Joe Silver Reveals Original ‘Watchmen’ Movie Story Twist

Published 1 year ago by

Watchmen Cast Joe Silver Reveals Original Watchmen Movie Story Twist

For years, most Hollywood producers had accepted that Watchmen, the fan-favorite (albeit controversial) superhero story from Alan Moore, was unfilmable – that is until Warner Bros. and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder brought the graphic novel to the big screen. Unfortunately, while the filmmaker managed to turn Moore’s tale of political corruption, masked vigilanties, and a naked blue superhuman into a blockbuster film, fans and moviegoers remain mixed on whether Snyder proved that a three hour adaptation could successfully capture the spirit (and depth) of the core Watchmen narrative (read our original Watchmen review).

Critics and comic readers are still split on whether the film succeeded or failed in its lofty ambitions – while casual viewers simply did not turn out to support the 2009 movie in theaters, scoring only $107 million (domestic) on a reported $130 million budget. Of course, even viewers that enjoyed the movie and consider Snyder’s effort an enjoyable experience have to face the fact that, in order to make it “filmable,” major changes had to be made. Now, producer Joel Silver, who was at one point developing a Watchmen adaptation, is once again criticizing the final Warner Bros film – revealing how director Terry Gilliam intended to alter the story in their version.

Watchmen Movie Superheroes Joe Silver Reveals Original Watchmen Movie Story Twist

Speaking with Coming Soon, Silver had tough words for Snyder’s adaptation – calling the Warner Bros. film a “slave” to the source material and implying his iteration would have made for a significantly better movie:

“It was a MUCH much better movie [...] I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material. I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success.”

WARNING: The rest of this article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for both Watchmen (2009) and the original Watchmen graphic novel.


Begin SPOILERS for Watchmen.

Watchmen Dr Manhattan Joe Silver Reveals Original Watchmen Movie Story Twist

Silver is right that changes to V for Vendetta helped to ensure that the film adaptation, directed by James McTeigue, was satisfying to fans and casual viewers alike but Snyder’s Watchmen wasn’t a complete copy and paste job. The final act of Watchmen was often the primary hurdle for any writer attempting to develop a faithful screenplay of the graphic novel – which features Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) faking an extraterrestrial attack (for the purpose of uniting warring Earth nations against a common threat) by teleporting a giant genetically engineered squid creature into the heart of New York City.

Writers David Hayter and Alex Tse both made significant alterations to that challenging final act – replacing the infamous squid with weaponized energy reactors that make it appear as though Dr. Manhattan turned on humanity and destroyed major cities around the globe (establishing him as the target of humanity’s now united efforts). While many fans derided the change as a cop-out, others felt as though Tse’s version was actually tidier but just as impactful as Moore’s original concept.

Watchmen Movie Logo Joe Silver Reveals Original Watchmen Movie Story Twist

Yet, Silver maintains that Gilliam had an even better solution – one that would have been a significant departure from the source material:

What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Dr. Manhattan wasn’t in the movie at all. Silver seems to imply that where Ozymandias would teleport a squid (or energy reactor) into New York City – killing millions of innocent people – he would, instead, persuade Dr. Manhattan to go back in time to prevent his former self, Jon Osterman, from ever being trapped inside the nuclear test chamber. Considering that Dr. Manhattan is the only actual superhuman in the film, responsible for years of influencing global politics, his absence would then drastically alter the film’s 1980s present.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that could have easily worked; though, fans might have rolled their eyes at the part about the Watchmen heroes becoming displaced “characters in a comic book.

Nite Owl Silk Spectre Rorschach Watchmen Movie Joe Silver Reveals Original Watchmen Movie Story Twist

Silver elaborated further on the fates of Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre – and how the rest of the world would perceive them (following Dr. Manhattan’s reality-bending change):

“So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time [...] But I did like the [2009] movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!”

The Dr. Manhattan aspect might provide a satisfying resolution but it’s hard to imagine how Gilliam would have actually made that plan for Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre work on the big screen. Would everyday moviegoers and comic fans have considered such an on-the-nose connection to superhero lore satisfying – especially considering the world is left entirely unaware of its alternate history (and the heroes who fought for it)?

Let us know which version of Watchmen you prefer. As for the future (read: past) of the series, we’ll keep you updated on whether or not the Before Watchmen prequel comic ever makes it to the big or small screen.


Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for updates on the Watchmen series as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: Coming Soon

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  1. I am really glad to see that so many other people consider the movie an improvement on the book — the wacky “alien” ending was its main weakness, and the film closely followed most of the book while changing the one thing that really needed to change. It’s amazing the way they came up with an ending for the movie that made so much more sense and remained so close to the spirit of the book. (Usually it’s the other way around!)

    This was one of the very rare films based on a book that’s superior to the source material (and I say that as a fan of the book). The Gilliam idea is interesting to consider, but it wouldn’t have worked as well.

    • I liked the movie, but I still consider the graphic novel superior. The novel attempts to do more than tell a story, it attempts to establish a world. You can’t integrate the “Tales of the Black Freighter” into the film proper, nor make room for the lives of all those minor characters (Bernie, Doctor Malcolm, etc. ) who intersect into the main plot, nor make use of the appendage readings at the end of the chapters to set up future events. If you seriously read the graphic novel, you’ll clearly see that Moore and Gibbons created it for that medium, and that’s where it works best. And you can do things in the graphic novel that you can’t do on film, like that palindrome chapter or the insertion of small visual cues and puns.

      While I enjoy the film, you’re all looking at the story too small, because Watchmen is much greater than what it appears to be.

      • Well said. Whether or not the movie’s ending works on its own terms – and I think it does – it misses a vital part of the mindset humanity is left with at the end of the graphic novel. As you say, the latter makes connections, draws analogies, provokes responses in ways that simply can’t be reproduced on film, regardless of running time, budget or seemingly-faithful surface visuals.

  2. Uh…knowing that, I’m glad they went with the blaming Manhattan thing instead.

  3. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Happy that they didn’t go with the “Dr. Manhattan erases himself” idea. That would have neutered the whole story.
    I enjoyed the Watchmen movie because they stayed so close to the source material, and the ending they came up with was close enough to the source to make it still enjoyable. I can’t believe anyone would think that basically erasing the movie you’ve just seen would be a good ending. And how would that erase the Watchmen team anyway? The original team in was before Dr. Manhattan was created?

  4. I didn’t like the movie for the reasons of lost punch lines and monolog, but… Joe has some good movies under his belt, but “was too much of a slave to the material” is a REALLY stupid statement. “I know it’s considered the greatest graphic novel ever but we’re going to change it, and not respect the source material, which is considered the greatest graphic novel ever.” …..f’n stupid.


    Full original Sam Hamm Watchman script.

  6. Haven’t read all the comments so if I’m reiterating a previous comment, I apologize in advance.

    The heart of the Watchmen is Rorschach. His death is the price that humanity had to pay for peace. Not Manhattan’s exile or the ‘alien’ squid deaths. Any plot that removes Rorschach and his sacrifice from the story is utter crap.

    • The film DID, however keep an even more significant aspect of Rorschach’s sacrifice: his JOURNAL. That last image of it about to be found (and presumably read) kept the graphic novel’s brilliance intact…though with a MUCH better villain plot reveal than that cornball alien squid. I loved the story in BOTH mediums.

  7. I can see it working in Terry Gillian’s style. I think it would have been better than what we ended up with.

    I love the graphic novel but hated the movie, and partly because the movie did try too hard to look like the comic. But it really missed the whole beauty of Watchman. Watchman is such a classic, not because of the story so much, but because of the unique and skillful use of the comic book format. The story is so tightly incorporated into the comic book format that it truly becomes inseparable. Only one example is how densely the word balloons of people talking, thinking, narrating comics, or TV and radio reporting stories. It constantly creates a dense tapestry of overlapping and connected events, large and small. It works magic in the well organized and soundless comic book, but would create a confusing mess in cinema. In order for any live action version to even come close to equaling it, it would have to push the boundaries of the movie medium in it’s own unique ways, not simply use the graphic novel as a story board. Trying to reproduce it only reduces it and neuters it.

    And BTW, the main storyline is an expansion of an old Outer Limits episode “The architects of fear.” (It’s alluded to at the end of the comic). So the story in and of itself isn’t what makes Watchman great.

    • I disagree. The story of “Watchmen” is the MOST important aspect of the graphic series. The set-up, while brilliant and interesting, merely serves to emphasize the telling of the story…to highlight it and to guide the reader. As for the film vs. the comic, I very much enjoy both but found the film’s villain plot served the story AND the overall concept much more effectively (while also being substantially less corny) than the comic’s.

    • What’s Watchman? Never heard of it.