The 'Watchmen' war: Fanboys furious with Fox

Watchmen_lTwentieth Century Fox’s war with Warner Bros. over rights to Watchmen has sparked fan outrage across the Web following a published report that Fox is seeking to prevent Zack Snyder’s $100 million-plus comic book adaptation from ever being released, a report that most reasonable people and several informed sources believe just isn’t accurate. Those familiar with the situation tell EW.com that despite the legal mess over rights, Fox isn’t actually interested in suppressing Snyder’s film — they just want affirmation of ownership and/or restitution, and there are many scenarios by which Fox could get paid, including a cash settlement or distribution rights to the film. Either way, look for Watchmen to be released, as scheduled, on March 6, 2009.

Caught in the crossfire of murky legal vollies and overheated online venting: some of Fox’s biggest upcoming films, including a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves, and 2009’s other hotly anticipated superhero flick, Fox’s own X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman and slated for a May 1, 2009 release. In the wake of a report in Tuesday’s Daily Variety asserting that “Fox … would rather see [Watchmen] killed instead of collecting a percentage at the box office,” comic books fans hit the boards at EW.com and deadlinehollywood.com vowing to punish Fox for denying them the chance to see Snyder’s long-awaited movie by boycotting various Fox films. Over at comics2film.com, Watchmen fans also blustered about a ban and even floated the idea of damaging Wolverine in particular via piracy — presumably, by making a crappy cam recording of the film and posting it somewhere on the Internet for illegal download.

It’s hard to imagine a boycott or a digital pirate attack could significantly skewer Wolverine’s prospective box office, even if they did actually come to pass. Fanboys are pretty amped for Jackman’s franchise bid — the trailer Fox showed at Comic-Con killed — and a vast majority of geeks probably shy away from doing anything that will rile up a small army of Fox lawyers armed with court orders. Still, Fox is counting on those fanboys’ dollars to make Wolverine profitable, and alienating them risks creating bad PR. Should this boycott blather intensify throughout the fall, it will no doubt put Jackman in the unenviable position of fielding questions about the controversy during the tubthumping to come for his big Oscar-baiting epic, Australia, also a Fox production. (Needless to say, such drama would also create more awareness for Watchmen.)

Asked for a response to the fan uproar, a Fox spokesman said in a statement: “Of course we are concerned about the fans; however, any disappointment from the core fans should not be directed toward Fox. What we are doing is seeking to enforce our distribution rights to Watchmen. Legal copyright ownership should not just be swept under the rug and ignored.”

One question many observers have had about this situation is the timing of the lawsuit. Fox filed its complaint back in February — just as Snyder was wrapping production on Watchmen. The assumption many are making is that Fox stood by and did nothing as Warner Bros. actively and publicly developed and produced a movie it had no right to make, and then, at a maximum moment of leverage, sandbagged its rival with a lawsuit. And yet, according to a Fox source, studio lawyers contacted Warner Bros. about the distribution rights issue several times prior to the start of production but were rebuffed.

All of this would seem to suggest that Warner Bros. either massively screwed up or is pretty darn certain that Fox is grossly mistaken. In a statement issued to the press on Tuesday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said: “We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.” But the studio also made the claim that the judge in the case, Judge Gary Allen Fees, “did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements.” This is technically true. But the tenor of Fees’ edict does sound rather leading. For example: “It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that [Watchmen producer Larry] Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers’ interest in Watchmen, ever acquired any rights in Watchmen.”

At the very least, the judge’s order seems to put Warner Bros. and Gordon in the position of producing proof that clearly shows that Fox is wrong, or confuses the situation so much that the judge will have no choice but to throw them into a slime pit and let them slug this thing out. (If you want to examine the legalese yourself, check it out here.) Regardless, the two most likely outcomes are: 1. Warner Bros. wins. 2. Warner Bros. offers Fox a big fat settlement and Fox takes it. They could certainly use the bump after a weak summer season in which none of its films crossed the $100 million threshold.

Asked for a response to the fan uproar, a Fox spokesman said in a statement: “Of course we are concerned about the fans; however, any disappointment from the core fans should not be directed toward Fox. What we are doing is seeking to enforce our distribution rights to Watchmen. Legal copyright ownership should not just be swept under the rug and ignored.”

One question many observers have had about this situation is the timing of the lawsuit. Fox filed its complaint back in February — just as Snyder was wrapping production on Watchmen. The assumption many are making is that Fox stood by and did nothing as Warner Bros. actively and publicly developed and produced a movie it had no right to make, and then, at a maximum moment of leverage, sandbagged its rival with a lawsuit. And yet, according to a Fox source, studio lawyers contacted Warner Bros. about the distribution rights issue several times prior to the start of production but were rebuffed.

All of this would seem to suggest that Warner Bros. either massively screwed up or is pretty darn certain that Fox is grossly mistaken. In a statement issued to the press on Tuesday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said: “We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project." But the studio also made the claim that the judge in the case, Judge Gary Allen Fees, "did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements.” This is technically true. But the tenor of Fees’ edict does sound rather leading. For example: "It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that [Watchmen producer Larry] Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers’ interest in Watchmen, ever acquired any rights in Watchmen."

At the very least, the judge’s order seems to put Warner Bros. and Gordon in the position of producing proof that clearly shows that Fox is wrong, or confuses the situation so much that the judge will have no choice but to throw them into a slime pit and let them slug this thing out. (If you want to examine the legalese yourself, check it out here.) Regardless, the two most likely outcomes are: 1. Warner Bros. wins. 2. Warner Bros. offers Fox a big fat settlement and Fox takes it. They could certainly use the bump after a weak summer season in which none of its films crossed the $100 million threshold.


Comments (90 total) Add your comment
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  • cajunsblues

    again just comes down to money.

  • dan

    Jeff — Comic-con is a TERRIBLE place to gauge actual fan-boy interest in any given project. Yes I know that the Wolverine trailer brought a lot noise on the floor at comic-con… but why don’t you go look at the reaction it got on the web when AICN briefly posted it. The most common fan-boy reaction was to compare it to garbage like ELEKTRA and CATWOMAN.
    And if you watched that trailer, you’d know why (seriously, attention hollywood: having you hero walk in slow-motion away from a giant explosion is tantamount to writing the words “pathetic recycled unimaginative pandering cheese” over the title of your film).

  • mark in nyc

    FOX is screwing this one up big time, they should take a financial settlement ad leave it at that. Any interest in delaying or surpressing the Watchmen film would result in huge profit losses.
    I will make it easy for the executives at FOX to understand. The comic book movie core, ie fanboys, all have one thing in common. They are fiercely loyal, that is why they will go and see Batman and Robin, or other crappy comic book movies. They expect loyalty in return.
    However when they feel they are slighted, as in their interests are being ignored or worse dismissed (as in the watchmen)….hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned!
    Ask the weisnsteins how their superhero Movie did after they screwed over the Harry Knoweles film.
    The fan boys may go see Wolverine, but they will also organize to NOT see other movies by FOX.

  • Jeff Jensen

    Dan: point taken about Comic-Con reaction. At the same time, it’s not like message board reactions (particularly those at AICN) are famous for providing sober perspective, either. This current Watchmen report suggests as much. But your analysis of trailer cliches is pretty funny and spot-on.

  • mark in nyc

    Jeff- are you saying my anonymous ravings with no actual statistics on an internet talkback forum are having no affect? Darn it, I have been railing against the executives at FOX since they canceled FIREFLY….now I find this out?

  • dan

    Jeff— Ok, youre certainly right about AICN talkbacks, and especially in regards to Watchmen. I didn’t mean to oversell that point, I guess I’m just still bitter about that awful, awful x-men3.
    PS
    I’m dying without your Lost column man.

  • Henry

    Admittedly, I was a little worried about a delay for Watchmen, too, but after reading this, I’m okay. These kinds of squabbles over distribution rights and the like seem common with a lot of movie studios. I wouldn’t go so far as to boycott Fox’s upcoming film slate, but I’d like for there to be some accurate reports to come out before they start to make a lot of people go nuts over everything.

  • Goreful

    20th Century Fox are A-holes. If they want a piece of the pie from Watchmen. That’s fine with me.
    But…stopping the release of the film?
    Oh, hell to the NO!
    Boycott Fox!

  • Jason

    If they own the rights, they own the rights. I’m looking forward to the film, but the way this reads it’s WB that screwed the pooch, not Fox. Chances are pretty good those rights cost them money, and certainly they want a piece of the pie (which looks to be getting larger and larger every day from reading fanboy postings)–which they would seemingly be entitled to. Hopefully they can get this settled well before March rolls around…

  • ontheotherhand

    I would have had NO problem with Fox asking for it’s so called rights BEFORE Watchmen started filming… last fall. To wait until principle photography was almost complete before getting their panties in a twist over someone else making a movie that Fox COULD have made anytime over the previous decade smacks of the worst kind of cynicism.
    Bad form Fox. No cookie for you!

  • Gre

    FOX isn’t stupid. They *know* that the release date for WATCHMEN will stick no matter what (well, they did until HARRY POTTER 6 got moved). The fact that the movie is done and ready to go just means that WB will be pressed to pay up ASAP. Snarky move bringing this up now.

  • Someguy

    I have not read the comic, but I do intend to. But what gets me about all this “fanboy” anger toward Fox. Alan Moore, the dude who wrote the comic, has spoken out against this movie. A true fan would respect the wishes of the orginal creator.

  • Jon

    Watchmen is the most anticipated comic movie of the year, not Wolverine. If you were using Comic Con as a gauge then you should have mentioned Watchmen was the overwhelming star of the Con. To the point where almost everything else was overshadowed. You should know, Jeff. You were there.

  • Rorschac

    Someguy you say that Alan Moore has “spoken out against this movie”. This is true but Alan Moore hasn’t seen or read anything about Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen. Alan Moore, while he is a creative genius, is a crumudgeon who is angry at Hollywood over the bastrdization of some of his other works such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Snyder could make a movie that is frame for frame identical to the Watchmen Graphic Novel and Alan Moore would hate it just on principle.

  • larry wilson

    I’m not really a “fanboy” of Watchmen — I did read the comic in the 80’s (enjoyed it, didn’t love it) — I am a comic fan of over 40 years, so any time a film is made using one of the many great properties in the comic world, it gains my interest (and support). As to what’s happening here with Fox and Warner Brothers — my beef with Fox is they had the rights all these years and sat on it. Someone comes along and attempts to make a potentially great film (ala The Dark Knight), Fox looks very petty (and greedy) — it doesn’t create any good feeling about supporting Fox products (be it television or film). Take heed Fox, you’re not being well served by your legal people on this one.

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