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Warner Bros’ “Watchmen” in Serious Legal Trouble

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Warner Bros’ “Watchmen” in Serious Legal Trouble

Watchmen - movie photo

A judge has denied a Warner Bros motion to dismiss 20th Century Fox’s lawsuit over Warners’ right to make a film based on the graphic novel “Watchmen.”

The ruling is a huge victory for Fox, which may end up as being a profit participant in the film. Fox retained the rights to the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which the studio originally purchased in 1991. When producer David Gordon picked up the option on the project out of turnaround in 1994, the judge ruled, he never excersised that option for Fox’s remaining interest in the film, therefore, Fox’s rights to the film should still be intact.

Project, which has been in development for two decades, finally began lensing in September with Zack Snyder at the helm. Warners was set to release the film, which stars Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley, on March 6th in the same slot in which “300” opened.

The whole case is a bit complicated and here is what it’s all about:

Fox claims that between 1986 and 1990, it acquired all movie rights to the 12-issue DC Comics series and screenplays by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. In 1991, Fox assigned some rights via a quitclaim to Largo International with the understanding that the studio held exclusive rights to distribute the first motion picture based on “Watchmen,” according to the lawsuit. When Largo dismantled, the rights were transferred to producer Lawrence Gordon. Under a “turnaround agreement” between Fox and Gordon, the producer agreed to pay a buy-out price to Fox if he entered into any agreement with another studio or third party to develop or produce “Watchmen,” among other things.

The project apparently bounced around to Universal and Paramount before returning to Warners. Now, Fox claims that neither Gordon nor Warners has paid the buy-out price or advised the studio of any other conditions required under the agreement, including procedures necessary to acquire the rights to “Watchmen” from Fox.

Fox, who filed the lawsuit in February – claim they never gave up the rights to Alan Moore’s graphic novel which they claim they have heled excluisvely since 1994, despite Paramount trying to push through an adaptation with Paul Greengrass just a few years ago.

Nikki Finke from over at “Deadline Hollywood Daily” is reporting that a federal judge has denied WB’s motion to dismiss. If Fox gains any more ground in this, the film may be delayed from its March 6th, 2009, release to.

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