Given how the movie was hyped as being a faithful rendition (and, for the most part, it was), what was the reasoning behind making such a radical change to the ending?

I've seen statements from Zack Snyder discussing why he felt the end was as good as the original, as well as claims that the original draft of the script he was presented already included the changed ending, but no explanation as to why that decision was made.

Has there been an official explanation for the decision to change the ending so radically?

  • 9
    Jeff's answer had more detail about why it worked, but I just assumed that audiences who hadn't read the book would find the giant extra-dimensional psychic squid predators... ridiculous, especially if there wasn't enough time for a proper set-up.
    – Jack V.
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 22:58

6 Answers 6


In an interview with CBR, one of the Watchmen screenwriters, David Hayter (who had been attached to the Watchmen film project since 2001), sheds some light on this change. According to Hayter, the change was primarily driven by pragmatic filmmaking considerations in the 2000s.

After the 9/11 attacks (2001), Hayter felt that depicting scenes of bloody, torn-apart bodies in Times Square from the psychic squid's attack in the graphic novel would be too disturbing for audiences.

That was a difficult time to end a movie with scenes of bloody torn-apart bodies just littering Times Square.

Hayter chose to make the cut "not only for the studio's sake, but in empathy with the rest of America and the world."

Initially, Hayter changed Ozymandias' plan to use "accelerated solar power to direct [weaponized] beams of light [at New York]", but admitted this made the character seem more overtly villainous. It was only when director Paul Greengrass (who was attached to the project before Zack Snyder) came on board that Hayter hit upon using Dr. Manhattan as the perceived threat. As he explained:

The goal was: can we really find something already written into the story that's an element of power that can be used as a weapon of mass destruction and bring us to the same story elements that make the ending so amazing in the book? Eventually, that became Doctor Manhattan.

Greengrass was receptive to this idea, as it preserved Ozymandias' moral ambiguity and tied into his ego and belief that he should be the most powerful being on Earth. Hayter elaborated:

If Doctor Manhattan had never existed […] Adrian would be the most powerful man in the world. But once Doctor Manhattan comes along, he's the most powerful insect in the world. There's no comparison. So, what Paul loved was that Adrian, by using Doctor Manhattan as his weapon, puts himself back on top.

Dave Gibbons, the artist who drew the original graphic novel, endorsed the changed ending as being dramatically appropriate for a film adaptation:

I think the ending they put on it is a really appropriate ending, and, actually, they haven't just plopped a different ending on and ripped the squid out. It actually ties back into the story and makes tremendous sense in the dramatic development of the story in way that the Squid wouldn't [for a film].

I think the ending is true to graphic novel; it's the same sense of has [Adrian] done the right thing? There's the moral ambiguity. There's the crisis of cultures that it gives to all the main characters. And that remains intact. So I'm perfectly happy with it.

While a major change from the source material, the movie's ending was carefully considered to maintain the core narrative, themes, and character motivations of the graphic novel in a way that would work better for a 2000s film adaptation.

The post-9/11 desire to avoid depicting bloody, torn-apart bodies was the initial impetus, but using Dr. Manhattan emerged as a thematically resonant solution.

Source: THE SQUID IN THE PICTURE: Watchmen's Biggest Change. CBR

  • 2
    This answer is so good that I spent the first couple of minutes trying to remember when I wrote it
    – Valorum
    Commented May 4 at 9:17

There are several reasons.

  • Running Time - adding in the explanations of the psychic squid and Vaught's teleportation machine would have made the movie run much longer. It was already at the maximum running length most people would sit through.
  • Characters - The island and its inhabitants were able to be entirely cut from the movie by eliminating the psychic squid. Adding them in would have increased the number of characters significantly and added more subplots.
  • Visual effects - Text is easy to use in comics to explain what's happening. But you can't show a psychic shock on the screen, you can't display the years of nightmares people were described as having afterwards. Explosions, though, are pretty and very visible.
  • Tales of the Black Freighter - This subplot, which confused several readers of the comic, was connected only to people on the island (and one child who played only a small part in the movie/comics), and could thus be eliminated by eliminating the psychic squid.

So in the end, it all boils down to simplifying the story's moving parts and cutting the run time to something almost reasonable.

  • 8
    Good answer. I would have sat through 4-5 hours if it meant a 100% faithful adaptation, but my wife probably would not have.
    – Beofett
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 15:02
  • 1
    That's why I always hope for a miniseries and not a movie when I hear that one of my favorites is being adapted... Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:35

Director Zack Snyder explained it in terms of trying to keep the movie from running too long, as quoted in this article:

"The reason that the squid got taken out of the movie was so there’d be more Rorschach and a little bit more Manhattan. Because we did the math, and we figured it took about 15 minutes to explain [the squid’s appearance] correctly; otherwise, it’s pretty crazy."


As far as I know there has never been an official explanation other than the ones stated in your question. However, I would imagine that it was decided that the average movie-going public would not accept the ending in the book, i.e. a giant octopus-cthulhu-vagina-monster suddenly materializing in the middle of Manhattan would not be believable to the average audience member who has no interest in or knowledge of the original comics. This is just speculation on my part, but I feel it makes sense.

  • 5
    Of course, that's one of the great twists in the comic. Despite the more-or-less realistic tone of the rest of the story, Veidt's scheme will work because it's so over-the-top. Nobody will question what actually happened, because the truth is even more far-fetched than an invasion from another dimension. Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 22:58
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    Actually, the movie version, where the blast that destroys NYC has the signature of Dr. Manhattan's energy, seems to me to be a more effective technique. Dr. Manhattan is the only powered superhero in that universe, and thus would be scary to the politicians and the general public. The idea of Dr. Manhattan turning on his home country would suggest that he is a threat to all of humanity. This would be more likely to unite nations against the outside threat.
    – Martha F.
    Commented Dec 11, 2011 at 19:59
  • @MarthaF. I agree. Redirecting humanity’s aggression toward Dr. Manhattan fits much better with the anti-hero sentiment that had already been building up in the Watchmen universe.
    – jamesdlin
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 23:09

My impression is that the writers, director, and producers of the movie wanted to make the story a bit more topical and timely. I also suspect that they were worried about how strange and even silly the sudden appearance of a gigantic, psychic squid would seem to the audience.

Therefore, they decided to insert a connection between Adrian's evil plan on the one hand, and the climate change crisis on the other hand. There was no need, or even desire, for a monster squid to show up at the end of the film. The climax, now that the squid was no longer needed, involved two conflicting entities: Adrian and Dr. Manhattan.

Instead of addressing the Cold War exclusively, the movie could now also make reference to climate change, renewable energy, and the environment. This was desirable, because when the original comic books were written, the Cold War was still going on, but when the movie was made, it had been over for more than 20 years.

All of these factors combined to produce the ending we saw on the screen: a weird psychic squid was replaced by a more sensible and, in a way, more plausible, attack with much more familiar weapons, which allowed the audience to maintain their willful suspension of disbelief - something that would have been far less likely if they saw an enormous cephalopod destroying New York for no apparent reason.

In a comic book, a huge squid killing millions of people is pretty much par for the course. In a modern movie, on the other hand, it is likely to raise a few eyebrows, and attract quite a bit of criticism from people who have never read the comics. It just seems weird.


I think Hollywood knew what Alan Moore (the original writer) meant symbolically with the ending and they would not accept the truth, just as little as the Chinese government allows free speech in their part of the world. Watchmen is a sword aimed precisely at governments, bankers and Hollywood style big businesses and corporations. Dr. Manhattan symbolizes the Manhattan project and the US government itself. The revelation is that the government will create wars and enemies (such as giant squids or Al-Qaeda or ISIS and so on) to take people's attention away from the real problem in society such as taxation and fractional reserve banking. You guys should know that Alan Moore is quite an anarchic personality and thinker and Hollywood would just not accept that message.

  • 3
    So why was it changed? Can you edit your post to clarify?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:17
  • See answer above. The Watchmen ending was probably changed because the producers or funders did not like Alan Moore's agenda.
    – Vesa
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 21:50

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