Setback for Warner Bros. in Watchmen Suit

Warner Bros.’ upcoming big-screen take on the Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen could be one of next summer’s biggest hits, or it could never be seen by audiences at all. The trades are reporting today that a judge has shot down Warner Bros.’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 20th Century Fox over movie rights to the unique superhero property. If successful, Fox could prevent the movie from being released.

Fox filed the suit in February, claiming that it has exclusive rights to develop, produce and distribute a movie based on the Hugo Award-winning book illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Fox asserts that it picked up movie rights to Watchmen and screenplays by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm between 1986 and 1990. The studio then assigned certain rights to Largo International, providing that the studio held exclusive rights to distribute the first Watchmen film. Largo eventually folded and rights reverted to producer Lawrence Gordon, who, according to Fox, agreed to pay the studio a buy-out price if he took the project to another studio.

Originally published 1986, Watchmen is set in a time when superheroes have been outlawed and revolves around a group of caped crusaders who struggle with their own personal demons while trying to avert a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Director Zack Snyder (300) is currently shooting the pic with a cast that includes Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman. Warner plans to release the film theatrically on March 6, 2009 if Fox doesn’t prevail in its efforts to have it shelved.