One could also argue that when adapting works like Watchmen (which aren't so widely recognized), part of a filmmakers' job is to come up with an innovative approach to making those unfamiliar characters and stories interesting and relatable to a new audience. By taking the "living comic book" approach, a film like Watchmen immediately alienates those who never liked comic books in the first place, essentially telling that audience, "Hey, we know this isn't your type of thing and we don't care. You should like it. Our cheesy dialogue and outrageous plots are awesome."
Esoteric filmmaking doesn't sell tickets, and all a "living comic book" really does is provide a fleeting thrill to fanboys who are so familiar with the source material that they can compare every shot on the screen to every panel on the page.
So does that mean that the now-infamous Paul Haggis Watchmen script (which "reimagined" the story in modern times and was only loosely based on the source material) would've been a better sell at the box office? I know Paul Haggis is probably saying so...
However, one thing is irrefutable: anytime a comic book film is labeled to be "too comic bookish," whether because of stylistic choices, script decisions, dialogue, acting, or whatever else might be contributing to that label, the film is only going to enjoy mild success, at best. To get the big bucks, comic book films have to transcend their medium. Watchmen has not changed that fact--in fact it's probably made it truer than ever. Going forward, it's going to be tough for lesser-known comic books like DC's The Losers to make the jump to film while still "staying true" to their comic book roots.
Critics who said Watchmen would flop will probably claim that their predictions were based on an exact science ('comic bookish movie' = limited appeal). However, what about the anomalies? How about the fact that at this time in 2007, 300 was smashing the box office wide open? Yes, yes, you can argue that 300 was successful because it was (very loosely) based on a well-known historical event, or that boys loved it for the bloody battles, while girls loved it for the buff-bods shown-off by the film's leading men. But blood and guts and good-looking half-naked bodies don't automatically equal box office success. (If they did, every Friday The 13th film would be smash hit.)
It's undeniable: a large part of why 300 clicked with audiences had to do with Zack Snyder's stylistic choice to turn the film into a living graphic novel. People thought it looked cool, that it was an innovative, original take on the whole "sword-and-sandals" genre, and so they checked it out. Watchmen was supposed to be an "innovative and original" take on the superhero genre, so why was Snyder's stylistic approach so polarizing this time?
Sin City was another "living graphic novel" film that did well at the box office, earning $74 million domestically and $158 million worldwide--enough profit to warrant a sequel to the film, which will be released in 2010. And unlike 300, there was no historical basis or partial nudity to lure audiences--just a big-name cast and a "cool style" to the film. And in that case, the combination of big names and a living graphic novel approach worked. Will Sin City 2 build off that success, or has Watchmen hampered its chances?
"INNA FINAL ANALYSIS"
Watchmen is a head-scratcher. It's hard not to feel like we've arrived at some kind of decisive juncture in the level of popularity comic books have enjoyed in Hollywood over the last decade, but right now it's hard to say what that juncture is, or what it means for the future. Good news is that there's still a whole bunch of comic book films to look forward to, for now: more Batman, more Spider-Man, more Iron Man and Superman on the way; Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America and of course, Avengers. The comic book film genre, as a whole, is far from dead.
However, what may have been a forked path once is now beginning to look like a one-way street. In the future, when it's a question of the Zack Snyder way or the Chris Nolan way, expect studios to go the Nolan way: "realistic" comic book films with guaranteed potential for mass appeal. At least until another 300 comes along to change the mind$ of the Hollywood suits.
As for Watchmen? Well, cult status is always better than no status, I say - and no doubt in the long run with DVD/Blu-ray sales Watchmen will be successful & acclaimed.