Clay Enos. TM & © DC Comics
Clay Enos. TM & © DC Comics
Who will watch The Watchmen? Nobody, if 20th Century Fox gets its way.
After a major court victory, the studio has announced a bid to block the release of Warner Bros.' anticipated adaptation of the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Fox originally tried to develop the project more than a decade ago, but didn't manage to get the film off the drawing board. The studio claims Warners never properly acquired the rights to The Watchmen, and, in a major twist, instead of seeking a share of the would-be blockbuster's box-office gross, Fox is seeking to kill the flick entirely before it unspools in theaters March 6.
Cue the agonized cries of fanboys everywhere.
A federal judge in Los Angeles agreed with Fox lawyers that there's enough evidence to keep the lawsuit going forward—and keep the film's release in limbo.
Directed by 300 helmer Zack Snyder, The Watchmen stars Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley as a band of former superheroes who find themselves reclassified as criminal vigilantes in an alternate universe circa 1985. As an unknow assassin begins to hunt them down, the heroes try to unravel a conspiracy and thwart a nuclear war.
The film's trailer wowed Comic-Con attendees last month, stirring big buzz for a film that many thought would never get made.
Per its complaint, Fox traces its distribution rights through a series of complex legal agreements that began in 1991 when the studio teamed up with veteran producer Larry Gordon to develop the DC Comics graphic novel.
The project stalled and Gordon went packing, leaving Fox, not Gordon, in control of the property, per the suit.
But Gordon resurfaced in 2006 and inked a deal with Warners to try to relaunch Watchmen.
In siding with Fox, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Fees said Warners' legal camp failed to show that Gordon still had a stake in the project.
"Warner Bros.' production and anticipated release of The Watchmen motion picture violates 20th Century Fox's long-standing motion picture rights in The Watchmen property," Fox says in a statement.
"We will be asking the court to enforce Fox's copyright interests in The Watchmen and enjoin the release of the Warner Bros. film and any related Watchmen media that violate our copyright interests in that property."
It's not clear exactly why Fox is asking for an injunction to block The Watchmen from coming out, especially since the film's already in the can, although it could simply be a ploy to gain a large portion of ticket sales. There's also no indication why Fox waited so long to bring its case.
Warners, meanwhile, tried to spin the ruling as favorably as possible.
"It is our company's policy not to comment on pending litigation and thus will not comment on the specifics of this case," the studio's statement reads. "That said, the court's ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation.
"We respectfully disagree with Fox's position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project."
Fees has asked the studios to expedite the pretrial wrangling. After all, the film's release is apporaching and the Doomsday Clock is ticking.