Why the superhero flick could get pushed back

By Nicole Sperling
August 29, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT
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As one of the most successful summer movie seasons in recent memory draws to a close, there’s undoubtedly a lot of backslapping going on in Hollywood. But all those savvy executives should make sure to credit someone else: the fanboys. Driven by an insatiable desire for flashy superhero spectacles such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight, they had plenty to do with the record $3.9 billion haul. But suddenly, the fans seem to be the last thing on Hollywood’s mind. On Aug. 14, Warner Bros. announced it was postponing the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from Nov. 21 until summer 2009, prompting an immediate backlash online. Less than a week later, fans learned that Watchmen, Warner Bros.’ $100 million comic-book adaptation that they’d been salivating over for 20 years, was in jeopardy after a serious lawsuit from 20th Century Fox threatened to derail its spring release.

Potter‘s relocation quickly upended Hollywood’s fall schedule; already, three high-profile movies have secured new release dates. And while fans were miffed, they resigned themselves to waiting 11 months for the next entry in the series.

It’s the Watchmen lawsuit that truly sets them off. At its heart is a copyright issue that goes back more than two decades, when Fox acquired the rights to Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel. After numerous stops and starts, Watchmen found a new home at Warner Bros., which plans to launch its Zack Snyder-directed feature on March 6, 2009. But Fox now says that it never gave up its right to distribute the film, and aims to prevent Warner Bros. from releasing the movie. A judge has ruled that the suit can go forward, spurring a torrent of vitriol toward Fox, a studio that’s already suffered a hit-free summer, thanks to The Happening, Meet Dave, the X-Files sequel, and The Rocker. Some are pushing a boycott of Fox’s upcoming slate, including this year’s The Day the Earth Stood Still and next summer’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (This assumes those fans have the discipline to avoid such fare.)

The betting in Hollywood is that Fox won’t actually stymie the geek’s equivalent of Citizen Kane from meeting its release date. As one insider puts it, ”The thought of this not coming out on time is pretty remote.” Fox and Warner declined to comment, but sources at both studios say the lawsuit will likely be settled. A number of different scenarios could occur, including Warner Bros. doling out a cash settlement or a cut of the profits to Fox. Either way, the stakes will only increase as Warner spends millions for what’s sure to be an extravagant marketing campaign. And on that front, Fox is already looking like a promotional partner: Months before its release, the studio’s lawsuit is giving Watchmen scads of free publicity.

Harry Potter’s big move had a domino effect on this fall’s release slate. Take a look:

· Quantum of Solace was Nov. 7, moved to Nov. 14

· Bolt was Nov. 26, moved to Nov. 21

· Twilight was Dec. 12, moved to Nov. 21

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