Following its world premiere at Odeon Leicester Square on February 23, 2009, the film was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters on March 6, 2009, and grossed $55 million on its opening weekend and over $185 million at the worldwide box office. The film's reception has been very polarized, with many critics voicing either strong positive or negative views. A DVD based on elements of the Watchmen universe was released, including an animated adaptation of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter within the story starring Gerard Butler, and the fictional biography Under the Hood, detailing the older generation of superheroes from the film's back-story. A director's cut with 24 minutes of additional footage was released in July 2009. The "Ultimate Cut" edition incorporated the animated comic Tales of the Black Freighter into the narrative as it was in the original graphic novel, lengthening the runtime to 3 hours and 35 minutes, and was released on November 3, 2009.
The "Minutemen," a team of costumed crime fighters, was formed in 1939 in response to a rise in costumed gangs and criminals; the "Watchmen" team was similarly formed decades later. Their existence has dramatically affected world events: Doctor Manhattan's powers have helped the United States win the Vietnam War, and given the West a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which by 1985 threatens to escalate the Cold War into a nuclear war. Additionally, the Comedian has suppressed evidence of the Watergate scandal, allowing President Richard Nixon to repeal the 22nd Amendment and be elected for multiple terms. Growing anti-vigilante sentiment leads to masked crime-fighters being outlawed. While many of the heroes retire, Dr Manhattan and The Comedian operate as government-sanctioned agents, and Rorschach continues to operate outside the law.
While investigating the murder of government agent Edward Blake, Rorschach discovers that Blake was the Comedian, and theorizes that someone may be attempting to eliminate former costumed heroes. He warns his retired comrades— Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Dr Manhattan, and the latter's lover Laurie Jupiter (Silk Spectre II). Dr Manhattan ignores Rorschach, and Dreiberg is skeptical, but relays this information to vigilante-turned-billionaire Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), who also dismisses it.
Following a backlash, Dr Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, giving the Soviets the confidence to invade Afghanistan. Rorschach's theory appears to be justified when Veidt narrowly avoids an assassination attempt, and Rorschach finds himself framed for the murder of a former villain named Moloch. When Rorschach is arrested, his identity is revealed to be Walter Kovacs, and he is sent to jail. Jupiter goes to stay with Dreiberg after breaking up with Manhattan. The two become lovers and decide to come out of retirement. After helping Rorschach break out of prison, Jupiter is confronted by Manhattan, who transports her to Mars. As he probes her memories, he discovers that she is Blake's daughter, and realizes the miracle of her life, created in spite of her parents' turbulent relationship. He then returns to Earth with her.
Investigating the conspiracy, Rorschach and Dreiberg discover that Veidt is behind everything. Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, which he drops off at the publication office of the New Frontiersman, a right-wing tabloid. Rorschach and Dreiberg confront Veidt at his Antarctic retreat. Veidt admits to being responsible for Blake's murder, Manhattan's exile, Rorschach's framing, and his own assassination attempt, which he staged to divert suspicion. He explains that his plan is to unify the United States and the Soviet Union by destroying the world's main cities with exploding energy reactors infused with energy from Manhattan. Rorschach and Dreiberg attempt to stop him, but Veidt subdues them both and reveals that his plan has already been set into motion: the reactors have been detonated, and the energy signatures are recognized as Manhattan's.
Jupiter and Manhattan arrive in a destroyed New York City and determine that Veidt is responsible. They teleport to his base, causing him to retreat and attempt to kill Manhattan. Unsuccessful, he shows them a televised news report in which Nixon states that the United States and Soviet Union have allied against their new "common enemy": Dr Manhattan. Although his allies realize that revealing the truth would only disrupt this new peace, Rorschach refuses to compromise, and attempts to return to America to expose Veidt. Manhattan intervenes, and Rorschach demands that Manhattan kill him to keep him from revealing the truth. Manhattan complies.
Manhattan shares a final kiss with Jupiter before departing permanently to another galaxy, while an enraged Dreiberg attacks Veidt, who makes no effort to defend himself. Nevertheless, he defends his actions, claiming that for world peace to be possible, there had to be sacrifice. Dreiberg rejects his logic declaring that Veidt has deformed and mutilated humanity. Dreiberg and Jupiter return to New York with plans to continue fighting crime. Later, an editor of the New Frontiersman tells a young employee that, as the world is at peace, there is nothing to report on. The editor gives the employee permission to print the contents of a collection of crank mailings, among which is Rorschach's journal.
Cast and characters
Production for Watchmen began casting in July 2007 for look-alikes of the era's famous names for the film—something Snyder declared would give the film a "satirical quality" and "create this ’80s vibe" — including Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev, Henry Kissinger, H. R. Haldeman, Ted Koppel, John McLaughlin, Annie Leibovitz, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Fidel Castro, Albert Einstein, Norman Rockwell, John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Elvis Presley, Mao Zedong, Larry King, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Lee Iacocca, and the Village People. Snyder said he wanted younger actors because of the many flashback scenes, and it was easier to age actors with make-up rather than cast two actors in the same role. Snyder's son cameos as a young Rorschach, while the director himself appears as an American soldier in Vietnam. Actor Thomas Jane was invited by Snyder, but declined to work in the film due to being too busy.Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs / Rorschach:
A masked vigilante who continues his extralegal activities after they are outlawed. He takes his name from the Rorschach test
, as the shifting black-and-white patterns on his mask resemble its inkblots. Unlike the other principal actors, Haley had read the comic as a young adult and was keen to pursue the role when he heard he had become a favorite candidate among fans. Rorschach wears a mask with ink blots: motion capture
markers were put on the contours of Haley's blank mask, for animators to create his ever-changing expressions. Haley has a black belt
in kenpō, but described Rorschach's attack patterns as sloppier and more aggressive due to the character's boxing background. Rorschach appears several times in the movie without his mask before he is apprehended, carrying a placard sign proclaiming, "The End is Nigh," but not until he is unmasked by the police is it made apparent that the sign bearer is Rorschach.Eli Snyder as Young Walter KovacsPatrick Wilson as Daniel Dreiberg / Nite Owl:
A retired superhero with technological expertise. Snyder cast Wilson after watching 2006's Little Children
, which also co-starred Haley. Wilson put on 25 lbs. to play the overweight Dreiberg. He compared Dreiberg to a soldier who returns from war unable to fit into society. Both Joaquin Phoenix and John Cusack
(another fan of the novel) were involved in previous attempts at making the film.Malin Åkerman as Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II:
Åkerman described her character as the psychology and the emotion of the film due to being the only woman among the men. The actress worked out and trained to fight for her portrayal of the crime fighter.Haley Guiel as Young Laurie JupiterBilly Crudup as Jon Osterman / Dr. Manhattan:
A superhero with genuine superpowers who works for the U.S. government. Crudup plays Osterman in flashbacks as a human and is replaced for his post-accident scenes with a motion-capture CG version of himself. During filming, Crudup acted opposite his co-stars, wearing a white suit covered in blue LEDs, so he would give off an otherworldly glow in real life, just as the computer-generated
Manhattan does in the movie. His body was modeled on that of fitness model and actor Greg Plitt
. The crew then 3D-digitized Crudup's head and "frankensteined it onto Greg Plitt's body." Snyder chose not to electronically alter Crudup's voice for Manhattan, explaining the character "would try and put everyone as much at ease as he could, instead of having a robotic voice that I think would feel off-putting."Jaryd Heidrick as Young Jon OstermanMatthew Goode as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias:
A retired superhero who has since made his identity public. At first Snyder wanted Jude Law
(a big fan of the character) for the part, but said that Goode was "big and tall and lean," which aided in bringing "this beautiful ageless, German
superman" feel to the character. Goode interpreted Veidt's back-story to portray him with a German accent in private and an American one in public; Goode explained Veidt gave up his family's wealth and traveled the world, becoming a self-made man
because he was ashamed of his parents' Nazi past, which in turn highlighted the themes of the American Dream
and the character's duality. Snyder said Goode "fit the bill.... We were having a hard time casting [the role], because we needed someone handsome, beautiful and sophisticated, and that's a tough combo."Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake / The Comedian:
A superhero who is commissioned by the U.S. government as a black-ops specialist. When reading the comic for the part, Morgan stopped when he saw his character was killed off three pages in. When telling his agent he did not want the part, he was told to continue reading it and find out how important his character was. Morgan found the role a challenge, explaining, "For some reason, in reading the novel, you don't hate this guy even though he does things that are unmentionable. [...] My job is to kind of make that translate, so as a viewer you end up not making excuses to like him, but you don't hate him like you should for doing the things that he does." Of his casting, Snyder said, "It's hard to find a man's man in Hollywood. It just is. And Jeffrey came in and was grumpy and cool and grizzled, and I was, like, 'OK, Jeffrey is perfect!'"Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre:
A retired superheroine, mother of Laurie Juspeczyk and the first Silk Spectre. Gugino's character ages from 25 years old in the 1940s to 67 years old in the 1980s, and the 37-year-old actress wore prosthetics to reflect the aging process. Gugino described her character's superhero outfit as "Bettie Page
meets Alberto Vargas
."Dan Payne as Dollar Bill:
A deceased member, Brady was a bank-sponsored member of The Minutemen who was created for publicity purposes. He dies during a bank robbery in 1947 when his cape is caught in the bank's revolving doors, allowing the robbers to shoot him at point-blank range.Niall Matter as Mothman:
A former member, Lewis had a privileged upbringing and sought to help the less fortunate and fight oppression and corruption as a crime-fighter. To this end Lewis created a costume with special wings that helped him glide. His mental stability ultimately deteriorated after he was called before HUAC, leading to him being forcibly brought to a mental asylum.Apollonia Vanova as The Silhouette:
Deceased. A gun-toting vigilante, motivated by the deaths of her parents and sister at the hands of the Nazis in their native Austria
. Zandt is killed along with her lesbian lover in what is implied to be a hate-crime.Glenn Ennis as Hooded Justice:
A deceased former member, H.J. was a violent vigilante, who was trained in hand-to-hand combat.Darryl Scheelar as Captain Metropolis:
A former Marine
Lieutenant, he was one of the more active members of the Minutemen, having organized its formation. He died in a car accident in 1974 that left him decapitated, and is believed by some to be a form of suicide.Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason:
A retired former member, Mason now works in an auto shop.Clint Carleton as Young Hollis Mason:
Carleton appears in The Minutemen flashback scenes only.Matt Frewer as Moloch:
A former supervillain. Moloch was jailed for a time during the 1970s. He is dying of cancer which he received from Adrian Veidt. Moloch was later murdered by Adrian who frames Rorschach.Mike Carpenter as Young MolochDanny Woodburn as Big Figure:
A jailed dwarfish crime boss and former adversary of Nite Owl and Rorschach. He tries to get revenge when Rorschach is imprisoned in the same jail as he is.Robert Wisden as Richard Nixon
In 1986, producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver acquired film rights to Watchmen for 20th Century Fox. After author Alan Moore declined to write a screenplay based on his story, Fox enlisted screenwriter Sam Hamm. Hamm took the liberty of re-writing Watchmen's complicated ending into a "more manageable" conclusion involving an assassination and a time paradox. Fox put the project into turnaround in 1991, and the project was moved to Warner Bros., where Terry Gilliam was attached to direct and Charles McKeown to rewrite it. Due to lack of funding—Gilliam and Silver were only able to raise $25 million for the film (a quarter of the necessary budget) because their previous films had gone overbudget—and Gilliam's belief that the comic would have been unfilmable, Gilliam eventually left Watchmen and Warner Bros. dropped the project.
In October 2001, Gordon partnered with Lloyd Levin and Universal Studios, hiring David Hayter to write and direct. Hayter and the producers left Universal due to creative differences, and Gordon and Levin expressed interest in setting up Watchmen at Revolution Studios. The project did not hold together at Revolution Studios and subsequently fell apart. In July 2004, it was announced Paramount Pictures would produce Watchmen, and Michael Bay was considered to direct. Eventually, they attached Darren Aronofsky to direct Hayter's script. Producers Gordon and Levin remained attached, collaborating with Aronofsky's producing partner, Eric Watson. Paul Greengrass replaced Aronofsky when he left to focus on The Fountain. Ultimately, Paramount placed Watchmen in turnaround.
In October 2005, Gordon and Levin met with Warner Bros. to develop the film there again. Tim Burton at one point expressed interest in directing the film but ultimately turned it down. Impressed with Zack Snyder's work on 300, Warner Bros. approached him to direct an adaptation of Watchmen. Screenwriter Alex Tse drew from his favorite elements of Hayter's script, but also returned it to the original Cold War setting of the Watchmen comic. Similar to his approach to 300, Snyder used the comic book as a storyboard. Following negotiations, Paramount, which had already spent $7 million in their failed project, earned the rights for international distribution of Watchmen and 25% of the film's ownership.
The fight scenes were extended, and a subplot about energy resources was added to make the film more topical. Although he intended to stay faithful to the look of the characters in the comic, Snyder intended Nite Owl to look scarier, and made Ozymandias' armor into a parody of the rubber muscle suits from 1997's Batman & Robin. Production took place in Vancouver, where a New York City back lot was built. Sound stages were used for apartments and offices, while sequences on Mars and in Antarctica were shot against green screens. Filming started on September 17, 2007, and ended on February 19, 2008, on an estimated $120 million budget. To handle the 1,100 shots featuring visual effects, a quarter of them being computer-generated imagery, ten different effects companies were involved with Watchmen. While 20th Century Fox filed a lawsuit to block the film's release, the studios eventually settled, and Fox received an upfront payment and a percentage of the worldwide gross from the film and all sequels and spin-offs in return.
Dave Gibbons became an adviser on Snyder's film, but Moore has refused to have his name attached to any film adaptations of his work. Moore has stated he has no interest in seeing Snyder's adaptation; he told Entertainment Weekly in 2008, "There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can't." While Moore believes that David Hayter's screenplay was "as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen," he asserted he did not intend to see the film if it were made.
Both a soundtrack and excerpts from Tyler Bates' film score were released as albums on March 3, 2009. The soundtrack features three songs written by Bob Dylan—"Desolation Row", "All Along the Watchtower" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'"—with only the latter performed by Dylan on the soundtrack. It includes some songs mentioned in the comic, such as Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'" and "All Along the Watchtower" are also quoted in the graphic novel. Music by Philip Glass from Koyaanisqatsi plays when Dr. Manhattan is looking back on his life when he arrives on Mars. The Introitus of Mozart's Requiem appears at the end of the film. "Desolation Row" was covered by My Chemical Romance especially for the film, and the song plays in the end credits.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment published a USA-only episodic video game to be released alongside the film called Watchmen: The End Is Nigh. Warner Bros. took this low-key approach to avoid rushing the game on such a tight schedule, as most games adapted from films are panned by critics and consumers. The game is set in the 1970s, and is written by Len Wein, the comic's editor; Dave Gibbons is also an advisor. On March 4, 2009 Glu Mobile released Watchmen: The Mobile Game, a beat 'em up mobile game featuring Nite Owl and The Comedian fighting enemies in their respective settings of New York City and Vietnam. On March 6, 2009, a game for the Apple Inc. iPhone and iPod Touch platform was released, titled Watchmen: Justice is Coming. Though highly anticipated, this mobile title suffered from serious game play and network issues which have yet to be resolved.
As a promotion for the film, Warner Bros. Entertainment released Watchmen: Motion Comic, a series of narrated animations of the original comic book. The first chapter was released for purchase in the summer of 2008 on digital video stores, such as iTunes Store and Amazon Video on Demand. DC Direct released action figures based on the film in January 2009. Director Zack Snyder also set up a YouTube contest petitioning Watchmen fans to create faux commercials of products made by the fictional Veidt Enterprises. The producers also released two short video pieces online, which were intended to be viral videos designed as fictional backstory pieces, with one being a 1970 newscast marking the 10th anniversary of the public appearance of Dr. Manhattan. The other was a short propaganda film promoting the Keene Act of 1977, which made it illegal to be a superhero without government support. An official viral marketing web site, The New Frontiersman, is named after the tabloid magazine featured in the graphic novel, and contains teasers styled as declassified documents. After the trailer to the film premiered in July 2008, DC Comics president Paul Levitz said that the company had had to print more than 900,000 copies of Watchmen trade collection to meet the additional demand for the book that the advertising campaign had generated, with the total annual print run expected to be over one million copies. DC Comics reissued Watchmen #1 for the original cover price of $1.50 on December 10, 2008; no other issues are to be reprinted.
Tales of the Black Freighter, a fictional comic within the Watchmen limited series, was adapted as a direct-to-video animated feature from Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation, and released on March 24, 2009. It was originally included in the Watchmen script, but was changed from live-action footage to animation because of the $20 million it would have cost to film it in the stylized manner of 300 that Snyder wanted; this animated version, originally intended to be included in the final cut, was then cut because the film was already approaching a three-hour running time. Gerard Butler, who starred in 300, voices the Captain in the animated feature, having been promised a role in the live-action film that never materialized. Jared Harris voices his deceased friend Ridley, whom the Captain hallucinates is talking to him. Snyder had Butler and Harris record their parts together. International rights to Black Freighter are held by Paramount.
The Tales of the Black Freighter DVD also includes Under the Hood, a fictional in-universe documentary detailing the characters' backstories, which takes its title from that of Hollis Mason's memoirs in the comic book. Under the Hood is rated PG because it is meant to resemble a behind-the-scenes television news magazine profile of the characters. The actors were allowed to improvise during filming interviews in character. Bolex cameras were even used to film "archive" footage of the Minutemen. The film itself was scheduled to be released on DVD four months after Tales of the Black Freighter, and Warner released a director's cut on July 21, 2009, and the extended version with the animated film edited back into the main picture was scheduled to be released on November 3, 2009, but did not hit the shelves until November 10, 2009. Snyder said if the film did well enough, a theatrical release of the director's cut would be shown at theaters in New York and Los Angeles simultaneously . In addition, the Watchmen: Motion Comic, was released in digital video stores and DVD on March 3. It included an exclusive scene from the movie but as of press time (prior to the disc's release) the scene had yet to be added.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 21, 2009. The Blu-ray version contains "Maximum Movie Mode", which plays the film along with a video presentation by director Snyder, and includes behind-the-scenes footage, comic comparisons, trivia, and more. In November 2009, an "Ultimate Collector's Edition" was released. The five-disc set includes the director's cut of the film with Tales of the Black Freighter woven in, new commentaries by Zack Snyder and Dave Gibbons, the complete Watchmen: Motion Comic, and over 3 hours of bonus content including Under the Hood, which was previously released on the Tales of the Black Freighter DVD. A special Blu-ray included the director's cut of Watchmen along with both parts of the game Watchmen: The End is Nigh for PlayStation 3.
Watchmen debuted at the top of the rental, DVD, and Blu-ray charts. First week sales of the DVD stood at 1,232,725 copies, generating $24,597,425 in sales revenue. As of November 1, 2009 the DVD has sold a total of 2,510,321 copies and $46,766,383 in revenue.
In November 2009, a four-disc set was released as the "Ultimate Cut". This version included the director's cut of the film re-edited to contain Tales of the Black Freighter into the story as it is featured in the graphic novel, bringing the run time of the film to 215 minutes. The set also included two additional hours of bonus features including Under the Hood and The Complete Motion Comic. Originally released only on DVD, the set later became available on Blu-ray.
Watchmen was released at midnight on March 5, 2009, and earned an estimated $4.6 million for the early showing, which is approximately twice as much as 300, Snyder's previous comic book adaptation. The film earned $24,515,772 in 3,611 theaters its first day, and later finished its opening weekend grossing $55,214,334. Watchmen's opening weekend is the highest of any Alan Moore adaptation to date, and the income was also greater than the entire box office take of From Hell, which ended its theatrical run with $31,602,566. Although the film finished with $55 million for its opening, while Snyder's previous adaptation 300 earned $70 million in its opening weekend, Warner Bros.' head of distribution, Dan Fellman, believes that the opening weekend success of the two films cannot be compared due to the extended running time of Watchmen—the film comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, while 300 is just under two hours—provides the 2009 film with fewer showings a night than 300. Next to the general theaters, Watchmen pulled in $5.4 million at 124 IMAX screens, which is the fifth largest opening behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek, Avatar, and The Dark Knight.
Following its first week at the box office, Watchmen saw a significant drop in attendance. By the end of its second weekend, the film brought in $17,817,301, finishing second on that weekend's box office. The 67.7% overall decrease is one of the highest for a major comic book film. Losing two-thirds of its audience from its opening weekend, the film finished second for the weekend of March 13–15, 2009. The film continued to drop about 60% in almost every subsequent weekend, leaving the top ten in its fifth weekend, and the top twenty in its seventh. Watchmen crossed the $100 million mark on March 26, its twenty-first day at the box office, and finished its theatrical run in the United States on May 28, having grossed $107,509,799 in 84 days. The film had grossed one-fifth of its ultimate gross on its opening day, and more than half of that total by the end of its opening weekend.
Watchmen sits fourteenth in all time March openings as of April 2017, as well as the fourteenth largest opening for an R-rated film in North American history. It was the sixth highest grossing R-rated film of 2009, behind The Hangover, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Paranormal Activity, and It's Complicated. At the North American box office, Watchmen currently sits in the lower half of the thirty-one films based on a DC Comics comic book (narrowly ahead of 1997's Batman & Robin), and the thirty-first highest-grossing film of 2009.
Watchmen earned $26.6 million in 45 territories overseas; of these, Britain and France had the highest box office with an estimated $4.6 million and $2.5 million, respectively. Watchmen also took in approximately $2.3 million in Russia, $2.3 million in Australia, $1.6 million in Italy, and $1.4 million in Korea. The film collected $77,743,688 in foreign box office, bringing its worldwide total to $185,253,487.
Watchmen received a polarizing reaction from both audiences and critics. Some critics gave it overwhelmingly positive reviews for the dark and unique take on the superhero genre, the cast, and the visual effects; others derided it for the same reasons, as well as the R-rating (for "strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language"), the running time, and its narrative for being too confusing to follow.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Watchmen currently has a 65% approval rating based on 294 reviews and an average rating of 6.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Gritty and visually striking, Watchmen is a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, but its complex narrative structure may make it difficult for it to appeal to viewers not already familiar with the source material." By comparison, on Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating reviews from mainstream critics, the film has a score of 56 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade cinemagoers gave the film was B on an A+ to F scale, and that the primary audience was older men.
Patrick Kolan of IGN Australia awarded it a perfect 10/10 and said, "It's the Watchmen film you always wanted to see, but never expected to get." Also praising the film along with another perfect score (4/4) was Kyle Smith of the New York Post, comparing it to some of Stanley Kubrick's films: "Director Zack Snyder's cerebral, scintillating follow-up to 300 seems, to even a weary filmgoer's eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as 2001." Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and wrote, "It's a compelling visceral film—sound, images and characters combined into a decidedly odd visual experience that evokes the feel of a graphic novel." Richard Corliss of Time concluded "this ambitious picture is a thing of bits and pieces," yet "the bits are glorious, the pieces magnificent." Total Film awarded it 4/5 stars, stating: "It's hard to imagine anyone watching the Watchmen as faithfully as Zack Snyder's heartfelt, stylised adap. Uncompromising, uncommercial, and unique." When comparing the film to the original source material, Ian Nathan of Empire felt that while "it isn't the graphic novel... Zack Snyder clearly gives a toss, creating a smart, stylish, decent adaptation." Nick Dent of Time Out Sydney gave the film 4/6 in his review of February 25, praising the film's inventiveness but concluding, "While Watchmen is still as rich, daring, and intelligent an action film as there's ever been, it also proves Moore absolutely right [that Watchmen is inherently un-filmable]. As a comic book, Watchmen is an extraordinary thing. As a movie, it's just another movie, awash with sound and fury."
The negative reviews generally disliked the film's Cold War-period setting, using various adjectives to describe it such as "stuffy", "stiff", "bor[ing]", "oddly hollow", "embalmed", "truncated", and "psychic suffocation". They cited the film's much-advertised reverence of the source material as a fault, referring to the story as "trapped" in a faithful representation of Alan Moore's graphic novel. "Watchmen is a bore [...] It sinks under the weight of its reverence for the original," wrote Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post. Devin Gordon wrote for Newsweek, "That's the trouble with loyalty. Too little, and you alienate your core fans. Too much, and you lose everyone—and everything—else." Owen Gleiberman's Entertainment Weekly review reads, "Snyder treats each image with the same stuffy hermetic reverence. He doesn't move the camera or let the scenes breathe. He crams the film with bits and pieces, trapping his actors like bugs wriggling in the frame." "[Snyder] never pause[s] to develop a vision of his own. The result is oddly hollow and disjointed; the actors moving stiffly from one overdetermined tableau to another," said Noah Berlatsky of the Chicago Reader. David Edelstein of New York agrees: "They've made the most reverent adaptation of a graphic novel ever. But this kind of reverence kills what it seeks to preserve. The movie is embalmed." A reviewer in The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Watching 'Watchmen' is the spiritual equivalent of being whacked on the skull for 163 minutes. The reverence is inert, the violence noxious, the mythology murky, the tone grandiose, the texture glutinous." Donald Clarke of The Irish Times was similarly dismissive: "Snyder, director of the unsubtle 300, has squinted hard at the source material and turned it into a colossal animated storyboard, augmented by indifferent performances and moronically obvious music cues." The trade magazines Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were even less taken with the film. Variety's Justin Chang commented that, "The movie is ultimately undone by its own reverence; there's simply no room for these characters and stories to breathe of their own accord, and even the most fastidiously replicated scenes can feel glib and truncated," and Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter writing, "The real disappointment is that the film does not transport an audience to another world, as 300 did. Nor does the third-rate Chandler-esque narration by Rorschach help...Looks like we have the first real flop of 2009."
Analyzing the divided response, Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times felt that, like Eyes Wide Shut, The Passion of the Christ, or Fight Club, Watchmen would continue to be a talking point among those who liked or disliked the film. Boucher felt in spite of his own mixed feelings about the finished film, he was "oddly proud" that the director had made a faithful adaptation that was "nothing less than the boldest popcorn movie ever made. Snyder somehow managed to get a major studio to make a movie with no stars, no 'name' superheroes and a hard R-rating, thanks to all those broken bones, that oddly off-putting Owl Ship sex scene and, of course, the unforgettable glowing blue penis."
Watchmen was nominated for one award at the 2009 VES Awards, seven awards at the 36th Saturn Awards, and 13 awards at the 2009 Scream Awards. The film was also pre-nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, although it did not make the final shortlist.
On October 1, 2015, it was reported that HBO was in talks with Snyder to make a TV series based on the comics with no word about it being related to the film. As of 2016 it is believed that talks about the TV series are on hold as a result of Snyder's involvement with the DC Extended Universe. In 2017, it was reported that Snyder was no longer involved, but Damon Lindelof would be adapting it for HBO.