Fox Eyes Watchmen in Lawsuit Against Warner Bros.

Anyone who has seen Dark Knight (and that’s every last one of us by now, right?) has seen the amazing, creepy, Smashing Pumpkins-soundtracked trailer for The Watchmen, a movie based on the late-80s graphic novel that redefined comics and superhero archetypes. Warner Bros. has finished shooting and is set to release the movie in theaters on March 6, 2009. But now Fox wants a piece of what looks to be a very big comic book movie pie and is battling about the Watchmen rights in court. Yesterday, a judge denied Warner Bros. the right to dismiss 20th Century Fox’s lawsuit over the rights to the original graphic novel. Fox is serious business: they don’t just want money, they want to stop the movie from being released at all.

Variety reports:

At the heart of Fox’s suit, filed in February, is the contention that it never ceded rights to the property. And according to the federal Judge Gary Allen Feess, Fox retained distribution rights to the graphic novel penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons through a 1991 claim. Furthermore, Feess appears to agree that under a 1994 turnaround deal with producer Larry Gordon, Gordon acquired an option to acquire Fox’s remaining interest in "Watchmen," which was never exercised, thereby leaving Fox with its rights under the 1994 agreement.

"It is our company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation and thus will not comment on the specifics of this case," Warners said in statement. "That said, the court’s ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation. The judge did not opine at all on the merits other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements. We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project."

The court has asked the two parties for expedited discovery; generally the discovery process can take up to two years. Because the film has already wrapped and is dated for spring 2009, the judge wants to move forward quickly.

"Warner Bros.’ production and anticipated release of ‘The Watchmen’ motion picture violates 20th Century Fox’s long-standing motion picture rights in ‘The Watchmen’ property," Fox said in a statement, though the graphic novel’s title is simply "Watchmen."