While HBO’s Watchmen TV series has received plaudits for its timeliness, critics were less than kind to Zack Snyder’s outing from 2009. Long before Snyder was dividing fandom with the DC Extended Universe, he put his signature style on a live-action adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original graphic novel.

Even though Watchmen launched itself into the world of comicbook movies while the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just finding its feet, fans might not know this wasn’t its first crack at tackling the box office. Here’s the story of the Watchmen movie you’ll never get to see.

Warner Bros.

As 2019’s Watchmen fills the wake left by Game of Thrones, showrunner Damon Lindelof continues the acclaimed story Moore and Gibbons left behind in 1987. Watchmen is hailed as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, so it’s no surprise the source material comes with such high expectations. The creators have been so protective of the original story that Watchmen went through four studios, multiple directors and nearly 20 years before Snyder’s vision came to the big screen.

One of those directors, back in the early ’00s, was David Hayter. His writing credits on X-Men and X2 made him a prime candidate to take on the Watchmen. Earlier concepts had included a script from Batman writer Sam Hamm, a movie with Terry Gilliam directing and an out-there idea that would’ve potentially seen Arnold Schwarzenegger strip off to play Doctor Manhattan. However, Hayter’s iteration of the rag-tag team got further than most.

In Hayter’s script, the main timeline and Vietnam War setting were shifted forward. Hayter’s Watchmen jumped to 2004 with Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, having fought in the last days of the Vietnam war and now behaving like a bloodthirsty brute in the Gulf Wars. All conflict with Russia was replaced by references to Middle-East terrorism for a more modern take on the comics.

Doctor Manhattan in DC Universe: Rebirth #1
DC Comics

Similar to Snyder’s movie, there was no space squid obliterating half of New York. Instead, Hayter had Ozymandias detonating a series of nuclear bombs around the globe. Lindelof’s show has skirted around this by once again reinstating an inter-dimensional cephalopod as the apparent cause of destruction.

Elsewhere, Hayter wanted to focus on the rebranded version of the Minutemen known in the comics as the Crimebusters. Fans only saw fleeting glimpses of the Minutemen in Snyder’s glorious opening montage, set to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin”. Captain Metropolis — who recently played a huge part in Lindelof’s show — was largely absent from the Hayter days and was replaced by Dan Dreiberg as Nite Owl.

Watchmen Nite Owl
DC Comics

As a final nod to his X-Men days, Hayter imagined Laurie Juspeczyk’s Silk Spectre with a set of Jubilee-inspired powers where she could shoot balls of energy. If it all sounds tempting but a little far-fetched, there’s even more to the tale.

Much more than just some ideas scribbled down on paper, Hayter’s movie got as far as shooting test footage. Posting on Twitter, the director recently shared a forgotten clip of what could have been. The dialogue is typically Watchmen-esque as the masked vigilantes discuss the death of The Comedian and the events that spur the whole sorry story into action.

As both the footage and Hayter confirm, he envisioned Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) as Nite Owl and Ray Stevenson (Volstagg in the MCU’s Thor movies) as Rorschach. There’s no denying the Ser Jorah Mormont actor definitely would have been an interesting choice to play Nite Owl, but ironically, Glen would go onto play an aged Bruce Wayne in Titans.

Details are sparse but further down the thread Hayter gushes that Stevenson would have also made an amazing Comedian. In another bit of Tinseltown trivia, he says that Stevenson only auditioned to play Rorschach after Daniel Craig “bailed” on the part at the last minute. As with most of these forgotten relics of alternate Hollywood, Hayter departed Watchmen over creative differences.

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DC Comics

The rest, as they say, is history. Following Hayter’s exit, Darren Aronofsky joined the next era of Watchmen and there was a potential cast list that included Hollywood glitterati like a pre-Joker Joaquin Phoenix as Nite Owl, Hilary Swank as Silk Spectre, Jude Law as Rorschach, and Tom Cruise lobbying himself as Ozymandias.

Thankfully, Snyder managed to get his version off the ground in 2006 and powered through with the Watchmen that fans have come to love or loathe since 2009. As for Hayter, his movie becomes just another ‘What If?’ of that complex world of comicbook movies.

Watchmen airs on HBO in the US on Sundays. UK viewers can catch up the series on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on Mondays after it airs in the US.



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