Watchmen Legal Battle: Fox vs. Warner Bros.

The Hollywood Reporter reports:

Warner Bros. is scheduled to release Zack Snyder‘s big-screen adaptation of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comics series on March 6, but a federal judge in Los Angeles complicated that plan Wednesday when he refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 20th Century Fox against Warners over rights to the property.

Judge Gary Allen Fees ruled that Fox has established enough evidence to support its claims that it holds the distribution rights to the film version of the 1980s graphic novel about damaged superheroes.

Asserting what it calls its “long-standing motion picture rights” to “Watchmen,” Fox said Monday that it will ask the court to “enjoin the release of the Warner Brothers film and any related ‘Watchmen’ media that violate our copyright interests in that property.”

Warners has high hopes for “Watchmen,” a potential franchise film that has a reported $120 million budget. The studio does not want to mess with success — it released Snyder’s previous big-screen effort, “300,” in March 2006, and that action movie went on to gross more than $450 million worldwide.

Warners counters that Fox has no rights to the project.

“The court’s ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation,” it said. “The judge did not opine at all on the merits, other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements.”

Fox has sued Warners for copyright infringement and interference with its contract rights under a 1991 agreement between Fox and Largo Entertainment producer Larry Gordon.

Under that deal, Fox “quit claimed” its rights in “Watchmen” to Largo, with the understanding that if the production company proceeded with a big-screen version of the comic, then the movie would be distributed by Fox.

In 1994, Gordon negotiated with Fox “a turnaround notice” that established a buyout formula for the studio if he elected to acquire Fox’s rights. But according to Fox, Gordon failed to follow the 1994 agreement.

In 2006, Warners negotiated a quit-claim contract with Gordon, under which it claims to have acquired the rights to “Watchmen.”

Fox contends that it has retained its rights to the project because Gordon failed to buy out the studio’s rights. It further claims that Warners turned a blind eye to Fox’s rights. Warners, however, says under the 1994 agreement, Fox gave away all of its rights, including those to distribute.

Judge Fees disagreed, finding that Warners’ motion to dismiss ignored several facts, including that the turnaround notice separately dealt with “Watchmen” and that there is nothing in the court record that shows Gordon has an interest in the project.

 

Thanks to ComicBookMovie.com for this article.

The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #7 Frank Miller

Frank Miller     Frank Miller revolutionized the comic book superhero mainstream in the 1980s and ’90s with his injection of Neo-noir and anti-heroic elements into the stories he drew, wrote, and created. His works have had such an impact on popular culture that filmmakers seem compelled to produce them for the screen. In 1981 he created the character Elektra for Marvel, on which Jennifer Garner’s portrayal in the 2003 film Daredevil and in 2005’s Elektra were based. Both films were created with the involvement of #14 Mark Steven Johnson; the latter being co-written by #12 Zak PennIn 1983, Miller created the limited series Ronin for DC Comics.  A film adaptation is in the works involving 300 producer Gianni Nunnari but no release date has been announced.  In 1986, DC released Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a critically acclaimed and highly influential work that took the campy Batman of the 1960s television show and redefined him into the darker, grittier hero now well known to audiences. This, along with Alan Moore’s 1986 work Batman: The Killing Joke, were major influences on Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. In 1987, Miller wrote the story arc for four issues of Batman titled Batman: Year One.  This story became the basis of the first of many scripts and story ideas that eventually resulted in #18 Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, co-created with #5 David S. Goyer.  
     After leaving Marvel and DC, Miller went on to create his own independent work.  In 1990 he created the three issue series Hard Boiled, published by Dark Horse, which is in the works to be adapted into a film written by Miller and produced by star Nicolas Cage. No release date has officially been issued. In 1991, Miller wrote and drew his first Sin City story, published under the Dark Horse title Dark Horse Presents. Throughout the decade, Sin City “yarns” became increasingly popular and critically well received, reinvigorating the noir and crime comics genre and giving rise to the 2005 film Sin City. Miller was credited as a co-director on this film with Robert Rodriguez, marking an end to his disdain for Hollywood comic book adaptations. Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 are also planned, with Miller directing both and acting as the producer and writer of the screenplay for Sin City 2. In 1996, Miller created Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot for Dark Horse, which led to an animated television series of the same name airing from 1999 to 2001. In 1998, Miller and long time collaborator Lynn Varley created the acclaimed graphic novel 300, on which the eponymous 2007 film was based, which Miller executive produced. His latest project, a film adaptation of Will Eisner’s golden age comic The Spirit, is scheduled for release on December 25, 2008, starring Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson, with #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael Uslan as executive producers, and Frank Miller directing.

Influence Meter: ++++++++

My Top 40 Comic Book (or Strip) Movies

1.        Annie*                         1982
2.        American Splendor**†           2003
3.        The Dark Knight¨               2008
4.        Superman¨                      1978
5.        Batman¨                       1989
6.        A History of Violence‡◊        2005
7.        Batman Begins¨                2005
8.        300†                           2007
9.        Dick Tracy*                    1990
10.       V for Vendetta◊                2005
11.       Batman Returns¨               1992
12.       Road to Perdition‡             2002
13.       X-Men©                        2000
14.       Iron Man©                     2008
15.       Spider-Man 2©                 2004
16.       Spider-Man©                   2002
17.       Men in Black§                 1997
18.       Hellboy†                       2004
19.       Sin City†                      2005
20.       Constantine◊                   2005
21.       X2: X-Men United©             2003
22.       From Hellª                    2001
23.       Mystery Men†                   1999
24.       Timecop†                       1994
25.       Over the Hedge‡‡               2006
26.       Superman Returns¨             2006
27.       The Incredible Hulk©          2008
28.       Daredevil©                    2003
29.       Wanted††                       2008
30.       X-Men: The Last Stand©        2006
31.       Hulk©                         2003
32.	 The Mask†                      1994
33.       Fantastic Four©               2005
34.       Hellboy II: The Golden Army†   2008
35.       Blade©                        1998
36.       Batman Forever¨               1995
37.       Men in Black II§              2002
38.       Blade: Trinity©               2004
39.       Howard the Duck©              1986
40.       Elektra©                      2005
 
*  Chicago Tribune Syndicate
** Self-Published
†  Dark Horse
‡  Paradox Press (DC)
◊  Vertigo (DC)
¨  DC Comics
©  Marvel Comics 
§  Aircel/Malibu/Marvel
ª  Top Shelf Productions
†† Top Cow
‡‡ United Media Comics
Last revised and updated: July 19, 2008