Joe Silver Reveals Original ‘Watchmen’ Movie Story Twist

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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. That would’ve SUCKED!! Such a cop out ending. They might as well have had Billy Crudup wake up and be like “It was all a dream!” *roll credits

    Terrible screenwriting…

    I thought the ending they went with was perfect, and like someone said in a previous comment Snyder’s ending was more in keeping with the tone of the source material.

    • ” They might as well have had Billy Crudup wake up and be like “It was all a dream!” *roll credits”

      Well said. My gut reaction when I read the Alt ending was how easy it was to just write that. If I gave a group of kids learning screenwriting a test in their first few days I would expet them to deliver something like that just due to youth and inexperience.

      I think it was in Christopher Vogler’s book The Writers Journey where he talked of avoiding the god in a box scenario. He shared how at the end of some old greek plays a box would come down to the stage at the end and the gods would step out and make everything alright. By being so easy the rest of the story becomes completely pointless.

      Gilliam’s ending would have done just that, negating the previous three hours of viewing experience.

      • Deus Ex Machina. The “god in a box” ending. Was very popular n Greek and Roman theatre./ Story telling. Even found In Shakespeare (French neo classics and into modern times. Divine Intervention. It is Sometimes Monarch. President, Dictator. Pope, General, Magistrate, Arch Angel, even Alanis Morrisette.(Dogma reference) at any rate that is the “term” for what you reference. It even works sometimes. In this case it seems pretty weak. Thanks

        • God out of the Machine. Which incidentally, is mentioned in the Watchmen graphic novel.

  2. No change of ending would stop this movie from sucking.

    • Then you just hate watchmen entirely because the film is almost verbatim to the book.

      • Yeah, anyone who was a fan of the book can’t possibly hate the movie, it’s the closest comic adaption to date….. I loved it and I prefared ending to the book, it seemed to make more sense to me. Though I did love how Ozymandias questioned himself at the end of the book, he doesn’t in the movie

  3. The squid thing always reminded me of the old Outer Limits episode. A scientist allows himself to be turned into an alien-like thing with tentacles so that humanity will unite. Personally unlike the ending they went with in the movie.

  4. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

  5. ‘Slave to the original material’? That’s exactly what we need more of! Why take a narrative that was written by what some consider to be a genius in his field, and completely revolutionized the comic book industry, touching generation after generation of readers; only to put your own f*ckwit spin on it? Why do these bumblef*ck Directors feelt they have any right to change something that is far beyond their creative capability?

  6. I love Terry Gilliam, but that twist just sucks.

  7. Given how he flubbed V for Vendetta, I am glad he “kinda lost” Watchmen. His aversion to being “slaves” to the source material made for a rushed film in V for Vendetta that could have, and should have, been a trilogy.

    There’s a reason Zack Snyder was taken in for Watchmen and it was his admirable “translation” of 300 from comic book page to film. If that for him meant being a slave to the source material, then I guess that’s what it took to come up with a faithful movie.

    And his proposed ending?!? Right… that would have been better…

  8. It kind of sounds like the taboo known as, “And it all was a dream!” that I was taught against in High School. Can you imagine how belittled Rorschach would feel about his hard-life becoming the things that little kids read?

  9. The disturbing part is that Joel Silver thought Gilliam’s idea was amazing, just shows how Hollywood is not the place to go for ideas. “Slave to the source material”?! I’ve read it and the original ending would’ve blown audiences away, as in “WTF??” I’m really tired of the predictable endings in blockbuster currently…

  10. This proposed alternate idea is utterly awful. It undermines everything the story was building up (of a world exploring real people as superheroes) in a really silly way. Even with Terry Gilliam’s amazing directorial skills and eye, this would have been terrible.

    According to an interview, Silver, producing on The Matrix, said of his first viewing of it that he only realised it ‘that they had something’ when he saw the helicopter fly into the side of the building near the end. If it took him that long to ‘get’ the potential of the Matrix at the time, then, yeah… better that he had nothing to do with the Watchmen film.

    I’ve always liked the movie’s take on things. Manhattan and Rorschach have two of the most interesting arcs through the movie, so I think it works well in focusing the climax on them more. If Manhattan’s arc is his gradual alienation from humanity, it clicks together very nicely that he becomes the ‘other’ that humanity ally themselves against.

  11. As much as I love Terry Gilliam, that ending sucks! I think that Tse did a great job with that third act, makes more sense, it exploits the fear people have of Manhattan right after the tv interview, making god fearing humans fear a god-like human. It works better than the squid thing in the GN. The only problem with the movie is that Snyder doesn’t know how to direct actors.

  12. Watchmen is by far my favorite comic to film adaptation ever. It was visually stunning, fun and smart. The changed ending fit better in my opinion. It turned Dr. Manhattan into a god figure to fear instead of the alien invasion concept from the novel, which worked in comic book form but would have come off cartoony on film.

    Though not a fan of Snyder’s work (anymore), I felt he handled the material with love. I hear a lot of complaints from people who never bothered to read the novel. Snyder took risk making it the way he did, He cut out the mainstream audiences and made a film for the real fans, so if you hated it, that’s cool, it wasn’t for you.

  13. Well, I think we all owe Snyder a huge thanks for keeping that rubbish of an ending from ever seeing the light of day. Holy hell, we dodged a bullet there.

    • Amen. Thank you Zach

  14. LMAO V for Vendetta was one of the worst movies ever made (worse than The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus ). I cannot believe anyone would have the gall to hold that rubbish up as a standard.

    Watchmen was in my opinion a great film (I did not read the graphic novel) though I understand why the masses would ind it hard to give it a go. No established hero figures for the mainstream audience combines with it’s length were always going to make it a hard sell. Though it did take 185 million world wide compared to V for Vendetta that took 132 million (albeit on a much lower budget which was reflected in the film).

    • Absolutely agreed, i loved V For Vendetta when i read it, was totally blown away by it, but the film was absolute trash that just took the bare bones of the book and made it into a terrible film. On the other hand, Watchmen was a phenomenal version of an amazing book, as true to the book as it could be. Silver has no idea what he’s talking about, which is probably why his once golden track record went down the tubes many years ago. The ending he’s talking about here is just nonsense and a total cop-out akin to Bobby coming out of the shower in Dallas.

  15. I really don’t know what the complaint is about Watchmen, especially if you watch the extended cut. It’s really almost a page for page adaptation of the novel that everyone said was impossible to correlate into film. I’m really quite happy with the way it turned out.

  16. SUPER LAME!!! We dodged a bullet there.

  17. SO glad they didn’t end up going with this option–it would’ve been REALLY tacky. I actually really liked the ending Snyder used. It was a satisfying update that made sense in a post-9/11 world.

  18. I am a big fan of the comic but I’ve always been in the camp that the ending would never work in today’s movie market and was a fan of how Snyder coped with that reality on screen. While I think Silver’s idea is interesting (up to the point of them becoming comic book characters), I think the ending would very quickly be reduced to a semantics argument about time travel and how this one universe couldn’t have existed if in the end Dr. Manhattan went back and changed everything unless you presuppose this other theory etc etc ad nauseum.

  19. Since Synder and co. changed the part about the giant squid and made the film better than the source, I’d hardly call it a ‘slave’ to the book. I like Joel Silver’s pas work, the first two Die Hards, the first two Predators, Lethal Weapons, The Matrix films, Tales From The Crypt and I’ll always be a fan of The Warriors and Streets Of Fire. I think Terry Gilliam is great – Brazil, Fisher KIng, 12 Monkeys…

    Here’s what I think. I think if Silver and Gilliam HAD done this Watchmen version…it might have been interesting and I can’t say if it would have been good or not — it was never made so I don’t know. I don’t think the “comic book ending” would have flown because even if you took Dr Manhattan and had him go back in time to prevent his existing…you’d still have the Watchmen (Minutemen at least) for the most part, right?

    It would have been given a reboot in 2009


  20. Not even worth commenting on, but I’m a fan Gilliam & his visual take would have been interesting to see. Now, while I’m not much of a graphic novel reader I had heard of Watchmen & glanced through the hardback in anticipation of the movie. That & the initial set photos released got me excited enough to attend the midnight opening at the largest local theater screen. Blew me away, saw it 3 times in the first 2 weekends. However, IMO it would have been much more financially successful had they broken it into a pair of movies ala Kill Bill allowing for more showings daily thus more opportunities for repeat viewing as well as built up anticipation for volume 2…

    • Exhale…

  21. Hm… no, I think Zack’s ending worked. I love the movie, and didn’t hate the ending, I just didn’t care for the slight bromance between Rorshach and Owl. Sure, the were partners and a loose definition of friends – but John’s reaction to Rorshach’s death was a bit much. I understand the need for a more human element, but it was – IMO – an unnecessary addition. That being said, this revelation just makes me grateful that the Watchmen ended up where it ended up.

  22. Snyders film was great and being a slave to the material was what was needed to convey the epic storyline to full effect. Silver’s version sounds a bit too gimmicky to have pulled off what he would have liked and would have not being a decent adaptation of the source material.

  23. Putting this in perspective with the Alan Moore interviews I’ve read, I understand why he’s been upset. Silver and Moore have very different ideas about film and comics in general. Gilliam was no doubt trying here, but Moore was evidently correct in saying Gilliam agreed it’s “unfilmable”. I don’t agree with Silver. I don’t think that solution would have been better, as it’s too close to the “It was all a dream” trope.

    • Conclusion: We’re not hearing from Gilliam, we’re hearing from a man whose career it is to produce big, mass market films with huge budgets that are in this instance based on material by someone who would decry that in itself. I don’t know that I like this from Silver; it seems tacky to me. Using what is ostensibly Gilliam’s idea to make your would-be product sound better? Well where’s Gilliam on that? Cheap move, this was a cheap move by Silver.

    • What I’ve seen of Watchmen – I have probably seen only a little more than what Moore would admit he’s seen of his books’ films – felt like Watchmen. For one, it honored the style and artwork of Dave Gibbons, and didn’t take shortcuts. I did see the ending, and while I feel the squid ending would have been fine, Snyder’s ending worked too. Had they done what Silver claims was Gilliam’s idea, I’d have rolled my eyes. Aliens are right out, but time travel is A-OK and it’s all a dream anyway. Right Joel, right.

  24. That’s a really crappy alt ending. I loved the way they handled it in the movie, it made more sense. Being a slave to the source material is a GOOD THING. If we did that, these “screenwriters’ would be out of a job.

  25. It’s amazing how film-makers read a classic tale, then get it in their confused heads that they can improve someone else’s story. Where I come from we call that theft of ideas. Here’s a suggestion. Tell those ‘film-makers’ and ‘writers’ to come up with their own original characters and plots. And, in 20, 30, 40, 75 years, we’ll see who is remembered. The character and books that they wanted to change, or their own creations. Otherwise don’t waste OUR time trying to convince us that YOUR ideas are better than the original. They’re NOT. Trust me.

  26. That’s Joel Silver for you – not exactly a literary mastermind.

  27. One more thing: Had this ending proceeded, where’s Rorschach? Rorschach decried Veidt’s solution which was agreeable to Dr. Manhattan. Rorschach, on his way to expose everything, was slaughtered by Dr. Manhattan, and was left as a red stain in the snow.

    Had this ending gone forth, the one Silver talks about here, that wouldn’t have happened. I don’t like it, I really don’t like this ending.

  28. Oh thank god it didn’t end up being a time-travel story.

    Time-travel as a mere plot-device to achieve a goal unrelated to time-travel is the worst thing. It’s become too clichéd.

    I’m personally happy with the ending. I really like it, and it’s already controversial enough in my opinion.