The fate of Warner Bros/Paramount Pictures International's scheduled spring 2009 release of Watchmen hangs in the balance after it emerged yesterday that Twentieth Century Fox may still hold distribution rights to the graphic novel adaptation.

On Friday a US federal judge threw out a motion by Warner Bros to dismiss a claim by Fox in February that it had not relinquished feature rights initially acquired in the late 1980s, several years after Alan Moore's celebrated post-modern superhero tale was published in 1986.

Following a series of complex legal arrangements in the ensuing years that involved the joint venture Largo Entertainment and producer Larry Gordon, US District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess ruled that Fox still held a claim to the rights.

The ruling leaves both parties clear to proceed to litigation. Fox claims it is owed a share of the profits when a Watchmen film is released and foreshadowed a possible request for an injunction blocking the release when it issued a statement that said: 'We will be asking the Court to enforce Fox's copyright interests in The Watchmen and enjoin the release of the Warner Brothers film and any related Watchmen media that violate our copyright interests in that property.'

For its part Warner Bros issued a statement that refused to go into detail but stressed: 'We respectfully disagree with Fox's position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.'