'Watchmen' lawsuit roils Hollywood

–Written by Jeff Jensen

Watchmen_l Last year, Warner Bros. rolled film on Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s $100 million adaptation of a comic book widely hailed as the greatest superhero story ever created. But did the studio even have the right to make the movie at all?

Earlier this year, Twentieth Century Fox filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. seeking to stop Watchmen’s release (scheduled for March 6, 2009), claiming that it, not Warner Bros., held the distribution rights to any motion picture made from the material. Today, a judge declined Warner Bros.’ request to dismiss the lawsuit, setting the stage for a possibly ugly legal tussle.

The judge’s ruling comes as a shock to many in Hollywood, as most assumed Fox’s claim had no merit. After all, the central figure in this complicated saga is Larry Gordon (Die Hard, Field of Dreams), a veteran producer who surely must have known what he was doing when he began trying to bring Watchmen to the screen 17 years ago—a storied struggle that took him to at least three separate studios (Paramount was close to making the film in 2005 before a regime change put it in turnaround) until finally finding a seemingly happy ending at Warner Bros. Yet according to Fox’s lawsuit, Gordon has a standing agreement dating back to the early ’90s to buy out the studio’s interest in the project if he ever got it up and going at another company.

Gordon, who has historically been reluctant to talk about his efforts to produce a Watchmen adaptation, couldn’t be reached prior to deadline for comment. In a statement, Warner Bros. responds: “It is our company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation, and thus will not comment on the specifics of this case. That said, the Court’s ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation. The judge did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements. We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.”

News of the proceeding lawsuit comes just days after Warner Bros. decided to shore up its 2009 slate—anchored by Watchmen and a new Terminator movie—by moving Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from fall 2008 to next summer. Make of that what you will.

As they say in the comics: to be continued…

Comments (97 total) Add your comment
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  • Silk Spectre

    Aw well. Perhaps it’s simply not meant to be a movie. They’ve been trying since the ’80s. I would love to see the movie. It’s a bit odd that Twentieth Century Fox would have distribution rights, as Watchmen was by DC (owned by Warner).

  • Jon

    That’s what I was thinking. DC bought this story out decades ago. And I wonder why Fox would wait until AFTER they finished filming/production to file this kind of lawsuit. Maybe they were waiting to see how good it would be before deciding to go ahead with a lawsuit? Oh well, once again the greedy few take control of art in order to satiate their own small lives.

  • Jon Stover

    I hope Alan Moore is having a laugh at this!

  • pyrs

    but the movie is already made.the trailer is out there, at the comic con was wildly talked about.what can the fans of the book expect from this?no movie release at all?that would be a cause for a revolution!now if you don’t mind i’m gonna call up my friend Dr Manhattan and have him teleport the Fox exects to Uranus!

  • JSG

    Fox? Acting evil?
    OMG… that’s hard to believe!

  • ryan

    I smell countersuit for malicious prosecution… Fox had to know that they were making this movie for months now… why wait until the opposing studio had spent so much money in production if not to ruin them financially?
    Shady business.

  • Anonymous

    Who knows if Fox even knew that the movie was in actual production. To assume they knew all of that information and deliberately waited to file suit is stretch.

  • cajunsblues

    Fox is being greedy-(ier)
    I mean how do they not know it was being made. Hollywood lawyers look for this stuff all the time in preproduction to earn their high paychecks.
    lame FOX. really lame.

  • Anonymous

    If Fox didn’t know this was in production, they were the only people in Hollywood who didn’t know. Studios are very much aware of what major films their competitors have in the works.

  • Dismiss

    It doesn’t matter at all. If the movie is anything like the comic….it’s gonna suck. The comic was the worst thing i have ever read. Seriously boring. Seriously having no point.

  • krinkles

    Thank God somebody is putting a halt to this abortion of an adaptation… Call me a stick in the mud, but being a die hard fan of Watchmen for many years, I’d rather not see it mangled on the big screen by Snyder’s talentless practices of slow-mo overload. Let it simmer in court for years, I say.

  • Jeff Jensen

    To Dismiss: you’re being funny, right? If not, defend yourself, because you might be the only person in the world who feels that way. And Krinkles: “abortion”? Seriously?!

  • Dismiss

    Seriously. It was boring. Worst comic that i have read. In fact, everyone keeps calling it the “greatest superhero comic of all time” and yet
    there are NO superheroes in it at all!
    It’s just my opinion. I didn’t like it at all. Maybe it IS just me.

  • bridizzle

    poetic justice i say ….the greedy got caught looking by the greedy-er….they pushed harry potter and angered and saddend all their fans and now they might not get watchmen out …karma …boy do I love it :)

  • Logan

    Boring comic? No Superheros in it? My friend you don’t know what a superhero is, being a hero has nothing to do with powers and everything to with character.
    Now Fox may have the rights to distribution but sitting on a movie that could potentialy be a blockbuster of the Month it gets released is just greedy and a slap in the face to the cosumers who shell $20 a person just to see most of the crap Fox puts out every year.

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