Watchmen is a 2009 superhero film directed by Zack Snyder and starring Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson. It is an adaptation of the comic book of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The film is set in an alternate history 1985 at the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, as a group of mostly retired vigilantes investigates an apparent conspiracy against them and uncovers something even more grandiose and sinister. Following publication of the Watchmen comic, a live-action film adaptation was mired in development hell. Producer Lawrence Gordon began developing the project at 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. (parent company of Watchmen publisher DC Comics) 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; Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass were also attached to the project before it was canceled over budget disputes. The project returned to Warner Bros., where Snyder was hired to direct Paramount remained as international distributor. Fox sued Warner Bros. for copyright violation arising from Gordon's failure to pay a buy-out in 1991, which enabled him to develop the film at the other studios. Fox and Warner Bros. settled this before the film's release with Fox receiving a portion of the gross. Principal photography began in Vancouver, September 2007. As with his previous film 300, Snyder closely modeled his storyboards on the comic, but chose not to shoot all of Watchmen using chroma key and opted for more sets. The film was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters on March 6, 2009, grossing $55 million on the opening weekend, and grossed over $185 million at the worldwide box office. It divided film critics; some gave it overwhelmingly positive reviews for the dark and unique take on the superhero genre, while others derided it for the same reason, as well as the R-rating, the running time, and the much-publicized accuracy to the graphic novel. A DVD based on elements of the Watchmen universe was released, including an animated adaptation of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter within the story, starring Gerard Butler, and the fictional biography Under the Hood, detailing the older generation of superheroes from the film's back-story. A director's cut with 24 minutes of additional footage was released in July 2009; the "Ultimate Cut", incorporating the Tales of the Black Freighter content into the narrative as it was in the original graphic novel, was released on November 3, 2009.
The story takes place in an alternate timeline in which masked, costumed heroes fight crime in America, originally in response to a rise in masked and costumed gangs and criminals. In the 1930s and '40s, some of the vigilantes formed a group called the Minutemen. Decades later, a second generation of "superheroes" attempts to form a similar team called the Watchmen. Various historical events are shown to have been altered by the existence of superheroes, such as the John F. Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. The American victory in Vietnam, due to the intervention of the godlike being Doctor Manhattan, leads to Richard Nixon's (Robert Wisden) third term as President following the repeal of term limits in the United States. By the 1980s, however, the Watchmen have been outlawed by Congress after an outpouring of anti-vigilante sentiment in the country, and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union have escalated the Cold War with threats of nuclear attack. By 1985, only three Watchmen remain active: the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, both of whom act with government sanction, and the masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who refuses to retire and remains active illegally. Investigating the murder of government agent Edward Blake, Rorschach discovers that Blake was the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and concludes that someone may be trying to eliminate the Watchmen. He attempts to warn his retired comradeshis former partner Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), the emotionally detached Jonathan Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and Dr. Manhattan's lover Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Åkerman). Dreiberg is skeptical, but nonetheless relates the hypothesis to billionaire Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), who dismisses it. After Blake's funeral, Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing the cancers afflicting his former girlfriend and others who spent time with him after the scientific accident that gave him superpowers. Dr. Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, giving the Soviet Union the confidence to invade Afghanistan in his absence. Later, Rorschach's conspiracy theory appears to be justified when Veidt, who had long since made his identity as Ozymandias public before retiring, narrowly avoids an assassination attempt, and Rorschach finds himself framed for the murder of a former villain, Moloch (Matt Frewer). Meanwhile, Jupiter, after breaking up with Manhattan, goes to stay with Dreiberg, and the two former superheroes come out of retirement as they grow closer. After breaking Rorschach out of prison, Silk Spectre is confronted by Dr. Manhattan. He takes her to Mars and, after she asks him to save the world, explains he is no longer interested in humanity. As he probes her memories, it is discovered that the Comedian was her father. His interest in humanity renewed by this improbable sequence of events, Manhattan returns to Earth with the Silk Spectre. Investigating the conspiracy, Rorschach and Nite Owl discover that Veidt is behind everything. Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, which he drops off at the publication office of New Frontiersman, a right-wing tabloid newspaper. Rorschach and Nite Owl confront Veidt at his Antarctic retreat. Ozymandias confirms he is the mastermind behind the Comedian's murder, Manhattan's exile, and the framing of Rorschach; he also staged his own assassination attempt to place himself above suspicion. He explains that his plan is to unify the United States and the Soviet Union, preventing a nuclear war, by destroying the world's main cities with exploding energy reactors he helped Doctor Manhattan create under the pretense of providing free energy for the world. Rorschach and Nite Owl attempt to stop him, but Ozymandias subdues them, and then reveals that his plan has already been set into motion: the reactors have been detonated, and the energy signatures are recognized as Manhattan's. Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan arrive at the ruins of New York City and determine that it must be Veidt's work. They teleport to his Antarctic base just after he has beaten Rorschach and Nite Owl, causing Veidt to retreat. Veidt attempts to kill Manhattan. Unsuccessful, he shows them a televised news report in which President Nixon states that the US and Soviets have allied against their new "common enemy," Manhattan. The heroes realize that revealing the truth would only disrupt this peace. Only Rorschach is unwilling to remain silent and, at his own urging, is vaporized by a reluctant Manhattan. Manhattan shares a final kiss with Silk Spectre and departs for another galaxy. Nite Owl assaults Veidt in anger for his scheme, but Veidt refuses to fight back simply stating that sacrifices had to be made. Nite Owl tells Veidt that he had not perfected humanity, but perverted it, before leaving with Laurie. Silk Spectre and Night Owl return to New York City, which is being rebuilt, and plan to resume their activities as superheroes. Silk Spectre reveals to her mother than she has learned the Comedian was her father, and the two reconcile. The film closes with the editor of the New Frontiersman complaining of having nothing worthwhile to print because of the new worldwide peace. He tells a young employee that he may print whatever he likes from a collection of crank mailings, among which lies Rorschach's journal.