Hart won the WWE Championship at WWE SummerSlam 1997. A week prior to Survivor Series, Hart, who had performed for the WWF since 1984, signed a contract to perform with WCW beginning in December 1997. McMahon sought to prevent Hart from leaving the company as the champion, but Hart was unwilling to lose the title to Michaels – with whom he had a long feud both on-screen and off – at Survivor Series in his home country. Hart, Michaels, and McMahon came to an agreement where the Survivor Series match would end with a disqualification, which under normal rules would result in Hart retaining the title. Hart would then lose or forfeit the title at a later date. However, McMahon decided without Hart's knowledge that Michaels would win the title at Survivor Series. Accounts differ as to who exactly was involved in the plan and the extent of their involvement. The plan was executed when match referee Earl Hebner, on direct order from McMahon, ended the match as Michaels held Hart in the Sharpshooter submission hold, Hart's signature finishing move, even though Hart had not submitted. Michaels was declared the victor by submission and crowned as the new WWF Champion.
The Montreal Screwjob has garnered a notorious legacy both on-screen and off, and was partly chronicled in the documentary film Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998). The far-reaching impact of the incident led to its adoption as a theme in matches and storylines of the WWF's "Attitude Era" and the creation of the character, "Mr. McMahon", the evil boss. It has been suggested by some that the entire incident may have been a work created by McMahon and Hart. Nonetheless, Hart was ostracized from the WWF while McMahon and Michaels continued to receive angry responses from audiences for many years, especially in Hart's home country Canada. Hart and McMahon later reconciled, and Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 1, 2006.
On the January 4, 2010 episode of WWE Raw, Hart, in his first appearance on live WWE television since the Montreal Screwjob, had a lengthy on-screen discussion with Michaels about the Montreal Screwjob and other events in their past, and agreed to call a truce, bringing closure to the incident after more than 12 years. Both men sat side-by-side to discuss the Montreal Screwjob in detail on the WWE Home Video release, Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (2011).