As HBO prepares a serialized television series which will serve as a sequel, Zack Snyder's theatrical adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen is celebrating 10 years since its original release. The Watchmen series' first trailer seems to be a vast departure from both the source material and Snyder's mostly reverential treatment; and it's getting a lot of buzz because of it.
While the movie wasn't a box office bomb, it also wasn't a success, especially for adapting such a landmark comic book. Given the current climate of superhero movies, however, there is the possibility that Watchmen would perform better in 2019 than in 2009. But is that because the film, like many fans would argue of the book, was ahead of its time?
Superhero Movies In 2009
The beginning of the current superhero movie craze began in 2008, with the release of both The Dark Knight and Iron Man. Despite their success, however, the genre was still in the infancy of its third wave. The aura of the genre was still dominated by Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men, and most films outside of those were comparative flops. As such, the genre was still seen as being filled with more misses than hits, keeping it from truly saturating the culture in the way that is does now.
The general tone of much of the genre, at least the more successful entries, was also far more serious. Christopher Nolan's then two Batman movies had both redefined the character on screen, and the genre itself. Fox's X-Men movies were notoriously muted compared to the comic books, with even the mutants' trademark costumes being replaced with more inconspicuous black leather. Even the Spider-Man movies were more straight-faced than today, starring an older character compared to the immature kid of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Perhaps for these reasons, Watchmen didn't have the same impact upon its release that it could have. The original Watchmen comic, released in 1986, was a landmark series for how "dark and gritty" it was as a treatment on superheroes, a theme which made that particular year a standout in the industry with releases like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. Still, a Watchmen movie released upon the heels of an Oscar award-winning crime drama Batman movie wouldn't stand out nearly as much.
Watchmen Vs. Superheroes On-Screen Today
The genre in 2019 is, for lack of a better word, supersaturated. Marvel Studios typically releases two to three movies a year, and DC, through Warner Bros., typically has at least one. There are also numerous TV shows for characters from both companies, as well as adaptations of independent comic books. The aforementioned MCU has very much defined the genre, to the point where falling outside of its cookie cutter mold can be a point of criticism. While formerly obscure characters such as Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy have gotten a chance to shine, many fans feel that several of these movies have been interchangeable and overly comedic.
Despite that, there does seem to be a desire for more diverse, if not darker, superhero material. The success of Amazon's adaptation of Garth Ennis' The Boys has been greater than expected, with a second season already confirmed. Its success is a sign that superhero movies and TV shows have finally saturated the media so much that deconstructions, satires and parodies can be as readily made in film form as in the comics.
There is also the superhero horror film Brightburn. While obviously based on the origin of Superman, it's a film that more than likely would have never been greenlit if not for the current superhero movie craze. The anti-hero films like Deadpool, as well as Venom, were hugely successful for how much they didn't feel like another Disney-approved movie.
Who Would Watch the Watchmen?
Watchmen's impact would pack a far more powerful punch today, when superheroes are more than ever given the image of a "safe" summer blockbuster for the family. Not only could Watchmen's themes resonate more in today's political climate, but it would also be a somewhat easier sell. Viewers desiring something in the genre that isn't just another Marvel movie or another forgettable blockbuster would have an alternative, outside of things like the aforementioned The Boys. This would give the genre some true diversity, extending its reach and lifespan.
There may also be a paradigm shift back to darker superhero movies, if not as the norm, then at least as the alternative. The upcoming release of Joker is in many ways similar to the hype surrounding The Dark Knight, which itself made "dark and gritty" the it thing. If Watchmen were released today, even if it came after Joker, it could be a part of this shift while still standing out against the norm. What better way to blow a hole in the genre than with an adaptation of the book that did it in comics?
The only way to really gauge this potential is from the success of the Watchmen TV series, as well as the trajectory of the superhero movie genre in the next year or two. One thing is for certain: be it in 2009 or 2019, Alan Moore would still hate it.
Developed by Damon Lindelof, HBO's Watchmen stars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, James Wolk, Adelaide Clemens, Andrew Howard, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith and Adelynn Spoon. The series will premiere this fall.