroux, and Mark Twain, albeit all adapted for the film.
The film grossed over $175 million worldwide at the box office, rental revenue of $48.6 million, and DVD sales as of 2003 at $36.4 million. It was intended to spawn a film franchise based on further titles in the original comic book series but there was little enthusiasm for a sequel. The film marked Sean Connery's last on-screen film appearance before his retirement.
In 1899, a terrorist group led by the Fantom cause international tension, breaking into the Bank of England to steal Leonardo da Vinci's blueprints of Venice's foundations, and then kidnap German scientists. The British Empire sends Sanderson Reed to Kenya to recruit adventurer and hunter Allan Quatermain. Quatermain, retired following the death of his son, at first refuses until a group of assassins are sent to kill him. In London, Quatermain meets "M", who is forming the latest generation of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He reveals the Fantom plans to start a world war by bombing a secret meeting of world leaders in Venice. The new League consists of Quatermain, Captain Nemo, vampiric chemist Mina Harker, and invisible thief Rodney Skinner.
The League travel to the London docks to recruit Dorian Gray, Mina's former lover who is kept immortal thanks to a missing portrait. The Fantom's assassins attack, but the League fend them off, aided by U.S. Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer. Dorian and Sawyer join the League. They then capture Edward Hyde in Paris and he joins the League after being offered amnesty, transforming back into his alter ego Dr. Jekyll. The League travel for Venice in Nemo's submarine, the Nautilus, but it soon becomes clear there may be a mole on board, a camera's flash powder being found in the wheelhouse, and one of Jekyll's transformation formulas disappears. Suspicion falls on the missing Skinner.
The Nautilus arrives in Venice just as the bombs go off, causing the city to start collapsing in a domino effect. Sawyer uses Nemo's automobile to stop the destruction, while Quatermain confronts the Fantom, who is unmasked as M. Dorian is also revealed to be the traitor, murdering Nemo's first mate Ishmael, and steals the Nautilus' exploration pod. M and Dorian leave a phonograph recording for the League, revealing their true goal is to ignite the world war and Dorian has been collecting physical elements of the League to create superhuman formulas and sell them off to the highest bidder. The Nautilus is damaged by bombs hidden on board, but Hyde saves it by draining the flooded engine rooms. Skinner sends a message to the League, revealing he has snuck aboard the exploration pod and to follow his heading.
The League reach northern Mongolia, reuniting with Skinner, where they plot to destroy M's factory with explosives. Nemo and Hyde rescue the scientists, Skinner sets the explosive charges, while Mina battles Dorian, killing him by exposing him to his portrait. Quatermain and Sawyer confront M, identifying him as Professor James Moriarty, taking on a new alias after his alleged death at the Reichenbach Falls. Sawyer is taken hostage by an invisible Reed, Quatermain shooting the latter, only for Moriarty to fatally stab him. Moriarty flees outside but Sawyer successfully shoots him, the formulas sinking into the icy water. Quatermain then dies.
Quatermain is buried beside his son in Kenya. The surviving League members recall how a witch doctor had blessed Quatermain for saving his village, promising that Africa would never let him die. The remaining League members depart, and said witch doctor arrives, performing a ritual that summons an unnatural storm, with a bolt of lightning ambiguously striking Quatermain's grave.Sean Connery as Allan Quatermain
Shane West as Tom Sawyer
Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray
Richard Roxburgh as Professor James Moriarty/Fantom/M
Peta Wilson as Wilhelmina "Mina" Harker
Tony Curran as Rodney Skinner/The Invisible Man II
Jason Flemyng as Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde
Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo
David Hemmings as Nigel
Max Ryan as Dante
Tom Goodman-Hill as Sanderson Reed
Terry O'Neill as Ishmael
Principal photography took place in Hungary, Malta, and the Czech Republic.
A character named Eva Draper (Winter Ave Zoli), the daughter of German scientist Karl Draper, was removed during editing but remained in some of the promotional material. Eva had appeared in two scenes: one ended up on the cutting room floor, and she was digitally replaced with a different character in the other. A brief fight scene featuring Tom Sawyer and the replacement character was rotoscoped into the film. The deleted scenes which feature Draper appear on the DVD.
Connery reportedly had many disputes with director Stephen Norrington. He did not attend the opening party, and when was asked where the director could be, he is said to have replied, "Check the local asylum." Norrington reportedly did not like the studio supervision and was "uncomfortable" with large crews.
For the script, the character "The Invisible Man" was changed to "An Invisible Man" since Fox was unable to obtain the rights to the title character of H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, and his name was changed from "Hawley Griffin" to "Rodney Skinner". The Fu Manchu character was also dropped from the script. At Fox's request, the character of Tom Sawyer was added for American audiences and to give the movie some "youth appeal". Producer Don Murphy, who described the request as a "stupid studio note", later said that the move to add Sawyer was "brilliant".
The studio put pressure on the filmmakers for a summer release. Some staff at Fox wanted it to be released in the fall, but according to the Los Angeles Times, Fox already had Master and Commander lined up for the fall. The production ran into trouble when a special effects set did not pan out as intended, forcing the filmmakers to have to quickly look for another effects shop.
Connery was paid USD$17 million for his role, which left the filmmakers little money to attract other big-name stars for the ensemble cast.
In an interview with The Times, Kevin O'Neill, illustrator of the comics, said he believed the film failed because it was not respectful of the source material. He did not recognize the characters when reading the screenplay and claimed that Norrington and Connery did not cooperate. Finally, O'Neill said that the comic book version of Allan Quatermain was a lot better than the movie version and that marginalising Mina Murray as a vampire "changed the whole balance". The author of the comics Alan Moore was cynical of the film from early in its development, seeing that the two works bore little resemblance, distancing himself from the film altogether. "As long as I could distance myself by not seeing them," he said, he could profit from the films while leaving the original comics untouched, "assured no one would confuse the two. This was probably naïve on my part."
In 2003, Larry Cohen and Martin Poll filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming the company had intentionally plagiarized their script Cast of Characters. According to the BBC, the lawsuit alleged "that Mr Cohen and Mr Poll pitched the idea to Fox several times between 1993 and 1996, under the name Cast of Characters," and that Fox had solicited the comics series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a smoke screen. It noted that the films shared public domain characters who did not appear in the comic book series. Although Fox denied the allegations as "absurd nonsense", the case was settled out of court, a decision Alan Moore, according to The New York Times "took ... as an especially bitter blow, believing that [he] had been denied the chance to exonerate [himself]."
The film opened at #2 behind Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen grossed an estimated $66,465,204 in Canada and the United States, $12,603,037 in the United Kingdom, and $12,033,033 in Spain. Worldwide, the film took $179,265,204.
Critical reaction to the film was generally unfavorable, with Empire magazine giving it two stars out of five while criticizing the film's exposition and lack of character depth, saying it 'flirts dangerously close with one-star ignominy'. A 30/100 approval rating on Metacritic is based on 36 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reports 17% of 177 reviews being positive, with an average rating of 4/10. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star out of a possible four stating "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen assembles a splendid team of heroes to battle a plan for world domination, and then, just when it seems about to become a real corker of an adventure movie, plunges into ... inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy."
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen earned a total of $48,640,000 in rentals with $14,810,000 from video rentals and $33,830,000 from DVD rentals. DVD sales meanwhile gathered revenue of $36,400,000.
A novelization of the movie was written by Kevin J. Anderson and released shortly before the movie.
The soundtrack album was also released internationally but not in the United States.
The Tracking Board reported on May 26, 2015, that 20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment had agreed to develop a reboot with hopes of launching a franchise. The report stated that a search was underway for a director who could help "continue to develop the reboot." John Davis told Collider in an interview that the reboot will be a female centric film, like the original source material is.