Warner Bros. has scheduled the Watchmen movie for release on March 6, 2009. However, 20th Century Fox claims it has previous rights to develop and distribute a film based on the graphic novel, so they sued to stop it. In an unexpected development, Fox may get their way.
According to the New York Times,
In a surprise ruling, a federal judge in Los Angeles said he intended to grant 20th Century Fox’s claim that it owns a copyright interest in the “Watchmen,” a movie shot by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures and set for release in March. … A Warner spokesman, Scott Rowe, declined to comment on the ruling and the studio’s plans.
At an earlier hearing, the judge said he believed that issues in the case could be settled only at a trial, which was scheduled for late January. On Wednesday, however, Judge Feess said he had reconsidered and concluded that Fox should prevail on crucial issues. “Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the ‘Watchmen’ motion picture,” the ruling said.
The judge advised the studios to prepare for settlement or an appeal. However, an appeal would mean that the movie would likely miss its release date.
The big question is what Fox really wants. They sat on this claim for years, not mentioning it, while the project was developed at various studios. If they’re just looking for a payout, similar to what Warner had to do to release the Dukes of Hazzard movie (which had a similar rights obstruction), then Warner will probably cave in order to get their next big blockbuster out on schedule. An unlikely rumor has it that Fox wants to release the Batman TV show and is seeking to trade rights.