[UPDATE: A Los Angeles federal judge has set a Jan. 6 trial date for the Fox vs Warner Bros lawsuit, well ahead of the current release date.]

What an unbelievable mess this whole Watchmen movie fiasco has turned into. The average person has to ask themselves: How the heck does something like this happen? I mean, isn’t this why corporations have massive legal departments stocked chock full of everyone’s favorite people: lawyers?

Let’s take a look at the history of Watchmen in Hollywood to try to sort this all out.

The crux of the matter hinges on something in the movie industry known as “putting a film in turnaround.” Turnaround is basically a way for a studio that owns the rights to a property (in this case, Fox ownership of Watchmen) to “release” a project and allow another studio to make a film based on that property.

Of course the studio which owns the rights does not give this away for free, but depending on the specific arrangement either sells or “leases” the right to the other studio – in essence keeping a string attached which will allow them to recoup the cost of acquiring the property and possibly any development costs they’ve put into it, plus interest.

With me so far? Good.

You may not be aware of this, but the Watchmen project has been bouncing around Hollywood for over 20 years. Fox originally acquired the rights to the graphic novel back in 1987 and did intend to produce the film. Their plan was to have the original author, Alan Moore, write the screenplay. Unfortunately at the time they were not aware of Moore’s opinion regarding a film adaptation of his work – which was that he didn’t think it was suitable for a cinematic format.

When it seemed like they would not be able to get the project off the ground, Fox put Watchmen in turnaround to a number of studios over the years, none of which did anything with it. Ironically, the first studio to snatch up the rights when Fox made them available was – Warner Bros. They intended to put Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard) in charge as producer, Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys) as director and Sam Hamm (Tim Burton’s Batman) as screenwriter.

But Gilliam didn’t like the script, Silver was not able to raise enough money, and in the end the project languished for a number of years.

In 1991 enter producer Lawrence Gordon, a powerful Hollywood producer who was once a studio chief at 20th Century Fox and managed to secure the turnaround rights to Watchmen (remember, this means that Fox still owned the rights at a higher level).

In 2001 Universal took a shot at making the film with Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) as director with Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin producing a script written by David Hayter (X-Men, X-Men 2). What killed THAT deal was the fact the Universal Studios did not want to entrust such a huge production to Hayter, who wanted to direct the film with Gordon’s blessing.

From there Gordon and Levin tried to get the film made by Revolution Studios, then Paramount, which wanted Aronofsky to direct (who dropped out due to schedule conflicts) and then Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy). Greengrass approached the project (still based on Hayter’s script) with the right sensibility and a Summer 2006 date was targeted as the release date. Unfortunately in the end budgetary issues killed the project at Paramount, when the studio didn’t want to spend $100 million to make the film.

So back into turnaround it went.

(Click to continue “Possible Watchmen Movie Delay NOT Fox’s Fault?”)

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