Watchmen (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Lawrence Gordon
Lloyd Levin
Deborah Snyder
Written by Screenplay:
David Hayter
Alex Tse
Comic Book:
Dave Gibbons
Alan Moore (uncredited)
Starring Malin Åkerman
Billy Crudup
Matthew Goode
Carla Gugino
Jackie Earle Haley
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Patrick Wilson
Music by Tyler Bates
Cinematography Larry Fong
Editing by William Hoy
Studio Legendary Pictures
DC Comics
Distributed by North America:
Warner Bros.
Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) Australia / New Zealand:
March 5, 2009
Ireland / UK / North America:
March 6, 2009
Running time 162 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $120 million[1]
Gross revenue $172,758,644[2]

Watchmen is a 2009 superhero film directed by Zack Snyder. Based on the 1986-1987 comic book limited series Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the film adaptation stars Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson. Set in an alternate-history 1985, Watchmen follows a group of former vigilantes as tensions heighten between the United States and the Soviet Union while an investigation of an apparent conspiracy against them uncovers something even more grandiose and sinister. The film began shooting in Vancouver in September 2007. As with his previous film 300, Snyder closely modeled his storyboards on the comic, but he chose to not shoot all of Watchmen using chroma key and opted for more sets.

Following the series' publication, the film adaptation was mired in development hell. Producer Lawrence Gordon began developing the project at 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. with producer Joel Silver and director Terry Gilliam, the latter eventually deeming the complex novel unfilmable. During the 2000s, Gordon and Lloyd Levin collaborated with Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures to produce a script by David Hayter. Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass were also attached to the project before it was cancelled over budget disputes. The project returned to Warner Bros., where Snyder was hired to direct – Paramount remained as international distributor. Fox sued Warner Bros. for copyright violation arising from Gordon's failure to pay a buy-out in 1991, which enabled him to develop the film at the other studios. Fox and Warner Bros. settled this before the film's release with Fox receiving a portion of the gross.

Watchmen was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters on March 6, 2009, grossing $55 million on the opening weekend, and with a total income of over $170 million at the worldwide box office as of March 30, 2009. Watchmen divided film critics; some critics gave overwhelmingly positive reviews for the dark and unique take on the superhero genre, while others derided it for the same reason, as well as the narrative which they believed was confusing.

A DVD based on elements of the Watchmen universe is planned for release; it will include an animated adaptation of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter within the story, starring Gerard Butler, and the documentary Under the Hood, detailing the older generation of superheroes from the film's back-story. An extended edition of the film, with Tales of the Black Freighter interspersed through the main storyline in a manner reminiscent of the comic, is also forthcoming.



The story takes place in an alternate timeline in which masked, costumed vigilantes fight crime in America. In the 1930s and 40s, the vigilantes form a group called the Minutemen. Decades later, a second generation of superheroes attempt to form a team as well, calling themselves the Watchmen. Various historical events are shown to have been altered or impacted by the existence of superheroes, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. The American victory in the Vietnam War, due to the intervention of the godlike being Dr. Manhattan, leads to Richard Nixon's third term as President following the repeal of term limits in the United States. By the 1980s, however, the Watchmen have been outlawed, and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union have escalated the Cold War with threats of nuclear attack.

By 1985, only three adventurers remain active: The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, who act with government sanction, and the masked vigilante Rorschach, who refuses to retire and remains active illegally. Investigating the murder of government agent Edward Blake, Rorschach, knowing that Blake was The Comedian, concludes that someone is trying to eliminate masked heroes. He goes off to warn his retired comrades: the emotionally detached Dr. Manhattan and his lover Laurie Jupiter (the second Silk Spectre), Dan Dreiberg (the second Nite Owl), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), but makes little progress.

After Blake's funeral, Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing the cancers afflicting his former girlfriend and colleagues from before the accident that turned him into the being he is now. Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, giving the Soviet Union the confidence to invade Afghanistan in his absence. Later, Rorschach's conspiracy theory appears to be justified when Adrian, who had long since made his identity as Ozymandias public before retiring, narrowly avoids an assassination attempt, and Rorschach himself is framed for murder.

Meanwhile, Laurie, having previously broken up with Manhattan, falls in love with Dan, and the two former heroes decide to come out of retirement as they grow closer to one another. After breaking Rorschach out of prison alongside Nite Owl, Silk Spectre is confronted by Manhattan, who takes her to Mars and explains he is no longer interested in humanity, denying her request to intervene. Probing her memories, they both discover that The Comedian is her father. His interest in humanity renewed, Manhattan returns to Earth with Silk Spectre.

Investigating further into the conspiracy, Rorschach and Nite Owl discover that Adrian may be behind everything. Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, and posts it to a newspaper office. Rorschach and Nite Owl confront Adrian, presumably now Ozymandias once again, in his Antarctic retreat. Ozymandias confirms that he is the mastermind behind The Comedian's murder, Manhattan's exile, and the framing of Rorschach; he also staged his own assassination attempt to place himself above suspicion. He explains that his plan is to unify the United States and Soviet Union and prevent nuclear war by destroying the world's main cities with exploding energy reactors he had Dr. Manhattan create for him under the pretense of providing free energy for the world. Rorschach and Nite Owl attempt to stop him, only to find his plan has already been enacted; the energy signatures are recognized as Dr. Manhattan's, and the two opposing sides of the Cold War unite to combat their "common enemy."

Laurie and Manhattan arrive at the ruins of New York City and realize Ozymandias's plan. They arrive to confront him, only to agree that, with the cessation of hostilities around the world, this conspiracy is best left unrevealed to the public. Rorschach, however, is unwilling to compromise, and leaves to reveal the truth. He is confronted by Manhattan who vaporizes him after stating that only death would stop him from revealing the truth. Manhattan shares a final kiss with Laurie and departs for another galaxy.

With the end of the Cold War and the transformation of humanity into a united front, Laurie and Dan return to the destroyed New York City, which is being rebuilt, and begin life anew together. Meanwhile, a newspaper editor in New York complains about how there is nothing worthwhile to print; he lets a young employee look for something to run in a collection of crank letters, among which is Rorschach's journal.


Malin Åkerman as Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre: Jessica Alba and Natalie Portman were originally considered for the role, but Snyder felt that they were too well known to be playing such a serious part. Åkerman described her character as the psychology and the emotion of the film due to being the only woman among the men. The actress worked out and trained to fight for her portrayal of the crimefighter.[3] Åkerman's latex costume and wig, which often stuck into the latex, did not permit a lot of protection when performing stunts, and she often bruised herself during filming.[4] In the film the surname Juspeczyk appears briefly on screen when Laurie wears Nite Owl's visor.

Patrick Wilson as Daniel Dreiberg / Nite Owl: A retired superhero with technological experience.[5] John Cusack, a fan of the comic book, expressed interest in the role.[6] Snyder cast Wilson after watching 2006's Little Children, which also co-starred Haley. Wilson put on 25lbs to play the overweight Dreiberg.[7] He compared Dreiberg to a soldier who returns from war who is unable to fit in with society again.[8] Wilson said the fight style he was instructed to give Nite Owl was "heavy handed and power coordinated".[4]

Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs / Rorschach: A masked vigilante who continues his vigilante activities after they are outlawed.[5] Unlike the other five principal actors, Haley had read the comic and was keen to pursue the role when he heard he had become a favorite candidate among fans.[7] He and fourteen friends put together his audition, where he performed scenes from the comic.[9] Haley "almost went nuts" trying to reconcile his understanding of complex human behavior with Rorschach's moral absolutism, stating the character made him wonder if people generally just make excuses for their bad actions.[10] Rorschach wears a mask with ink blots: motion capture markers were put on the contours of Haley's blank mask, for animators to create his ever-changing expressions.[11] Haley found the mask "incredibly motivating for the character" because of its confining design, which heated up quickly.[12] Small holes were made in the mask for him to see.[11] Haley has a black belt in Kenpō, but described Rorshach's attack patterns as sloppier and more aggressive due to the character's boxing background.[4]

Billy Crudup as Dr. Jon Osterman / Doctor Manhattan:[13] A superhero with genuine powers who works for the U.S. government. The role was once pursued by actor Keanu Reeves,[14] but the actor abandoned his pursuit when the studio held up the project over budget concerns.[5] As well as playing Osterman in flashback as a human, for his post-accident scenes as Dr. Manhattan, Crudup is replaced in the film with a motion-capture CG version of himself. During filming, Crudup acted opposite his co-stars, wearing a white suit covered in blue LEDs, so he would give off an otherworldly glow in real life, just as the computer-generated Manhattan does in the movie. Dr. Manhattan is supposed to be a god-like being who after his accident tries to create the perfect human form with a well-formed physique and extreme musculature.[original research?] For this purpose, his body was modeled on that of fitness model and actor Greg Plitt. The crew then 3D-digitized Crudup's head and "frankensteined it onto Greg Plitt's body"[15]. Crudup had to keep thinking of the character in the comic, because he felt ridiculous in the LED suit.[9] Crudup deemed it fortunate he did not have to wear prosthetics or fit into a rubber costume like the other actors though, and would remind them of this when they made jokes about his appearance.[7] Snyder chose not to electronically alter Crudup's voice for Manhattan, explaining the character "would try and put everyone as much at ease as he could, instead of having a robotic voice that I think would feel off-putting".[16]

Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias: A retired superhero who has since made his identity public. The role of Ozymandias was originally connected to actors Jude Law, Lee Pace, and Tom Cruise (whom Snyder felt would have been better as Manhattan),[4][14] but they left the project behind because of the studio's delay in handling the budget.[5] Snyder said Goode was "big and tall and lean", which aided in bringing "this beautiful ageless, Aryan superman" feel to the character.[7] Goode interpreted Veidt's backstory to portray him with a German accent in private and an American one in public; Goode explained Veidt gave up his family's wealth and travelled the world, becoming a self-made man because he was ashamed of his parents' Nazi past, which in turn highlighted the themes of the American Dream and the character's duality.[17] Because of the German-born depiction of Veidt, Goode pronounced his surname as "Vight".[18] Goode had been "very worried about my casting", feeling he was "not the physical type for [Ozymandias]. Yet Zack was adamant and reassuring and made me feel at ease". Snyder said Goode "fit the bill.... We were having a hard time casting [the role], because we needed someone handsome, beautiful and sophisticated, and that's a tough combo".[19]

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake / The Comedian: A superhero who is commissioned by the U.S. government. Prior to Morgan's casting, producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin met with Ron Perlman to discuss portraying The Comedian.[20] When reading the comic for the part, Morgan stopped when he saw his character was killed off three pages in. When telling his agent he did not want the part, he was told to continue reading it and find out how important his character was.[7] Morgan found the role a challenge, explaining, "For some reason, in reading the novel, you don't hate this guy even though he does things that are unmentionable. [...] My job is to kind of make that translate, so as a viewer you end up not making excuses to like him, but you don't hate him like you should for doing the things that he does."[21] Morgan asked Snyder if the Comedian could swear more in the script.[4] Of his casting, Snyder said, "It's hard to find a man's man in Hollywood. It just is. And Jeffrey came in and was grumpy and cool and grizzled, and I was, like, 'OK, Jeffrey is perfect!'"[19]

Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre: A retired superheroine, mother of Laurie Jupiter and the first Silk Spectre. Gugino's character ages from 25 years old in the 1940s to 67 years old in the 1980s, and the 37-year-old actress wore prosthetics to reflect the aging process. Gugino described her character's superhero outfit as an influence of Bettie Page-meets-Alberto Vargas. The actress donned the trademark hairdo of the character, though it was shaped to be more plausible for the film.[22] She also posed for the Alberto Vargas-style pin-ups of her character and a painting meant to be done by Norman Rockwell, which she enjoyed because she was fascinated by Vargas.[23]

Matt Frewer as Edgar Jacobi / Moloch the Mystic: An elderly rehabilitated criminal, known when he was younger as an underworld kingpin and magician.

Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason / Nite Owl: The first vigilante to take up the mantle of The Nite Owl.

Danny Woodburn as Big Figure: A dwarf crime boss whom Rorschach and Nite Owl put in prison fifteen years prior.

Niall Matter as Byron Lewis / Mothman: He is not a main focus of the storyline, but appears in flashbacks, at one point reduced in his later years to fragile sanity.

Dan Payne as Bill Brady / Dollar Bill: A first-generation crimefighter who caught his cape in a revolving door during a bank robbery and was shot to death. Payne is a fan of the comic and shot his scenes over four days, both for his cameo in the theatrical cut and the fictionalized DVD documentary.[24]

Apollonia Vanova as Ursula Zandt / Silhouette: A former member of the Minutemen who was forced into retirement after her status as a lesbian became public knowledge. She and her partner were later murdered by a former arch villain.

Glenn Ennis as Rolf Müller / Hooded Justice: The first masked vigilante to appear in the 1930s. Was involved in a sham relationship with the first Silk Spectre to hide his homosexuality. Later thought to be killed by The Comedian.

Darryl Scheelar as Nelson Gardner / Captain Metropolis: An ex-Marine and one of the founding members of the Minutemen.

Doug Chapman as Roy Chess: A hired assassin who tries to kill Ozymandias.[25] Doug Chapman was also the Canadian stunt coordinator for the movie, and performed as a stunt double and stunt performer.[26]

Production for Watchmen began casting in July 2007 for look-alikes of the era's famous names for the film, including Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev, Henry Kissinger, H. R. Haldeman, Ted Koppel, John McLaughlin, Annie Leibovitz, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Fidel Castro, Albert Einstein, Norman Rockwell, John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Mao Zedong, Larry King, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and the Village People.[27][28] Snyder said he wanted younger actors because of the many flashback scenes, and it was easier to age actors with make-up rather than cast two actors in the same role.[29] Snyder's son cameos as a young Rorschach,[30] while the director himself appears as an American soldier in Vietnam.[31] Actor Thomas Jane said in June 2007 that Snyder had expressed interest in casting him in the film.[32]


Failed projects

In August 1986, producer Lawrence Gordon acquired the film rights to Watchmen for 20th Century Fox, with producer Joel Silver working on the film.[33] Fox asked author Alan Moore to write a screenplay based on his story,[34] but when Moore declined the studio enlisted screenwriter Sam Hamm. On September 9, 1988, Hamm turned in his first draft, but said that condensing a 338-page, nine-panel-a-page comic book into a 128-page script was arduous. He took the liberty of re-writing Watchmen's complicated ending into a "more manageable" conclusion involving an assassination and a time paradox.[34] Fox put the film into turnaround in 1991, and Gordon set up the project at a new company, Largo International, with Fox distributing the film. Although Largo closed three years later, Fox was promised that they would be involved if the project was revived.[35]

Gordon and Silver moved the project to Warner Bros., where Terry Gilliam was attached to direct. Unsatisfied with how Hamm's script fleshed out the characters, Gilliam brought in Charles McKeown to rewrite it. The second draft, which was credited to Gilliam, Warren Skaaren, and Hamm rather than McKeown, used the character Rorschach's diary as a voice-over, and restored scenes from the comic book that Hamm had removed.[34] According to Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, Silver wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doctor Manhattan.[36] Filming was to take place at Pinewood Studios.[37] Because both Gilliam and Silver's previous films, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Die Hard 2 respectively, went over budget, they were only able to raise $25 million for the film – a quarter of the necessary budget.[34] As a result, Gilliam abandoned the project, and ultimately decided that Watchmen was unfilmable. Gilliam explained, "Reducing [the story] to a two or two-and-a-half hour film [...] seemed to me to take away the essence of what Watchmen is about."[38] When Warner Bros. dropped the project, Gordon invited Gilliam back to helm the film independently. The director again declined, believing that the comic book would be better directed as a five-hour miniseries.[39]

"[Watchmen] was considered too dark, too complex, too 'smart'. But the world has changed [after the September 11, 2001 attacks]. I think that the new global climate has finally caught up with the vision that Alan Moore had in 1986. It is the perfect time to make this movie."
—David Hayter, in October 2001, on the project's timing[40]

In October 2001, Gordon and Universal Studios signed screenwriter David Hayter to write and direct Watchmen in a "seven-figure deal".[40] Hayter hoped to begin filming in early 2002,[41] but did not turn in his first draft until July 2002.[42] In May 2003, Hayter said he had Alan Moore's blessing on the film, despite Moore's disagreement with the project since its first incarnation.[43] In July 2003, Watchmen producer Lloyd Levin announced the completion of Hayter's script, which he called "a great adaptation [...] that absolutely celebrates the book".[44] Ultimately, Hayter and the producers left Universal over creative differences,[45] and in October 2003, Gordon and Levin expressed interest in setting up Watchmen at Revolution Studios.[46] The pair intended to shoot the film in Prague,[47] but the project fell apart at Revolution Studios.[48]

In July 2004, it was announced Paramount Pictures would produce Watchmen, and they hired Darren Aronofsky to direct Hayter's script. Gordon and Levin remained attached, collaborating with Aronofsky's producing partner, Eric Watson.[49] Eventually, Aronofsky left to focus on The Fountain, and Paramount replaced him with Paul Greengrass, with a target release date of summer 2006.[50] At this time, Simon Pegg was involved in negotiations to portray Rorschach, while Daniel Craig, Jude Law, and Sigourney Weaver were also interested in the film. Greengrass wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Doctor Manhattan.[4] To publicize the film, Paramount launched a now-defunct Watchmen teaser website that had a message board as well as computer wallpaper available to download.[51] Graphic artist Tristan Schane drew designs of Dr. Manhattan for the film, which depicted him with visible intestines.[52] Gilliam read Greengrass's revision of Hayter's script and liked it, but told the director he did not think the studio would greenlight such a dark film.[4] In March 2005, with rumors that high-profile projects, including Watchmen, were in danger of being cut, Paramount's CEO Donald De Line began urging a reduction in Watchmen's budget so the film could get the greenlight.[53] When Brad Grey took over as Paramount’s CEO, Levin feared potential budget cuts, so he made plans to move the project outside the UK in an effort to save money.[54] Before he could, Paramount placed Watchmen in turnaround, again.[55]

In October 2005, Gordon and Levin began talks with Warner Bros., originally the second studio to be attached to Watchmen,[56] and confirmed in December 2005 that Warner Bros. had picked up the film, but that Greengrass was no longer attached to direct. In addition, the film was marked as an "open writing assignment", which meant David Hayter's script would be put aside.[57] Despite this change, Hayter expressed his hope that his script would be used by Warner Bros. and that he would be attached to direct his "dream project".[58]

Successful development

After Warner Bros. officially became involved, the studio claimed that because Paramount had not fully reimbursed Universal for its development costs, Paramount had no legal claim over the film rights. Therefore, it would not be entitled to co-finance the film with Warner Bros. After negotiations between the studios, they agreed that Paramount would own 25% of the film and would distribute it outside North America.[59] Impressed with Zack Snyder's work on the film 300, an adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book of the same name, Warner Bros. approached him to direct an adaptation of Watchmen.[60] After spending a couple of weeks deciding whether he wanted to direct the film or not,[61] Warner Bros. officially announced Snyder’s hiring on June 23, 2006, with Alex Tse attached to write the script.[62] Drawing from "the best elements" from two of Hayter’s drafts,[63] Tse’s script returned to the original Cold War setting of the Watchmen comic.[64] Warner Bros. was open to keeping the 1980s setting, although less so to the R-rating that Snyder wanted;[4] Snyder also decided to add a title montage sequence to introduce the audience to the alternate history of the United States that the film presented.[65] Snyder kept the ending from one of Hayter's drafts, which simplified details of the conspiracy within the story, because he felt it would allow more screen time to explore characters' backstories.[1]

"I didn't update [the 1985 setting] for a couple of reasons. I thought Nixon was important to the movie. He's not in the movie a lot, but [his presence] says a lot, [especially about] what a villain is. In the graphic novel, he's written with a lot of ambiguity of whether he's a bad guy or not. [Also] if you update this and make it about the war on terror, you're now asking me to make a comment of how I feel about the war on terror. This way, it's up to you how you decide to feel about it."
—Zack Snyder[66]

Snyder said that he wanted the film to hold the same level of detail that was contained within the comic, with all of the easter eggs that were hidden within each frame of the comic’s panels.[64] As such, Snyder used the comic book as his storyboard, travelling with a copy and making notes on its pages.[67] Next to the novel, Snyder cited Taxi Driver and Seven as visual influences.[4] To make the film more topical, Snyder emphasized the existing subplot concerning energy resources, but he decided replacing Richard Nixon with Ronald Reagan would alienate American viewers.[9] Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman met with Snyder twice during the later stages of pre-production to further revise the script,[68] although Snyder explained the script was merely a document for the studio, and it was his storyboards that were his true guide while making the movie.[66] James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, was also hired as a scientific consultant.[69]


Snyder hoped to have principal photography take place from June–September 2007,[70] but filming was delayed until September 17, 2007.[71] Snyder wanted a $150 million budget, but Warner Bros. preferred the budget remain under $100 million;[72] the film ultimately finished with a budget of approximately $120 million.[1] The production took place in Vancouver, where a New York City back lot was built. Sound stages were used for apartments and offices,[73] while sequences on Mars and Antarctica were shot against green screens.[74] Sony Pictures Imageworks and Intelligent Creatures came on board to work on the visual effects for the film.[75]

Archie (Nite Owl's airship) on display at the 2008 Comic-Con

Comic book artists Adam Hughes and John Cassaday were hired to work on character and costume designs for the film.[76] Costume tests were being done by March 2007. 300 associate producer Wesley Coller portrayed Rorschach in a costume test, which Snyder inserted into a trailer that accompanied the release of 300.[67] Although he intended to stay faithful to the look of the characters in the comic, Snyder wanted Nite Owl to look scarier and Ozymandias to possess authentic Egyptian attire and artifacts.[67] Ultimately, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre changed most from the comic, as Snyder felt "audiences might not appreciate the naiveté of the original costumes. So, there has been some effort to give them a [...] modern look — and not modern in the sense of 2007, but modern in terms of the superhero aesthetic".[11] Costume designer Michael Wilkinson added that the costumes had to look realistic and protective, and that the Nite Owl costume should reflect Dan's interest in aerodynamics. The chain mail in his costume resemble a bird's feathers.[77] Snyder also wanted the costumes to "comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes":[11] The Ozymandias costume, with its molded muscles and nipples, parodies the costumes in Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).[78] Throughout filming, Snyder also kept adding in dialogue to mention more of the characters' backstories so the film would be as faithful as possible.[79]

Production designer Alex McDowell intended Nixon's war room to pay tribute to the war room in the film Dr. Strangelove. He also wanted Dr. Manhattan's apartment, which is inside his laboratory, to look like the work of Maison Jansen, explaining that "the powers that be, who know nothing about design, but needed [Manhattan] to feel like he was the most important guy in America". The apartment also echoes the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, with a book prop named Masterpieces in Paint and Poetry and a tennis courtroom with similar wallpaper.[80] Set designers selected four Kansas City sculptors' works for use on the set of Dr. Manhattan's apartment, after discovering their works on the Internet.[81] Filming ended on February 19, 2008.[82]


Composer Tyler Bates began scoring Watchmen in November 2007. He planned to visit the shoot for a week during each month, and view assembly cuts of scenes to begin rough composing.[83] Snyder and Bates listened to the soundtracks of 1980s films such as Manhunter, Blade Runner, and To Live and Die in L.A. for inspiration.[84] Bates switched between a Yamaha CS-80 or an MOTM for moments that he felt should have more ambience or synthesizers. Snyder wanted a scene where Nite Owl and Silk Spectre rescue people from a burning building to have a more traditional superhero feel, so Bates implemented a four to the floor guitar rhythm. A 64-rong choir and the 87-piece ensemble from the Hollywood Studio Symphony were hired for the more orchestral themes.[85][86]

The film uses some of the songs mentioned in the comic, including Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'", which is played over the opening montage;[9] Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower"; Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence"; the German version of Nena's "99 Luftballons"; a musak version of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule The World"; and Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable".[87] Many of the period songs were up-mixed to 5.1 surround for the film using the Penteo process.[88] Bates said the challenge was composing music that would transition effectively into these famous songs.[85] Snyder and Bates received Dylan's permission to use the stems from "The Times They Are a-Changin'" so the three-minute song could play over the six minute opening.[89] The movie's graphic sexual encounter between Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II aboard the Owl Ship is set to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Originally Zack Snyder used a recording of the song by Allison Crowe for this controversial scene, but decided Crowe's version was "too romantic" and "too sexy" for a scene that is intended to come across as ironic and "ridiculous". Snyder ended up placing a Cohen live version in this scene.[90] My Chemical Romance, whose members are fans of the comic, covered Dylan's "Desolation Row" for the first half of the closing credits.[91]

Two albums, Watchmen: Music From the Motion Picture and Watchmen: Original Motion Picture Score were released on February 24, 2009 by Warner Sunset and Reprise Records.[92][93] Additionally, a 12" vinyl picture disc was released on January 27, 2009.[92] The A-side features My Chemical Romance's cover version of "Desolation Row", and the B-side features "Prison Fight" composed by Tyler Bates for the film's score. Both songs will also be featured on the Music From the Motion Picture and Original Motion Picture Soundtrack albums, respectively.[92] A box set consisting of seven 7" picture disks will be released on March 24, 2009. This set will also include My Chemical Romance performing "Desolation Row", as well as thirteen tracks from the Tyler Bates score.[94]


Snyder's first cut of the film was three hours long. In keeping the film tight, Snyder dubbed himself "the gatekeeper" of the comic's easter eggs, "while [the studio] conspire to say, 'No. Length, length, length. Playability.' [...] I've lost perspective on that now, because to me, the honest truth is I geek out on little stuff now as much as anybody. Like, people will go, 'We've got to cut. You don't need that shot of Hollis Mason's garage sign.' And I'm like, 'What are you talking about? Of course you do. Are you crazy? How will people enjoy the movie without shit like that in it?' So it's hard for me."[95] Snyder cut the film down to 165 minutes, then 157 when he realized there was a way to further trim the film:[61] the murder of Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, which "was easy without destroying the movie".[96]

Moore and Gibbons

Teaser poster drawn by Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons for the 2007 Comic-Con International

When 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights to Watchmen, the comic's writer Alan Moore was initially excited about the film adaptation. In a 1987 edition of Comics Interview, he revealed Sam Hamm, who was attached to write, visited him in Northampton for lunch and that he felt Hamm would provide an adaptation faithful to the comic's spirit. Ultimately, Hamm's script altered the ending, having Adrian Veidt die and Dr. Manhattan alter time so that Jon Osterman is not affected by the radiation. As a result, the remaining characters are teleported to the real world created as a result of time travel.[97] In an interview with Variety's Danny Graydon, during Warner Bros.'s first possession of feature film rights for Watchmen, Moore changed his mind, adamantly opposing a film adaptation of his comic book. Moore felt that, contrary to others’ opinion, the comic book was not cinematic. When he was approached by Terry Gilliam on how to film the comic book, Moore stated that he "didn't think it was filmable". Moore clarified for Graydon, "I didn't design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which are there, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that cinema and literature couldn't."[34]

In December 2001, Moore further explained his opposition, citing how a reader can take the time to absorb the character backgrounds, by having the option of turning back the pages so that they can connect elements they had just read to past elements, but that film forces you to watch the story at 24 frames per second.[98] Moore's opposition to the film adaptation crystallized after the 2003 film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released, and he intends to give any resulting royalties from Watchmen to the comic's artist, Dave Gibbons.[36] In Moore’s opinion, Hayter’s script was the closest anyone could get to the original comic, but added that he would not be going to see the film when completed. Moore said, "My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book. It's been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee."[36]

In November 2006, Zack Snyder said that he hoped to speak to Moore before filming, though the writer had sworn off involvement with film or television productions after his disagreement over the V for Vendetta film adaptation.[74] Moore signed a deal to go uncredited on the film, and for his share of the income be given to Gibbons, as he had done on V for Vendetta.[99] Before filming began, Snyder said, "[I] totally respect his wishes to not be involved in the movie."[73] Moore expressed discontent over the choice of the director, saying that he "had a lot of problems" with the comic book 300 and that, while he had not seen it, he had heard that Snyder's film adaptation was racist, homophobic, and "sublimely stupid".[100]

In an early interview with Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons said that he thought the time had passed to make a Watchmen movie. Gibbons felt that the window to make a Watchmen movie was during the success of the 1989 Batman film. When that time passed, Gibbons also told Neon magazine that he was "[…] glad because it wouldn't have been up to the book".[34] Gibbons felt it would probably be better adapted as a television series like The Prisoner.[101] When given the opportunity, Gibbons enjoyed the script by Alex Tse.[29] Gibbons gave Snyder some script advice, which the director accepted.[73] He drew licensing art for the film, consulted on merchandise and the webcomics, publicizing the film with Snyder, and wrote a tie-in book about the creation of the comic, entitled Watching the Watchmen. Moore did not mind Gibbons' involvement and felt it did not have any impact on their friendship.[99] Snyder asked Gibbons to draw up a storyboard for the film's altered ending, which the comics' colorist John Higgins also returned to work on.[1] Gibbons believed watching the film on DVD would emulate flipping through the book, with viewers pausing or rewinding the film to catch details.[101]



On February 14, 2008, 20th Century Fox brought a lawsuit against Warner Bros. that alleged copyright infringement on the Watchmen film property. The studio believed it held the rights to produce the film, or at least distribute it, no matter how many studios Watchmen passed through, and sought to block its release. Warner Bros. said that Fox repeatedly failed to exercise its rights over various incarnations of the production.[59] Through producer Lawrence Gordon, Fox had bought the rights to the comic book in 1986.[33] Fox alleges that when it put the project into turnaround in 1994, a separate 1991 deal that transferred some of the rights to Gordon still gave them the option of distribution, sequel rights, and a share of the profits should it be made by any other studio. Fox's interpretation of the 1994 turnaround deal also meant that Gordon would not fully control the rights until the studio's development costs—estimated by Fox at $1 million—had been reimbursed. Despite originally passing on the project, Fox also alleged that its agreement with Gordon contained a "changed elements" clause, meaning that if Gordon changed any of the key creative personnel on the film, Fox would have first option on participation, claiming that Gordon did not inform them of Snyder's joining the production in 2005.[59]

Fox alleged that it contacted Warner Bros. before production began in 2005, and told the studio that it had violated Fox's 1991 and 1994 deals with Gordon. Warner Bros. claimed that it was originally unaware of either deal, and that in 2005 Fox had declined to produce the Hayter screenplay that formed the basis of the production. Warner Bros. also claimed that the 1994 deal did not cover distribution rights and had conferred upon Gordon all the rights he needed to take the film to Warner Bros. The studio's motion to dismiss the case in August 2008 was rejected by the judge.[59]

On December 24, 2008, Judge Gary A. Feess granted 20th Century Fox's claim to a copyright interest in the film.[102] An attorney for 20th Century Fox said that the studio would seek an order to delay the release of Watchmen.[103] Producer Lloyd Levin revealed in an open letter that in 2005 both Fox and Warner Bros. were offered the chance to make Watchmen. Fox passed on the project while Warner Bros. made a deal to acquire the movie rights and move forward with development. An internal Fox email documented that executives at Fox felt the script was "one of the most unintelligible pieces of shit they had read in years".[104] On January 15, 2009, the trade press reported that Fox and Warner Bros. had reached a settlement.[105] Fox would receive a share of the box office, but no future ownership of the film.[106] The settlement awarded Fox up to $10 million in development costs and legal fees, plus worldwide gross participation scaling from 5 to 8.5 percent.[61]


Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment published an episodic video game to be released alongside the film called Watchmen: The End Is Nigh. Warner Bros. took this low-key approach to avoid rushing the game on such a tight schedule, as most games adapted from films are panned by critics and gamers.[107] The game is set in the 1970s, and is written by Len Wein, the comic's editor; Dave Gibbons is also an advisor.[108] On March 4, 2009 Glu Mobile released Watchmen: The Mobile Game, a beat 'em up mobile game featuring Nite Owl and The Comedian fighting enemies in their respective settings of New York City and Vietnam.[109] On March 6, 2009, a game for the Apple Inc. iPhone and iPod Touch platform was released, titled Watchmen: Justice is Coming. Though highly anticipated, this mobile title suffered from serious game play and network issues which have yet to be resolved.[110]

As a promotion for the film, Warner Bros. Entertainment released Watchmen: Motion Comics, a series of narrated animations of the original comic book. The first chapter was released for purchase in the summer of 2008 on digital video stores, such as iTunes Store and Amazon Video on Demand.[111] DC Direct released action figures based on the film in January 2009.[112] Director Zack Snyder also set up a YouTube contest petitioning Watchmen fans to create faux commercials of products made by the fictional Veidt Enterprises.[113] The producers also released two short video pieces online, which were intended to be viral videos designed as fictional backstory pieces, with one being a 1970 newscast marking the 10th anniversary of the public appearance of Dr. Manhattan. The other was a short propaganda film promoting the Keene Act of 1977, which made it illegal to be a superhero without government support. An official viral marketing web site, The New Frontiersman, is named after the tabloid magazine featured in the graphic novel, and contains teasers styled as declassified documents.[114] DC Comics reissued Watchmen #1 for the original cover price of $1.50 on December 10, 2008; no other issues are to be reprinted.[115]

Home video

Tales of the Black Freighter, a fictional comic within the Watchmen limited series, was adapted as a direct-to-video animated feature from Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation, and released on March 24, 2009.[116] It was originally included in the script,[74] but was changed from live-action footage to animation because of the $20 million it would have cost to film it 300-esque stylized manner Snyder wanted;[116] this animated version, originally intended to be included in the final cut,[11] was then cut because the film was already approaching a three-hour running time.[116] Gerard Butler, who starred in 300, voices the Captain in the animated feature, having been promised a role in the live-action film that never materialized.[117] Jared Harris voices his deceased friend Ridley, whom the Captain hallucinates is talking to him. Snyder had Butler and Harris record their parts together.[118] International rights to Black Freighter are held by Paramount.[119]

The Tales of the Black Freighter DVD will also include Under the Hood, a documentary detailing the characters' backstories, which takes its title from that of Hollis Mason's memoirs in the comic book.[116] Under the Hood is rated PG because of the friendly public image of the characters. The actors were allowed to improvise during filming interviews in character.[120] Bolex cameras were even used to film "archive" footage of the Minutemen.[121] The film itself is scheduled to be released on DVD four months after Tales of the Black Freighter, and Warner Bros. will release a director's cut and the extended version in July 2009, with the animated film edited back into the main picture.[96][116] Snyder said if the film does well enough, the director's cut will be simultaneously theatrically released in New York and Los Angeles.[122] In addition, the Watchmen: Motion Comics, which appeared in digital video stores, will also be released on DVD on March 3 and include an exclusive scene from the movie.[123]


Box office

Watchmen was released at midnight on March 6, 2009, and earned an estimated $4.6 million for the early showing,[124] which is approximately twice as much as 300, Snyder's previous comic book adaptation.[125] The film earned $24,515,772 in 3,611 theaters its first day, followed by $18,383,964 and $12,314,598 for Saturday and Sunday, bringing its opening weekend to $55,214,334.[126] Watchmen's opening weekend is the highest of any Alan Moore adaptation to date, surpassing V for Vendetta (2006) at $25,642,340, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) at $23,075,892, and From Hell (2001) at $11,014,818; its opening is also greater than the entire box office take of From Hell, which ended its theatrical run with $31,602,566.[127] Although the film only finished with $55 million for its opening, while Snyder's previous adaptation 300 earned $70 million in its opening weekend, Warner Bros.' head of distribution, Dan Fellman, believes that you cannot compare the two films because the extended running time of Watchmen—the film comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, while 300 is just under 2 hours—provides the 2009 film with much fewer showings a night than 300.[128] Although Watchmen receives fewer showings a night in each theater, it was released in 508 more theaters than 300 received (3,103).[127] Next to the general theaters, Watchmen pulled in $5.4 million at 124 IMAX screens, which is the second largest opening behind The Dark Knight (2008).[129]

Following its first week at the box office, Watchmen saw a significant drop in attendance when comparing its opening Friday to its second Friday in release. On the first Friday after its opening weekend the film took in an estimated $5,425,000, which is a 77.9% decrease from its opening day.[126] By the end of its second weekend, the film brought in $17,817,301, a 67.7% overall decrease from the previous weekend.[130] Other than Hellboy II and Hulk, no other major comic book movie has had such a steep second-weekend drop-off.[131] Losing two-thirds of its audience from its opening weekend, the film finished second for the weekend of March 13-15, 2009.[132] The film continued to drop about 60% in each subsequent weekend: in its third weekend, it fell to fifth place with $6,801,114; in its fourth weekend, eighth place with $2,732,439; and in its fifth weekend, thirteenth place with only $1,074,320.[133] Watchmen crossed the $100 million mark on March 26, its twenty-first day at the box office. [134]

Thanks to its opening weekend, Watchmen currently sits fourth in all time openings for the month of March,[135] as well as the fifth highest grossing weekend for the spring season, which is defined by the first Friday in March through to the first Thursday in the month of May.[136] It is the sixth largest opening for an R-rated film in North American history,[137] and is currently the highest grossing R-rated film of 2009.[138] On the North American box office, Watchmen currently sits as the thirteenth highest grossing film based on a DC Comics comic book,[139] and the fourth highest-grossing film of 2009.[140]

Next to its domestic opening, Watchmen earned $26.6 million in 45 territories overseas; of these, Britain and France had the highest box office with an estimated $4.6 million and $2.5 million, respectively.[141] Watchmen also took in approximately $2.3 million in Russia, $2.3 million in Australia, $1.6 million in Italy, and $1.4 million in Korea.[142] As of April 6, 2009, the film has collected $67,401,644 in foreign box office, bringing its worldwide total to $172,758,644.[2]


Based on 255 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Watchmen currently has a 64% approval rating from critics, with an average score of 6.2/10.[143] Among Rotten Tomatoes' Top Critics, which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs,[144] the film holds an overall approval rating of 43%.[145] By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 56, based on 39 reviews.[146] CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade cinemagoers gave the film was B on an A+ to F scale, and that the primary audience was older men.[147]

Patrick Kolan of IGN Australia gave the film an enormous amount of praise, awarding it a perfect 10/10 and saying "It's the Watchmen film you always wanted to see, but never expected to get".[148] Also praising the film along with another perfect score (4/4) was Kyle Smith of the New York Post, comparing it to some of Stanley Kubrick's films. "Director Zack Snyder's cerebral, scintillating follow-up to 300 seems, to even a weary filmgoer's eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as 2001".[149] Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars. "It’s a compelling visceral film — sound, images and characters combined into a decidedly odd visual experience that evokes the feel of a graphic novel."[150] Richard Corliss of TIME concluded "this ambitious picture is a thing of bits and pieces", yet "the bits are glorious, the pieces magnificent."[151] Total Film awarded it 4/5 stars, stating: "It's hard to imagine anyone watching the Watchmen as faithfully as Zack Snyder's heartfelt, stylised adap. Uncompromising, uncommercial, and unique."[152] When comparing the film to the original source material, Ian Nathan of Empire felt that while "it isn't the graphic novel... Zack Snyder clearly gives a toss, creating a smart, stylish, decent adaptation".[153] Nick Dent of Time Out Sydney gave the film 4/6 in his review of February 25, praising the film's inventiveness but concluding, "While Watchmen is still as rich, daring, and intelligent an action film as there's ever been, it also proves Moore absolutely right [that Watchmen is inherently unfilmable]. As a comic book, Watchmen is an extraordinary thing. As a movie, it's just another movie, awash with sound and fury."[154]

The negative reviews generally cite the film's much-advertised reverence to the source material, as statically replicating – rather than creatively interpreting – Alan Moore's graphic novel. "Watchmen is a bore...It sinks under the weight of its reverence for the original," writes Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post.[155] Devin Gordon wrote for Newsweek, "That's the trouble with loyalty. Too little, and you alienate your core fans. Too much, and you lose everyone – and everything – else."[156] Owen Gleiberman's Entertainment Weekly review reads, "Snyder treats each image with the same stuffy hermetic reverence. He doesn't move the camera or let the scenes breathe. He crams the film with bits and pieces, trapping his actors like bugs wriggling in the frame."[157] "[Snyder] never pause[s] to develop a vision of his own. The result is oddly hollow and disjointed; the actors moving stiffly from one overdetermined tableau to another," says Noah Berlatsky of the Chicago Reader.[158] David Edelstein of New York Magazine agrees: "They’ve made the most reverent adaptation of a graphic novel ever. But this kind of reverence kills what it seeks to preserve. The movie is embalmed."[159] A reviewer in The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Watching 'Watchmen' is the spiritual equivalent of being whacked on the skull for 163 minutes. The reverence is inert, the violence noxious, the mythology murky, the tone grandiose, the texture glutinous."[160] Donald Clarke of The Irish Times was similarly dismissive: "Snyder, director of the unsubtle 300, has squinted hard at the source material and turned it into a colossal animated storyboard, augmented by indifferent performances and moronically obvious music cues."[161] The trade magazines Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were even less taken with the film. Variety's Justin Chang commented that, "The movie is ultimately undone by its own reverence; there's simply no room for these characters and stories to breathe of their own accord, and even the most fastidiously replicated scenes can feel glib and truncated,"[162] and Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter writing, "The real disappointment is that the film does not transport an audience to another world, as 300 did. Nor does the third-rate Chandler-esque narration by Rorschach help...Looks like we have the first real flop of 2009."[163]

Analyzing the divided response, Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times felt that, like Eyes Wide Shut, The Passion of the Christ or Fight Club, Watchmen would continue to be a talking point among those who liked or disliked the film. Boucher felt in spite of his own mixed feelings about the finished film, he was "oddly proud" that the director had made a faithful adaptation that was "nothing less than the boldest popcorn movie ever made. Snyder somehow managed to get a major studio to make a movie with no stars, no 'name' superheroes and a hard R-rating, thanks to all those broken bones, that oddly off-putting Owl Ship sex scene and, of course, the unforgettable glowing blue penis."[164]


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Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Madea Goes to Jail
Box office number-one films of 2009 (USA)
March 8, 2009
Succeeded by
Race to Witch Mountain
Preceded by
Box office number-one films of 2009 (UK)
March 8, 2009
Succeeded by
Marley & Me
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