–Written by Jeff Jensen

Last year, Warner Bros. rolled film on Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s $100 million adaptation of a comic book widely hailed as the greatest superhero story ever created. But did the studio even have the right to make the movie at all?

Earlier this year, Twentieth Century Fox filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. seeking to stop Watchmen’s release (scheduled for March 6, 2009), claiming that it, not Warner Bros., held the distribution rights to any motion picture made from the material. Today, a judge declined Warner Bros.’ request to dismiss the lawsuit, setting the stage for a possibly ugly legal tussle.

The judge’s ruling comes as a shock to many in Hollywood, as most assumed Fox’s claim had no merit. After all, the central figure in this complicated saga is Larry Gordon (Die Hard, Field of Dreams), a veteran producer who surely must have known what he was doing when he began trying to bring Watchmen to the screen 17 years ago—a storied struggle that took him to at least three separate studios (Paramount was close to making the film in 2005 before a regime change put it in turnaround) until finally finding a seemingly happy ending at Warner Bros. Yet according to Fox’s lawsuit, Gordon has a standing agreement dating back to the early ’90s to buy out the studio’s interest in the project if he ever got it up and going at another company.

Gordon, who has historically been reluctant to talk about his efforts to produce a Watchmen adaptation, couldn’t be reached prior to deadline for comment. In a statement, Warner Bros. responds: “It is our company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation, and thus will not comment on the specifics of this case. That said, the Court’s ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation. The judge did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements. We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.”

News of the proceeding lawsuit comes just days after Warner Bros. decided to shore up its 2009 slate—anchored by Watchmen and a new Terminator movie—by moving Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from fall 2008 to next summer. Make of that what you will.

As they say in the comics: to be continued…

  • Book