How Zack Snyder's 'Watchmen' Paved the Way to 'Batman v Superman'

March 12, 2016


On March 6th in 2009, Zack Snyder's Watchmen opened in theaters. The movie ended up being a modest success – earning nearly $200 million worldwide on a $130 million budget, with 65% on Rotten Tomatoes – but it would later develop more of a cult following on home video, with a "Director's Cut" and eventually an "Ultimate Cut" with a run-time of 215 minutes. Watchmen was released a year after Marvel Studios' Iron Man and several years before The Avengers and the big boom of superhero movies as we know it. As the film celebrates the 7th anniversary of its release, let's take a look back at how Watchmen paved the way for Snyder's upcoming Batman v Superman movie, and perhaps the entire DC Extended Universe itself.

The road to Snyder's Watchmen was a long and arduous one, as the adaptation of Alan Moore's famed graphic novel endured a long and healthy life in development hell. Several famous directors would try to tackle the notoriously dense subject material – such as Terry Gilliam in the 90's and Paul Greengrass in the early 00's – but it wouldn't be until Warner Bros. hired Zack Snyder (fresh off of the success of 300) that the film finally took shape. Snyder's Watchmen was admittedly a very faithful and loving adaptation of Moore's comic, complete with visuals, specific moments and costumes that were taken almost verbatim from the comic itself. Watchmen cemented Snyder's place in the comic book film pantheon as a filmmaker that would literally translate comic book panels as if they took a heroic leap from the pages themselves.

One of the more interesting aspects of Snyder's Watchmen is not how it was adapted, but when it was adapted. Watchmen finally revved up around 2007/2008 – the same time that WB would release The Dark Knight and Marvel would unleash Iron Man onto the world, thus beginning Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a matter of fact, I remember watching the teaser trailer for Watchmen as I was waiting for the IMAX presentation of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight to start in the summer of 2008. I'll never forget the audience bursting into applause when the trailer ended. I never would have thought at the time as I was watching one cinematic incarnation of Batman that I would be watching something from the person that would next bring us the next incarnation of the Caped Crusader. The decision to attach the first ever trailer for Watchmen with another big comic book movie was a wise move, as most of the people in that audience were undoubtedly hardcore comic book fans that were probably excited at the notion of finally seeing Alan Moore's dystopian comic book epic on the big screen.

However, while comic book fans themselves might've been ready for the film, I'm not sure if most regular audiences were. Watchmen – for anyone that hasn't read the graphic novel – is a relentlessly dark, dense and mature take on superheroes. If anything, it's Moore's brutal critique on the whole superhero genre. It's not necessarily meant to be blockbuster entertainment even in the vein of Nolan's Dark Knight. Alan Moore himself often protested the adaptation of his graphic novel, in the same way he denounced V for Vendetta. He explained Watchmen wasn't meant to be adapted and that translating the material for a different medium would be "missing the point" of the source material. Regardless of the validity of that claim, audiences probably weren't prepared for Snyder's R-rated, violent and graphic take on Watchmen back in 2009 – a time when superhero movies in our modern age were just blossoming.

However, flash-forward to 2016 and the superhero genre is in a different place. In 2009, we had two major comic book movies coming out. In 2016, we have five. Besides the increase in volume, we've also seen an increased maturity in comic book movies. Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and the Russo Brothers' Captain America: The Winter Soldier have helped transcend the genre, proving that comic book movies can be more than just big explosions, fisticuffs and people running around in spandex tights trying to save the world. As well as an increased sense of maturity comes an appropriate change in expectations. We no longer want our comic book movies to be a rehash of what we've seen before. We've grown perhaps a bit weary, or at the very least come to expect more nowadays.


For example, most audiences were worn out by the Spider-Man franchise when The Amazing Spider-Man swung into theaters in the summer of 2012. We had already seen Spider-Man's origin just a couple years before and the film didn't really bring anything new to the table. When Marvel Studios and Sony joined together last year and announced yet another reboot of the wall-crawler, most fans bemoaned the idea of yet another Spidey reboot. Kevin Fiege, Marvel Studios executive, had to convince fans that they weren't going to rehash the origin story yet again, promising a fresh take on the superhero. That fresh take is driven home even further with the recent casting of Zendaya as the female lead in the new reboot, causing fans to speculate she will be playing Michelle Gonzales – not Spidey favorites Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy.

If Snyder's Watchmen would have been released today, in the wake of the groundbreaking success of the R-rated Deadpool, it might've been received differently. Back in 2009, most audiences weren't really prepared for Moore and Snyder's dark and mature take on superheroes. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Snyder continue that dark, almost twisted vision with the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. Most recently, there have been reports that Snyder is preparing an Extended Cut of Batman v Superman that will be R-rated. While many will claim the Extended Cut is a result of the success of Deadpool, I would point my finger toward the person who has been treating superheroes this way for a long time: Zack Snyder.


There have also been rumors and speculation claiming WB is worried that Batman v Superman will be "too dark" and/or "too smart" for general audiences – and I don't buy that for a second. However, I do buy that Snyder's movie will likely be very dark and will likely have a level of introspection and intelligence that we might not commonly see in most comic book movies these days. Entertainment Weekly writer Anthony Breznican, who has seen the film, calls it “an intricate tale of hidden agendas, psychological turmoil, and even some complex theological questions- plus a lot of smashing.” That sounds exactly like the kind of comic book movie Zack Snyder would make – because he essentially already did that with Watchmen.

So, when Batman v Superman does hit theaters in just a few more weeks, let's not forget the measured, sophisticated and layered comic book movie that came before – before the days of Marvel and before the recent success of Deadpool helped illustrate how a faithful interpretation of a beloved character can yield amazing results. Watchmen might not have set the world ablaze at the time, but I think it's a very intriguing film to watch in the prism of superhero movies now.

Without Snyder's faithful interpretation, we might not have had his interesting take on the Man of Steel or even his take on a certain Dark Knight. It's not a perfect film by any means – I still think the Director's Cut and the Ultimate Cut are the only true ways to experience the film – but it touches on certain deeper, philosophical themes that Alan Moore first explored in his graphic novel back when it was first published. I fully expect Zack Snyder to explore those themes in Batman v Superman when the film opens on March 25th, but it wouldn't hurt to remember the other comic book adaptation that helped take superheroes to a whole new level more than half a decade before. What are your thoughts? Do you agree that Zack Snyder's Watchmen paved the way for the DC Extended Universe? Sound Off below!

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  • Jon Odishaw
    Fantastic read. Personally, Watchmen is in my ten favourite films of all time. I could not be more excited for BvS. Zack Snyder is highly underrated to me because of his borderline abuse of CGI. But I find that his are films with great depth and intelligent scripts. Suckerpunch excluded.
    • Jon, sucker punch sucked, really it sucked big!
      • Jon Odishaw
        I know Ari that's what I was saying haha. Other than a few visually impressive scenes it was garbage.
        • TheOct8pus
          The only visually impressive scenes in that movie were the upskirt panty shots of Emily Browning
          • that was probably cgi too
          • Scopedog
            Welllll...they did have to make a CG Emily Browning for some scenes so you do have a point there. :)
        • oeps sorry! :)
    • ISeeMoney
      Young superman reading Plato writings in Man of Steel is one example of that.
    • Scopedog
      I was also impressed with the cast of Watchmen, especially Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also great as the Comedian.
  • Freedom Cobra Couragewolf
    Watchmen gets better and better the more crap like age of ultron or wolverine get out
  • Payne by name
    Good article. I had a lot of faith going into Mos after the likes of 300, Watchmen and DotD but was hugely disappointed. In MoS I was looking for the film that was presented in the fabulous trailer. A thought provoking tale on the difficulties Superman would face in such a demanding connected world with everyone in Twitter and Facebook and him struggling with the tasks he had to do and the tasks people wanted him to do. The film, in my opinion, failed. It was too concerned with loud bangs, endless destruction and paper thin tick box characters. The faith that I had in Snyder evaporated as I realised that a director, and a film, is only as good as the script, and the script for MoS was woeful. I enjoyed Watchmen and appreciated it's darker tone but for me MoS didn't seem like it was directed by the same guy. It didn't have the same mark on it as his previous films and one that seemed to suffer from far too much studio exec interference. So my excitement for BvS has been somewhat muted given my loss of faith in Snyder and the trailers that had a panicked feel about them. I will still see the film and am hoping that going into it with very low expectations will mean that I can only come out pleased with it.
    • Ekene Okere
      I liked man of steel but felt it could have been better. You are definitely right about the writing which is why david goyer has been removed and chris terrio has been brought on to do the writing for this one and all the initial things ive heard about bvs is that it is pretty good and has turned alot of the issues in man of steel like the collateral damage into a strength. im cautiosly excited but cant wait to check it out for myself
  • Ekene Okere
    good article. loved the opening sequence in watchmen. its my favourite graphic novel ever
  • TK
    Watchmen is in the times top 100 must read novels of all time. It's the only Graphic Novel in that list. I must say it is in my top 3 all time favorite comic book movies (some days I think it's no. 1) and top 10 favorite movies. I read the comics after I watched the movie and wow was I blown away. It had such grandeur and spiritual themes. The story itself is pretty amazing and I thought Snyder did a great job bringing it across. The problem with bringing such stories across is inevitably you are going to have to cut some parts out whether it be through studio interference or it just not working on the big screen. I still enjoy putting on that movie every now so often. The "Ultimate Cut" is a must watch I reckon. Thanks for the great read Marcus.
  • Dotpols
    I've never understood how Watcherman is considered "divisive" ... I read the graphic novel after seeing the movie, and then saw the extended cut and think it's one of the most gripping and perfectly realised adaptations of a brilliant story ever made. To me it's still the best comic ever to be adapted to the big screen and the change of ending for the film is managed brilliantly and fits perfectly.
    • Snev De la Fontaine
      I kind of like the film-version and think it deserves a lot of credit for the large amount of things it did right (and which was no small feat), but if you're curious about understanding what at least some people might find lacking about it, I can give you one of my own criticisms, regarding the ending. The book shocked me with large panels of corpses in the streets of NY. It was unexpectedly gruesome on an immense scale, which is what made it such a shocking plot-twist and such a heavy secret to carry. The film, rather than showering us with death, showed the deaths in a spectacular video-game like visual effect. To me, this took away the weight of the moment. Additionally, though I first liked the idea of making the threat appear to be from Dr Manhattan, I then realised that using Dr Manhattan, pawn of the U.S. government, to play the part of mutual enemy for America and Russia doesn't make that much sense.
      • Dotpols
        It's funny, but I always felt the Dr Manhattan thing worked better than the Alien being dumped on the city, and actually found the 'manhattan bomb' pretty shocking (given I didn't know any death was coming) - it reminded me a lot of the final explosion in Akira, which was also really intense and unexpected. Strangely, for me the giant Alien squid monster seemed less compelling. As for Manhattan not making sense because he was a pawn of the Americans, I think murdering a city full of US cities would make it fairly clear to most foreign leaders he had probably decided he didn't need allegiances. Perhaps it's simply a matter of what you are exposed to first.
        • Snev De la Fontaine
          It sounds as though the sequence worked the way it should have for you. All the better. It's one of the best and shocking endings I've encountered. I understand that Dr Manhattan murdering US citizens shows he no longer is under the U.S.'s control. Nonetheless, I'm not sure Russia and the U.S. would feel the same need to combine their forces if it's the U.S.'s weapon turning on itself rather than an external threat to the earth. But the alien would probably not have worked on screen anyway.
        • Scopedog
          I thought the film ending worked better, because if they had used the ending in the GN it would have taken a lot of time to set things up--and the film would have to have been done as a miniseries. Just my 2-cents, of course.
    • Scopedog
      Agreed. It really is perhaps the most faithful adaptation made, although a friend of mine nearly blew a gasket when he read a critic slamming the film for being "too faithful". I give Snyder a ton of respect because he pulled it off when it came to Watchmen. It also doesn't hurt that he's an anime fan as well. :)
  • capitandelespacio
    What really fast tracked all these DC extended universe stuff is the fact that Marvel did all those Avengers movies. Not even Man Of Steel, since that movie is more like a stand alone. I would prefer more stand alone and self contained movies instead of movies which are over crowded and neither has a proper ending, just because they need to tie in with another films. And I started to hate those post credit scenes more and more.
  • Love Zack Snyder, and especially 300, Dawn of dead and the watchmen. But to say watchmen is the beginning of the big blockbusters is wrong, because it made no money. It was the Dark Knight who started it all, and i think the dark Knight is the best comic book adaption ever, but heath ledger is solely responsible for that and the guy who had confidence in him :Chris Nolan. Like MoS, i watched it twice and that says enough for me, just fun with a big heart in it...
  • Snev De la Fontaine
    Some credit should go to the first X-men films too. They managed to find that right tone in being quite fun and light while also being mature and serious. Even today, with a lot more superhero-film experience, Marvel still has difficulties matching it when it tries to.
    • Digi V
      orrrr maybe people need to take a step back and realize that the Matrix already did all this in the 90s.
      • Snev De la Fontaine
        Sure. And singling out any one film as starting any kind of revolution is always somewhat skewed, since they're never quite detached from the rich amount of films or art in the background.
  • Ry
    Movie is epic.
  • Digi V
    this guy has a hard on for snyder, a mediocre director with decent visual style, one in which he completely lifts from the Wachowskis. Watchmen was a good movie though. Everything else he has done has been garbage. Please calm down.
    • cg
      He is a visual storyteller before being a storyteller, I don't see a problem with that. Sure he has his issues, in terms of pacing and structure but, overall I enjoy some of his films. Watchmen for sure, Dawn of the dead and 300. Now, Legends of the guardians and Sucker Punch were pretty mediocre
      • Digi V
        There isn't anything wrong with it. The thing is he borrows his visual style from others. So even his strong point isn't his, that makes him a pretty mediocre director.
  • Digi V
    how is he ahead of his time if dark comic book movies were already being made? seriously? the hell are you people smoking.
  • "Watchmen" was not by any means a "good movie". It was overall just a shot for shot adaptation motion picture with Snyder flair added to it. He souped up the fight scene at the beginning with Comedian rather than having it only be touched upon so brilliantly as it was in the comic because Snyder wanted to "take it all the way" (his words - seriously, it's on the blu ray special features). Who the hell does he think he is?? Not to mention the ending was COMPLETELY SCRAPPED and he re-invented it in his own way. Devoid if any of the true horror and meaning behind what it really was meant to convey. Might I mention I found the movie boring as f***. It had it's moments, but making a visual translation shot for shot does not make a good movie even it was meticulously done. I agree with Alan Moore that the whole point was to have that story told through the medium of a comic...that's it. Not as a musical, not as a mini series, not as a novel and certainly not as a movie. However I will mention that the opening credit sequence was worth the price of admission alone. Good work team. Watchmen the movie was a classic example of style over substance. I have a feeling I will be let down with BvS and that it will again have "moments" but as a complete offering; I feel it will fall short. I have my concerns as I am sure many others do too.
    • Dotpols
      I find comments like this a bit perplexing: "I agree with Alan Moore that the whole point was to have that story told through the medium of a comic...that's it." So the point of the graphic novel wasn't its story about the perils of vigilante justice and the potential pitfalls of beings with absolute power? It was really just to have it in graphic novel form? That's a little like saying there's no value in reading Shakespear because the point is to see it in a live play.
    The look of Snyder's films always impresses me...it's the plot and acting that mostly fails. Sure WATCHMEN made BVS possible. But Snyder really needs some one to reign him in and keep the movies tight.




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