- Directors: Zack Snyder
- Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Deborah Snyder
- Writers: David Hayter, Alex Tse, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore
- Genres: Animation, Short, Horror
- Actors: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie
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.” Of the eight Minutemen, three died violently, one disappeared, and one 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 assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. The American victory in Vietnam, due to the intervention of the godlike being Doctor Manhattan, leads to Richard Nixon’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 three Watchmen 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, and concludes that someone may be trying to eliminate the Watchmen. He attempts to warn his retired comradesâ€”his former partner Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl), the emotionally detached Dr. Jonathan Osterman (Doctor Manhattan), and Dr. Manhattan’s lover Laurie Jupiter (the Silk Spectre). Dreiberg is skeptical, but nonetheless relates the hypothesis to billionaire Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), who dismisses it.
With the end of the Cold War and the uniting of humanity, Jupiter and Dreiberg return to New York City as it’s being rebuilt to begin a new life together. The film closes with a newspaper editor in New York complaining of having 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.