Watchmen is a 2009 film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' comic book miniseries published by DC, directed by Zack Snyder. Set in 1985, the film follows a group of costumed vigilantes as full-scale war threatens to break out between the United States and the Soviet Union. The film began shooting in Vancouver in September 2007 for release on March 6, 2009. Like his previous film 300, Snyder closely modeled his storyboards on the comic but chose not to shoot all of Watchmen using chroma key.
Following the novel's 1986 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 (who set it in modern times). Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass were attached to Paramount's project before it was canceled over budget disputes. The project returned to Warner Bros., with Paramount handling international rights. Fox is now suing Gordon for failing to pay a buy-out in 1991, which enabled him to develop the film at the other studios.
A DVD based on elements of the Watchmen universe was released; it included an animated adaptation of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter within the story, starring Gerard Butler, and the mockumentary of the in-universe autobiography Under the Hood by Hollis Mason, detailing the older generation of superheroes known as the Minutemen from the comic's back-story. An extended and ultimate cut of the film was also released on DVD
- Main article: Watchmen: Plot summary
Before the credits, a mid-60's man in a bathrobe, puffing on a cigar, sits alone in his apartment watching PBS' The McLaughlin Group discuss a potential nuclear war with Russia. A tall slim figure breaks into the room. The two start to fight. After trading blows, the newcomer is clearly getting the upper hand, and he hurls the man in the bathrobe out the window of his high-rise. He is killed by the fall to the ground, and a smiley face button soon lands on the pavement next to his body.
The opening credits now show historical pictures as Bob Dylan's "Times They are a Changin" plays. Masked, costumed vigilantes fight crime in America. (Including a cameo of Thomas and Martha Wayne with their butler, Alfred where Nite Owl is punching Joe Chill. This means that Batman being in the universe of the film was prevented.) In the 1930s and '40s, the vigilantes formed a group called the Minutemen to "finish what the law couldn't." The original lineup was heroic and helped catch criminals and win World War II. But they often suffered early and violent deaths in action, or became suicides, or were arrested for breaking the law themselves, or in one case were committed to an asylum.
We see a blue, other-worldly man shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy; later we see a cigar-puffing man who might be the bathrobed man at the start of the movie (a bit younger) holding a rifle on the "grassy knoll" after Kennedy has been shot. And, in the glass of the helmet of the astronaut on the moon's surface, we do see an American flag out of focus and we see the blue man again.
A second generation of heroes has formed, called the Watchmen. We see them being photographed -- as the movie goes on, we will learn that these are the Comedian (a burly guy with a simple mask over his eyes and chomping on a cigar), Laurie Jupiter (the new Silk Spectre), Dr. Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhattan, the naked blue humanoid, with true superpowers), Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias, whose costume is like that of a Greek god), Daniel Dreiberg (the new Nite Owl, looking somewhat like Batman), and Rorschach (in a trench coat and hat with a knitted sock that completely covers his face and displays a constantly changing ink blot).
TV news reports that Nixon has been elected to a third term. By the 1980s, public opinion has turned against superheroes.
It is Oct 12, 1985. Investigating the murder of the man who fell to his death at the start of the movie, who we now know is Eddie Blake, Rorschach enters the crime scene apartment. Searching around the apartment, he discovers the uniform, weapons, and memorabilia of the Comedian, a former member of both the Minutemen and the Watchmen. We hear the voice-over of what Rorschach will write in his journal: "Tonight, a comedian died in New York. Somebody knows why." He has to beat up a couple of policemen to get out of the building.
Meanwhile, Daniel Dreiberg is at the home of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. The two have regular meetings and talk about old times. Hollis says that it all started with the gangs. The Minutemen were a masked response to the masked gangs. They discuss the Comedian's death and Rorschach's vigilante activities. Nixon's policies don't allow masked vigilantes, but this hasn't stopped Rorschach.
As Daniel leaves, they see a report about Rorschach and the policemen on television. Daniel leaves in the rain and goes home, where he finds that Rorschach has broken into his home, and is in his kitchen. Rorschach shows Daniel the smiley face button that he found where the Comedian was killed. They go down to the Nite Owl lab, under Daniel's home, where Rorschach speculates that someone is killing the superheroes. Daniel says "The Watchmen are over" and that Rorschach could give it up since no one knows who he is.
In his journal, Rorschach speculates that nuclear war is coming.
The rich and brilliant Adrian Veidt is being interviewed. The reporter observes that only Adrian and Hollis ever revealed their true identities. Adrian talks about developing renewable energy sources, and that if he could eliminate fear of not having enough, war would be obsolete. Daniel is watching the interview, and he warns Adrian that someone may be after the Watchmen. Adrian is not worried. Adrian speculates that Dr. Manhattan might be able to stop much of a nuclear strike, but not all of it.
The next evening, Rorschach sneaks into the US Army Rockefeller Military Research Center to warn Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter who live there in private quarters. Manhattan can normally see the future, but he says that he cannot see it now due to temporal interference caused by tachyons moving through time that may have resulted from a nuclear holocaust. He transports ("zaps") Rorschach outside the military facility in mid-sentence when he upsets Laurie. He then tells Laurie that he has been working with Adrian to solve the energy crisis in an effort to avert the war. Manhattan reads her mind and observes her parents fighting (we see this same scene repeated twice more in the movie). He also tells Laurie that he knows she wanted to have dinner with him, but that she will instead be going out to dinner with Daniel.
When Laurie arrives at the restaurant, Daniel is obviously smitten. They have dinner and talk about the old days. She observes that the Keene Act, which outlawed costumed vigilantism, has prevented them from going out as superheroes. Laurie confides that Jon (Dr. Manhattan) is becoming more remote. As she gets in a cab to leave the restaurant, Daniel observes that she is being watched by a "government escort". She responds that they don't want her upsetting the country's most valuable asset.
At a cemetery, the Comedian is given a funeral with military honors, while Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" plays.
Laurie is zapped over to her mother's home, where she immediately throws up into the toilet. The older woman, Sally Jupiter, observes that she thought Laurie would have gotten used to that means of travel by now. "It beats flying coach," says Sally. She is drinking margaritas in the afternoon and reminiscing about her old Minuteman days, when she was the original Silk Spectre. She shows Laurie a pornographic comic that is based on Sally's super-hero of the 1940s (the original Silk Spectre). Laurie is appalled by her mother's behavior.
In a flashback, the original Minutemen are seen having a group photo in a wood-paneled club. Afterward, Sally goes to the billiards room to change out of her costume and the Comedian enters. Sally tries to push him away but the Comedian punches her and is ready to rape her when the other Minutemen interrupt, and the Comedian is stopped and beaten by Hooded Justice. Sally concludes the flashback with a cryptic observation about Eddie Blake.
Back at the rainy cemetery, Manhattan and Dreiberg are there. Manhattan remembers that during the Vietnam War, the Comedian and Manhattan fought the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. In a bar, as the war is over, a Vietnamese woman confronts the Comedian and tells him she is pregnant and that the baby is his. When the drunken Comedian refuses to take responsibility and insults her, she slashes his face with a broken bottle, causing a permanent scar. Infuriated, the Comedian shoots and kills the woman, then he berates Manhattan for not stopping him, claiming that his failure to act shows that Manhattan doesn't really care about humanity.
Adrian also watches the coffin being laid to rest and remembers a Watchmen group meeting. He recalls that the Comedian was a sarcastic, misanthropic pessimist, while Ozymandias instead wanted to help humans. The Comedian burns Adrian's display, saying that the threat of nuclear war trumps any efforts by the "Crimebusters" group Adrian wants to form.
Daniel recalls a time where the Comedian and the Nite Owl tried to calm a riot during a police strike, the Comic gleefully fought with the protesters and shot tear gas at the people. Daniel, obviously bothered by the way lawlessness has engulfed the nation, asks the Comedian "What happened to the American Dream?" Amidst the destruction caused by the mob, the Comedian answers "It came true! You're lookin' at it."
A tall, wizened man pays his respects and goes back to his flat by an adult movie theatre. He is "Moloch", a one-time "arch-enemy". In his home, he is assaulted by Rorschach who wants to know why Moloch went to the funeral. Moloch says that Eddie Blake had broken into Moloch's house a week before, very drunk, and had cried and rambled about a list.
Laurie and Jon are having an intimate erotic moment when Laurie realizes Jon has replicated himself. At first, she is put off by making love to two people at the same time, but then she realizes that a third Jon is working on the energy design at the same time. Angry at not having his full attention she throws an object through the blue figure's head. Laurie leaves as Jon teleports the machine to Adrian in Karnak. Laurie goes to Daniel's house saying she has nowhere else to go. He invites her to join him going to meet Hollis for the weekly session.
Jon dresses in a suit and tie (without physically touching his clothes) and zaps himself over to a TV studio for an interview. At the same time, while Dan and Laurie are walking to Hollis', they are confronted by a large gang of street thugs. Dressed in their street clothes, they defend themselves with vigor.
Simultaneously, at the interview, Manhattan is accused of afflicting many of his former colleagues with cancer. His once very close girlfriend, Janey Slater, appears and reveals that she too is stricken, and she damns Jon in public. In the ensuing press scrum, Jon screams "leave me alone", and he zaps everyone out of the studio.
Laurie and Daniel's fight with the thugs ends, and she decides not to continue on to Hollis'. Daniel and Hollis watch the end of Manhattan's interview on television.
Manhattan then zaps himself to Mars. There he recalls many events in a haphazard order. How years ago he had a loving relationship with Janey, reassembling a watch with his father, and how he was trapped in a chamber by a time lock before a lab accident turned him from a human scientist, Jon Osterman, into Doctor Manhattan, how he fell in love with Laurie.
Manhattan is slowly "resurrected" as nerves, a skeleton, and finally, a blue humanoid. TV news reports "The superman exists and he is an American". Dr. Manhattan is told he needs a logo, and he draws a circle with a dot in the middle on his forehead. President Nixon enlists his help to end the Vietnam War, which he does.
The TV reporter now says that he never said the quote about Superman. Instead, he says, that his words are "God exists and he's an American".
The flashbacks end and Dr. Manhattan observes that he is tired of humans, and he begins to build a large device on Mars.
Laurie is confronted by government officials for "not doing her job" and allowing him to leave Earth. In a flashback, while dressed as the Silk Spectre, she meets the Comedian. Her mother intervenes and tells him to stay away from her daughter.
Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the war cabinet consider the recent events with the Soviet Union and prepare for war. Nixon seems willing to lose the East coast in a nuclear war with the Soviets, and he tells them to begin fueling the bombers. Nixon says Dr. Manhattan has two days to solve the problems, and he "hopes he's on our side".
Laurie tells the government officials that the only one who can bring back Jon is Jon.
Lee Iacocca and other industrial leaders have a disagreeable meeting with Adrian. Adrian reminds them of his brilliance, and how he has had a desire to be like Alexander the Great and unify the world. He tells them they can leave. As Iacocca apologizes, the elevator door opens, and a deliveryman starts shooting, Veidt eludes the bullets and subdues the shooter but the man swallows a poison pill, froths at the mouth, and dies.
Laurie and Daniel discuss the attack as they lunch at the Gunga Diner. Daniel says that it is not safe for the former heroes, and as they leave the diner, he suggests Laurie move in with him, for safety. She agrees, and they leave the diner. We hear Rorschach's voice-over, in which he says that he is watching them walk away, but not in his costume.
Later Rorschach reviews the ID card of the man who tried to kill Adrian. The man worked for Pyramid International and Rorschach remembers he had seen a letter from Pyramid at Moloch's earlier. He returns to Moloch's apartment, but he discovers that Moloch is so recently dead that his cigarette is still smoldering. The police have the building surrounded and know that Rorschach is inside. Realizing that the police think that he murdered Moloch, Rorschach makes a torch out of a spray can, and fights his way out of the building. Nonetheless, he is captured and unmasked. He is identified on the TV News as Walter Kovacs, age 35.
Walter is jailed for the murder of Moloch. The state psychologist tells Walter that he won't want to be in the general population, because criminals he captured will want to get even. He gives Walter a psych assessment. As Walter looks at inkblots, he recalls moments in his life. At an early age, he sees his mother kissing a man. She slaps him and says that she "should have had that abortion." We also see a young Walter seriously injure much bigger kids who are taunting him. Walter resents being called "Walter" by the psychiatrist, and he talks about how evil society is. He recalls a seminal event, when he was a young Rorschach, and he uncovered the grisly murder of Blair Roche, a 6-year old girl, by a pedophile named Gerald Anthony Grice. Finding a cleaver at the scene of the crime, he brutally cleaves the murderer's head in two with multiple blows. He tells the psychiatrist that "Walter died that night" and only Rorschach remains. The psychiatrist leaves, saying "I can't help him." In prison, Walter is taunted by another inmate on the food serving line, and Walter splashes him with hot grease from a deep fryer.
Laurie snoops around in the basement of Daniel's building, and she finds Nite Owl's secret lab and his flying machine. She guesses how to fire up the rocket engines and starts a fire in the lab. Daniel comes down to help her put out the fire. He tells her that the ship is called "Archie" after Merlin's pet owl, Archimedes. He says that he inherited a lot of money from his father who was disappointed that he became a crime fighter. Daniel tells Laurie that Hollis was his hero.
She tries on the night vision owl goggles, and she says that this must be how Jon sees. Daniel looks disappointed and goes upstairs. Laurie follows and tells him "Jon sees a lot of things, but he doesn't see me." The two make love on the sofa as Daniel observes that they may be going too fast. Laurie says that they have all the time in the world. A newscast in the background reports the buildup of Soviet tanks.
Locked in his cell, Rorschach is taunted by Big Figure, a criminal he had arrested 15 years earlier.
Daniel has a strange dream in which he and Laurie are naked on a field under the stars. She pulls off their "skin" revealing their superhero costumes as a nuclear explosion goes off and vaporizes them. He awakens, and Laurie finds him staring at his Nite Owl gear. The two decide to get into costume, take Archie out and "do something stupid". Archie flies around the city as they listen for police messages. They hear of a burning building and go to rescue a group of people trapped on an upper floor. Nite Owl drops her into the burning building and then lines up Archie as she sends all of the trapped people into the ship, just a moment before an explosion would have killed them all. After dropping off the passengers, Daniel puts the flyer on autopilot and the two superheroes have steamy sex in the aircraft.
Meanwhile, a prison riot is taking place. One of the dwarf's large henchmen attempts to grab the Watchman behind the bars. Rorschach grabs and binds the man's hands to the bars. Another henchman comes with a grinder and proceeds to first cut the other's arms off and then cut open Rorschach's cell bars.
We cut to Laurie and Daniel in the aftermath of their lovemaking. They decide to try to rescue Rorschach from prison.
Back at the prison, Rorschach quickly subdues the grinder man against the cell toilet and the dwarf runs for his life.
Back in costume, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl land at the prison where a full-scale prisoner revolt is in progress. Meanwhile, Rorschach heads straight for the psychiatrist's office and gets his mask. Silk Specter and Nite Owl arrive and subdue dozens of prisoners with fists and kicks. We see the dwarf run into the men's bathroom to hide, as Silk Spectre and Nite Owl find Rorschach. Before he leaves, he says "Excuse me, I have to visit the men's room". For a moment, we see the dwarf in the swinging door, and we see blood running on the floor after Rorschach leaves.
Back in Daniel's basement lair, Nite Owl and Laurie revel in the fun of their evening. Dr. Manhattan appears and zaps to Mars. As he says how beautiful it is, she doubles over and throws up.
Nite Owl and Rorschach go out again and find out that Janie Slater, who worked for Pyramid, hired Adrian Veidt's assassin. They decide to "follow the money".
Sally calls Hollis, and Hollis tells her that the news is reporting Nite Owl and Silk Spectre's rescue of the people trapped in the burning building. They revel in the joy of their proteges. Immediately afterwards, young thugs, knowing that Hollis used to be the (original) Nite Owl, break into his apartment. He fights valiantly, but they kill him.
Rorschach and Nite Owl argue, but Rorschach offers his hand in friendship, and they agree to go out in costume looking for who tried to kill Adrian. They hear on TV news that Hollis has been murdered, and Nite Owl badly beats up a gang member, even though he is not sure who killed Hollis.
On Mars, Manhattan tells Laurie what she is going to tell him, and she observes that "the most powerful thing in the universe" is "just going through the motions." She apologizes for sleeping with Dan, and remarkably, Manhattan seems unaware. He explains that "My red world here means more than your blue one," as his machine emerges behind them.
In the War Room, Nixon orders Def Con 1 to send the bombers.
Rorschach and Nite Owl break into Adrian's office. Nite Owl guesses that the password to Adrian's computer is "Rameses II" and they find out that Pyramid is owned by Adrian's company, Veidt International.
In Antarctica, at Adrian's headquarters, "the New Carnac," a group of scientists toast to Manhattan's energy reactor which is now online. Adrian, dressed as Ozymandias, compares the scientists to the servants of the pharaohs who were buried with the Pharaoh, as he steps over their poisoned bodies. Back in NYC, Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, which he drops off in the door mailslot of the New Frontiersman.
Back on Mars, Laurie pleads for help for the Earth. Manhattan says that "The universe will not even notice" and that "Life is overrated". He wonders how things are better with another oil pipeline or shopping mall. She tells him to send her back to Earth to be "fried" with her mother and Daniel. She challenges Manhattan to "do that thing you do" and confront her with details of her life that she doesn't want to remember. Probing her memories, Manhattan reveals to her that the Comedian was her father, and she is distraught, saying "My life is just one big joke." Manhattan tells her that he was wrong about undervaluing miracles. He notes that against "unfathomable odds" Laurie came from the coupling of Sally and the Comedian, "a miracle". The view pulls back from Mars, revealing that they are standing in a giant smiley face on the planet's surface.
Rorschach and Nite Owl fly south to Karnak (in Antarctica) where Archie crash lands. Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" plays as Ozymandias watches Rorschach and Nite Owl walk hiking in the snow towards Karnak on one of dozens of televisions that are arrayed before him. Other televisions display newscasts and other information from around the globe. Rorschach and Nite Owl sneak in, thinking that he is unaware of their arrival. In fact, he is fully aware, and easily wins the fight.
They confront Ozymandias who confirms he is the mastermind behind the Comedian's murder, because he was "cracking badly". He also spent $2 billion to manipulate Manhattan into not seeing the future and leaving the earth. And, he arranged the framing of Rorschach. Finally, 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 "killing millions" in several of the world's largest cities, "to save billions." By using devices with Dr. Manhattan's signature to destroy the cities, he knows that the world will think that Dr. Manhattan is behind all of the deaths, and will unite against him, thereby stopping the impending nuclear war. Rorschach and Nite Owl attempt to stop him, but Ozymandias tells them that he would only tell them his plan if they couldn't possibly block it. In fact, he started the destruction 35 minutes earlier. On TV monitors, they see that the cities are being destroyed. Kissinger tells Nixon that the energy signatures are not from the Soviet Union, they are from Doctor Manhattan.
Laurie and Manhattan arrive at the ruins of New York City and see the results of Ozymandias's plan. Manhattan observes that the destruction was "made to look like I did it." They zap to Carnac to confront Ozymandias. Ozymandias appears to obliterate Manhattan, and Laurie pulls out a gun and shoots him. He falls down the stairs, but then realizes that he caught the bullet and is completely healthy.
In a first surprise for Ozymandias, Manhattan reappears. "The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite."
Ozymandias reveals a TV remote control, and all of the televisions are switched to a broadcast of Nixon blaming Manhattan for the destruction. After President Nixon states that the US and Soviets have allied, Dr. Manhattan realizes Ozymandias' plan is logical and revealing the conspiracy would only break the peace and lead again to nuclear destruction.
Rorschach is unwilling to remain silent and angrily turns to leave.
Manhattan says that he understands, "without condoning or condemning", how Adrian feels about killing millions of innocents to save the planet. Outside he is confronted by Manhattan. In despair, Rorschach takes off his mask, and he demands that Manhattan kill him; Manhattan finally obliges, leaving only a bloody outline in the snow. Daniel has watched and cries out in anguish.
Manhattan shares a final kiss with Laurie and departs for another galaxy that is "a little less complicated. Maybe I'll create some life there".
After watching Manhattan kill Rorschach, Daniel comes back in the building and attacks Adrian telling him that he has "deformed" mankind. Adrian takes the blows without emotion. Daniel and Laurie fly away in Archie.
We are now listening to the beginning of an episode of the Outer Limits as Laurie is meeting with her mother. She tells her mother that she knows the Comedian was her father, and they make amends. Daniel appears and observes that Archie is all updated and ready.
Daniel observes that "As long as people think that Jon is still watching, we'll be okay.": Elsewhere, the editor of the New Frontiersman complains of nothing worthwhile to print because of the worldwide peace. He tells a young reporter, Seymour, that it's like living in a world-wide hippie commune. The reporter says that they could write a story about Ronald Reagan who may run for president. The editor dismisses this; "Americans don't want a cowboy in the White House." Instead, he tells Seymour he should print whatever he likes from a collection of crank mailings. The camera focuses on the mail slot basket with Rorschach's journal.
- David Hayter (screenplay)
- Alex Tse (screenplay)
- Alan Moore (graphic novel writer - refused association)
- Dave Gibbons (graphic novel illustrator)
- Wesley Coller (co-producer)
- Herb Gains (executive)
- Thomas Tull (executive)
- Lawrence Gordon
- Lloyd Levin
- Deborah Snyder
- Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/Rorschach
- Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Eddie Blake/The Comedian
- Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl
- Malin Akerman as Laurie Juspeczyk/The Silk Spectre
- Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias
- Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre
- Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason/Nite Owl
- Matt Frewer as Edgar Jacobi/Moloch
- Jay Brazeau as Bernard
- Jesse Reid as Bernie
- Jerry Wasserman as Detective Steven Fine
- Chris Weber as Officer O'Brien Joe Bourquin
- Danny Woodburn as Big Figure
- Patrick Sabongui as Derf
- Laura Mennell as Janey Slater
- Rob LaBelle as Wally Weaver
- Nhi Do as Vietnamese Girl
- Niall Matter as Byron Lewis/Mothman
- Apollonia Vanova as Ursula Zandt/Silhouette
- Dan Payne as William Brady/Dollar Bill
In August 1986, producer Lawrence Gordon acquired film rights to Watchmen for 20th Century Fox, with fellow producer Joel Silver. Fox asked author Alan Moore to write a screenplay based on his story, though Moore declined, and the studio enlisted screenwriter Sam Hamm to pen the script. Hamm turned in his first draft on September 9, 1988. Hamm found the task of condensing Moore's 338-page, nine-panel-a-page strip into a 128-page script arduous. He took the liberty of re-writing Watchmen's complicated ending into a "more manageable" conclusion involving an assassination and a time paradox. Fox put the project into turnaround in 1991, giving part of the rights to Largo International. When Largo dismantled, producer Gordon agreed to pay-out Fox in order to set up the project with another studio.
Gordon and Silver set up [[Watchmen (aborted Terry Gilliam film)|the project]] at Warner Bros., where Terry Gilliam was attached to direct. Unsatisfied with how Hamm's script fleshed out the characters, Gilliam brought in long-time collaborator Charles McKeown to rewrite it. The second draft, which was credited to Gilliam, Warren Skaaren, and Hamm, used the character Rorschach's journal as a voice-over and restored scenes from the comic book that Hamm had removed and filming took place at Pinewood Studios. According to Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, Silver wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doctor Manhattan. 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). Gilliam abandoned the project due to these funding problems, and also decided that Watchmen would have been 'unfilmable'. "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," Gilliam said. After 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.
In October 2001, Gordon and Universal Studios signed screenwriter David Hayter to write and direct [[Watchmen (aborted David Hayter film)|Watchmen]] in a "seven-figure deal". Hayter stated his intent to begin filming in early 2002, and in July 2002, Hayter completed his first draft. 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. 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". Hayter and the producers left Universal due to creative differences, and in October 2003, Gordon and Levin expressed interest in setting up Watchmen at Revolution Studios. They had completed Hellboy at Revolution, and were intending to shoot in Prague. The project did not hold together at Revolution Studios and subsequently fell apart.
In July 2004, it was announced Paramount Pictures would produce Watchmen, and they attached Darren Aronofsky to direct Hayter's script. Producers Gordon and Levin remained attached, collaborating with Aronofsky's producing partner, Eric Watson. But Aronofsky left to focus on The Fountain. Paramount replaced him with Paul Greengrass and set up a target summer 2006 release date. Simon Pegg was involved in negotiations to portray Rorschach, while Daniel Craig, Jude Law and Sigourney Weaver were interested in the film. 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. Graphic artist Tristan Schane drew designs of Dr. Manhattan for the film, which would have depicted him with visible intestines. In March 2005, Paramount's CEO Donald De Line was rumored to depart from the studio, endangering high-profile projects including Watchmen. Earlier that week, De Line was in London, urging a reduction in Watchmen's budget so the film could get the greenlight. As a result of the potential budget cut with the new CEO Brad Grey, Levin planned to move the project from Pinewood Studios (where it was going to be shot), hoping to curb the budget by filming outside the UK. Ultimately, Paramount placed Watchmen in turnaround.
In October 2005, Gordon and Levin were in talks with Warner Bros., originally the second studio to be attached to Watchmen. In December 2005, the producers were confirmed to have set up the project at Warner Bros., but Greengrass was no longer attached to the project. In addition, the film was marked an "open writing assignment", which meant David Hayter's script would be put aside. 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".
Impressed with Zack Snyder's work on 300, an adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book of the same name, Warner Bros. approached him to direct an adaptation of Watchmen. On June 23, 2006, Warner Bros. announced that Zack Snyder would direct Watchmen with Alex Tse attached to write the script. For the new script, Tse drew "the best elements" from two of the project's previous drafts written by screenwriter David Hayter. The script did not keep the contemporary atmosphere that Hayter created, but instead returned to the original Cold War setting of the Watchmen comic. Warner Bros. was amenable to the 1980s setting, and the director also added a title montage sequence to introduce the audience to the events of alternate history United States in that time period.
Snyder said of his plans for filming Watchmen: "There are so many easter eggs in the frames (of the comic) so you want that level of detail in the movie itself." Similar to his approach to 300, Snyder used the comic book as a storyboard, traveling with a copy and annotating its pages. As well as the novel, Snyder cited Taxi Driver and Seven as visual influences. Snyder said his February 2007 revision of the script would require 2 1/2 hours of screen time. Snyder wanted a $150 million budget, but Warner Bros. preferred the budget remain under $100 million. To make the film more topical, Snyder added a subplot about energy resources, but he decided replacing Richard Nixon with Ronald Reagan would alienate American viewers. Throughout filming, Snyder kept adding in dialogue to mention more of the characters' backstories so the film would be as faithful as possible. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman met with Snyder twice during the later stages of pre-production to further revise the script. James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, was also hired as a scientific consultant.
In December 2006, comic book artists Adam Hughes and John Cassaday were confirmed to work on character and costume design for Watchmen. Costume tests were being done by March 2007. 300 associate producer Wesley Coller played Rorschach in a costume test, which Snyder inserted into an R-rated trailer for 300. Although he intended to stay faithful to the look of the characters in the comic, Snyder intended Nite Owl II to look scarier, and wanted Ozymandias to possess authentic Egyptian attire and artifacts. Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II 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". Snyder also wanted the costumes to "comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes": The Ozymandias costume, with its molded muscles and nipples, parodies the costumes in Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). Set designers selected four Kansas City sculptors' works for use in the set of Dr. Manhattan's apartment after discovering their works on the Internet.
Snyder hoped to have principal photography take place from June—September 2007, but filming was delayed until September 17, 2007. The production settled in Vancouver, where a New York City backlot was built. Sets were used for apartments and offices, while sequences on Mars and Antarctica were shot against green screens. Filming ended on February 19, 2008. Sony Pictures Imageworks and Intelligent Creatures are among the visual effects companies working on the film.
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. The film will use 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; Jimi Hendrix's cover of "All Along the Watchtower"; Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence"; the German version of Nena's "99 Luftballons"; and Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" in an advertisement for Veidt's Nostalgia perfume. Snyder has also met with My Chemical Romance (whose lead singer Gerard Way is a fan of the comic) to discuss covering a Dylan song for the closing credits.
The first cut 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." Warner Bros. president of production Jeff Robinov indicated a 145-minute theatrical running time was more likely.
For details of the difference, see the List of differences between Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut.
Many actors were in the running for roles in the film. For the role of Rorschach, John Hurt, Robin Williams, Doug Hutchinson, Daniel Craig and Simon Pegg were considered for the part. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and Keanu Reeves were considered for the role of Dr. Manhattan. Tommy Lee Jones, Thomas Jane and Gary Busey were considered for the role of Comedian. Ron Perlman was the producer's first choice for the part before Jeffrey Dean Morgan was eventually cast. Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Jean Claude Van Damme, Cole Hauser, John Cusack, Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Fillion and Wesley Snipes were all considered for the role of Nite Owl. Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Hilary Swank, Natasha Henstridge and Hillary Duff were all considered for the role of Silk Specter. Tom Cruise and Jude Law were in the running for the role of Ozymandias. Zack Snyder wanted to cast Gerard Butler in the role of either Nite Owl or the Comedian but found that he could not do so. Snyder cast him in Tales of the Black Freighter, which is based on the comic-within-a-comic from the Watchmen graphic novel and will be released on DVD around the time Watchmen will be released in theaters.
In an interview with Variety's Danny Graydon during Warner Bros.' first possession of feature film rights for Watchmen, the comic book's writer Alan Moore adamantly opposed a film adaptation of his comic book, arguing, "You get people saying, 'Oh, yes, Watchmen is very cinematic,' when actually it's not. It's almost the exact opposite of cinematic." Moore said that Terry Gilliam, preparing to direct Watchmen for Warner Bros. at the time, had asked Moore how the writer would film it. Moore told Graydon about his response, "I had to tell him that, frankly, I didn't think it was filmable. 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."
Moore also told Entertainment Weekly in December 2001, "With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there. You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second." Moore had opposed the adaptation of Watchmen from the beginning, intending to give any resulting film royalties to Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. According to Moore, David Hayter's script "was as close as [he] could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen." However, Moore added, "I shan't be going to see it. 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."
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. At the time, Darren Aronofsky was expressing interest in directing the film under Paramount Pictures. Nevertheless, Gibbons said, "It was most likely to happen when Batman was a big success, but then that window was lost." Gibbons also told Neon, "In a way, I'm glad because it wouldn't have been up to the book."
In November 2006, director Zack Snyder said that he hoped to speak to Alan Moore before filming, though the writer had sworn off involvement with film or television productions after his disagreement with the V for Vendetta film adaptation. In a July 2007 interview, Moore said of Snyder's project, "If they go for some other novelty option like they did with V For Vendetta then I'm in for another year of excoriating them in every interview I do until they remove my name from it." Before shooting, Snyder said "[I] totally respect his wishes to not be involved in the movie." Dave Gibbons enjoyed the script by Alex Tse, and the illustrator also was impressed by Snyder's enthusiasm. Gibbons said, "I do think Zack has got the ability to make a really good movie, and I think Watchmen has the ability to be a really good movie, and hopefully the two things will come together... I'm basically supporting it." Gibbons gave Snyder some script advice which the director accepted.
In January 2008, Alan Moore revealed that he had negotiated to have his name removed from Zack Snyder's film and to have all royalties go to Dave Gibbons. He said that Gibbons had asked him if he was interested in being updated about the film, but the writer declined. Moore said, "I won’t be watching it, obviously. I can at least remain neutral to it as long as they’re taking my name off of it and not playing these silly, ultimately futile games like they were doing last time, which worked out so well for them." Moore also 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".
DC Direct released action figures based on the film in January 2009. Director Zack Snyder also set up a YouTube contest petitioning Watchmen fans to create faux commercials of products made by the fictional Veidt Enterprise. The film's first trailer was attached with The Dark Knight, and used The Smashing Pumpkins' song "The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning", an alternate version of their song "The End Is the Beginning Is the End".
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment published two downloadable games during the theatrical and DVD releases. Deadline Games developed the two properties. WB took this low-key approach to adapting the film to avoid rushing the game on this tight schedule, as most film games are panned by critics and gamers. It was written by Len Wein, the comic's editor. Dave Gibbons was also an advisor.
Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic within the Watchmen comic, was adapted as a direct-to-video animated feature, which was released on March 11, 2009. It was originally included in the script, but was cut due to budget restrictions, because the segment would have added $20 million to the budget, as Zack Snyder wanted to film it in a stylized manner reminiscent of 300. Snyder considered including the animated film in the final cut, but the film was already approaching a three-hour running time. Gerard Butler, who starred in 300, voices the Captain in the film, having been promised a role in the film, which never materialized.
The Tales of the Black Freighter DVD also included Under the Hood, a documentary detailing the characters' backstories, which takes its title from that of Hollis Mason's memoir in the graphic novel. The film was released on DVD four months after Tales of the Black Freighter, and Warner Bros. is thought to be considering releasing an extended version, with the animated film edited back into the main picture. In addition, a dozen short films (each around twenty minutes in length) were als released on the internet, using narration over animated panels of the comic strip to familiarize newcomers to the story.
On February 8, 2008 (as filming was finishing), 20th Century Fox launched a lawsuit against Warner Bros., as producer Lawrence Gordon never paid out the studio as he sought a new studio to develop the project. In August, a judge denied Warner Bros.' motion to dismiss the lawsuit, meaning some of the film's gross might have to go to Fox. However, Fox has stated their goal is to see the movie's release blocked.
On January 15, 2009, Fox and Warner Bros. reached an agreement. Warner Bros. will pay Fox back for the $1.5 million it originally spent developing the film, as well as Fox's legal costs for the lawsuit. It is also expected, but not confirmed, that they will pay some percentage of any profits on the film to Fox.
Although further lawsuits on matters surrounding the film are considered possible, the film still made its March 6, 2009 release date.
Upon release, Watchmen received mixed critical reception from critics and audiences respectively. The film received great praise for the visuals, effects, stunts, action sequences, themes, faith to the comics, soundtrack work, directing work, writing and the cast but it also received criticism for the extremely graphic violence, runtime and for the film's pace being lame and boring.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film garnered a score of 65% "Fresh", with an average rating of 6.3/10, while the audience score which loved the film is standing on 71%. The site's critics consensus states; "Gritty and visually striking, Watchmen is a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, but its complex narrative structure may make it difficult for it to appeal to viewers not already familiar with the source material.".
On Metacritic, the film received a score of 56 out of 100, with "mixed or average reviews", based on 39 critics. The popular site IGN gave the film score of 7.0/10, saying that the film is "Good", while the review's writer Jim Vejoda writes: "A well-intentioned but frustrating adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel.".
Famed film critic from Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert, gave the film excellent review and also gave it a rating of 4/4.
Despite the mixed reception, Empire magazine placed the film in the 9th place at their list of "The Greatest Superhero Films of All Time".
Watchmen was released at midnight on March 5, 2009, and earned an estimated $4.6 million for the early showing, which is approximately twice as much as 300, Snyder's previous comic book adaptation. The film earned $24,515,772 in 3,611 theaters its first day, and later finished its opening weekend grossing $55,214,334. Watchmen's opening weekend is the highest of any Alan Moore adaptation to date, and the income was also greater than the entire box office take of From Hell, which ended its theatrical run with $31,602,566. Although the film 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 the opening weekend success of the two films cannot be compared due to the extended running time of Watchmen—the film comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, while 300 is just under two hours—provides the 2009 film with fewer showings a night than 300. Next to the general theaters, Watchmen pulled in $5.4 million at 124 IMAX screens, which is the fifth-largest opening behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek, Avatar, and The Dark Knight.
Following its first week at the box office, Watchmen saw a significant drop in attendance. By the end of its second weekend, the film brought in $17,817,301, finishing second on that weekend's box office. The 67.7% overall decrease is one of the highest for a major comic book film. Losing two-thirds of its audience from its opening weekend, the film finished second for the weekend of March 13–15, 2009. The film continued to drop about 60% in almost every subsequent weekend, leaving the top ten in its fifth weekend, and the top twenty in its seventh. Watchmen crossed the $100 million mark on March 26, its twenty-first day at the box office, and finished its theatrical run in the United States on May 28, having grossed $107,509,799 in 84 days. The film had grossed one-fifth of its ultimate gross on its opening day, and more than half of that total by the end of its opening weekend.
Watchmen sits fourteenth in all-time March openings as of April 2017,as well as the fourteenth largest opening for an R-rated film in North American history. It was the sixth highest-grossing R-rated film of 2009, behind The Hangover, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Paranormal Activity, and It's Complicated. At the North American box office, Watchmen currently sits in the lower half of the thirty-one films based on a DC Comics comic book (narrowly ahead of 1997's Batman & Robin), and the thirty-first highest-grossing film of 2009.
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.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. The film collected $77,743,688 in foreign box office, bringing its worldwide total to $185,253,487.
Watchmen won 3 Saturn Awards; Best Fantasy Films, Best Costume and Best Special Edition/DVD Release out of 4 nominations.
On October 1, 2015, it was announced by HBO that they were in talks with Snyder to make a TV series based on the comics with no word about it being related to the film.
In 2016, it is believed that talks about the TV series are on hold as a result of Snyder's involvement with the DC Extended Universe.
In 2017, it was reported that Snyder was no longer involved, but film producer Damon Lindelof would be adapting it for HBO.
In 2018, HBO confirms a series adaptation of the Watchmen comics has been ordered. The TV series may debut in late 2019.
- There are several references to Zack Snyder's prior film 300. The door number of the Comedian's apartment is changed from 3001 to 300 by flying debris, the combination of the psychiatrist's briefcase is seen to be 3-0-0, and brief footage from The 300 Spartans (1962), which served as the inspiration to Frank Miller's original graphic novel the 2007 film was based on.
- The film's introduction features many cultural references from history, slightly altered: Silhouette kisses the nurse in the V-J Day celebration in Times Square, taking the place of the sailor in Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photo. The sailor can be seen in the background. Sally Jupiter's retirement party recreates the Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. The photo of The Comedian shaking hands with President Nixon is based on the photograph of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. The image of a peace protester placing a flower in a gun barrel mirrors the famous "Flower Power" photo taken by Bernie Boston in 1967. The scene itself also suggests a later event: the shooting of protesting students by National Guard soldiers at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970. Ozymandias outside Studio 54. Actors representing The Village People can be seen behind him on his right, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust is to the left and Mick Jagger can also be seen in the shot.
- During the opening credits, Nite Owl is shown stopping a mugging of a family outside a theatre showing "Batman", a reference to Bruce Wayne's parents being killed by a mugger after going to see "The Mask of Zorro".
- As Dr. Manhattan is taking Neil Armstrong's picture on the Moon, Armstrong says, "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky." This is a reference to a famous urban legend in which Armstrong makes that comment while walking on the Moon, referring to a childhood neighbor. For a complete description of the legend, see Snopes.com.
- Popular John F. Kennedy assassination-conspiracy-theory suggests that the President was killed by a bullet fired from the front; specifically, from a fence behind a grassy knoll. Also, three transients arrested soon after Kennedy's murder are said to be the "additional assassins." The opening montage portrays the Comedian delivering the fatal bullet from the grassy knoll's fence, dressed in the same outfit as one of the "Three Tramps," as they were photographed. The puff of gun smoke said to have been seen turns out to be Blake's cigar smoke. At Blake's funeral, the soundtrack plays "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, a song reportedly inspired by national emotional trauma from the Kennedy murder.
- When Dan and Laurie are having dinner, you can hear someone in the background say "I'm glad I ordered the four-legged chicken!" In the corresponding scene in the original graphic novel, there is an image of a waiter carrying a four-legged chicken.
- Veidt's lethal device is called Sub Quantum Unified Intrinsic field Device, or "Squid", a reference to the alien monster absent from the film. The name can be seen in several points, eg. when Dr. Manhattan is talking on the screen showing Veidt's antarctic base, a sign behind him before the device is teleported.
- A copy of the graphic novel of Watchmen can be seen on Dan's desk when he and Laurie first make love.
- Unlike Dave Gibbons' careful masking of the phrase "Who Watches the Watchmen?" - never completely seen in the graphic novel - the full phrase appears at least twice in the film.
- The following film and television titles can be seen on Ozymandias' wall of television monitors: Tweetie Pie (1947), Haredevil Hare (1948), Dough Ray Me-ow (1948), The Giant Gila Monster (1959), The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), The 300 Spartans (1962), Fail Safe (1964), Dallas (1978), Mad Max (1979), The Jesus Film (1979), Altered States (1980), Mad Max 2 (1981), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).
- Pieces of 1980s pop culture shown on Veidt's bank of monitors include Apple's "1984" commercial for the Macintosh, the Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" ad, and the music video for "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer.
"[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
"I said, 'Is Watchmen better if it's updated? I don't know if Watchmen should go to the people, or the people should go to it.' People said, 'I think Watchmen speaks to our current climate,' and I said that's cool, but I said, 'Isn't it cooler to make a movie that the audience and people who are watching go, "you know what I think?"' I'd much rather do that than tell them what I think."
- Fox Wins Battle over 'Watchman' Adaptation Brooks Barnes, NY Times, January 16, 2009