The film was in development hell for a longer period of time, since 1989. Sam Hamm was planning to direct the film, however, he soon left the project. Other directors like David Hayter and Alex Tse were planning to make an adaption of the current time, set in Iraq War and narrated by Dr. Manhattan. However, when Snyder took over, the film became entirely faithful to the 1985 book.
Director Sam Hamm had signed onto a contract with Fox, however he did not sign off when leaving the project. Due to this, when Snyder made a deal to make the film with Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures, and DC Comics, Fox sued Warner Bros. for copyright violation. However, the feud was settled when Warner Bros. agreed to give Fox half of the theater gross total.
The film was released on March 6, 2009. It received an R-rating for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language. The film was 2 hours 42 minutes in length. The film made $82,000,000 at the box office.
In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot.
The story takes place in an alternate timeline in which masked, costumed vigilantes fight crime in America, originally in response to a rise in masked and costumed gangs and criminals. In the 1930s and '40s, the vigilantes formed a group called the Minutemen to "finish what the law couldn't." The original lineup mostly suffered early and violent deaths in action, or became suicides, or were arrested for breaking the law themselves, or in one case was committed to an asylum. Decades later, a second generation of "superheroes" attempts to form a similar team called the Watchmen. Various historical events are shown to have been altered by the existence of superheroes, such as the John F. Kennedy Assassination and Vietnam War. The American victory in Vietnam, due to the intervention of the godlike being Dr. Manhattan, leads to 's third term as President following the repeal of term limits in The United States. By the 1980s, however, the Watchmen have been outlawed by Congress after an outpouring of anti-vigilante sentiment in the country, and tensions between The United States and the Soviet Union have escalated the Cold War with threats of nuclear attack.
By 1985, only two adventurers remain active: the Comedian and Doctor Manhattan, both of whom act with government sanction, and the masked vigilante Rorschach, who refuses to retire and remains active illegally. Investigating the murder of government agent Edward Blake, Rorschach discovers that Blake was the Comedian, concluding that someone is trying to eliminate the original Watchmen. He goes off to warn his former comrades—the emotionally detached Dr. Jon Osterman (Doctor Manhattan) and his lover Laurie Jupiter (Silk Spectre), Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)—but he makes little progress.
After Blake's funeral, Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing the cancers afflicting his former girlfriend and colleagues from before the accident that turned him into the being he is now. Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, giving the Soviet Union the confidence to invade Afghanistan in his absence. Later, Rorschach's conspiracy theory appears to be justified when Adrian, who had long since made his identity as Ozymandias public before retiring, narrowly avoids an assassination attempt, and Rorschach finds himself framed for murder.
Meanwhile Jupiter, after breaking up with Manhattan, falls in love with Dreiberg, and the two former superheroes come out of retirement as they grow closer. After breaking Rorschach out of prison alongside Nite Owl, Silk Spectre is confronted by Manhattan. He takes her to Mars and, after she asks him to save the world, explains he is no longer interested in humanity. Probing her memories, he discovers the Comedian was her father. His interest in humanity renewed, Manhattan returns to Earth with Silk Spectre.
Investigating the conspiracy, Rorschach and Nite Owl discover that Adrian is behind everything. Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, which he drops off at a newspaper office. Rorschach and Nite Owl confront Adrian, dressed in his Ozymandias costume, at his Antarctic retreat. Ozymandias confirms he is the mastermind behind The Comedian's murder, Manhattan's exile, and the framing of Rorschach; he also staged his own assassination attempt to place himself above suspicion. He explains that his plan is to unify the United States and Soviet Union and prevent nuclear war by destroying the world's main cities with exploding energy reactors he had Doctor Manhattan create for him under the pretense of providing free energy for the world. Rorschach and Nite Owl physically attempt to stop him, but Ozymandias easily beats the both of them. Ozymandias then reveals that his plan has already been set into motion. The energy signatures are recognized as Doctor Manhattan's, and the two opposing sides of the Cold War unite to combat their "common enemy."
Jupiter and Manhattan arrive at the ruins of New York City and realize Ozymandias's plan. They confront him in Antarctica and Adrian attempts to kill Manhattan with an intrinsic field subtractor, sacrificing his pet Bubastis. Dr. Manhattan reappears, but after seeing a news report in which President Nixon states that the US and Soviets have allied, Dr. Manhattan, in a state of helpless disbelief, realizes that killing Ozymandias and revealing the conspiracy would only break this peace and lead to war again. Rorschach is unwilling to remain silent and, upon exiting Ozymandias' retreat, is confronted by Manhattan. Knowing that he is the only one among them who wants to reveal Ozymandias' plot, he implicitly looks at Manhattan so that the latter kills him. After much reluctance and coaxing by Rorschach himself, Manhattan finally kills him in front of Nite Owl who turns to beat Ozymandias for forcing the situation while denouncing his scheme. Manhattan shares a final kiss with Jupiter and departs for another galaxy. Afterward, reluctantly accepting that bringing Ozymandias to justice would be hopeless and counter-productive, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre depart in disgust.
With the end of the Cold War and the uniting of humanity, Jupiter and Dreiberg return to a New York City being rebuilt, and begin a new life together. The film closes with a newspaper editor in New York complaining of nothing worthwhile to print because of the worldwide peace. He tells a young employee that he may print whatever he likes from a collection of crank mailings, among which lies Rorschach's journal, implying that Ozymandias' plot may be unveiled to the world.
Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre
Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan
Matthew Goode as Ozymandias
Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian
Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl
Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter
Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason
Laura Mennell as Janey Slater