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Motion-picture companies battle over rights to release Watchmen

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What do you get when you cross two major motion-picture studios and a cult comic book fan following who have waited over 20 years for the premiere of Watchmen, the movie? Why, a lawsuit, of course, but more on that later.

Watchmen is a film adaptation of a 12-issue comic book limited series published by DC Comics. It takes place in an alternate history where the U.S. and Soviet Union are on the brink of nuclear war. Superheroes have been outlawed and most are in retirement, but when a government-sponsored superhero is murdered, an investigation into his death turns into a shocking conclusion about the course of history as “we” know it.

However, unlike my usual work, (cough “Dollar Movie” cough), I’m not here to review this film. I’m here to share with you the course that this movie took that eventually ended in an out-of-court settlement between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., two giants of the motion-picture industry. And why 20th Century Fox committed a major no-no
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It all began in 1986 when producer Lawrence Gordon purchased the movie rights to Watchmen for 20th Century Fox. Now, without boring you with long accounts of how many men and women failed to make this movie for 20 years, here’s a summary of the studios that bailed on the project: 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and the now defunct Revolution Studios. Screenwriter David Hayter wrote a script in 2001 that ended up finding its way to Warner Bros., who turned the movie into what it is today, after only 20 years of being mired in development hell.

So, that’s it, right? March 6, 2009 is set as the release date for one of the most anticipated comic book movies in history and everyone lives happily ever after.

Then, Fox comes along at the last minute and almost ruins the day. Even though they had no creative decision-making during the development of Hayter’s and Snyder’s version of the movie, Fox sued Warner Bros., claiming that they still owned the distribution rights due to a small buy-out that went unpaid by producer Lawrence Gordon in 1991.

Now, I will admit that, from a business standpoint, Fox played their cards right. They found a loophole and used it to make money. Fox and Warner Bros. reached an out-of-court lump sum settlement along with 8½ percent of the Box Office receipts, and if the movie makes what Snyder’s 300 made, that’d be $38.8 million, which is a nice bit of cash for sitting on your butt for 20 years.

However, from a creative and artistic standpoint, Fox is making a run for the jerk of the year award. They actually issued an injunction to delay the release of Watchmen in order to resolve their suit. It’s ludicrous that a studio with absolutely no role in the making of a film would be able stop it from being released. Warner Bros. succeeded in making Watchmen where Fox failed and they got jealous, simple as that. Unluckily for Warner Bros., Fox managed to dig through their records and find a document that they were able to make a case with.

Thankfully, an agreement was worked out early enough between the two studios so that the release of this long-awaited movie did not have to be prolonged. Fox executives should be ashamed at themselves for profiting off the creative minds of men and women who they do not employ and for allowing four other studios to attempt to make this film before finally stepping in with their talk of an unpaid buyout, even though Gordon was attached to every single project. It was a low-brow move that I hope is not soon forgotten among the movie-going public.