Fox/WB Watchmen Settlement: The Invisible Hand

Watchmen ComicFox and Warner Brothers have settled their dispute over Watchmen distribution rights, with Fox getting $10 million and a 5-8% revenue share for the highly anticipated Warner Brothers release. The studios released this joint statement today:

“Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox have resolved their dispute regarding the rights to the upcoming motion picture “Watchmen” in a confidential settlement. Warner Bros. acknowledges that Fox acted in good faith in bringing its claims, which were asserted prior to the start of principal photography.

Fox acknowledges that Warner Brothers acted in good faith in defending against those claims. Warner Bros. and Fox, like all “Watchmen” fans, look forward with great anticipation to this film’s March 6 release in theatres.”

Frankly, this isn’t a surprise at all. I know a lot of fans were worried about the prospects of Watchmen, with rumors swirling that it wouldn’t be released until next year – or not at all. There was certainly the possibility of the release date being pushed back, but even that was a little farfetched. Why? The Invisible Hand.

People who have taken an economic class know the Invisible Hand well, and the use of this term here may be loose as it generally applies to businesses, working in their own interest, to, as a by-product, serve greater society. The release of the movie hardly benefits greater society, but the concept is the same. To be more precise, here’s a bit from economist Adam Smith’s writings:

…every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. 

The thing is, it didn’t make sense for Fox or Warner Brothers to delay Watchmen or take it off the calendar completely. Warner Brothers carefully selected the March release date for a variety of reasons: it was when 300, made by the same director, was released and made a boatload of money; it’s a good month for niche blockbusters to be released, too. Sure, Watchmen could have come to theaters in the summer, but its box office potential would be hindred for any number of reasons.

So, to maximize revenues, Warner Brothers needed to release Watchmen in March. Fox had a legitimate claim, but to maximize their revenues, the movie needed to come out when Warner Brothers planned and marketed it. Both Warner Brothers and Fox had their own vested, individual interests, and those interests played to a common tune: money. And with their interests in sync, an invisible hand guided them to do the right thing: get the movie released on the day that has been marketed for months.

Oh, and I can’t wait until March.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies
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