It's a dark day for genre fans, as lawsuits threaten the future of both Watchmen and The Hobbit. Now don't jump out a window just yet - it's in everyone's interest that these films get made. But there might be some speedbumps in the road ahead if the two claims just made stick.
First of all, 20th Century Fox claims that they purchased the rights to make a Watchmen movie back in the 1980s, and that those were never bought out before the Warners project moved into production last year. They're seeking unspecified damages and probably a share of any proceeds, but with the film already well into production, the worst that should happen, from a filmgoer's point of view, would be a slight delay in release.
The more serious threat is the lawsuit launched by the Tolkien Trust (a charitable trust set up by the author), the Tolkien estate and Harper Collins publishers against New Line, claiming that they are owed at least $150 million from The Lord of the Rings trilogy (which made over $6 billion). They claim that a gross profit clause in a 1969 contract entitles them to 7.5% of the gross from the films and "related products", minus certain expenses.
Says their lawyer, "The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court. But in this case, New Line has left them no option at all. New Line has not paid the plaintiffs even one penny of its contractual share of gross receipts despite the billions of dollars of gross revenue generated by these wildly successful motion pictures. To make matters worse, to date New Line has even prevented the plaintiffs from auditing the last two films of the series. The trustees are very aggrieved by New Line's arrogance."
They're seeking $150 million in compensation and, and this is the scary part, "a declaration from the Court that the plaintiffs have a right to terminate any further rights New Line may have to the Tolkien works under the agreements, including The Hobbit, due to the serious and material nature of the breach of the agreements."
The Hobbit has already spent years mired in a legal tangle between New Line and MGM - could this latest lawsuit topple its chances of making it to the screen?