Fox, Warner Bros. to Fight to the Death Over 'Watchmen' Film

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Fox, Warner Bros. to Fight to the Death Over 'Watchmen' Film

Mon Feb 11, 2008 @ 03:03PM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Watchmen Studio superhero brawl! The long-gestating film version of "The Watchmen," a nerd-worshipped graphic novel from the mid 1980s, has suddenly become a hotly contested property.

20th Century Fox filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claiming that Warner Bros.' in-production film based on the novel breaches rights it had already acquired.

According to this complaint, Fox bought film rights from 1986 to 1990 from Largo Int'l, a company owned and controlled by producer Lawrence Gordon. In 1991, the News Corp.-owned studio says it signed an agreement with Largo that disclaimed some of its rights, but Fox says it held onto the exclusive right to distribute the first motion picture produced based on the property.

This agreement was further amended with all sorts of conditions that surely gave its in-house attorneys headaches and will be impossible to explain to a jury, but Fox says Gordon was required to reimburse the studio in order to get the rights back. Fox says that never happened.

In 1996, Gordon and Warner Bros. entered into their own complicated rights deal. The project apparently bounced around to Universal and Paramount before returning to Warners. More than a decade later, the film is being made by director Zach Snyder ("300").

But not so fast, says Fox. It is seeking an injunction to stop production while the rights authority is untangled.

It's rare that studios can't resolve their rights issues out of court, so we're a little surprised to see this one make it to litigation. Then again, superhero properties are the studios' bread and butter, and this one seems like as close to a sure-thing as exists in the film biz.

Fox is repped by Louis Karasik and a team at LA's Weston Benshoof firm (whose website, Warners' lawyers might find amusing, is

Also ironic: "The Watchmen" was first published by DC Comics, now a subsidiary of Time Warner. The series appeared on Time magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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