Possible Watchmen Movie Delay NOT Fox’s Fault?

Published 7 years ago by , Updated September 4th, 2012 at 8:37 am,

watchmeninsignia Possible Watchmen Movie Delay NOT Foxs Fault?

[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.

watchmenposter Possible Watchmen Movie Delay NOT Foxs Fault?

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?”)


In 2005 Gordon and Levitt brought Warner Bros into the picture and that’s where things finally came together – in June 2006 Zack Snyder (300) was offically announced as the director of the Watchmen movie, with a script by Alex Tse which would be based heavily on David Hayter’s screenplay. On a side note, although it’s well known that Alan Moore has always been against a movie adaptation of his graphic novel, he did say at one point that Hayter’s script “was as close as I could imagine to anyone getting Watchmen.”

watchmen comic comp1 Possible Watchmen Movie Delay NOT Foxs Fault?
Comparison of a scene from the Watchmen movie with the Comic

It remains to be seen how much of Hayter’s script survives in the final film.

Which brings us, finally, to today and this whole ugly lawsuit where everyone (including our site) has labeled Fox as the bad guy. Now there is no love lost between Fox and myself. They’ve mucked up a lot of potentially great superhero movies (Daredevil, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, X-Men 3, Fantastic Four), not to mention the grief they gave me about a Day the Earth Stood Still post here at Screen Rant.

The latest information that’s surfaced indicates that while Fox filed their lawsuit in February of this year, they claim that they had tried to contact Warner Bros via email, phone and postal mail since before the production even started, to no avail.

Now I’m not a legal-minded guy in any sense of the word, but here’s what it looks like may have happened:

It seems that Lawrence Gordon gave Warner Bros. the go-ahead to shoot the film. WB figures he owns the turnaround rights, so they’re golden (of course this doesn’t explain why they didn’t do some due diligence on the situation with a crack team of lawyers).

Gordon didn’t cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the Fox side of things, and assigned rights to WB incorrectly or incompletely in regards to his agreement with Fox.

Now Fox is taking Warner Bros to court, and it looks like the date may be as late as June 2009 (three months after the target release date for the film) and the trial is set to begin on January 6th, 2009 (two months before the release date).

Now what I find unusual (or maybe not) is that Fox isn’t going after Gordon in this lawsuit at all – when it seems that HE is the source of all these problems and the confusion. Of course Warner Bros. has much deeper pockets than Gordon, plus they have the film in the can – so maybe it makes sense after all. What’s interesting is that they’re not targeting Paramount, which also made an attempt at the film and had gotten the green light from Gordon before it went to WB.

The cast of Watchmen

However it looks like Warner Bros. will bring Lawrence Gordon into the middle of this legal battle, and rightly so as far as I can tell.

Will this affect the release date for Watchmen? Does Fox really want to keep the movie from being released or are they just playing this situation to the hilt in order to extract maximum coinage from Warner Bros. in an out of court settlement?

However this turns out, it seems to me that the real bad guy here may be Lawrence Gordon and NOT 20th Century Fox.

Sources: IESB, NY Times, Andrew Steven Harris

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TAGS: Watchmen
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  1. Well Ken J if no one else gets you, I do! It’s the principle of the thing, despite all the other problems most everyone has with Fox.

    With WB’s success with the “Batman” property, everyone wants to be with a winner. If the shoe was on the other foot, I have no doubt that the great majority would be cheering on WB to bleed Fox dry.. As you have seen in the Ellison video, WB isn’t an untarnished star either. Given the circumstances, and the situation, I think it’s selfish to demand Fox just give in. Sounds to me like Fox isn’t the only greedy one out there, fans need to take a look in the mirror! It’s unreasonable to think that the entertainment industry isn’t out to get it while and when they can. Call it greedy, but if a downturn in industry earnings, which by the way are down overall from last year, really occurs, we’ll see who’s able to continue to thrive.

    With the early court date I don’t think Fox is going to reap a windfall. They’ll get their contractual payment. Maybe the court will punish WB a little for troubling the court, if it gets to court. Which maybe Fox is counting on with the harsh rhetoric. An out of court settlement has the potential of being greater in my opinion. Personally I hope it goes to court for a day and the judge puts both companies in their place! As for Lawrence Gordon, depending on the facts of the case, the civil action might be the least of his problems. For anyone that didn’t catch it, he’s going to court too..

    Thanks Vic for keeping us updated on the story.

  2. I think you miss understand me here old man (I love saying that sounds like I’m just yelling old man instead of saying your name). I don’t mind fox getting money for this I do think it’s a bit greedy to ask for anymore then they put in to it, but whatever that’s the way the world works. My only problem is with an attempt to ban the film or even delay the release. There is no reason for either. If fox simply gets a huge pay out for doing absolutely nothing but the movie is unaffected I don’t care. I don’t give a damn about WB I just care about the film.

    I disagree that fox is doing nothing wrong simply because lets face it they havn’t put really anything substantial in to this film, but you can bet they will ask for a substantial payout. Though as I said before if fox can make a habit of this whole let other companies make movies and just sue them later I would be pretty happy. Fox gets a profit, but good studios (or at least better ones) get to make the flims. Fox puts out good TV shows just sometimes mis manages them, but their movies generally suck.

  3. “I disagree that fox is doing nothing wrong simply because lets face it they havn’t put really anything substantial in to this film”

    Funny, I thought I said that EXACT criticism about Fox and this situation before until Vic pointed out to me that putting a film in “turnaround” is a very normal process and there isn’t anything seen as wrong with it.

    But I guess I’m just “defending” Fox, yep, really I am… 😀

    Good show, lol.

  4. Yeah, I like your idea about Fox not making the movies. Daniel have you ever gambled and won? Just curious. I agree with you that Fox shouldn’t get a big windfall, because I’m afraid of the precedent it might set.

    I see WB’s action like running a red light. You might get away with it, but you shouldn’t. If everything goes well in court, we’ll see that movie on time no probs. Just boycott the new “TDTESS.” Fox should feel some pain for its arrogance too.

  5. I won’t Boycott anything. Boycotting is useless because the amount of people that will do it is so insignificant that it will have no effect on anything. Besides even though 80% of their films are crap they still sometimes release a few good ones and I don’t want to miss those. Wolverine sounds better by the day.

  6. I find it interesting that Fox claims to have tried to contact WB earlier by phone, mail, and email. No mention of sending a document by any type of courier – which would have required a signature and created a record of the delivery. Did they send it registered mail or just put a .42 stamp on the envelope. And who in particular did they try to contact? Whatever legal tactic they can apply now was also available to them earlier. The case might be made that the earlier attempts at contact were token attempts that were meant to fail, in which case FOX had planned all along to let the production go on and then hold the release hostage.

    If Gordon didn’t have the appropriate rights to take the movie to WB, it’s hard to see how FOX can avoid including Gordon in some sort of complaint. I could imagine someone at WB suggesting that if anyone owes money to FOX, it’s Gordon.

  7. The only group losing in this matter is the fanbase (IE: the consumers). Either way this goes the studios will profit over any losses they may or may not percieve. That is just so truly sad, especially with box office already down even with the hits this year.

    I’ve been a fan of this work since it debuted in the comic world and have been a HUGE fan of Alan Moore’s work since his run on Swamp Thing. I have salivated over this coming to the silver screen since I first saw it listed as a work in progress in Wizard magazine. I regularly checked on the progress every month without fail just to stay abreast of any changes that may befall it.

    Now saying that…I’ll say this…Fox has owned the rights to this since the beginning and that is a simple fact. There is NO WAY that they weren’t aware of this property being developed and filmed at a rival studio. Knowing this it therefore makes no sense whatsoever that would only make token attempts over a two year period to halt production and recoup the turnaround rights before an announced release date. It also seems a BIT odd that a trailer comes out for the movie a week before it is announced it is being delayed by a “rival studio.” All this does is whip the fanbase into a frothing lynch mob of exasperation and then aim them at the owner of the rights of the property.

    None of this makes any coherent sense at all. It just seems to be a “he said, she said” situation or just a viral ad campaign to promote the movie and build fanaticism further for the release.

    I could be way off on this but it’s my private observation of this sad situation.

    Again…it seems the only true loser so far is the consumer and a suicidal move on Fox’s part.

  8. It’s difficult for me to see Fox as “innocent.” How can this property have been developed at more than one studio with this rights bomb ticking away if Fox had notified those studios of the potential problem in any substantive manner? Are these studios run by idiots who love handing millions to their competitors? I think not. Yes, Warners should have checked more carefully to make sure that Gordon had secured his rights … no doubt they will be more careful in the future! However, it is logical to assume that they acted in good faith simply because otherwise they are risking big bucks. On the other hand, it is likely that Fox is not because they have much more to gain by failing to inform Warners of their risk.

    No, indeed, I believe that if Fox “informed” Warners, it was in a way that was likely to be overlooked or misunderstood because they were in fact looking for this opportunity to get something that they want … and now it’s come out, hasn’t it? Warners owns the rights to DC characters and Fox would like to put out 60s Batman DVDs. Gee, it isn’t even about Watchmen! Only it is. Fox is holding Watchmen for ransom. I don’t think that is very honorable.