Judge to settle ‘Watchmen’ distribution rift

Lawyers for 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. have agreed to let a federal judge decide whether Warner Bros. will be allowed to release “Watchmen” this spring, forgoing a jury trial that could have put the high-profile film’s future into even longer limbo.

In court papers filed Monday with U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, attorneys for Fox and Warner Bros. jointly said they would let the judge decide Jan. 20 whether Fox could block the film’s theatrical distribution, now scheduled for March 6, as Fox has been seeking all along as part of its copyright infringement lawsuit against Warner Bros.

In a preliminary ruling issued Dec. 24, Feess said Fox, and not “Watchmen” producer and distributor Warner Bros., owned the right to distribute the film. Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc., and Fox is owned by News Corp.

In his December ruling, the judge urged the warring studios to negotiate a settlement, but no deal has been reached. Any potential trial on remaining parts of the lawsuit would be postponed until after the Jan. 20 hearing about the film’s distribution status, the studios agreed in Monday’s filing.


Expected to be one of the spring’s most-anticipated films, “Watchmen” has a long and sometimes troubled Hollywood history. Fox bought the movie rights to the graphic novel about postmodern crime fighters in 1986, and former Fox studio chief Larry Gordon began developing the movie as a producer.

The project has passed through several directors and studios over the years -- including Universal Pictures, with David Hayter set to direct, and Paramount Pictures, which gave it to Paul Greengrass to make -- before landing at Warner Bros. with director Zack Snyder. But Fox argued in its lawsuit, and the judge agreed, that Gordon never obtained the necessary rights from Fox.

“We are gratified by the recognition of our rights in the judge’s order, which speaks for itself,” Fox said in a statement Tuesday.

Warner Bros. said in a statement: “We will continue to pursue all of our legal options to defeat Fox’s meritless claims and remain confident that we will ultimately prevail.”