Batman's brought some friends to his moneymaking party. Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) must be thrilled to hear that Watchmen could become the next billion-dollar phenomenon.

The story so far
Time Warner is on a roll when it comes to fantastic film fare. The Dark Knight recently passed the magic $1 billion mark in worldwide box office receipts. The Harry Potter series habitually pulls in $750 million or more per installment. Science fiction romp I Am Legend made $585 million two years ago, and quasi-historical gorefest 300 landed at $456 million the same year.

Next up in the parade of comic-book adaptations is Watchmen. The graphic novel this movie adapts is the stuff of legend; a film version has been in the works on and off since its original publication back in 1986. At various times, Watchmen's rights have been held by News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., General Electric's (NYSE:GE) Universal Studios, and most recently, Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Paramount Pictures. When Warner regained the rights from Paramount and finally put the movie into production, it had to fight Fox in court over the rights to make and distribute the movie.

Watchmen and 300 both come from director Zack Snyder, and both are based on well-respected graphic novels. 300 was phenomenally successful in its own right. Its $71 million opening weekend is the current record for March releases, and the benchmark against which to measure Watchmen's success.

One thumb down
I've been to a few advance screenings in my day, but none quite as perplexing as last night's showing of Watchmen. Torn between the demands of the epic source material and the constraints of the movie medium, the film itself was by turns disappointing and impressive. Cut out a couple of subplots (sorry, purist fans), please. The movie is far too long at 2 hours, 40 minutes, and suffers from bad pacing. And while the novel puts the "graphic" in "graphic violence," the film takes gratuitous sex and senseless mayhem to a whole new level.

One thumb up. Tops. Yeah, I'm getting old and grumpy.

But wait -- there's more!
And that's where the perplexity comes in. The movie drew spontaneous applause at strange spots, and got a rousing standing ovation at the end. Never before have I seen that at an advance screening.

Fans who react this strongly to a movie will contribute invaluable word-of-mouth advertising. Time Warner has given Marvel (NYSE:MVL) notice that the super-hero movie market is much bigger than Spider-Man and Iron Man alone. Watchmen will rub that lesson in, with a vengeance.

Further Foolishness:

Marvel Entertainment is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Marvel, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He doesn't have to love a movie to see its profit potential: Titanic was always a sinking ship in his opinion. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy never compromises.