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Zack Snyder's Watchmen has its fans and detractors, but if you ever talk to Jackie Earle Haley, the man who played Rorschach / Walter Kovacs himself, he'd tell you the movie was pretty awesome. If he had it his way, the creative team would have made more films in the series and in fact it nearly happened. Unfortunately, there was one problem when it came to any further entries in the Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons created comic: there was still a contentious rights issue between Warner Bros/ and another Hollywood studio. Haley explained this to me recently, noting,
I wish they would have gone on. You know, I think they probably would have gone on and done more films with Watchmen, different versions of it, because I think there was enough success that they could have gone back in time or done something with it. But I think the thing that really kind of held it up was the fact that there was this contention of ownership between Warner Bros and Paramount.
Some quick background on the dispute: Paramount originally had the rights to Watchmen, but had put them into turnaround, meaning another studio could purchase the option and make a film out of the property, while the money the selling party spent on producing the project would still be a nice tax write-off. Eventually, Paramount and Warner Bros. negotiated a deal where Paramount would get to distribute the film internationally, while Warner Bros. handled the domestic situation. But it sounds like there may have been more turmoil between the partners than previously revealed, as Jackie Earle Haley also told me the following, at an Amazon junket promoting his work on The Tick:
Dude, it was like Paramount waited until [Watchmen] was pregnant. We were at the end of production, when Paramount said 'Oh, and by the way...'
This would have been on top of another battle that Warner Bros. had with 20th Century Fox, who filed a lawsuit to block Watchmen's release in the months preceding the film's March 2009 release date. That lawsuit stated that Fox felt it had a claim to the film's rights, no matter how many times the project was put into turnaround, regardless of how many studios bought and shifted the project around town. Thankfully, Fox didn't win its claim to prevent the finished film from debuting, but the settlement that the studio won from Warner Bros. did entitle the studio to revenue from all future spin-offs and sequels. With Watchmen achieving only a modest amount of money over its budget at the box office, it becomes easier to see why Warner Bros. didn't jump at the chance to mount a huge production in the world of Moore and Gibbon's revolutionary comic.
DC and Warner Bross certainly weren't shy about comic spin-offs and prequels, as Before Watchmen was eventually launched, and the characters are starting to integrate into the DC Rebirth universe books. The potential whisperings about a future HBO series definitely speak to an era in which Warner Bros. is confident that it could have a hit on their hands, legal and professional problems be damned. It's just such a shame that we probably won't see Jackie Earle Haley playing his pitch perfect performance of Rorshach once again. Though, perhaps if the right people asked, he'd say yes. In my opinion, the right people need to start asking.