Watchmen's journey to the screen has been a fascinating one. While HBO's upcoming series is just the second successful attempt to adapt Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's world to the screen after Zack Snyder's 2009 film, Hollywood has been trying to adapt the popular graphic novel since the early years following its release.
Many of these came and went without gaining much movement, but one of the earliest attempts, an adaptation by Monty Python member turned director Terry Gilliam appeared to have some friction before it finally fell apart. Although this version was never made, the story behind what could have been is a crazy one filled with strange changes to the source material, odd casting rumors, and one of the great "What ifs?" in Hollywood's history.
10 Joel Silver Would Have Produced It
Joel Silver is known for producing everything from big-budget action movies like Predator and The Matrix to lower budget noir-like films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so the idea of him being attached to a middle-ground between these two like Watchmen isn't entirely crazy. However, one might rightfully wonder what kind of film it would have become. Would it have become the definitive adaptation of beloved work, or a spectacle which ignored the source material?
If you ask Silver, his version would have been a superior film to Snyder's because Snyder, in Silver's words to ComingSoon.net, "too much of a slave to the material." For what it's worth, audiences did get a glimpse of a Silver take on Alan Moore's work with V for Vendetta, which turned a profit and proved to be a moderate success with critics and audiences alike.
9 Robin Williams Was Reportedly Interested In Playing Rorschach
Never one to shy away from his own penchant geekiness, Robin Williams was, according to a 2005 oral history of Watchmen in Entertainment Weekly, rumored to be interested in a role in the film. While no specifics are given in that particular piece, many believe that the role which Williams was interested in was that of the faceless vigilante Rorschach.
On first thought, Williams persona may seem antithetical to that of Rorschach, but after seeing him play emotionally-scarred sociopaths in films such as One Hour Photo and Insomnia, one could see how Williams' dramatic abilities could shine through, while his comedic ones could help sell lines such as "But doctor, I am Pagliacci".
8 Silver Wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger As Dr. Manhattan
In what is perhaps the most Joel Silver idea of all of these ideas, Silver wanted,, according to Gibbons in that same oral history piece, action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger to take on the role of Dr. Manhattan. This would have been a fascinating, if not slightly amusing thing to see, and all though Schwarzenegger certainly had the physique to do so, his ability to play an American scientist remains in question.
This was in Schwarzenegger's peak, and his own interest in the project is unknown, but one can't help but laugh thinking about how Schwarzenegger would have portrayed the most important role in Watchmen. Audiences did, however, get to see a blue-painted Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a (thankfully clothed) scientist when he took the role of Mr. Freeze in 1997's infamous Batman and Robin.
7 Gilliam Believes Television Was The Best Medium
Gilliam clearly wanted to make Watchmen an event. He spent many years fielding scripts and planning his adaptation before it finally fell through. To get a 400-page novel to the big screen is a nearly impossible task given the typical running times of film. Snyder's theatrical runs in just south of three hours and leaves a lot out on the table. Gilliam's fix for this would be a five-hour miniseries.
Although it seems that this was never going to be a possibility, Gilliam discussed this in a 2000 interview with IGN. According to the director, this was the only way that one could properly say everything that the source material was trying to say, though he also quips that nobody but himself ever seemed enamored with the idea. Perhaps HBO is finally listening...
6 Its Original Script Was Written By The Guy Who Wrote Batman
Sam Hamm's career as a screenwriter is relatively sparse considering he wrote one of the blueprints for the modern superhero movies with Batman and its sequel Batman Returns. However, when one thinks about his take on Batman, it was a unique portrayal that didn't necessarily fit with what an audience in 1989 was suspecting. While leaks of the script are available online, one can only imagine what it may have looked like on screen.
In EW's oral history, Hamm echoes Gilliam's concerns, stating that it was a chore to condense such a rich work of art without losing some of the deeper meanings and subtext. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that this is among the most common gripes with Snyder's adaptation.
5 Its New Ending Was Bonkers
Snyder's film changed the ending by replacing the giant dead squid with an actual bomb and people were mad because they felt like he was changing the entire basis for why the squid would work. Gilliam and collaborator Charles McKeown's revised ending to Hamm's script was entirely different. Gone was the widespread cataclysm which wiped out millions of lives in New York, and in was a time travel plot involving Doctor Manhattan.
According to Silver, Gilliam's ending involved Manhattan traveling back in time and preventing the accident which turned him into a nuclear superbeing from ever happening. The film would then cut to the modern day Times Square (in 1991), where a kid was reading a comic book and Rorschach, Nite Owl, and Silk Spectre standing there as costumed entertainers, effectively showing that without Manhattan, superheroes remained a novelty.
4 Zack Snyder Hates The Script's Ending
When Zack Snyder adapted Watchmen back in 2009, he told the Huffington Post that he did so to "save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world." According to Snyder, Gilliam's version of the finale is too different to the ending of the graphic novel, and his version only changed minor details.
It is an interesting take from the filmmaker, and perhaps a perfect portrait of his mindset going into the 2009 film. While he did, in theory, only change the means through which Ozymandias was able to bring about peace, some may argue that putting it on Dr. Manhattan creates an entire array of problems regarding the graphic novel's themes, while Gilliam's captures the themes of what Manhattan did to the idea of a superhero. Gilliam directly responded to Snyder's attack during a Reddit AMA, stating that Snyder's ending "suffered from the very problem that I was happy to avoid by not making the film.
3 Moore Was Against It (And Every Other Adaptation/Unauthorized Offshoot Of His Work)
Those who have followed Alan Moore's career know that he isn't a fan of other people adapting his own work, and in EW's oral history, he doubles down on his opinion that his works cannot be fully realized on the screen. "My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book. It’s been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee."
Moore specifically tried to work language into his contract to prevent his characters being lost from his own control, and in 1989, he ended his relationship in large part due to the belief that they were trying to take his own creation out of his hands, something he's had to ease on since the parent company of his America's Best Comics was sold to DC.
2 Lack of Funding Killed It
At the end of the day, it was beginning to become clear that Gilliam's Watchmen was dead on arrival, and while he and Silver sought $100m for their adaptation of the graphic novel, they could only secure $25m. Because of this, the film eventually faded into oblivion before changing hands a number of times and eventually leading way to Snyder's film.
Although $25m was a lot by late-eighties and early-nineties standards, it is hard to imagine an effective adaptation of Moore's work, which consists of large sets on Mars, scientific tech which is unachievable without the use of special effects, and a sprawling New York story with a healthy amount of stunt work actually being manageable.
1 Gilliam Admits It Was Unmakeable
When talking about the film since it eventually died, Gilliam doesn't speak on it as though it were a lost opportunity, but a bullet that he dodged by not making it. Everything from the budget concerns, to the lack of proper run-time, to the shifting times of the post-Cold War landscape, meant that his Watchmen was not what it needed to be.
In his interview with IGN, Gilliam claims that he was approached to resurrect the project after the success of his adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but by that time he was ready to let that ship sail away forever. It goes to show that even the most ambitious ideas in Hollywood are so dependent on a variety of things, and sometimes the fact that we do not see an idea come into fruition may actually prove the more fascinating tale than the one we would have seen on screen.